Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Many's the time when, foully abused of a sudden by a cannonade of knife-bitter wind, my only recourse has been to laugh. Maniacally.

Today's dip into the writers' mailbag returns some sentiments suitable for the cold, cold day here in Chicago. It comes from the pen of Saul Bellow, writing to University of Chicago professor Edward Shils on September 15, 1966:
The most agreeable thing about Chicago is that one doesn’t run into many writers, critical razboiniks and gangsters of the pen. But then Chicago is also in a state of extraordinary winter nullity, and we haven’t seen many people. Winter nights are long. I have an electric blanket and read War and Peace.
I'm not having much luck with a quick attempt to learn what razboiniks are: Google tells me it's Romanian, and that, spelled "raboiznics," it might mean "warrior."

Regardless, War and Peace could be a good answer to our bleak midwinter--but I've read it too recently, and, frankly, it's too dour for my mood today. (Anna Karenina, on the other hand. . . . Oh, the sudden appearance of the train at the end sours things, but by that point you've had hundreds of pages in which to enjoy Stepan Arkadyevich and his feckless nonsense!)

Instead, it's Tristram Shandy for me, re-read the first time in eighteen years. What better choice to alleviate winter's gloom? "I am now fabricating for the laughing part of the world," wrote Laurence Sterne in a letter in 1762, "--for the melancholy part of it, I have nothing but my prayers--so God help them." Amen.


  1. Ms. M9:00 PM

    Razboinik is Russian (разбойник)- it means something like a bandit or a hoodlum.

    And speaking of Russians- thank goodness someone else likes Stepan Arkadyevich! As far as I can tell, he is the only enjoyable character in all of Anna Karenina!

  2. Oh, Ms. M, thanks for the language help! Given the victory of my laziness tonight over my determination to solve the puzzle, it's much, much appreciated.

    And I'm always glad to meet another Stepan Arkedyevich fan. He is maddening, ridiculous, and at times even borderline horrible, but he has such life--and such a zest for life--that he stays with you (and, most of the time, even charms you out of your irritation and anger!).