Books for Everyone!

23 June 2022

A Different Century

Today, I started to read a new book, or, rather, a new version of a book that I’d read quite voraciously about five years ago. That edition was a Penguin publication. I perused the contents for my literary research purposes, and then promptly donated the book.

This summer, part of my relaxation is reading for purely personal reasons, sans note-taking or much thought given to any fiction of my own. I’m content to delve into the fascinating world of Anton Chekhov — in a different century.

This “new” book, The Selected Letters of Anton Chekhov, is a 2007 reprint of a vintage Barnes & Noble publication. I sprung a few extra dollars to procure a superior quality hardcover edition. The translator is Sidonie K. Lederer; the editing is by Lillian Hellmann.

I had to double-check to verify if that Lillian Hellmann is THE Lillian Hellman, the pinko writer who suffered for her blatant cozying up to Russian Communism. Yes, the Lillians are one and the same.

I do not read the introduction of a book because the text is largely devoted to informing the reader about how very much the Writer of the Introduction knew about this author, even if they hadn’t a passing acquaintance; and about how spectacular is the knowledge of the Writer regarding the subject matter of this book.

It’s a real self-love fest going on in those Introductory Pages!

The pontificating revisionism of the previously published text can also feel alarming to me, so I skip over any Introduction and head straight for The Author’s Words.

With this book, The Text begins with Biographical Notes: The Cast of Intimate Characters about whom the Editor presumes the Unacquainted Reader must be informed.

Okay, I thought, I’m game.

Five minutes later, the game was over.

Good Lord! The smarmy elitism of Lillian Hellmann infests these pages like cynical spores from a different century, huffishly puffed back into current life.

Interjections within parentheses are the modus operandi of this editor/writer who simply could not restrain herself from bragging about how much SHE knows about Russia and Russians.

The Russians are like that!!! The Russians are big name-changers! St. Petersburg is THE cultural center, Moscow is a merchant’s city [with that horrible -ism called capitalism].

Many years ago, my dear Professor Claeyssens at the George Washington University informed me of his more than passing acquaintance with Lillian Hellmann. As a very young adult, I wasn’t too sure of his political views where this literary high-brow was concerned, but I became familiar with one of his more sardonic expressions:

“She’s a legend in her own mind.”

The Lefties of the Cold War, with their abhorrent anguish, have been replaced by the Lefties of the Post-Post-Cold War, with their non-existent agony and never-ending gripes about America. Sucking up to the officially oppressed was minimally finessed by the Lillian Hellmann School of Socialist Subservience to any anti-American cause. She had talent, for writing, and for lying; but she often confused the two activities. A piece of writing might have started with fact, but it then journeyed into duplicity.

What Americans are presently witnessing is not merely an onslaught of official lies, but jaw-dropping ignorance. The current crop of U.S. socialists is oblivious to basic facts about the U.S., the U.S. Constitution, U.S. history, any history. In fact, their grasp of facts is grotesquely lacking in facts. Misconceptions, fallacies and falsehoods suffice for their being right, and don’t you utter a word to the contrary!

They’re contrary for the sake of being contrary.

What a bore!

As much as I dislike the chummy tone from being one of the Commie Club that comprises the editorial voice of Hellmann, I cannot allow her supercilious silliness to spoil my fun. I’m gleefully savoring the superb and witty writing of Anton Chekhov. His personal correspondence express his truest sentiments, opinions that are blunt and eloquent, and resolute views of life that would have become horridly endangered in post-Czarist Russia.

Chekhov was of a different century, the 19th, when men and women were free to think without the miasma of Thought Police. His world in Russia was one of appalling poverty, juxtaposed against glittering luxury. He often railed against the injustices that were rife in life, and in the life of his loved ones; privately, he usually kept his complaints to himself.

There are times when I’m comforted by the thought that this master writer did not have to choose sides in that country where being on the wrong side would have cost him all that he’d held dear. He lost enough during his brief lifetime. His life ended during the summer of 1904, before the excesses of the greedy, grabby Bolsheviks, the Leninist liars, and all of the gutless treachery that this perceptive physician had likely already witnessed in his midst during that different century of a bygone era.

I highly doubt the individualist in this doctor-writer would have calmly accepted Lenin’s regime and its baneful effects on the Russian peoples. Chekhov already knew too well the fetid fist of bureaucratic buffoonery in late 19th-century Tsarist Russia. He also knew the turmoils caused within friendships because of adversarial political positions. He was wise enough to know that certain attitudes and opinions spoke more about character than political stance. He nonetheless truncated a professional friendship with an esteemed editor because of the man’s position on the Zola affair; Chekhov did not tolerate hypocrisy, in himself or in others, well.

He cared immensely about the future of his homeland, and the future of the artist — writer, painter, scientist — in Russia. His writings do not foresee the future of Russia as it would unfold, wherein the personal and the political realms become fused into a noxious imitation of life. In that sense, Chekhov was an ardent traditionalist, incapable of submitting his autonomy to the suffocating overlord of Communism.

I have always felt at home with the writers and painters of the mid-late 19th century. I appreciate with a strong, almost palpable affinity the artists of this era. Their world granted them the freedoms needed to discover that world; and from those discoveries those individuals produced literature, art, scientific theories, inventions, cuisine, fashion, botanical beauty such as rose forms, in short, magnificent visions of the future. Theirs was a world that sought to expand itself ever outward — to the future — with the faith and fortitude that fed the imagination.

The horrors of The Great War arrived to dash many of those daunting dreams and hopes from being realized. It seems, at times, that there are still dreams and hopes, left back there, awaiting recovery and revival by those of us who dare to journey back there. Those visions wait, with anticipation, the profound renewal that can occur with belief, once more, in a world that defies the reckless ruination of civilization by wicked men and women, greedy apostates and anarchists with too much money, too little wisdom, and even less virtue.

The cataclysms of classes clawing at one another can no longer be used by revolutionaries in Russia to seize hold of and control a vast empire. Russia has descended into barbarism; the deeply flawed world that produced Anton Chekhov seems but a dream, yet not an impossible one. The ideals to which he held fast have not been lost among the Russian people, but among the mobocracy and the autocracy of a thuggish government that shall fall, just as the Soviet Union fell. The Russian people have yet to know the truest meaning of liberty.

Chekhov lived in a very different century than the one in which I live. His imperfect world was one of professional and artistic camaraderie that enthused the lines of his letters. His complicated life, at last, attained the simplicity of faith in the morrow, even as his lungs fell victim to tuberculosis, the illness that this doctor most likely acquired from a patient.

Mine is a different century wherein the patriots of America persist in separating personal lives from political intrusions. In yet another different century, the personal life was inseparable from staunch political beliefs for Lillian Hellman. The crimes and sins of an evil empire called the Soviet Union remained, for the unapologetic Hellman, misunderstood; those facts were fabrications made up by the enemies of the Communists. Those power-mad Communists were the people whom Lillian Hellmann could not ever admit she’d been foolish to trust.

Thereby hangs a chain of fools.