[Note: this is part of Powys' One Hundred Best Books.]
41. GABRIELE D’ANNUNZIO. THE TRIUMPH OF DEATH. Translated by Arthur Hornblow.
D’Annunzio is the most truly Italian, the most inveterately Latin, of all recent writers. Without light and shade, without “nuance,” without humor or irony, he compels our attention by the clear-cut, monumental images he projects, by the purple and scarlet splendor of his imperial dreams.
His philosophy, though lacking in the deep and tragic imagination of Nietzsche, has something of the Nietzschean intellectual fury. He teaches a shameless and antinomian hedonism, narrower, less humane, but more fervid and emotional, than that taught by Remy de Gourmont.
In “The Triumph of Death” we find a fierce smoldering voluptuousness, expressed with a hard and brutal realism which recalls the frescoes on the walls of ancient Pompeii. In “The Flame of Life” we have in superb rhetoric the most colored and ardent description of Venice to be found in all literature. Perhaps the finest passage he ever wrote is that account of the speech of the Master of Life in the Doge’s Palace with its incomparable eulogy upon Veronese and its allusion to Pisanello’s head of Sigismondo Malatesta.
42. DOSTOYEVSKY. CRIME AND PUNISHMENT.
43. THE IDIOT.
44. THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV.
45. THE INSULTED AND INJURED.
46. THE POSSESSED. Translated by Constance Garnett and published by Macmillan. Other translations in Everyman’s Library.
Dostoyevsky is the greatest and most racial of all Russian writers. He is the subtlest psychologist in fiction. As an artist he has a dark and somber intensity and an imaginative vehemence only surpassed by Shakespeare. As a philosopher he anticipates Nietzsche in the direction of his insight, though in his conclusions he is diametrically opposite. He teaches that out of weakness, abnormality, perversity, foolishness, desperation, abandonment, and a morbid pleasure in humiliation, it is possible to arrive at high and unutterable levels of spiritual ecstasy. His ideal is sanctity—not morality—and his revelations of the impassioned and insane motives of human nature—its instinct towards self-destruction for instance—will never be surpassed for their terrible and convincing truth.
The strange Slavophil dream of the regeneration of the world by the power of the Russian soul and the magic of the “White Christ who comes out of Russia” could not be more arrestingly expressed than in these passionate and extraordinary works of art.
47. TURGENEV. VIRGIN SOIL.
48. A SPORTSMAN’S SKETCHES. Translated by Constance Garnett.
49. And “Lisa” in Everyman’s Library.
Turgenev is by far the most “artistic” as he is the most disillusioned and ironical of Russian writers. With a tender poetical delicacy, almost worthy of Shakespeare, he sketches his appealing portraits of young girls. His style is clear—objective—winnowed and fastidious. He has certain charming old-fashioned weaknesses—as for instance his trick of over-emphasizing the differences between his bad and good characters; but there is a clear-cut distinction, and a lucid charm about his work that reminds one of certain old crayon drawings or certain delicate water-color sketches. His allusions to natural scenery are always introduced with peculiar appropriateness and are never permitted to dominate the dramatic element of the story as happens so often in other writers.
There is a sad and tender vein of unobtrusive moralizing running through his work but one is conscious that at bottom he is profoundly pessimistic and disenchanted. The gaiety of Turgenev is winning and unforced; his sentiment natural and never “staled or rung upon.” The pensive detachment of a sensitive and yet not altogether unworldly spirit seems to be the final impression evoked by his books.
50. GORKY—FOMA GORDYEFF. Translation published by Scribners.
Maxim Gorky is one of the most interesting of Russian writers. His books have that flavor of the soil and that courageous spirit of vagabondage and social independence which is so rare and valuable a quality in literature.
“Foma Gordyeff” is, after Dostoyevsky's masterpieces, the most suggestive and arresting of Russian stories. That paralysis of the will which descends like an evil cloud upon Foma and at the same time seems to cause the ground to open under his feet and precipitate him into mysterious depths of nothingness, is at once tragically significant of certain aspects of the Russian soul and full of mysterious warnings to all those modern spirits in whom the power of action is “sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought.”
For those who have been “fooled to the top of their bent” by the stupidities and brutalities of the crowd there is a savage satisfaction in reading of Foma’s insane outbursts of misanthropy.
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