Monday, March 13, 2006

Living one's ideals

From James Jones’s From Here to Eternity (1951)
You cant disagree with the adopted values of a bunch of people without they get pissed off at you. When people tie their lives to some screwy idea or other and you attempt to point out to them that for you (not for them, mind you, just for you personally) that this idea is screwy, then serious results can always and will always come out of it for you. Because as far as they care you are the same as saying their lives are nothing and this always bothers people, because people prefer anything to being nothing, look at the Nazis, and that is why they tie their lives to things.

From A. N. Wilson’s Tolstoy: A Biography (1988)
Pregnancy had become an almost permanent condition of life for Tolstoy’s unfortunate wife. Little Lev had hardly been weaned before she feared herself to be once more with child. “With each child,” she wrote philosophically in her journal, “one sacrifices a little more of one’s life and accepts an even heavier burden of perennial anxieties and illnesses.”

But for her husband, the thought of new minds to educate, new little beings to boss into a correct way of viewing the world was irresistibly tempting.

As so often happened when Tolstoy embarked upon something with repellent intentions, he produced sublime results.

From James Jones’s From Here to Eternity (1951)
He had learned that Warden would not do that, that that old private line of equity, drawn with such sharpness with such close secrecy that it was wholly invisible to everyone but Warden, would not let the big man take advantage of the situation in that way. . . . It was, Prew often thought, as if The Warden had applied to his whole life the principle which applied to all other games of sport—that laying down of certain arbitrary rules to make success that much harder for the player to attain, like clipping in football or traveling in basketball, or in the same way, as he had read someplace, that sporting fishermen would use the light six-nine tackle in fighting for sailfish instead of the heavy tackle that makes it easy for the novice, thereby imposing upon themselves voluntarily the harder conditions that make the reward worth more to them. But where fishermen only did it on their day off or on vacation, to gain some obscure satisfaction that the cut- throat business ethics of their lives no longer gave them, The Warden applied it to his whole life, and stuck by it.

From A. N. Wilson’s Tolstoy: A Biography (1988)
Bulgakov’s diary depicts for us more vividly than most of the accounts the underlying tension of day-to-day life at [the Tolstoys’ home] Yasnaya Polyana. At meals, the master of the house and the mistress were already bickering, or eyeing each other with suspicion. Tolstoy complained ceaselessly about the “elaborate” diet. Sofya Andreyevna [Tolstoy] justified it “on the grounds that a vegetarian table needs variety.” Tolstoy took to elaborate sotto voce apologies to guests which were designed to get a “rise” out of his increasingly hysterical wife.

When the painter N. N. Ge came to a meal, Tolstoy whispered, “I think that in fifty years people will say: ‘Imagine, they could calmly sit there and eat while grown people walked around waiting on them—their food was served to them, cooked for them.’”

“What are you talking about?” asked Sofya Andreyevna. “About their serving us?”

“Yes,” said Lev Nikolayevich [Tolstoy] and repeated aloud what he had said.

Sofya Andreyevna began to protest.

“But I was only saying it to him,” said Lev Nikolayevich, pointing to Ge. “I knew there would be objections and I absolutely do not wish to argue.”

2 Timothy 4:7
I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.


  1. Do you think Sinatra had to read From Here to Eternity to land that role? It doesn't exactly smell like his glass of hooch. Do you think he made Burt Lancaster or Monty Clift give him a summary?

  2. If I remember my Sinatra biography correctly, he agitated for the part after reading the book and being blown away by the character of Maggio. It is a bit hard to imagine him reading the whole thing, but that's what I've always heard.