Posts Tagged ‘ Leo Tolstoy ’

“… before an unknown hollow darkness of the heart”

Carson McCullers at 100

Isaiah Berlin based his most famous essay1 on a fragment of Archilocus: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Berlin forced this enigmatic apophthegm into a classification for writers and thinkers: “there exists a great chasm between those, on one side, who relate everything to a single central vision, one system, less or more coherent or articulate, in terms of which they understand, think and feel—a single, universal, organising principle in terms of which alone all that they are and say has significance—and, on the other side, those who pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory, connected, if at all, only in some de facto way, for some psychological or physiological cause, related to no moral or aesthetic principle.” The first group are the hedgehogs, and the second the foxes. He illustrated this division by putting, among others, Plato, Dante, Hegel, Dostoevsky and Proust among the hedgehogs and Aristotle, Shakespeare, Goethe, Pushkin and Balzac with the foxes. His use of this dichotomy is something of a rhetorical trick, because his essay is about Tolstoy for whom he says the division does not apply. But it is, perhaps, much better suited to the 100th anniversary of the birthday of Carson McCullers (February 19, 1917 – September 29, 1967), who, unlike almost all  American novelists, is a hedgehog.

When one considers the celebrated novelists of the first half of the 20th century, it is difficult to imagine any of them conceiving of the need for a systematic organization of thought into a single way of looking at things. Such thinkers are rare enough throughout history, and American fiction writers, with the exception, perhaps, of Hawthorne and certainly, of Melville, have not been been systematic moralists or practicing metaphysicians; rather, they have usually preferred psychological, and occasionally political, approaches to stories, and both are notoriously digressive methods.

Nabokov hated the kinds of novels hedgehogs produced, deriding them as books with “messages.” But all novels more-or-less have messages, even Tolstoy’s. (Anna Karenina after all begins with the epigraph: “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.”) The difference with hedgehogs, however, is that the central view is not a moral of a particular story or even an organizing principle for a work; it is rather a way of looking at the world which informs (and usually is the reason for undertaking) a writers total output. And given that the author so concentrates on that central vision (it is perhaps the reason why he becomes an author), it casts the story in a slightly heightened light, immediately noticeable, often by the adoption of a tone that is emotionally noncommittal and measured, although Dostoevsky’s prose is often urgent and frenetic.

T.S. Eliot (descendant of the Puritans, America’s quintessential hedgehogs) may have been America’s chief literary hedgehog. But the system he tried to construct, involving old -fashioned reactionary politics and unintelligible Catholic-Buddhist mysticism, was too solipsistic to be seriously entertained by anyone. McCullers was quite different. Her systematic quest was the result of experience and self-knowledge, and it appealed viscerally. And regardless of any limitations she might be accused of, one always feels she is driving at something beyond ordinary literary insight.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940)

From the beginning of her first novel, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter it is obvious that McCullers had in her sights the roots of human isolation. “In the town there were two mutes, and they were always together,” is the opening sentence. The picture it produces is the paradigm of isolation. Cut off from the rest of the town not only by their disabilities but also by the social segregation the disabled suffer, they have only each other. The chapter describes, in precise, unsentimental prose, the life these two lead. One, John Singer, a tall, thin, impeccably neat and refined man; the other, Spiros Antonapoulos, short and obese, and, we soon learn, mentally challenged. The two, over the course of the decade they lived together, made a life out of their simple and unvaried routine. Antonapoulos worked for his cousin, the owner of a fruit store. Singer was a silverware engraver. They would walk together to work, arm in arm, and come home together at night, where Antonapoulos cooked the meal (food was his one joy), and Singer washed the dishes. Singer did all the communicating, often signing for great stretches of time. Antonapoulos rarely “spoke,” except before bed when he prayed to “Holy Jesus” or “Darling Mary.” Silver did not know how much his friend understood of what he signed. “But the two mutes were not lonely at all.” Until one day, when Singer was 32, Antonapoulos became ill. He was ordered on a strict diet—a great privation for him—and he blamed Singer, who enforced the doctor’s regimen. Antonapoulos became spiteful and soon began acting out by committing small misdemeanors and indecencies in public. Eventually, without consulting Singer, Antanapoulos’s cousin had him committed to the state mental institution. The loss of his friend was a devastating blow from which he struggled to recover. At first, and for a long time, Singer wandered the streets of this deep Southern town until late at night. Singer was not of this place (“more like a Northerner or a Jew,” the town’s African American doctor concluded after receiving a small kindness from him), and this made him even lonelier. After weeks of this solitude, his grief changed him: “His agitation gave way gradually to exhaustion and there was a look about him of deep calm. In his face there came to be a brooding peace that is seen most often in the faces of the very sorrowful or the very wise.” He reached that state of numbness that is the only outcome of deep heartache.

That first chapter, we realize after finishing the novel, is really an encapsulation of the entire novel, like a sonata movement in a Classical era work, whose statements would be developed in various ways by the rest of the work. But Singer’s fate is not just emblematic; it sets him on a course that would make him a central character in the lives of others. In fact his relationships with the other major characters becomes a unifying plot device as well as a central metaphor in its own right. In each of the next four chapters we meet in turn the other four main characters who would become unlikely (and unsought for) disciples of Singer and whose stories unfold as something like variations on the theme of Singer’s.

The second chapter introduces us to Bartholomew “Biff” Brannon, the owner of the town’s dinner, the New York Café. Biff was not a man of action: “[h]e usually stood in the corner by the cash register, his arm folded over his chest, quietly observing all that went on around him.” His perch on the edge of this world allows him to watch, cogitate and try to puzzle together the half-conclusions he comes to. We meet his wife, Alice, who has no respect for him, and it’s clear that there is no longer any love in this marriage. Their current point of contention is a drunk, Jake Blount, who has taken up something like permanent residency in the diner. Alice wants him out, but Biff is too passive to take action. And he finds Blount an interesting object of his contemplation. Meanwhile, as Saturday turns to Sunday, Blount passed the stage of inebriation and has become a sloppy drunk, trying to declaim radical politics to the late-night diners and drinkers, most of whom consider him an object of ridicule. As a result of the outcome of that evening Blount would become a major character in his own right.

In this second chapter, we meet the two other new major characters, Mick Kelley, a 14 year old member of a large, downwardly mobile family who operate a run-down boarding house. Mick is one of six children and is barely supervised by her overworked parents, and this explains how she is at the diner past midnight buying cigarettes. Biff finds himself strangely attracted to the tomboyish girl. In this chapter we also meet the town’s African American doctor, Doctor Benedict Mady Copeland, who in the middle of that night is brought by Blount into the diner and is enraged when he believes that he has been tricked into coming to a segregated eating establishment soley to be mocked. Even John Singer is there, having during his wanderings made arrangements with Biff to take all of his meals at the café every day. Through Mick we learn that Singer has taken up lodgings at the Kellys’ boarding house, and after Blount that night makes a scene owing to acute alcohol poisoning, Singer offers taking Blount to his room for the night. To continue the symphony analogy, this chapter is something like a scherzo, and there are three movements left.

The third chapter follows Mick’s around the next day, Sunday, and shows us her family and acquaints us with her aspirations, at the same time both unrealistic and cramped. She is obsessed by music. But her parents cannot afford any additional expenses (even if they knew her interest); almost any connection she might have with music is out of the question, so she listens outside the room of a boarder who has a radio. She discovers that the music she is particularly entranced by was written long ago by someone named “Motsart.” She dreams of someday having a piano, but for now she has tried to make a violin from a broken mandolin and wires. When she realizes it won’t work, she is disgusted with her own foolishness. She wonders why she so enthusiastically worked on a thing that was so ridiculous. ‘Maybe,” she thinks, “when people longed for a thing that bad the longing made them trust in anything that might give it to them.”

We also discover in this chapter that the black cook at the boardinghouse, Portia, is Dr. Copeland’s daughter, and while she maintains her filial regard for him, she tells Mick of his estrangement from the family. She attributes his loneliness (despite being “full of books”) to his rejection of religion,. Religion gives peace, she explains, like what she, her husband, her brother Willie (who works in the kitchen of the New York Café), and their boarder Mr. Singer. (By using the same word as the narrator, peace, to describe the current state of John Singer, Portia ironically compares the numbness of personal devastation with the grace of God.) She warns Mick that she will experience the same emptiness of her father without God. “Your heart going to beat hard enough to kill you because you don’t have love and you don’t have peace.” Mick is cut to the quick by the accusation that she hadn’t loved, but she keeps her own counsel. When she wanders off she is gripped by an indescribable agitation and wrestles with an unquenchable longing for what she knows not. While sitting on the stairs hoping a boarder will turn on her radio she became lost in thought: 

“She thought a long time and kept hitting her thighs with her fists. Her face felt like it was scattered in pieces and she could not keep it straight. The feeling was a whole lot worse than being hungry for any dinner, yet it was like that. I want—I want—I want—was all that she could think about—but just what this real want was she did not know.”

In the fourth chapter we come to understand the obsession that Blount was unable to articulate during the previous night’s binge. Having been cleaned up by Singer he goes off to look for work. In the want ads he learns of a broken down amusement show looking for a mechanic. He finds the owner and tells him of his experience in all sorts of mechanical work is hired to run the flying jinny, an aging and splintered carousel that is taken from one vacant lot to the other to provide amusement for the town’s underbelly—mill hands, children and blacks. After taking the job he walks back through the white mill workers’ part of town. The buildings and inhabitants are both dreary and hopeless. He sidles up to three workers with “mill-sallow, dead pan faces” sitting on a porch. After offering them tobacco, he begins asking about strikes and their opinions about the owners of the mill. He asks them if their exploitation makes them mad, but all he can elicit is mocking laughter. “The men laughed in the slow and easy way that three men laugh at one.” He is enraged, but returns to Singer with bottles of beer because he knows that Singer is an empathetic soul and can provide him solace. He explains how he has spent his life studying the system that chews up people for profit on capital. He tells Singer that they are two of the very few who understand and when two such find each other it is something like a miracle. Singer, who clearly does not understand, writes a question on a card: Are you a Democrat or a Republican? Blount looks into Singer’s eyes, which seem to hypnotize him. “‘You get it,’ he said in a blurred voice. ‘You know what I mean.'”

Chapter five tells the story of Dr. Copeland, a man dedicated to the liberation of his people. So certain of the righteousness of his goal, he tried to enlist his children into the fight, giving them the names Karl Marx, Hamilton, Willie and Portia. Hs book study and life experience have taught him what it will take for the Negro to reclaim his rights: discipline, hard work, dignity and exemplary behavior to emulate. He knows this to his core; spreading this word has become his “real true cause.” He saw his children as agents in this work and hoped to teach them of their special places and their own real true cause, but they wanted to fit in with their peers, to avoid the stigma of being “uppity.” Dr. Copeland’s wife did not openly resist him, but she sided with them. She allowed the children their minor vices and childish wishes, and worse, she took them to church and instilled in them “the cult of meekness.”  It was more than he could bear, and the result of the conflict was his wife moving to the farm of her father and taking the children. She died, but the children remained estranged. Only Portia occasionally visited her father, but neither she nor any of the others became the scientists, lawyers and teachers Copeland knew his people needed, and he was now bereft of his family and his dreams.

These introductions are followed by the large central part of the work, where the destinies of these characters play out. The stories are presented much like the introductions, with one chapter for each of the characters, although the stories occasionally cross paths. Each chapter has subtly different narrative language appropriate to the character whose story is told.  Words or phrases that peculiar to a particular character are inserted in a non-intrusive way, and this softens the artificiality of an omniscient narrator’s voice. But these insertions do not substitute for the characters’s internal dialogue, they merely illustrate the level of intellectual maturity and social adjustment of the character. The narrator’s tone remains the same throughout: sympathetic without pathos, exposition without any unnecessary emphasis, objective rather than like-minded, all accomplished with clear expository sentences designed to show the reader external events and the characters’ responses, suggesting some deeper meaning, but without idiosyncratic style or obvious technique. She always allows the structure of the narrative (with occasional rhetorical emphasis) to permit the reader to form conclusions of a deeper sort.

As for the key feature of the structure most critical comment has focused on the relation of Singer to the three who most avidly seek out his attention. (Biff is too busy at the café to spend much time with Singer at the boarding house and doesn’t sit with him at the diner. Besides, his interest in Singer is clinical: Unlike the other three, he sees that Singer does not understand what they offer up to him. He tries to understand why they delude themselves.) The three become more and more dependent on Singer: “Each person addressed his words mainly to the mute. Their thoughts seemed to converge in him as the spokes of a wheel lead to the center hub.” Singer does not seek this position, nor does he do much to maintain it. He barely understands what they tell him, and they interpret his smiles or nods as suits them. He is happy for the company but finds them strange. One night he has a dream where Antonapoulos was knelling atop a set of stone stairs holding something above his head and he seemed in an attitude of prayer. Below him Singer himself, also naked, was looking up at Antonapoulos. Below Singer were the four other main characters looking at him. The dream ends when the stairs crumble. Much has been made of the metaphorical implications of Singer’s relation to the others. And just as Singer’s “disciples” attribute to his reactions the meaning they wish them to have, critics have assigned as the meaning of the metaphor their own hobbyhorses. I’ll give one example: Harold Bloom, one of America’s most prolific critics, and one who often appeals to non-academic readers, sees this metaphor in terms of classic (early) psychoanalysis and refers to Freud’s “The Dynamics of Transference” (1912) to note that inability to love results from early channelling of libidinal impulses in ways that withhold it from conscious personality (etc., etc.).2 But McCullers in this novel does not addressing the expression of erotic love by this metaphor. She is not even dealing with any of he other forms of love that bear Greek names (such as agape or philos). What the “disciples” want, is not “love,” but rather affirmation of the meaning they have chosen for their lives, the meaning they have selected consciously, not as a result of innate drives. This may or may not be susceptible to psychoanalytic description, but not in the reductive way Bloom suggests.

In much the same way other academic critics have forced this work into the confines of their own specialties. Let’s put aside feminist and queer theory critics and look at earlier critics who regarded the novel as another of the Southern Gothic genre begun by Faulkner. Most of the support for that categorization stems solely from the southern location and the supposed treatment of “freaks” and “outcasts.” (The reed that often supports the claim that McCullers is obsessed with “freaks” is Biff’s statement to Alice that “I like freaks.” But when he thinks of it Blount (to whom he applied the term) is not a freak, and those he was thinking of do not appear in the novel.) That the characters were ground down by poverty, the Depression and racism does not make them freaks or otherwise bizarre. In fact, McCullers treats each of the characters with a kind of respect, and thereby gives them a dignity that is apparent even in the first glance. McCullers’s characters are overall much more articulate than Faulkner’s, her African American characters in particular are real people rather than props. Her style and narrative structure avoid any self-referential “literary” technique. Nor does she emphasize the morbid or construct elaborate but implausible plot developments. In short, there seems really very little in common between McCullers and Faulkner. But for me the most important difference and what makes McCullers unique is how she can make a novel of ideas out of people and events that remain realistic throughout. In this novel almost all the characters are living on the edge of financial disaster. Privation distorts their possibilities as well as their relations to others. And yet in addition to trying to retain their dignity, the main characters are also searching for deeper meanings to life, and it is that quest and the answers they tell themselves that are at the heart of the mystery that we feel reading her novels.

Characters searching for meaning was not a Southern, or even American, literary commonplace. Of course, there were all sorts of existentialist theories and treatments of existentialist themes and outlooks from as far back as the mid-nineteenth century. (One could even go earlier with Büchner’s Woyzeck.) But whether one could (or even should) define a meaning for one’s self was a question that would become a central issue only in the middle of the twentieth century and later. An important early step in that direction was Camus’s The Stranger, but that novel was published a year after The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. And the French work dealt only with the preliminary issue: the absurdity of our isolation (to translate it into more McCullers-friendly concepts). Camus would elaborate his concept (and its consequences) in many essays and criticisms, which gave him intellectual heft among academics. McCullers was never an accomplished essayist, possibly because she formulated her ideas in terms of stories. (In this she might be said to be Southern.) But in her first extended story she examined her existential (or absurdist, for she is more like Camus than either the atheist Sartre or the deist Kierkegaard) thesis from several different angles, not just one  (exceedingly abnormal) point of view as in The Stranger.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is also the only work that puts her existential thesis in the context of common religious beliefs (for the South in the late 1930s). There are only two characters (and they are secondary) who subscribe to any form of systematic religious belief. The first is Antonapoulos, whose religious rituals, as far as we can tell, are extremely childlike and rote, almost superstitious. Singer’s dream acknowledges his friend’s superiority ot him in matters spiritual (and in the same sense his superiority to his own “disciples”), but in the end the edifice collapses. Portia is the other believer (or at least practitioner) in the work. She believes that membership in her denomination and moderate practice of ritual (not too “sanctified” she insists) results in peace and the ability to love.  It is true that she is the only character who demonstrates something close to selfless concern for others, even those outside her own insular race (for she expresses concern for the Kelly children). Her behavior, however, seems more in keeping with the cult of meekness (as Dr. Copeland calls it), the kind which reinforces conventional social and ethical rules without any appeal to heightened consciousness (the kind, in short, that William James seems to prefer in The Variety of Religious Experiences), and nothing she says shows it gives any meaning to her life. It certainly is not a motivation to seek social justice. The other characters dismiss religion outright. Mick believes no more in God than in Santa Claus, she says, but her early indoctrination bubbles up in snatches of scripture at an oddly inappropriate moment. Blount is plagued by a street preacher out to convert him, but Blount’s response is mere mockery. He regards it all as a lie, unlike the gospel of worker liberation which he preaches and for which he himself is mocked. Biff is also reminded of religion. His wife teaches Sunday School and at the beginning of the novel, he hears her preparing a lesson involving the verse from Mark, to the effect that all men seek for Him. The talk only effects nostalgia in Biff, who remembers the days before he gave it all up. When each reach their own crisis, none considers religion as a sensible recourse.

Even the one central teaching of conventional Christianity, altruistic love (Christ-like in its self-abnegation) does not give us permanent relief from the isolation the characters experience, because it depends on the existence of the object of our devotion. When Singer loses Antanapoulos, his reason for living disappears, and with that, he takes away the affirmation he was supplying to the others. The short denouement part of the novel concludes their stories in reverse order of the characters’ introductions. Copeland, having met his wall, the realization that his life work of self-actualizing into a respectable, dignified man was no match for the entrenched institutionalized forces of racism, gives up. He is carted off (literally) to the farm of his father-in-law, whose meekness and religiosity Copeland spent his lifetime opposing. It is perhaps the fact that the farm is away from the town, itself isolated from the arena that Copeland had tried to contend in, that makes it any refuge at all. Blount, having not convinced any person of the idea he found so simple, and indeed becomes the reason that the oppressed end up attacking each other, has to leave town, to escape questions and possibly to find converts elsewhere. Biff gives him a little help, but without Singer, Blount has not reason to stay. Mick made a decision, forced by circumstances that effectually compelled it, which for all practical purposes will end her dream of pursuing music. Barely on the edge of adulthood she can expect a future as dreary of her father’s, but evidently because we cannot live without meaning, however illusory, she thinks she can save $2 out of $10 weekly salary to some day buy a piano. These thoughts console her while she drinks a beer and has a chocolate sundae at the café at the same time realizing that she is angry all the time. Only there is no on to be angry at. Biff suffers no great trouble, because he had no meaning he would commit to. He realized he would no longer love again, and he never understood the mystery of Singer. But suddenly in the middle of the night, as he tends the customer-free café, he comes to a transcendent realization. “For in a swift radiance of illumination he saw a glimpse of human struggle and of valor. Of the endless fluid passage of humanity through endless time. And of those who labor and of those who—one word—love. His soul expanded.” But the exhilaration of the vision soon turns to terror. What he was looking at was the past; the future, however, holds “blackness, error, and ruin.” It was necessary to wash his face with a wet handkerchief and to actively impose self discipline to dispel the terror. He was, after all, a “sensible man.” And so he composed himself “soberly to await the morning sun.”

There are two influences that I think profoundly influence the organization and approach of this novel, and both are Russian.3 The first is the mature work of Dostoevsky. In the first place, the techniques of Dostoevsky’s first effort to mesh more than one story into a single work, Crime and Punishment, are evident. Long stretches of independent stories, occasionally crossing with the other story, are allowed to develop under their own logic, almost independent of the design of the others. What gives The Heart is a Lonely Hunter such expansiveness is the careful construction of the separate stories, not as accessories to each other, but almost in their own right. The parallels are not overstated, and the details allow us to consider the psychological makeup of each character. A particular point of comparison is the introduction of Blount in McCullers’s book and the introduction of Marmeladov in Crime and Punishment (in both cases in the second chapters of the respective novels). Like Blount, Marmeladov is quite drunk and attempts to tell his story. Like the customers in the New York Café, those in Dostoevsky’s bar treat the drunk with ridicule. But out of the encounter a relationship is formed between the two drunks and the two central characters in the novels. A second characteristic of Dostoevsky that McCullers also uses is the sudden shocking moment that drastically changes the relationships of the characters and their possible future courses of action. This is probably best seen in Demons (The Possessed) and The Idiot. Finally, Dostoevsky also dwell on the human need to express out inner thoughts to others. This is what in Crime and Punishment undoes Raskolnikov legally (although we are led to believe at the end, it formed the basis for his spiritual renewal). It is also evident, more perversely, in the character of Stavrogin in Demons. What McCullers does not take from Dostoevsky, however, is his tendency to descend into the maudlin. For her restrained tone and objective recounting of narrative, she more closely resembles Chekhov.  Both of these two Russian influences also  can be seen in the next two novels.

With her first novel McCullers staked out a territory that became her own over the next two decades—the mystery of human isolation and its consequence. Dostoevsky likewise spent his career exploring the spiritual dimensions of human suffering. Although neither fully answered the questions they posed, they both came near an answer by the final novel. In the next post I’ll discuss how McCullers came to almost know that “one big thing.”


1“The Hedgehog and the Fox” in Russian Thinkers (London: Hogarth Press, 1978), reprinted in Isaiah Berlin, The Proper Study of Mankind: An Anthology of Essays ed. by Henry Hardy and Roger Hausheer (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. [Return to text.]

2Harold Bloom, “Introduction,” Carson McCullers (Modern Critical Views) ed. by Harold Bloom (New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1986), pp. 1–2. [Return to text.]

3McCullers wrote an essay in 1941 entitled “Russian Realists and Southern Writers” in which she compared the Russian aristocracy to the Southern social order: “The Southerner and the Russian are both ’types,’ in that they have certain recognizable and national psychological traits. Hedonistic, imaginative, lazy, and emotional—there is surely a cousinly resemblance.” It is not for this reason, however, or at least not for this reason alone, that I think she owes a debt to the Russians. [Return to text.]

100 Novels: #91. Anna Karenin

I had promised to offer some thoughts on my list of the 100 novels literate people should read, but like all good intentions here, time slowly erodes the ability to perform.

I had not planned on dealing with Tolstoy’s masterpiece so soon. In fact, the later it was pushed back the better, because, after all, how can anyone formulate something interesting to say about such a near perfect work of art? Rather than essay a futile task, better to postpone it.

I was forced to change my mind when I saw a trailer of a movie version, by Tom Stoppard, starring Keira Knightley. I have not come to praise this film. Tom Stoppard, however, is probably the person best suited to turing the novel into a movie, and Knightley certainly appears like one would imagine Anna. The trailer has some of the feel of the novel, and you can see hints of all the great scenes with steam locomotive, ice skating, the famous ball, etc. The language also seems to come right out of Tolstoy’s mouth (via Constance Garnett). But I am not suggesting you see it. In fact, if you have not read the novel, I plead that you not see it before you do so.

And this should be a spur for you to read it right away.

Reading the novel is one of the experiences you should not deprive yourself of. The hard bopper Art Blakey used to say at the end of his sets, “Tell your square friends to check this out before leaving the planet.” That advice is definitely true of Anna Karenin. (I use the form of her last name used by the her husband, because some translators Anglicize it this way, and because we are unused to having the husband’s and wife’s last names differ, even by the added -a.) Reading it for the first time is an enveloping experience. The two main story lines slowly unfurl down different lines with the pace of inevitability. The more famous of the lines (because who could deny priority to a character whose black curls lying on her neck are as lovingly described as here) become dreadful in its certainty, just like all truly mythic stories.

So why not just get it over with in a couple of hours while watching Knightley? Well, because the essence of the novel is the author’s ability to portray the interior of characters. Movies can’t do that. And in this case, though the story is compelling in itself, one can’t ignore how the great artist portrays the inner lives of the characters.

Even the scenes known so well by Tolstoyites that just the name of them brings up wells of memories: the ice rink, the race track, the ball, the train station, all these are visualized not because Tolstoy describes the picture like a camera, but because he illuminates the characters’ souls so perfectly that we can populate the scenes with the physical props by ourselves. The bashfullness of Levin, for example, at the ice rink is so perfectly drawn that we don’t need details about the furs worn by the women, the boots of the men and how the rink physically appeared. All of that is more or less irrelevant. But in the movie that will be what is shown.

By the time Tolstoy wrote this book, he was a master of psychological understatement. The scenes are drawn with humanizing subtlety. Take, for example, when Levin goes to visit his impoverished, bohemian brother. His woman companion is described with empathy. Tolstoy saw no need to emphasize the urban pathology that Dostoevsky dwelled on. And yet, the clash of cultures could not be better explained. In fact, all the major characters emphasize a specific aspect of the socio-economic problems of the professional and aristocratic classes. But the book is no manifesto, merely a couple of moral tales taking place in a three-dimensional jungle that was late nineteenth century Russia.

I have in another post described how Tolstoy artfully introduces new characters, organically:

Characters are introduced, not by an assessment but rather simply as they come in contact.  Their personalities become apparent in their relationships.  In fact, the entire story is largely propelled by the handing off of one character to another, much like an elaborate partner trade in square dancing.

The characters gradually populate the tale to the point that stories begin to have increasing lengths, which grow and intertwine. And all this happens under an overall architecture where symbols, like trains, associate with internal crisis points. This great cathedral is described by the opening biblical aphorism: “Vengeance is Mine.” But the steps to damnation and salvation are so small, we have to pay close attention to see what path is being taken.

Anna is truly one of the great tragic figures in all Western art. Like Milton’s Satan in how she pays for violating divine rules, but a hero motivated not by ego or willfulness but by tender passion. And she pays out of proportion to her crime. Levin achieves something like salvation, although it is never certain and not something that brings ecstasy, by being truer, emptied of driving selfishness, and too willing to believe his ardor defeated. Is that the moral? And what of Count Vronsky? Is he spared grand suffering because he is hollow or does he truly understand the destruction he is bringing down?

Tolstoy was on the edge of giving up art to become a moral thinker. This work happily sees his power as both artist and moralist. In both he is subtle. It is a subtlety that brings one back over and over to the text. It cannot be captured on film, which is why there have been so many attempts.

This abridged and unfocused look at the novel deserves additional thought, which I hope to give later, after we look at some of the other 100 novels.

Grossman’s Life and Fate (III)

In the notes for his Turgenev lecture, Nabokov says:

“One will observe a queer feature of Turgenev’s structure.  He takes tremendous trouble to introduce his characters properly, endowing them with pedigrees and recognizable traits, but when he has finally assembled them all, lo and behold the tale is finished and the curtain has gone down whilst a ponderous epilogue takes care of whatever is supposed to happen to his invented creatures beyond the horizon of his novel.  I do not mean there are no events in this story.  On the contrary, this novel [Fathers and Sons] is replete with action; there are quarrels and other clashes, there is even a duel—and a good deal of rich drama attends Bazarov’s death.  But one will notice that all the time throughout the development of the action, and in the margin of the changing events, the past lives of the characters are being pruned and improved by the author, and all the time he is terribly concerned with bringing out their souls and minds and temperaments by means of functional illustrations …”

[Previous parts of this series: Part I and Part II.]

Vasily Grossman reporting for Krasnaya Zvezda ("The Red Star") in Schwerin, Germany in 1945.

You can’t escape the same conclusion when reading Life and Fate.  In the first place, it takes more than a third of the novel to introduce the disparate groups of characters.  And with each group there is a formal introduction of characters, usually quite compact, as though the reader cannot understand a character’s actions without a biographical snapshot before him.  It’s hard not to consider how differently Tolstoy handles the introduction of characters.  (The Tolstoy comparison is hard to avoid since Grossman himself practically announces it with the selection of his title and since his translator Chandler makes a strong argument for it in the introduction.  Whether Grossman really resembles Tolstoy or not will be considered in a later entry.)

Anna Karenina begins not with a background sketch of anyone but rather with a mise en scène (in the way screen writers use the term, as descriptions of actions between dialogues).  It tells of a house in turmoil, and describes the cause – the letter from the former governess revealing her affair with the husband, the wife’s announcement that they must separate, the confusion of the staff, the wandering about without supervision.  None of the characters is even named in this description.  The novel properly begins then with Stiva (the guilty husband) waking and contemplating his dream.  He slowly remembers the situation he’s in, and the story takes off.  Characters are introduced, not by an assessment but rather simply as they come in contact.  Their personalities become apparent in their relationships.  In fact, the entire story is largely propelled by the handing off of one character to another, much like an elaborate partner trade in square dancing.  When backgrounds are described, they are not done in block fashion, but naturally, as it were, out of the nature of the scene.  Stiva’s background is explained while he is reading his newspaper.  Noting that it is a moderately progressive paper leads to a discussion of his point of view—a take-no-risk personality (Part I chapter 3).  Other background information is given when characters come in contact.  For example, Stiva’s professional rise is described as a matter of his affability and is placed right before he arrives at the office, where he where he is said to have won the affection of all with whom he came in contact.  This discussion introduces his sister Anna (who is coming to speak with his wife Dolly to calm her uproar over his affair) and, more importantly her husband, who gave Stiva his first job.  The background is not so much to describe Stiva as to set up a future intersection of characters (I:5).  The same approach is used when the prior history of Levin and Kitty is explained (I:6) and takes place after Levin meets Stiva in his office and allows the story to slightly backtrack to pick up what Levin was doing right before Stiva woke up in Chapter 1.  The story then proceeds with the meeting at the ice rink and the dinner with Stiva later that night.  Stiva leaves to go to the party at the Sheherbatskys to meet Kitty, and at this point Kitty’s story is briefly told (I:12).  And so on.

Sergey Levitsky's 1856 photo of Russia's literary establishment. Standing, Tolstoy is in uniform. Below him Turgenev is seated. Standing next to Tolstoy is Dmitry Grigorovich. To Turgenev's right Ivan Goncharov sits; to his left first Alexander Druzhinin, then Alexander Ostrovsky.

Turgenev, by contrast, presents character backgrounds as though they were encyclopedia entries.  And they come, usually, shortly after the character is introduced.  In Fathers and Sons, Nikolai Petrovich Kirsanov barely learns from his valet that there is “no sign” of something and sits down on a bench at the posting station they were waiting at, when Turgenev introduces a full-dress biographical entry (all quotes from the Hare translation):  “We will introduce him to the reader while he sits, with his feet tucked in, looking thoughtfully around.”  The entry, which takes up most of the first chapter, describes the man’s property holdings and then begins with his father, and how he went from Army hero to land owner, tells of his father’s relation with his mother, recounts his schooling and university experience, his marriage and domestic life and the birth of his child – who he and his valet are waiting for.  The chapter ends with the valet hearing the approaching coach.

Other encyclopedic character entries describe Nikolai Petrovich’s brother, Pavel (Chapter 6), Fenichka (Chapter 8), Anna Sergyevna Odintsov (Chapter 15) and Bazarov’s mother, Arina Vlasyevna (Chapter 20).  All are so oddly formal, and all effect such a sharp break with the scene they conclude, that the conclusion is natural that Turgenev had some sort of functional purpose for them, perhaps providing mileposts in the narrative.  The background of Pavel, for example, is supposedly given by Arkady, his nephew, but no attempt is made to have it sound as though it were being told, rather than written by the narrator.  “And Arkady told him his uncle’s story.  The reader will find it in the following chapter.”  Fenichka’s background follows an intriguing scene where Pavel awkwardly visits her on a pretext, asks to see the baby and stays until he is interrupted by his brother who is unaware of Pavel’s strange attraction to the peasant (“And really is there anything in the world more captivating than a beautiful young mother with a healthy baby in her arms?”).  Nikolai Petrovich kisses the hand of his mistress:  “Nikolai Petrovich, what are you doing?” she murmured, lowering her eyes, then quietly looked up again; her expression was charming as she peeped from under her eyelids and smiled tenderly and rather stupidly.”  And then begins the background.

Grossman’s character biographies are usually much shorter, and so they do not interrupt the narrative in such a pronounced way. They would probably not be particularly noticeable except for their sheer number.  Occasionally the back story of a character, such as David which we saw in the last Part,  is introduced without calling attention to the abrupt time shift and seamlessly works its way back to the narration of current events. (It helps in the case of David that it occurs at the beginning, where there are so many scene shifts as the novel introduces so many different groups of characters.) In many other cases, however, the character’s background is inserted as a parenthetical which interrupts the narration.

Here are a few examples:

  • Ikonnikov (Part I chapter 4), the former Tolstoyan, now atheist, whose character functions solely as a Christian foil to true believer communist Mostovskoy’s Marxist certainty in the German concentration camp. His background is inserted in a “philosophical” dialog between them, which ends somewhat artificially as Grossman goes on to describe another “old Russian.”
  • Getmanov (I:21), Party functionary who was appointed political commissar of the tank corps that will spearhead the Soviet counter-offensive against the Germans. His biography is inserted in the middle of the farewell party at his family’s temporary home in Ufa. The drinking party among Getmanov’s former comrades paints Getmanov as an amoral, ambitious Party tool. Grossman nevertheless felt it necessary to describe his history in a blisteringly acidic tone so that the reader was not left with any doubt that he had no principles, no talents and no reason for authority other than his complete identification with the current Party directives. (Getmanov’s history since the beginning of the war is continued in I:52, where it is not done in such a heavy-handed manner.)
  • Shargorodsky (I:25), introduced simply as another tenant in the building in Kuibyshev, to which Yevgenia Shaposhnikova (sister and sister-in-law of the protagonist couple) has been relocated by the war. His background is presented at the moment he is introduced: He was a liberal aristocrat and poet who made friends in exile with the post-war revolutionaries. He is a “type” exhibiting progressive but not radical views.
  • Katya Vengrova (I:57), the young radio operator who just arrived in the bombed out building in Stalingrad called 6/1 (a building held by a group of Soviet fighters, although surrounded by Germans in other abandoned buildings). Having just been introduced to the commander, she is sent to her position where her background is introduced by her thinking of the “fairy-tale like” existence she had before the war. She lived with her mother and followed a drab impoverished routine. Only the night before she left for the Army did she learn from her mother how her father had abandoned her and how hurt her mother was. “Katya had been quite astonished: the world of the human soul suddenly seemed so vast as to make even the raging war seem insignificant.”
  • Karimov (I:63), translator of Western literary works into Tartar. Viktor Shtrum meets him when the physics group is evacuated to Kazan during the war. Shtrum learns Karimov’s background from the librarian. Karimov becomes a member of the group, including Shtrum, which engages in discussions of literary and political topics, often with a freedom that was politically dangerous.
  • Yershov (I:70), Soviet colonel planning to organize an uprising across Germany from the concentration camp he was imprisoned in. As he is a character who introduces a new plot element, Grossman devotes a new chapter to describe his plans, his ability to carry them out and then his background. While Yershov was in military service, his father was denounced as a kulak and his estate taken. Yershov was refused admittance to the Military Academy, despite his high marks and had to work at manual labor to support his father (his mother and sisters had died early in the banishment). When he was called up during the German invasion, he proved himself valiant and a natural leader and was promoted accordingly. Now despite having every natural incentive to reject the Soviet leadership and ideology, he is considering how to engineer a revolt all over Germany. While deciding which Soviet officers to trust with his plans he muses over the characters of other prisoners, which allows the Grossman to give a brief story about Gen. Gudz, Brigadier Commisar Osipov, Colonel Zlatokrylets and Major Kirillov.
  • Beck (II:11), German infantry officer in hospital for surgery to remove bullet splinters. Perhaps because Grossman has insufficient knowledge to describe life in pre-war Germany, the “background” of Lt. Bach is merely an intellectual history of how the son of social democrats, who himself despised the anti-intellectualism of early Nazis, came to consider Hitler the solution to Germany’s problems.
  • Darensky (II:13), artillery officer, whose reports were well regarded by Army command, on fact-finding mission for in the desert surrounding the Caspian Sea. His host and temporary bunk-mate having passed out drunk, Darensky tries to sleep but remembers the treatment he and his aristocratic parents received before the war from the Party.

Even Eichmann’s background is described (II:29) in connection with his meeting an SS officer who knew his family before the war.

Not all biographical summaries are inserted with such a heavy hand. For example, the backgrounds of Grekov, Klimov, Batrakov, all members of the army unit holding House 6/1 are recalled by Shaposhnikov as he sits in Army HQ, anxiously eager to return to his colleagues (I:60). Shaposhnikov considers what he knows of their pre-war lives to understand why he considers their (and his own) life at the House more meaningful, and this musing in part leads to his return to the House, with its comradery and heightened experiences. Likewise the story of Nyeudobnov, the chief of staff of the tank corps commander Novikov, whom Getmanov was assigned to as political commissar, arises from the situation itself. In this case the background is supplied by Getmanov himself (I:52). Getmanov is having drinks with the commander (they have just received orders to begin moving out for the offensive), and he reveals that General Nyeudobnov was a ruthless enforcer of the purges in the Army instituted by Stalin. In this case the description (while also necessary to define the character to explain future actions) is part of Getmanov’s arsenal of methods to make himself out as trustworthy, to draw others out to see if disloyalty can be identified and generally to keep the people he dealt with (and spied on) off guard.

Even with occasional more artful manner of inserting them, the constant, almost obsessively routine, relating of a character’s pre-war biography, particularly of minor characters who do not play significant roles in any of the plot lines, makes the large novel seem even more overstuffed. Why did Grossman feel compelled to insert them all?

Of course the background of the characters inform how they act now (in the novel’s present) and why other people react to them the way they do. Trained Marxists, as all Soviet intellectuals had to be, would be able to form opinions about a person’s character, politics and values from his background. Soviet readers would probably expect to learn the background of the characters in these circumstances.

Perhaps also, Grossman inserted them as a way to deny the Soviet state the power to change the past. Grossman in life may have grown to think that way because the state had arrogated the past to itself. In the novel (I:63) the narrator says (in connection with the officers purged by Stalin): “the might of the State had constructed a new past. It had made the Red cavalry charge a second time. It had dismissed the genuine heroes of long-past events and appointed new ones. The state had the power to reply events, to transform figures of granite and bronze, to alter speeches long since delivered, to change the faces in a news photograph.” By setting for a character’s background as a fact, Grossman denies that it is a matter for reinterpretation by the State.

Or maybe it is simply because the manner by which Turgenev told stories was so ingrained in Grossman that it did not seem to him as artificial as it now seems. What make this last point seem more plausible is how chapter 34 of Part II is told. Tank corps commander Novikov returns to his quarters past a group of brand new recruits. Their fear of his reproach causes him to ruminate about the power officers in war time have over young men and how frequently they caused men to die without regret or real concern. At his quarters Nyeudobnov gave his opinion of the worthlessness of that group of recruits, proving himself both less reflective and more inhuman than Novikov. After this exchange, the chapter abruptly introduces another discussion under the influence of vodka with this observation (an uncharacteristic address directly to the reader and especially as one relating to storytelling):

“In his novels, Turgenev often describes calls paid by neighbours on a landlord who has just settled down on his estate . . . That evening, two jeeps stopped outside Corps HQ and the hosts came out into the porch to receive their guests: the commanders of an artillery division, a howitzer regiment and a rocket-launcher brigade.

“. . . Take my hand, dear reader. Today is the name-day of Tatyana Borisovna and we must go pay her a visit . . . ” (Ellipses in original.)

The second paragraph is a reference to Turgenev’s The Sportsman’s Notebook and comes from the sketch entitled “Tatyana Borisovna and her Nephew.” That section begins: “Give me your hand, dear reader, and come with me. The weather is glorious; the May sky is a tender blue; . . . ” (Charles and Natasha Hepburn translation.) The book, which made Turgenev’s reputation, is a vast and unwieldy collection of stories about Russian country life, which although told by a detached narrator, carries a political message. It was said to have strongly influenced public opinion in favor of the emancipation of the serfs. It also led to his arrest. The chapter about Tatyana Borisovna concerns a simple-hearted small landlord who sympathetically listens to those who come to her with problems and who cherish her kindness. The sketch has a very long description of her past shortly after the physical description of her property.

In the chapter of Life and Fate in which this allusion is made, however, Grossman for once utterly omits any background information of the three officers he introduces. Their personalities come through solely based on the opinions they take on the two question: how men should be led in battle and whether generals unduly sacrifice their men. The discussion shows how men of good will (in this case Novikov) are flummoxed in the face of duplicitous authoritarians (in this case Nyeudobnov) and how Party members were able to adopt whatever position they felt useful in the circumstances without fear of being contradicted. The chapter in fact shows that biographical backgrounds are not always necessary for either the plot development or the philosophical point Grossman is making. So is there another reason?

Although the accumulation of so many varied personalities suggests Turgenev or Tolstoy, it seems that what Grossman was trying to collect was a cross-section of the Soviet Union at the crisis, not for its own sake, but to demonstrate his alternative to Soviet Marxist ideology — a humanist appraisal of individual’s character in the context of a Russian democratic outlook. In this respect the writer he most respects is neither Turgenev nor Tolstoy, and certainly not Dostoevsky, but rather Chekhov. Grossman puts the argument in the words of Madyarov, brother-in-law of Viktor Shtrum’s colleague and best friend. After dismissing both the Decadents and the Soviet Realists because they exalted only one thing (the individual in the case of the Decadents and the State in the case of the Soviet Realists), Madyarov says that Chekhov “brought Russia into our consciousness in all its vastness–with people of every estate, every class, every age . . . More than that! It was as a democrat that he presented all these people — as a Russian democrat. He said — and no one had said this before, not even Tolstoy — that first and foremost we are all of us human beings. Do you understand? Human beings! He said something no one in Russia had ever said.” (Part I chapter 64.) He did this, according to Madyarov, principally by bringing “such a mass of different people into the consciousness of society.” Madyarov partially lists them:

“Doctors, engineers, lawyers, teachers, lecturers, landlords, shopkeepers, industrialists, nannies, lackeys, students, civil servants of every rank, cattle-dealers, tram-conductors, marriage-brokers, sextons, bishops, peasants, workers, cobblers, artists’ models, horticulturists, zoologists, innkeepers, gamekeepers, prostitutes, fishermen, lieutenants, corporals, artists, cooks, writers, janitors, nuns, soldiers, midwives, prisoners on the Sakhalin Islands . . . “

Madyarov said that only by looking at all the individuals in their idiosyncratic detail could Chekhov make the point that had eluded the writers before him:

“Chekhov is the bearer of the greatest banner that has been raised in the thousand years of Russian history — the banner of a true, humane, Russian democracy, of Russian freedom, of the dignity of the Russian man. From Avvakum to Lenin our conception of humanity and freedom has always been partisan and fanatical. It has always mercilessly sacrificed the individual to some abstract idea of humanity. Even Tolstoy, with his doctrine of non-resistance to Evil, is intolerant — and his point of departure is not man but God. He wants the idea of goodness to triumph. True believers always want to bring God to man by force; and in Russia they stop at nothing — even murder — to achieve this.

“Chekhov said: let’s put God – and all these grand progressive ideas – to one side. Let’s begin with man let’s be kind and attentive to the individual man – whether he’s a bishop, a peasant, an industrial magnate, a convict in the Sakhalin Islands or a waiter in a restaurant. Let’s begin with respect, compassion and love for the individual – or we’ll never get anywhere. That’s democracy the still unrealized democracy of the Russian people.”

And so there is perhaps another reason for showing the background of as many characters as Grossman can fit it, especially the background before the war which changed everything. Except for one thing: Karimov tells Shtrum that he thinks Madyarov is an informer.

In the next part, we’ll look at how Grossman saw the war changing individuals as well as the State itself. We’ll eventually also see whether this book ends up like Nabokov claims Turgenev’s books do: abruptly and without justifying the care that Turgenev used to define his characters.

Grossman’s Life and Fate (II)

Time of course is one of the inherent dimensions of a novel. This is so, not only because all narratives must be historical (in the sense that whatever happened, happened before it was described), but also because to the extent a novel follows the western art tradition that applies not only to stories, plays, but also most performance art (such as art music) development is a nearly essential component. Characters often undergo development over time; but not always (Meursault is as anomic at the beginning as at the end, at least as he describes himself when on death row in The Stranger).  But even the absence of development, however, is only seen against time measured in other ways.

Grossman’s characters by and large don’t develop in the course of the narrative. But Grossman frequently gives salient background to explain how they arrived at their current conditions. Less frequently, Grossman provides an analepsis. One of the most striking of these is of David, the young boy caught up in the German round-up of Jews in Ukraine, while on vacation from his mother in Moscow. David’s situation is for Grossman the converse of Viktor Shtrum, who lives in Moscow and fails to bring his mother from Ukraine, before she is rounded up. Like Viktor, Grossman himself failed to save his mother and for the same reason: his wife objected to her living with them. David’s fate, therefore, can be seen as the working out of Grossman’s own guilt. But even if you don’t subscribe to psychoanalyzing an author (and usually it offers no insight, because when it’s easy to see the biography of the author, there’s nothing it adds, and when it’s more difficult, we generally lack sufficient analytical data about the author to permit its use in explicating any aspect of the novel or its technique), at least the chiasma (so to speak) of the fates of mother-David / Viktor-mother adds to the overwhelming blanket of hopelessness that covers all the doomed characters.

Grossman’s treatment of David’s background is not simply a striking flash-back in the midst of a book trapped (like the characters in it under seige) in a stiffling “presentness,” it is also an escape into a gentler Russian literary sensibility. Consider the following paragraph (from Part I, chapter 49). It describes David’s education in the ways of nature after he spends time with his Grandmother, far away from his urban existence:

“The living world was no longer confined to the pages of spelling books and the faces of toy bricks. David saw how much blue there was in the drake’s dark wings and how much gay smilling mockery in the way he quacked. He climbed up the rough trunks of cherry trees and reached out to pick the white cherries that glowed among the leaves. He walked up to a calf that had been tethered on a patch of wasteland and offered him a sugar-lump; numb with happiness, he looked into the friendly eyes of this great baby.”

This wistful (and in Grossman’s case fey) treatment of childhood taps into a stream of particularly popular Russian literature that goes back to the very beginning: romanticized autobiography. This genre was sampled by almost everyone outside of the Gogol-Dostoevsky alienated-urbanite tradition. It began with Sergei Aksakov’s hugely popular trilogy of fictionalized autobiographies. Tolstoy himself came to fame with his own Childhood. In the twentieth century both Ivan Bunin (in exile) and Konstantin Paustovsky continued the form, in stark contrast to the prevailing trend of Soviet literature.

The essence of the form is that it describes a romanticized view of boyhood, in which the boy is filled with wonder as he communes with nature. (These narratives take place in the country, altough occassionally the youth visits a city or lives in one for a short time. Cities usually mean the end of childhood.) The boys are never contaminated by the caste system of Russian civilian life, nor by observing the brutalization of the serfs or the degradation of peasants. (The self-image of 19th Century Russian aristocrats is much like that of American gentry of the ante-bellum South.)

The key to the popularity of this genre, I suppose, was in the inherent goodness of the central boy. He is innocent; his only point of view is simple curiosity and gratitude. Although not very articulate, he causes immense joy (usually) in all about him. In Aksakov’s Years of Childhood (the last published of his trilogy; not nearly as acclaimed as A Russian Gentleman, about his grandfather mainly, and chronologically before his A Russian Schoolboy — it covers roughly his years 3 through 10), the very young boy is in the midst of a serious illness (this from Duff’s translation published by Oxford Press):

“Once in the early morning I woke, or became conscious, and could not recognize where I was. All was unfamiliar: the large lofty room, the bare walls of fir planks, new and very thick, the strong smell of resin. The sun — a summer sun, apparently — was just rising, and as it shone through a window on my right above a thin canopy spread over me, was brightly reflected on the opposite wall. Near me was my mother sleeping uneasily, in her clothes and with no pillows. Even now I seem to see her black hair straying in disorder over her pale thin face. … [F]or some minutes I looked through the curtains with satisfaction and curiosity at the new objects around me. Not wise enough to let my poor mother sleep on, I touched her and said: ‘How bright the sun is! What a good smell!’ My mother sprang up, frightened at first; but when she heard the strength of my voice and saw the freshness of my face, fear gave place to joy. How she caressed me and called me by fond names and wept for joy! Such things cannot be told in words.”

You cannot mistake this for Dostoevsky or Gorky; in fact, this kind of false recollection of boyhood past was the special province of landed gentry, particularly the nearly ruined kind.

So when Grossman employs the technique, it is an intentional departure from the gritty, sparse prose of prescribed Soviet style. It is perhaps as far as Grossman can separate himself from the stoic heroism of the characters in his own popular No Beautiful Nights. It is in fact dangerous bourgeois sentimentality; no more wanted in Stalin’s Soviet Union than in Hitler’s occupied Europe.  But how do you convey a system relentless to it core?  Like this:

“Childhood memories … tears of happiness … the bitterness of parting … love of freedom … feelings of pity for a sick puppy … sadness … friendship … love of the weak … sudden hope … a fortunate guess … melancholy … unreasoning joy … sudden embarrassment …

“Fascism annihilated tens of millions of people.” (Part I, chapter 51).

[Part III is found here.]