Thursday, November 13, 2014

Boyhood, by Tolstoy

The order of reading Tolstoy's works should have been Childhood, Boyhood and Youth, but the mp3 player brought them up in alphabetical order.  Boyhood is the story of the antics, imaginations and trials of a boy as he transitions from 14 to 16 years old.  The boy being a younger son of an aristocratic family in 19th century Russia.  Education is accomplished by private tutors in this family, which should induce all the Asian tiger moms in my neighborhood to be consumed with jealousy if they had only known that such an education was possible.  The second tutor for this boy is a Frenchman, who the young lad didn't get along with.  This dislike rapidly transmorgified into hate, followed by a long, slow thaw.  I had presumed this story was about Tolstoy himself, but if so, it would only loosely be the case.  Much of what I enjoyed were the philosophical ponderings that he attributes to this young man.  One senses a Christian background, but the consciousness of God that I had growing up is largely absent from Tolstoy's discourse.  There really is just this remark after a well-earned punishment:

"The the idea of God occurred to me, and I asked Him boldly why He had punished me thus, seeing that I had never forgotten to say my prayers, either morning or evening.  Indeed, I can positively declare that it was during that hour in the store-room that I took the first step towards the religious doubt which afterwards assailed me during my youth (not that mere misfortune could arouse me to infidelity and murmuring, but that, at moments of utter contrition and solitude, the idea of the injustice of Providence took root in me as readily as bad seed takes toot in land well soaked with rain)."

The idea that the punishment could have come from God as a blessing seems to have been completely missed from our aspiring young philosopher.  Getting back to the French tutor we have a gem of a quote:

"Judging coolly of the man at this time of day, I find that he was a true Frenchman, but a Frenchman in the better acceptation of the term.  He was fairly well educated, and fulfilled his duties to us conscientiously, but he had the peculiar features of fickle egotism, boastfulness, impertinence, and ignorant self-assurance which are common to all his countrymen, as well as entirely opposed to the Russian character."

Having worked for a French company for a few years, there is part of me that wants to agree with this.  Yet I also enjoyed this time and had not felt particularly bothered by those traits.  And at the same time, I have found the Russians I had worked with sharing many of the same characteristics of being loud and overconfident, although seemingly managing this without exuding the "me-ness".  Anyway, if I were to proceed further in judging this matter, I should undoubtedly exceed both the Russians and the French in hypocrisy, so I will merely note that this topic was commented on.


Rummuser said...

I strongly recommend this film -

Looney said...

Looks like others have followed the pattern. The movie looks to have some pretty good reviews.

Max Coutinho said...

Hi Looney,

Fabulous post.
I will look for this book: your description of it is very alluring.
The lad, and so many others, misunderstand the relationship with God. He Promised a lot of good but He also warned us that it would come with a cost and when the time comes to pay that cost, people accuse Him of injustice.

I like both the French and the Russians, they are different yet similar. They are both cunning in their own way and thus dangerous. Anyway, I like people...period (I may not like their behaviour though).

Have a blessed weekend, my friend. You deserve it.


Looney said...

Max, you have a good weekend too.

The other thing to be noted here is that the whiner is a rich aristocrat child! Too bad a serf child didn't write a similar history.