Monday, November 27, 2017

Nikolai, redux

Karolina Pavlova's novel A Double Life was published in 1848 and received a review in the literary journal Sovremennik. It is very tempting to believe that this review was read by 20 year-old Nikolai Chernyshevsky, who joined the Sovremennik staff in 1853 and eventually became the editor of the journal. A Double Life could easily serve as a precursor text, an inspiration alongside Turgenev's Fathers and Sons, for Chernyshevsky's gigantic and awful 1863 novel What is to be Done? I cannot help noticing that the protagonist of What is to be Done? is a woman named Vera Pavlovna, who is rescued by an enlightened medical student from her preordained position in Russian society. I have found no direct evidence, despite literally minutes of internet searching, that Chernyshevsky read the Pavlova novel, but certainly there are ideas and stylistic devices in A Double Life that resurface in What is to be Done? I do not believe this is a coincidence. I think Chernyshevsky had set out to let the hero of Turgenev's novel rescue the heroine of Pavlova's novel, by writing his own revolutionary science fiction wish fulfillment epic tale. Wait: do I have any doubts at all about this? No, I do not.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Alberta, sans vampires

We were four days, more or less, in Alberta last week, flying out from Seattle on Wednesday morning. It was a new--and therefore smaller--model airplane and passengers were warned that they might have to check some of their carry-on items at the door if it wouldn't fit in the new--and therefore smaller--overhead luggage racks. Why do people insist on bringing full-size backpacks with sleeping bags into the passenger compartment, as well as suitcases and bags and God knows what else? Don't get me started. It was a smooth enough flight though worries (unfounded, it turned out) of turbulence meant no coffee or other hot beverages. Somehow we managed to survive, being very brave.

The Calgary airport seems to be mostly empty space, as if it were built during more hopeful economic times, for a boom that hasn't happened. Although the prairie around Calgary continues to be eaten away by ugly urban sprawl in the form of identical subdivisions of identical brown split-level houses, a cancer of development. But the Calgary airport is quite clean and I like the friendly folks in the red vests and white cowboy hats offering free rides on the carts.

Calgary was only a way station, where we transferred from plane to bus for a two-hour drive into Banff, within Banff National Park, in the shadows of Mt. Rundle and Mt. Cascade. We were attending the annual Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival. The grand prize of the book half of the festival went to Jim Herrington's The Climbers, a book into which Mighty Reader poured countless hours. Be sure to read the opening essay by Greg Child (author of Over the Edge among other books). Banff is grand and it's always nice when every presentation ends with an exhortation for attendees to buy some books to support small publishers and book sellers.

The view from our hotel window, facing west.

The full moon setting, around 6:30 AM.

Banff National Park, detail.

The Alberta prairie, lovely in its emptiness.

À bientôt, Calgary! You see in the near distance one of those new identical unsightly subdivisions, and spaces being scraped flat for more of the same. They go on for mile after mile. From the highway the roofs of these houses seem to crest over hills like horrific brown waves, an advancing flood of I-don't-know-what. Ruskin pointed out the importance to human dignity of beautiful homes for the working class. In Calgary, they are erecting hectares of mud-brown mazes, sheds for bodies rather than houses for immortal spirits.