Friday, 6 June 2008

Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky? The Debate Continues.

Say what you like about Vanity Fair magazine - that, for instance, it's Hello for people with degrees, or that its left-leaning political coverage might pack more clout if it wasn't swaddled in dime-a-dozen glossy worship of the Rich & Famous - but I have to say that Jim Windolf's blogging piece on Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and translations of both plain can't be beat for covering all the key issues in a sharp and serious and amusing manner. Windolf seems to be as interested as I am in Nabokov's famously high-nosed dismissal of Dostoyevsky and all his works.
This was not just a matter of public pronouncement for Nabokov but a stubborn refusal to teach so much as a word of the author of The Brothers Karamazov to his Russian Literature undergraduate students at Cornell University back in the mid-1950s (i.e. when Nabokov was still teaching for his pennies, rather than reclining at ease on royalties from Lolita.) Hard to argue with Nabokov, of course - but, really, this was muleish of him.
The recurrent debate on whether having a favourite between the two Russian masters implies a personality type (or disorder...) feels like mere dinner-party sport to me - certainly not a serious question once one's undergraduate years are past. It seems to me the older you get the more you're bloody grateful to have the pair of them around, if only in spirit on the shelves...

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