Thursday, 14 July 2011

Normblog: Tolstoy, The False Note, and the problem of Evil

Norman Geras, Professor Emeritus of Government at Manchester University, has since 2003 been fashioning a notable second career for himself as a blogger and tweeter on issues of the day and assorted enthusiasms. A regular feature of the blog is 'Writer's Choice', wherein (as Geras described it for the Guardian) "novelists, poets and other writers have contributed their thoughts on books that have been important to them in one way or another, or books they have simply enjoyed." I am very pleased to say that I am the latest invitee to contribute a screed of this sort to Normblog: my choice was Tolstoy's novella The False Note, also known as The Forged Coupon, and you will find the full essay here. Meantime, a taster:
"I find The False Note an endlessly involving piece, and I feel it ought to be more widely known and celebrated. It is a kind of parable about money (we might better say 'currency') and the problem of evil: how a simple exchange of tainted money introduces a current of malevolence into social relations. Yet it resists a straightforwardly materialist analysis. As the Italian novelist Alberto Moravia read it, Tolstoy exhibits 'a strange conviction that every society creates evil according to some kind of natural secretion, as certain molluscs produce pearls'."

I might have said in the piece - but it was long enough already - that Robert Bresson's masterly 1983 film L'Argent is derived from the first of the two parts of The False Note, the setting transposed to contemporary France. Below, the last movement from L'Argent and the great Bresson in discussion of his work.