Merry Fourth Day of Christmas from Old Mother and Father Blonde's little cottage in the vale, where we've come to celebrate New Year's with Mrs M's kith and kin, having spent Christmas Day at with Mom and Pop Mannion at the Old Mannion Homestead among her in-laws. The gang's getting ready to head to bed. Not me though. I’m looking forward to having the living room to myself. I’ve got plans. I’m looking forward to a solitary glass of egg nog and settling in to read more of Dostoevsky's Devils by the light of Mother and Father Blonde's two Christmas trees.
I did this at Mom and Pop Mannion’s Christmas night, read Dostevsky by the Christmas tree lights. I did it every night of the week leading up to Christmas back at our place. I’ll be doing it this weekend when we’re back home. Rate I’m going I’ll still be doing it next Christmas.
People have frowned doubtfully when I’ve told them Dostoevsky’s been my Christmas reading this season. I used to read Dickens every Christmas but then I realized I had him memorized and all I needed to do was pick up one of his books and I instantly had it re-read in my memory. I switched to Trollope for a number of Christmases but then I reached a limit. Couldn’t face one more visit to Barsetshire. I don’t know what possessed me to try Dostoevsky this year. (Get it? Possessed me? Devils is a more accurate translation of the title of the novel more famously known in English as The Possessed?) But it’s turned out to be a pretty good substitute. Of course Dostoevsky’s novels aren’t known for warming hearts and inspiring feelings of coziness, snugness, and good fellowship. But he was a big admirer of Dickens and has something of Dickens’ sense of humor, satirical eye, and affection for eccentrics.
Are you saying Dostoevsky’s funny, Lance?
The Russians think so. According to one of my professors at BU, the novelist Leslie Epstein, “The Russians think Dostoevsky’s a gas.”
You can see why in passages like this:
At one time it was reported about the town that our little circle was a hotbed of nihilism, profligacy, and godlessness, and the rumour gained more and more strength. And yet we did nothing but indulge in the most harmless, agreeable, typically Russian, light-hearted liberal chatter. “The higher liberalism” and the “higher liberal,” that is, a liberal without any definite aim, is only possible in Russia.
Stepan Trofimovitch, like every witty man, needed a listener, and, besides that, he needed the consciousness that he was fulfilling the lofty duty of disseminating ideas. And finally he had to have some one to drink champagne with, and over the wine to exchange light-hearted views of a certain sort, about Russia and the "Russian spirit," about God in general, and the "Russian God" in particular, to repeat for the hundredth time the same Russian scandalous stories that every one knew and every one repeated. We had no distaste for the gossip of the town which often, indeed, led us to the most severe and loftily moral verdicts. We fell into generalizing about humanity, made stern reflections on the future of Europe and mankind in general, authoritatively predicted that after Cæsarism France would at once sink into the position of a second-rate power, and were firmly convinced that this might terribly easily and quickly come to pass. We had long ago predicted that the Pope would play the part of a simple archbishop in a united Italy, and were firmly convinced that this thousand-year-old question had, in our age of humanitarianism, industry, and railways, become a trifling matter. But, of course, "Russian higher liberalism" could not look at the question in any other way. Stepan Trofimovitch sometimes talked of art, and very well, though rather abstractly. He sometimes spoke of the friends of his youth—all names noteworthy in the history of Russian progress. He talked of them with emotion and reverence, though sometimes with envy. If we were very much bored...Lyamshin (a little post-office clerk), a wonderful performer on the piano, sat down to play, and in the intervals would imitate a pig, a thunderstorm, a confinement with the first cry of the baby, and so on, and so on; it was only for this that he was invited, indeed. If we had drunk a great deal—and that did happen sometimes, though not often—we flew into raptures, and even on one occasion sang the "Marseillaise" in chorus to the accompaniment of Lyamshin, though I don't know how it went off. The great day, the nineteenth of February, we welcomed enthusiastically, and for a long time beforehand drank toasts in its honour. But that was long ago, before the advent of Shatov or Virginsky, when Stepan Trofimovitch was still living in the same house with Varvara Petrovna. For some time before the great day Stepan Trofimovitch fell into the habit of muttering to himself well-known, though rather far-fetched, lines which must have been written by some liberal landowner of the past: "The peasant with his axe is coming, Something terrible will happen." Something of that sort, I don't remember the exact words. Varvara Petrovna overheard him on one occasion, and crying, "Nonsense, nonsense!" she went out of the room in a rage. Liputin, who happened to be present, observed malignantly to Stepan Trofimovitch: "It'll be a pity if their former serfs really do some mischief to messieurs les landowners to celebrate the occasion," and he drew his forefinger round his throat. "Cher ami," Stepan Trofimovitch observed, "believe me that—this (he repeated the gesture) will never be of any use to our landowners nor to any of us in general. We shall never be capable of organising anything even without our heads, though our heads hinder our understanding more than anything." I may observe that many people among us anticipated that something extraordinary, such as Liputin predicted, would take place on the day of the emancipation...
It was probably that passage that was at the back of my mind when I was watching the chess players at Barnes & Noble last week.
That's all very interesting to me. But it's just lead in to my real reason for this post, which is this scene from Woody Allen's Love and Death:
Come on. I can’t be the only one who thinks that scene’s a gas.