Fathers and Sons and Nihilists

A short time ago, I finished an interesting little novel by Ivan Turgenev, his most famous work: Fathers and Sons.  I used to know a Russian Jew who, to my surprise, told me that Alexander Pushkin and Ivan Turgenev were his favorite Russian authors.  (I had expected either Leo Tolstoy or Fyodor Dostoyevsky to be on the list.) Having finished Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, a salient work on the early effects of Western thought on Russian society, I at last found time to try out the Russian gentleman’s other favorite.  I was quite delighted at how the book focused more on the darker aspects of Westernization in Russian and the one which held the most dire consequences: nihilism.

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Turgenev, though he did not coin the term, made the word nihilism a popular point of discussion across Russia thanks to Fathers and Sons.  Turgenev claims that he did not intend nihilism to mean a belief in nothing: even if the novel’s hero, Bazarov, often gives that impression.  Instead, meant by nihilism a philosophy of revolution.  Yet, this revolution was nothing less than a revolution against all the mores of Russian society and its heritage.  Bazarov contemns poetry, the beauty of nature, religion, aristocracy, serfdom, superstition, romance, etc.  In the place of the above, he inserts science and matter.  I could never imagine recommending a work of physics to a lady acquaintance, unless that lady was a modern Marie Curie.  Yet, Bazarov and his friend Arcadii recommend books on science and economics to all and sundry.  Bazarov can be seen as noble for decrying the worst in Russian society, but he throws the baby out with the bath water, and his nihilism has nothing to offer the human spirit.

The program of the novel almost seems Hegelian.  (A reminder that Turgenev was a Westernizer himself, but less radical.) The Slavophiles, Arcadii’s father and uncle, stand for the thesis, Bazarov for the antithesis, and Arcadii, once he removes himself from Bazarov’s influence, for the synthesis of the two–keeping what is good and rejecting what is evil or inferior.  Turgenev realizes that things could not go on as they were in Russia.  Some ideas from the West have merit, but nihilism, and the Marxism and socialism which form its core, threaten to dehumanize the motherland in a vague notion of progress.  We truly have a fair minded novel here.  One is surprised that it drew so much criticism in 1862, when it was published, that Turgenev went into self-imposed exile.
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Another writer, the famous Dostoyevsky, was one of two people Turgenev thought really understood the novel.  And, Dostoyevsky became a devoted Slavophile after discerning how dangerous nihilism was to Russia.  His novel Demons details the dark vision he foresees for Russia, which fully describes the evils nihilism, in the form of Marxism, had in store both for Russia and the entire world.

So, I recommend the trio of Eugene Onegin, Fathers and Sons, and Demons to anyone who wishes to study this topic further, since each one builds of the other and Pushkin is the Father of Russian literature.

Tavern Recommendations for Books, Beer, and Other Refreshments #1

By now, many of you have likely given up on seeing that article on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight from me.  Don’t despair!  National Blog Posting Month is upon us, and I am reading the poem; so, it shall certainly be posted one day soon–as long as I write one post per diem, anyway.

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But, a new idea popped into my head.  It’s been a while since I’ve written a beer review (over two years ago to be precise), and, though this website is dedicated to history and literature, it’s named after a pub.  I’ve determined on a way to combine the two.  When one does a beer tasting and records that it has flavors of malt, caramel, coffee, pears, tea, apple, or whatever, they are recording the flavor impressions which they receive on the tongue.  In most cases, brewers do not actually add caramel, coffee, pears, apples, or tea to their brews, but the beer still impresses one as having those flavors.  (Probably not all in the same beer.)  Other alcohols feature the same phenomenon.  Why should it not be possible for spirits, wine, or beer to somehow connect with a piece of literature?

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Suspend your disbelief, my dear readers!  Please read on and see whether there might be some truth to my assertion.  At any rate, you might discover some nice brews and interesting books.  I hope that my co-writer will soon join me on this project.  You see, beer and he do not mix well; so, he shall likely focus on wines and spirits in order to give more variety to these posts.

While the following drinks perhaps ought to be reserved until after you’ve read the works in question, I’m sure that you will enjoy talking about them over these fine craft beers.

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1) Tröeg’s JavaHead Stout

I’m a great fan of this brewery and Pennsylvania’s beers in general.  I enjoyed the hearty coffee and vanilla flavors featured in this stout.  Perhaps, I should have tried it warm in order to see if other flavors came out when tried at this temperature.  At any rate, this stout is very simple, hearty, and pleasant, which brings me to the following recommendation.

The Seaside Parish by George MacDonald

George MacDonald’s books are often down-to-earth themselves–unless we speak of his masterpieces, Phantasies and Lilith.  Like the stout, his books are simple and filling–only, they fill the soul rather than the belly.  Often, his novels feel like a long sermon, but a sermon which strikes new and interesting chords all the time.  The Seaside Parish features a simple pastor whose daughter becomes paralyzed in a riding accident.  This leads to various questions about man’s duty to God and the right way to follow the Will of God.  A simple but hearty work.

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2) Lagunitas Censored Rich Copper Ale

This is one powerful beer!  The Beer Advocate website classifies this as an American Amber/ Red Ale, but the dark fruit and tea flavors reminded me of a German altbier.  Indeed, it feels like an altbier with a twist–the twist being the loads of caramel malt added to the brew.  I need to restrain myself lest I buy a whole case of the stuff!

Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach

Most of our chivalric literature comes from England and France, but Parzival is perhaps the best of chivalric literature from Germany.  It uses figures from Arthurian legend but carries a very different flavor from other such works.  Very much like how the Censored tastes like an altbier, but has something more.  The story follows Parzival, known to most English speakers as Percival, from his early years to his attainment of knighthood and some of his adventures.  After his father’s death, Parzival’s mother attempted to keep her infant son away from knights so that he might not take up the swords and suffer the same fate as his father.  But, he runs into some knights during his late adolescence and nothing can shake Parzival from his desire to become a knight.  A fun and rather quirky tale.

Hope that you liked these recommendations!

The Wind in the Willows: Perfect for Every Age

A friend of mine from seminary once expressed his fondness for Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, which motivated me to download an audio book narrated by Adrian Praetzellis.  Normally, I would not mention the narrator, but he possesses stunning talent as a lector.  His voice captures the essence of each character and uses a gentle and pleasant tone for the narrative parts.  I actually felt a thrill when I realized that he also narrated Mr. Midshipman Easy by Frederick Marryat in the librovox series.  Mr. Praetzellis’s voice also works wonders for the characters in Marryat’s work.

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The Wind in the Willows turned out to be a tour de force.  Grahame has an excellent touch in lending an air of fantasy to his scenes.  This evinces itself most strongly in this work when he describes the forest during winter or the brief advent of a certain god in the midst of the night.  Then again, he has a deft touch when it comes to creating unique and likable characters.  A poor author may create many characters who seem rather the same, but Mr. Rat, Mr. Mole, Mr. Badger, and Mr. Toad all have a distinct air about them.  Grahame must not have taken life too seriously and had considerable leniency to his fellows.  At least, the Chaucerian manner in which he renders even the characters’ flaws endearing suggests this.  The Badger’s ponderous gravity, Toad’s egotism, the Mole’s maudlin attitude and impetuosity, and the Rat’s obsession with weapons all serve to make the reader love them more.

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The work describes a series of adventures endured by the animals of the river.  This world is surprisingly gentile, like the Old South.  Little adventures occur to upset the flow of life, the most extraordinary of which surround Mr. Toad.  The authorities incarcerate him for automobile theft.  Then, he escapes prison  and discovers that his house has been invaded by other creatures, whom he must oust from his property with the help of his friends.  Mostly though, the tales contained in the work are episodic.

So, I heartily recommend this work to young children and adults who wish to immerse their minds in the gentle world of the river.

 

The Perspicacious Michel de Montaigne

For a long time now, I have been acquainted with the essays of Michel de Montaigne.  In college, one of my professors, the learned and affable Justin A. Jackson of Hillsdale College, included a few of this man’s essays in the second semester of the Great Books prerequisite.  Professor Jackson considered him to be the first truly modern author–if memory serves me right.  (If memory has played me false, I tender my apologies to the astute professor.)  The reason was Montaigne’s preoccupation with the self or rather himself, which created essays of a highly personal nature.  Rather than establish himself as an authority, he writes these essays merely to put forth his subjective opinion.

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Yet, Montaigne’s ability to adduce an unlimited amount of examples upon the subject of the essay astounds the reader.  He has a mastery of the writers of Classical antiquity and a thorough knowledge of Medieval and Renaissance history in particular.  In this regard, reading him is very similar to reading the works of St. Francis de Sales, who can allude to many anecdotes and scenes in history to explain spiritual truths better.  Both men have the effect of making me wish that I had spent more time reading and less playing video games.  It must have been a great help to Montaigne to have had his father teach him Latin as his first language rather than French!  I rather wonder what effect it might have on a child to have Cicero, Virgil, and Julius Caesar as more accessible than the Berenstain Bears or similar children’s literature!

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