Thursday, September 29, 2005


Oscar Wilde, ever aphoristic and nudging, there in the lily-lit gloaming, offers up: “The only difference between a caprice and a life-long passion is that the caprice lasts a little longer.”

(How Turgenev, late in life, fell in love with Maria Savina, “a vivacious young actress with bohemian habits”—love, “only in the sloppiest sense of the word” is how Robert Dessaix puts it (Twilight of Love: Travels with Turgenev.) The famous story of th’arrangement Turgenev made to join Savina in her compartment on the train as she passed near Turgenev’s Spasskoye estate on her way from Moscow to Odessa. How he boarded in Mtsensk, (the railway station where Chekhov had a cup of coffee he claim’d tasted of smoked fish) and descend’d one hour later at Oryol. Voilà les histoires d’amour, incalculably bête et futile, inutile and comprehensible to God or no one, c’est tout.)

Turgenev, of course, dismissed the idea of God. Dessaix: “To be fair, what he dismissed was the existence of Bog. (Actually pronounced ‘bawkh,’ this is the word Russians use for the Christian ‘God.’ It was meticulously spelt with a small ‘b’ throughout the Soviet period, as if this might somehow call the deity’s bluff . . .)”

Elsewhere (History of Criticism) George Saintsbury: “Ancient without Modern is a stumbling block, Modern without Ancient is foolishness utter and irremediable.” (There’s a lot of that going around lately.)