Google Plus

Memorable Literary Characters plus a lot of stuff about Pushkin

By on Jan 28, 2014 in Book Reviews | 0 comments

Share On GoogleShare On FacebookShare On Twitter

I have a great love of research. I think I would have been perfectly happy in life if I could have done research my whole life. I don’t seem to be able to stop myself. For example, this morning the Google search page had a photograph of Zora Neale Hurston. When I saw her face, I was reminded of the work she did to write down and preserve the stories and the era before they were lost. She was a social scientist and an excellent fiction writer.  I especially remembered a character from her novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God. His name was Tea Cake. He was charming and trouble. He was everything Janie, the main character, wanted in a man. He listened to her and treated her as an equal and his appeal was diabolical. He was a troubled character who ended up contracting rabies. Janie was forced to kill him, a scene that stuck with me for a long time.

This led me to think about other memorable characters and one that popped to mind was Antonio Salieri, composer, 1750 to 1825, who was the inspiration for the character in Amadeus, the 1984 movie. The part as interpreted by F. Murray Abraham was a bestial and bottomless pool of emotion. At the time I remember saying that Salieri would become the golden standard for jealously, envy and all the green emotions. I thought a new word would be coined. I imagined someone would comment,  “He’s been Salieried.” and mean that he had been tripped up by a jealous friend, coworker or family member or that someone might say “I sure was Salieried.” and mean that he had been beaten by someone who was obviously inherently better. I was intrigued. It pleases me to learn now that I wasn’t the only one. In the movie, Salieri labored hard at composing but he knew he was inferior to Mozart. He did everything he could to frustrate Mozart’s career. There are rumors that he poisoned Mozart but it was never proven. Mozart died in 1791 of Rheumatic Fever. He was only 35. Amadeus the movie was based on a play by the same name written by Sir Peter Levin Shaffer. Shaffer also wrote the screenplay. The character, the jealously, and a lot of the story was based on a poetic drama written by Alexander Pushkin, 1799 to 1837, entitled Mozart and Salieri. It was the only play publically staged during his Pushkin’s short lifetime. Pushkin was only 38 when he died from wounds incurred during a duel.

This leads me to digress a little from the subject of literary characters but I’ll swing back soon, I promise. I recently read a book review in The New York Times Book Review, which mentioned in passing that Alexander Pushkin, had a black great-grandfather. Now how did this happen in Russia of all places back in the late eighteenth century? The story is that Abram Pretovich Gannibal, 1696-1781, Pushkin’s grandfather, was born in what is now Eritrea and then kidnapped at age seven. He ended up in Russia under Peter the Great who educated him and made him a Major General in his army. If you look at pictures of Pushkin you can see that he had a mass of curly black hair and sensuous lips. Other than that I don’t see any other features that could be considered to be negroid. He was a handsome man as was his great-grandfather. Pushkin is legendary in Russia.

I’m winding back. Pushkin influenced two of Russia’ greatest composers, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Konstantin Tsiokovsky. Rimski-Korsakov wrote an opera using the exact text of Pushkin’s Mozart and Salieri. The play was also the basis of a long running controversy in the early twentieth century. It was thought that for poetry to be great both the “Mozart” principle” and the “Salieri” principle must be satisfied. The “Mozart” principle was also called “the impulse” and is what we would call “inspiration” and the “Salieri” principle was craft and laborious effort. A full explanation of this can be found at the following link.

Everything you ever wanted to know about Mozart and Salieri

So, I wind back around. See what Pushkin did. He influenced so much. One last comment. Vladimir Nabokov lovingly translated Pushkin’s novel in verse, Eugene Onegin. I’ve never read Pushkin. I’ve read a couple of short stories but they weren’t good. I’ve never read his poetry and apparently there is a problem with the translation. There is an old saw about translation. Poetry translations are like a woman. If it’s beautiful, it’s not faithful; if it’s faithful, it’s not beautiful.

What to do next?

  1. Listen to the music of Antonio Salieri. Compare to Mozart’s.
  2. Listen to Mozart and Salieri by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.
  3. Listen to Onegin by Konstantin Tsiokovsky. I think that’s right.
  4. Read Alexander Pushkin’s poetry.

My work is cut out for me. Will I live long enough?

Several variations of a poem by Pushkin.

I Loved You

I loved you; even now I must confess,
Some embers of my love their fire retain;
But do not let it cause you more distress,
I do not want to sadden you again.
Hopeless and tonguetied, yet I loved you dearly
With pangs the jealous and the timid know;
So tenderly I love you, so sincerely,
I pray God grant another love you so.

Another translation:

I loved you once, nor can this heart be quiet;
For it would seem that love still lingers there;
But do not you be further troubled by it;
I would in no wise hurt you, oh, my dear.

I loved you without hope, a mute offender;
What jealous pangs, what shy despairs I knew!
A love as deep as this, as true, as tender,
God grant another may yet offer you.

Another Translation by Babette Deutsch:

I loved you; and perhaps I love you still,
The flame, perhaps, is not extinguished; yet
It burns so quietly within my soul,
No longer should you feel distressed by it.

Silently and hopelessly I loved you,
At times too jealous and at times too shy.
God grant you find another who will love you
As tenderly and truthfully as I.

Another translation by  Dr. Daniel Feeback:

I loved you once; perhaps I should exclaim,
My love still lingers deep within my core.
But I do not want to cause you any pain,
So grieve thee not for me a moment more.

Silently and hopelessly I loved you,
Tormented, I was too jealous and too shy.
May God provide another who will love you,
Just as gently and as fervently as I.

Another version is at “A collection of poems by Alexander Pushkin”:

I loved you: and, it may be, from my soul
The former love has never gone away,
But let it not recall to you my dole;
I wish not sadden you in any way.

I loved you silently, without hope, fully,
In diffidence, in jealousy, in pain;
I loved you so tenderly and truly,
As let you else be loved by any man.

© Copyright, 1996, Translated by Yevgeny Bonver, August 1995,

Share on Google+Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.