Thursday, April 25, 2013

stout individuals never take a back seat

I forgot that I am supposed to be reading Gogol. Yesterday I finished the volume of Chekhov stories I was reading, leaving the house today without a book (I do not count Aristotle or the MS of mine that I'm revising). Thank God I remembered about Gogol and picked up a copy of Dead Souls at lunch. I've read Chapter One and it's quite fine, very funny and it percolates right along. It's a short book, or at least like Chichikov it's neither too short nor too long, so I'll probably finish it only a few days past the end of April. I tend to run behind on these readalong things, you know. I am reading Bernard Guerney's 1943 translation that Nabokov admired. The following is from Hogarth's 1845 translation, because it's available on Project Gutenberg for my copy-and-paste pleasure:

In passing, I may say that in business matters fat men always prove superior to their leaner brethren; which is probably the reason why the latter are mostly to be found in the Political Police, or acting as mere ciphers whose existence is a purely hopeless, airy, trivial one. Again, stout individuals never take a back seat, but always a front one, and, wheresoever it be, they sit firmly, and with confidence, and decline to budge even though the seat crack and bend with their weight. For comeliness of exterior they care not a rap, and therefore a dress coat sits less easily on their figures than is the case with figures of leaner individuals. Yet invariably fat men amass the greater wealth. In three years' time a thin man will not have a single serf whom he has left unpledged; whereas--well, pray look at a fat man's fortunes, and what will you see? First of all a suburban villa, and then a larger suburban villa, and then a villa close to a town, and lastly a country estate which comprises every amenity! That is to say, having served both God and the State, the stout individual has won universal respect, and will end by retiring from business, reordering his mode of life, and becoming a Russian landowner--in other words, a fine gentleman who dispenses hospitality, lives in comfort and luxury, and is destined to leave his property to heirs who are purposing to squander the same on foreign travel.

The Guerney version is better, and maybe next week or tomorrow or this weekend or never at all, I'll do some compare and contrast work between translations. Unlikely, but possible.

11 comments:

  1. In Zola's The Belly of Paris, there are no not-fat and not-thin people. Chichikov would have to pick a side.

    So, Chapter I, so you have seen the man who looks like a samovar. The man who loves boots is still to come.

    A, it is such a good book.

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  2. A samovar with a thick, black beard!

    At the Governor's party, Chichikov plays whist with the stout men of property, letting the thin young dandies flutter about in the company of slender young ladies.

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  3. Synchronized reading? I like it! I've been toying around with the idea of starting a book club.

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  4. I don't know if anyone but Richard and me are doing the Gogol readalong right now. I don't even know if Richard is doing it. But I am!

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  5. Are we able to read along in spirit? I'd like to read along in spirit too.

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  6. Okay, read along in spirit. In the flesh, I'm about to the end of Chapter 2. Chichikov has made an offer to buy up the legal identities of dead serfs.

    After he'd written the first three chapters of Dead Souls, Gogol wrote to Pushkin, asking for help. "Send me a plot," he wrote. None of this is in the novel; I got it from the book's appendix. I don't know if Pushkin sent Gogol a plot, or if Gogol had to work it out on his own. Also, I keep waiting for magical realism elements to crop up, the kind you find in "The Nose" and "The Overcoat." Nothing so far.

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  7. That was how I read Norwegian Wood. I kept waiting for a magical well to appear.

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  8. Gogol's landscape and sets in Dead Souls are on the verge of becoming self-animated, but the metaphors remain metaphors, the furniture just furniture, the swallowtail coats and 2nd-degree St Anna's medals just costumes. So far.

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  9. No, no, not that kind of magic! And no realism of any sort.

    Actually, I do not believe there is any magic in "The Overcoat" either, but that is a matter of interpretation.

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  10. I'll have to read that one again and see what I think about Akaky's spectral overcoat.

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