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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Reading, Memory, Impact

Boris Pasternak's house at Peredelkino, Russia

Over at Miscellaneous Mum, she is talking about Reflections on readerly first impressions. She begins with this quote:

A couple of months ago, I became depressed by the realization that I'd forgotten pretty much everything I've ever read

Miss Eagle has posted a comment on that post which, as you can see, is about her relationship with the novel by Boris Pasternak, Dr. Zhivago. Dr Zhivago is a great novel - for its sweep of a crucial phase in Russia's history but also its incorporation of the spiritual part of the Russian personality and Russian life. Miss Eagle, as a seventeen year old, was impacted by this novel and can still recall great chunks of it. So this impact can be shared, Miss Eagle sets out below the opening segment of the novel - the boy on his mother's grave:

On they went, singing 'Eternal Memory', and whenever they stopped, the sound of their feet, the horses and the gusts of wind seemed to carry on their singing.

Passers-by made way for the procession, counted the wreaths and crossed themselves. Some joined in out of curiosity and asked: 'Who is being buried?' -'Zhivago,' they were told. - "Oh, I see. That explains it.' - 'It isn't him. It's his wife.' - 'Well, it comes to the same thing. May she rest in peace. It's a fine funeral.'
The last moments flashed past, counted, irrevocable. 'The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the earth and everything that dwells there.' The priest scattered earth in the form of a cross over the body of Marya Nikolayevna. They sang 'The souls of the just'. Then a fearful bustle began. The coffin was closed, nailed and lowered into the ground. Clods of earth drummed on the lid like rain as the grave was filled hurriedly by four spades. A mound grew up on it and a ten-year-old boy climbed on top.

Only the numb and unfeeling condition which comes to people at the end of a big funeral could account for some of the mourners' thinking that he wished to make an address over his mother's grave.
He raised his head and, from his vantage point, absently surveyed the bare autumn landscape and the domes of the monastery. His snub-nosed face was contorted. He stretched out his neck. If a wolf cub had done this it would have been obvious that it was about to howl. The boy covered his face with his hands and burst into sobs. The wind bearing down on him lashed his hands and face with cold gusts of rain. A man in black with tightly-fitting sleeves went up to the grave. This was Nikolay Nikolayevich Vedenyapin, the dead woman's brother and the uncle of the weeping boy; he was a priest who had been unfrocked at his own request.

He went up to the boy and led him out of the graveyard.

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