Monday, 8 January 2018

Excellent People by Anton Chekhov

"Once upon a time there lived in Moscow a man called Vladimir Semyonitch Liadovsky."

Wow, Chekhov was in fine form with this short story!  A narrator relates a story of a literary man trained at law, Vladimir Semyonitch Liadovsky, and his sister, Vera Semyonovna, a listless woman who has been disappointed in life.  At the start of the story, Vladimir has compassion and love for his sister, who had her new husband die, survived a suicide attempt, and now is living with him, quietly revering his talents.

And although there is a peaceful harmony at the beginning of the story, we sense a restlessness within Vera, and a somewhat egotistical, intolerant manner within Vladimir who displays a rather self-satisfied demeanour with regard to his talents and an intellectual judgement over his those who cannot share is views.  

However, one day their quiet and predictable life is shaken when Vera poses an unsettling and unexpected question, "What is the meaning of non-resistance to evil?" Suddenly a new idea is brought upon Vladimir by someone close to him, someone whom he is used to seeing as a subordinate and one who praises him, no matter what the situation.  It is a liberal question that presses against his conservatism, a progressive question that goes against tradition, an elephant in the room, so to speak.  At first he cannot quite comprehend but Vera persists, "Where would we all be if human life were ordered on the basis on non-resistance to evil?"  Vladimir attempts to slough off the idea, by approaching it lightly in his next article but his sister is not satisfied, "Why would a gardener sow for the benefit of thieves and beggars, as one did in the story she just read?  Did he behave sensibly?" Vladimir is further distressed as he senses for the first time, the admiration he is used to receiving from her is uncomfortably absent.  He expounds that to write in such a way is to allow the thought that thieves deserve to exist. What garbage!

Moscow in Winter (1872)
Ivan Aivazovsky
source Wikiart

Their interactions increasingly degrade, as the question and Vera's change in manner begin to tear apart the equanimity and peace of their previous existence.  Vera wants to explore ideas, to search for answers; Vladimir simply wants to remain grasping his ideas, the ideas he has survived on during his life.  They talk and they discuss.  They do not understand each other.  

The ending I will leave uncommented on if others want to read this tale, but needless to say, it is not happy. Again, I'm so impressed with this story.  Chekhov explores tradition versus progress through this interaction of genders and siblings.  Who should better understand each other than people of the same blood, people who have lived together in close community and have a certain respect and love for one another?  However, they not only cannot agree, they cannot even understand one another.  But yet, one has to ask themselves what their relationship was built on, as it was only in harmony when the sister admired the brother and only gave compliments?  Was it their lack of a truthful and deep relationship that undermined their ability to comprehend one another, or was it really a clear picture of the struggles of Russian society between the old tradition and the new ideas of the time.  And we must not forget the title, Excellent People.  Both the brother and sister are good people but each have different ideas.  If we focus on "ideas" or "philosophies" and forget that we are dealing with people do we become less human and less able to understand each other?  And while life would have been more harmonious if the sister remained in her apathetic devotion to her brother, and the brother remained happy in his narrow-minded pursuits, would it have been better?  Their lives would have been more comfortable and untroubled, yet not as real.  Ask yourself, is it better to remain peaceful and happy in a life of past tradition and apathy, or is it more "human" to strive for goals and struggle for something better for self and society, but remain miserable within this quest?  And a question from Mudpuddle's comment below:  I wish I knew if Chekhov meant the title to be serious, in that we can all have good intentions and different points of view and yet still experience unsatisfying and disharmonious outcomes, or sarcastic in that both the brother and sister where not able to communicate their views and come to a resolution, their inner lives became more turbulent from examining them, and nothing really changed, so then they were really "excellent" only in the way they viewed themselves?  Great questions with no easy answers!

I definitely have to read this again at a later date after it settles and percolates a little.  I encourage anyone who has a spare ten minutes to read it and if you decide to come back and leave your thoughts, I'd love it.  While it's only a 7-8 page short story, it would have made a great read-along.  Who would have thought!

Deal Me In Challenge 2018 #1 ~ Two of Clubs

Thursday, 4 January 2018

January 2018 and My Reading Challenges

Christmas at the Town Hall
© Cleo @ Classical Carousel

I've decided to include my reading challenges in this post because I've been doing so little reading lately that I'd have little to say otherwise.  Isn't that pathetic?  Oh well, a new year is here and with it new resolutions, so here goes ........

December went by so quickly.  My grandmother ended up passing away 4 days before Christmas.  It wasn't unexpected but still it was sad to see her go.  We'll certainly miss her but it was fun to remember her stories and the spunk she showed until the end. She had a long life, well lived.

Otherwise, I spent lots of time on the food blog and was so pleased with our 4 months of success.  You can read our 2017 Year in Review, if you want some stats, highlights, bloopers, funny tasting stories and if you want to see what I've been up to.  It was actually alot of fun to write.  I also was able to make it cross-country skiing once.  It was lots of fun, although I can tell I need some practice and my healing-once-broken-thumb does not have the power it used to yet, so I was feeling somewhat lopsided.  In any case, I plan to do much more skiing as the year progresses.  I also went bowling between Christmas and New Years and really enjoyed it so I think I might try to do it more regularly as well.  Too exciting, I know ...... , lol!

A View from Nordic Skiing
© Cleo @ Classical Carousel

As for reading, I did finish off The Pickwick Papers from O's long read-along and almost in time too!!  I also managed to read The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm and I was SOOOO impressed by it. Fromm examines the very rare art of loving and explains that our society does NOT practice any disciplines that will help us love better.  He also gives examples of various views we hold about love that impede our ability to love.  While reading these views, I kept recognizing people I knew ..... it was rather unsettling but very insightful.  I highly recommend Fromm's book!

An Unexpected Local Ice Storm
very beautiful but the poor trees!
© Cleo @ Classical Carousel

January is usually the time to start our yearly challenges and while I originally was so disappointed with my 2017 reading that I was going to do NO challenges this year, O managed to change my mind (although perhaps she doesn't know this! ;-) )  So I am joining the following challenges with little hope of completing them but knowing they will at least focus me and I will read SOMETHING by having them.  Okay, here goes:

Back to the Classics Challenge:

Karen at Books and Chocolate hosts this great challenge again and here are my choices:

A 19th century classicMoby Dick by Herman Melville
A 20th century classic: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
A classic by a woman author: Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell
A classic in translation: Tevye the Dairyman and Motl the Cantor’s Son by Sholem Aleichem
A children's classic: Teddy’s Button by Amy Lefeuvre
A classic crime story, fiction or non-fiction: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
A classic travel or journey narrative, fiction or non-fiction: Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne, or Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes by Robert Louis Stevenson
A classic with a single-word title: Meditations by Marcus Aurelius or, Shirley by Charlotte Brontë or, We by Yevgeny Zamyatin or, Pensées by Blaise Pascal
A classic with a colour in the title: The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
A classic by an author that's new to you: A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland and a Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides by Samuel Johnson and James Boswell or, Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
A classic that scares you: The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe or, The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
Re-read a favourite classic: The Iliad by Homer

TBR Pile Challenge:

Adam at Roof Beam Reader is hosting this challenge to get those books on our shelves read!  My list is here:

  1. Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne
  2. The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
  3. A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland and a Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides by Samuel Johnson and James Boswell
  4. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  5. Tevye the Dairyman and Motl the Cantor’s Son by Sholem Aleichem
  6. Lives by Plutarch
  7. City of God by Saint Augustine
  8. Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake
  9. The Waves by Virginia Woolf
  10. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
  11. Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol
  12. Le Rêve by Émile Zola

Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes by Robert Louis Stevenson
Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

Victorian Challenge:

This is my first year doing this challenge.  Becky at Becky's Books and Reviews has a number of options.  I have no idea which I'm going to choose at the moment.  I'd love to do the A-Z challenge but I would be delusional to take on that one.  So I will probably just read and fill in some categories.  You can click on the link to look at the categories.

Deal Me In Challenge:

Jay at Bibliophilopolis hosts this challenge and has been very patient with my stumbling attempts to get through it.  I have no illusions that I'll finish it this year but what I love about this challenge is that it gets me reading wonderful stories, poems and essays which I would normally never pick up.  So I can be happy with my incompletedness each year ..... kind of .....

I took what I didn't finish from last year and simply chose new books to fill in the spots where I did read the stories/poem/essay.  Rather boring, but easy.  I need easy this year.

Clubs – Short Stories
A –  Cabbages and Kings - O’Henry
2 –  Excellent People - Anton Chekhov
3 –  The Queen of Spades – Alexander Pushkin
4 –  The Story of A Farm Girl - Guy Maupassant
5 –  The Hammer of God (Father Brown) - G.K. Chesterton
6 –  Doubtful Happiness - Guy Maupassant
7 –  The Honest Thief – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
8 –  The Unpresentable Appearance of Colonel Crane - G.K. Chesterton
9 –  The Diary of a Madman - Guy Maupassant
10 – The Birds - Anton Chekhov
J –  The Yellow Wallpaper - Charlotte Gilman
Q -  Love - Leo Tolstoy 
K -  Signs and Symbols - Vladimir Nabakov

Spades – Essays
A – Milton - Charles Williams
2 – England, Your England - George Orwell
3 – A Midsummer Night’s Dream - G.K. Chesterton
4 – On A Faithful Friend – Virginia Woolf
5 – A Note on Jane Austen - C.S. Lewis
6 –  In Defence of Literacy - Wendell Berry
7 –  The Tyranny of Bad Journalism - G.K. Chesterton
8 –  The Hotel of the Total Stranger - E.B. White
9 –  An Apology for Idlers - Robert Louis Stevenson
10 – Sense - C.S. Lewis
J – Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community - Wendell Berry
Q – What I Demand of Life - Frank Swinnerton
K – Death of a Pig - E.B. White

Diamonds – Poetry
A – A Sea Dirge - Lewis Carroll
2 –  Gesang Der Geister Über Den Wassern - Johann Wolfgang
               von Goethe
3 – Nothing But Death - Pablo Neruda (from Poetry Soup)
4 – Sonnett XXIII - Garcilaso de la Vega
5 – Love Sonnet XIII - Pablo Neruda
6 – Resolution and Independence – William Wordsworth
7 – Ode III – Fray Luis de León
8 – Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night - Dylan Thomas
9 – To A Mouse – Robert Burns
10 – From Milton [Jerusalem] - William Blake
J –  Easter Wings – George Hebert
Q – On His Blindness - John Milton
K – Phoenix and the Turtle - William Shakespeare

Hearts – Children’s Classic
A – A Triumph for Flavius – Caroline Dale Snedeker
2 – Three Greek Children - Alfred Church
3 –  The Story of the Treasure Seekers – E. Nesbit
4 – Detectives in Togas – Henry Winterfeld
5 – The Spartan - Caroline Dale Snedeker
6 – Shadow Hawk  Andre Norton
7 – City of the Golden House - Madeleine Polland
8 – Red Sails to Capri – Ann Weil
9 – Sprig of Broom - Barbara Willard
10 – Teddy’s Button - Amy LeFeuvre
J –  Call It Courage – Armstrong Sperry
Q – Just David - Eleanor H. Porter
K – Beyond the Desert Gate – Mary Ray 

What is that saying about a wing and a prayer, lol?!

© Cleo @ Classical Carousel

As for other less bookish things planned for January, I am going to, of course, keep working on and building our food blog, Journey to the Garden.  It's something I enjoy (although not quite as much as book blogging) and if I could make some income from it I would be very pleased.  Skiing, of course, is planned and I'm starting a few lessons that I was able to join inexpensively with some homeschoolers, so that will be fun.  I also REALLY need to get back into some sort of exercise regime.  I've been doing some brief aerobics regularly, but I want to incorporate walking, and of course, I'd love to get back into yoga.  On the distasteful side, tax prep should be started now, so I'm not scrambling last minute to do it, and with the added blog for (hopefully someday) profit, I have many more expenses to track.  I wish it could be magically done, but I'm the only magician around here so it's up to me.  Sad but true.  But honestly, my main wish for January is to get back to being organized.  Prayers and wishes for this miracle are gratefully accepted, lol!

In any case, hoping for a wonderful start to the year for everyone!

© Cleo @ Classical Carousel