Essay On Happy And Unhappy Families

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That’s harder with age, but it has been gratifying to feel myself excited by Tolstoy’s sentences and his magisterial yet compassionate vision of his characters.Partly, I admit, I want to learn from and argue with cold-fish Nabokov about that warm mammal Tolstoy.—Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina You have to wonder about when, in his writing process, Tolstoy came up with his killer first line, seemingly one of the truest and certainly one of the most famous in all of literature.

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I fought both my parents like an anguished zoo animal from the age of twelve or so, and fled that household as soon as I could, hoping to escape, even if just partially, the mind-warping pain of the majority of the relationships it housed.

I have returned physically as a visitor to the house three or four times (it is only Dad who lives there now), but basically I have never gone back.

This situation had continued for three days now, and was painfully felt by the couple themselves, as well as by all members of the family and household.

They felt that there was no sense in their living together and that people who meet accidentally at any inn have more connection with each other than they, the members of the family and household of the Oblonskys.

Recently I pulled from my bookcase an old paperback, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lectures on Russian Literature, and it launched my Russian writers kick. But not slavishly—recently I gave up on Gogol’s —and may lack the endurance for completing even the artistically exciting Anna Karenina.

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I realized I’d probably meant to read Chekhov, Dostoevski, Gogol, Gorki, Tolstoy, and Turgenev with Nabokov as my guide when I bought the book over 30 years ago, in 1981. Employing Nabokov as my teacher embodies several paradoxes.For one, his analyses are full of very detailed plot descriptions, so must be read afterward.For another, while I honor his literary artistry, I dislike Nabokov’s haughty aesthete persona. Yet I find my distaste for Nabokov’s persona frees me from awe and leaves room for disagreement with the master.That is why it matters that Tolstoy’s opening line is a lie.The great Russian I grew up in a white-collar, white, multilingual European nuclear family that on the whole seems to have been unhappier than most.Le Guin’s essay performs a devastating read on Tolstoy, showing how his zingy opener is really merely an apothegmatic capitulation to the commonplace yet beguiling notion that unhappiness is more interesting, more worthy of inquiry, than happiness.It’s not that Le Guin doesn’t understand the reflex: “Some critics are keenly on the watch for happiness in novels,” she notes, “in order to dismiss it as banal, sentimental, or (in other words) for women.” Still, Le Guin rightly demands better of her beloved novelist, ridiculing the implication that Tolstoy personally knew “numerous happy families among the Russian nobility, or middle class, or peasantry, all of them alike.” She is also, by the way, adamant that “a family can be happy.” Yes, families be happy, she maintains, poker-faced and only possibly joking, “for quite a long time—a week, a month, even longer.” Happiness is not a myth.They nestle latently in the present, in nooks and crannies where, against all odds, people are successfully manifesting the queer care commune.And, as such, they aren’t exactly “families.” But I’m getting ahead of myself.Le Guin herself grew up “in a family that on the whole seems to have been happier than most.” That’s precisely why, she writes, “I find it false—an intolerable cheapening of reality—simply to describe it as happy.” To her, a veteran of real happiness, the phrase “happy families” travesties “the enormous cost of that ‘happiness,’” implying that happiness is ordinary, unremarkable, and easily won.To be incurious about happiness, charges Le Guin, condemns us to miss its dependence upon “a whole substructure of sacrifices, repressions, suppressions, choices made or forgone, chances taken or lost, balancings of greater and lesser evils—the tears, the fears, the migraines, the injustices, the censorships, the quarrels, the lies, the angers, the cruelties.” Happiness, as those of us assigned to so-called reproductive labors on this earth know all too well, is a clumsy art, a messy and even bloody team effort; an unremitting and glitch-riddled relational technics.


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