Thursday, June 29, 2006
A couple of authors, a couple of works, and a couple of quotes
It is customary that I do a bit of background reading when I come across very good pieces of literature or film. Thankfully, not all resources pass off trivia in the name of background material.
Everyman's Library's 1st collection of Anton Chekov's short stories: an exteremely varied collection including my favourite The Steppe, and gems like The Mire with darkly erotic tones.
When his 'motives' where questioned subsequent to the publication of The Mire, his reply to contemporary Maria Kiselyova is fascinating.
Your statement that the world is "teeming with villains and villainesses" is true. Human nature is imperfect, so it would be odd to perceive none but the righteous. Requiring literature to dig up a "pearl" from the pack of villains is tantamount to negating literature altogether. Literature is accepted as an art because it depicts life as it actually is. Its aim is the truth, unconditional and honest. Limiting its functions to as narrow a field as extracting "pearls" would be as deadly for art as requiring Levitan to draw a tree without any dirty bark or yellowed leaves. A "pearl" is a fine thing, I agree. But the writer is not a pastry chef, he is not a cosmetician and not an entertainer. He is a man bound by contract to his sense of duty and to his conscience. Once he undertakes this task, it is too late for excuses, and no matter how horrified, he must do battle with his squeamishness and sully his imagination with the grime of life. He is just like any ordinary reporter. What would you say if a newspaper reporter as a result of squeamishness or a desire to please his readers were to limit his descriptions to honest city fathers, high-minded ladies, and virtuous railroadmen?
To a chemist there is nothing impure on earth. The writer should be just as objective as the chemist; he should liberate himself from everyday subjectivity and acknowledge that manure piles play a highly respectable role in the landscape and that evil passions are every bit as much a part of life as good ones.
I read the quotation first in Richard Freeborn's introduction to the book. Subsequently, I found a whole list of 'replies' from Chekov here. I somehow wish Chekov would write one of his replies in the comments section of some of our more famous blogs. Even more interesting would be to find anonymous illogical insults, in reply to him.
The next writer is Wilkie Collins, whose Basil recently took my fancy. Again, while reading up on Collins, a quote attributed to Charles Swinburne on his later literary 'decline' came up.
"What brought good Wilkie's genius nigh perdition? Some demon whispered - 'Wilkie! have a mission'.
Wouldn't that apply to a great many others today?
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