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age and several thousand miles separated Russian Alexander Pushkin and American Flannery O'Connor. This essay seeks to illustrate why they deserve to be considered as icons of world literature. Pushkin's body of works spans poetry -- romantic and political, essays, and novels. Influential music composers like Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Rimsky Korsakov and Tchaikovsky adapted the lyrical and dramatic elements of Pushkin's works. Flannery O'Connor's work, on the other hand, was largely restricted to short stories. The profundity of her work lies in its uniqueness -- not volume. Her stories hide gruesomeness, truth and religious thought that is not immediately obvious at a superficial level.
The short-story "The Queen of Spades," while not necessarily representative of all of Pushkin's work gives us an idea of the narrative skills that keep the reader on edge. (Pushkin, 1834) The twists in the story combine elements of fantasy. But at heart this is a story of evil getting its comeuppance. Good survives and flourishes. The plot of "The Queen of Spades" begins with a talk among gamblers. Tomsky, the grandson of a countess Anna Fedorovna relates a story of a secret his grandmother possessed -- a secret to winning at a guessing game at cards. Hermann, the son of German expatriate and a man of sober habits, hears the story.
Wishing to learn the secret, make money, and retire a rich man, Hermann obsesses. He has to know the secret. He hits upon the plan to seduce the countess' young maid-in-waiting. On the appointed day, when he is supposed to meet the young woman, Lizaveta Ivanovna, he (instead) locates the countess. He demands the secret. But Hermann frightens the old woman who is fatigued after a long night at a soiree. She dies. Hermann is disturbed at what he has done; he relates the story to Lizaveta: "Lisaveta Ivanova listened to him with horror. So those passionate letters, those ardent demands, the whole impertinent and obstinate pursuit - all that was not love! Money - that was what his soul craved for! It was not she who could satisfy his desire and make him happy! The poor ward had been nothing but the unknowing assistant of a brigand, of the murderer of her aged benefactress!"
On the night of the countess' funeral, the old woman appears to him in a dream and tells him the secret code to the cards: three, seven and an ace.
Hermann is beside himself with joy. He tries this newfound information. He succeeds two days in a row; on the third day, unfortunately he guesses wrong -- an Ace. The correct card is the Queen of Spades. The old lady has the last laugh. Hermann spends the rest of his days in a mental institution. What keeps the reader engrossed in the narrative is that Pushkin gives an inkling of what the secret code might be. But he does not reveal it immediately. The narrative also transports us to the glory days of the Russian Tsarist empires with its balls and soirees. And, Gentlemen engaging comely women (dressed to kill) to dances.
Pushkin has been considered his country's greatest poet and the founder of modern Russian literature. Pushkin blended old Slavic with vernacular Russian. Taught French as most aristocrats were, he was a proponent of Russian language and used everyday speech in his poetry. Pushkin wrote some 800 lyrics with a dozen narrative poems. Eugene Onegin was one of his more famous works written in lyrical form (Pushkin, 1831), "Love passed, the muse appeared, the weather; of mind got clarity newfound; now free, I once more weave together emotion, thought, and magic sound" is an example of his style -- a novel exclusively in verse. Evgeny Onegin inherits his uncle's estate and retires to country. He befriends Vladimir Lensky, who is in love with a local girl, Olga Larina. Her elder sister Tatiana falls in love with Onegin, but he rejects Tatiana's love. At a party, Onegin insults Olga. Lensky challenges him to a duel, and dies. Three years later Onegin meets Tatiana who is married to a prince. He expresses his love to her in a series of letters. But she rejects him. She insists that they permanently separate. The libretto for Tchaikovsky's opera Eugene Onegin was adapted from the novel in 1879.
While still a youngster, Pushkin began writing his first major work, Ruslan and Ludmila (Pushkin, 1820). This is a fairy story in verse based on Russian folk tales. As a testament to his eclectic style he also published "Ode to Liberty" which ruffled the feathers of the powers that be. He was banished. His life and career vacillated between being chosen to write memoirs of tsars and falling out of their favors. Pushkin's gradually became the leader of the Romantic Movement earning the praise of such luminaries like John Keats, Johann Goethe and Voltaire. His "The Bronze Horse" is written in style completely at variance than previous poetic works.
In 1831, Pushkin published a great textual historical tragedy -- Boris Godunov. (Pushkin, 1831) The novel was about the tsar Boris Fyodorovich Godunov, who from 1598 ruled Russia for seven years, racked with guilt for having murdered the tsarevich Dmitry. When an ambitious young monk claims to be Dmitry, Boris tries to defend his throne, but he falls ill and dies. The composer Mussorgsky used this play as the basis of his opera (1869-74) of the same name. A sample of Pushkin's writing in Godunov: "Like to some magistrate grown gray in office; Calmly he contemplates alike the just; and unjust, with indifference he notes; Evil and good, and knows wrath nor pity."
Pushkin also wrote plays: The Avaricious Knight, Mozart and Salieri, The Stone Guest, and The Feast During the Plague, among others (Pushkin, 1834). Enamored of the work of James Fennimore Cooper, Pushkin also wrote an essay on America -- Dzhon Tenner (1836, John Tanner) In his last years Pushkin started to write historical work of Peter the Great, which was left unfinished. As an essayist Pushkin was prolific but most of his writings remained in draft form and over half were published posthumously due to repressive censorship. Such was the genius of Alexander Pushkin.
Flannery O'Connor has been acclaimed for her stories that combined comic with tragic and brutal. O'Connor belonged to the Southern Gothic tradition that focused on the decaying south. O'Connor's body of work consisted of only thirty-one stories, two novels and some speeches and letters. Not a large body of work, but the insight it contained was exceptional. "Does one's integrity ever lie in what he is not able to do? I think that usually it does, for free will does not mean one will, but many wills conflicting in one man, Freedom cannot be conceived simply." (Wise Blood, O'Connor, 1977)
The spiritual heritage of her southern upbringing shaped O'Connor's writing. She described this sentiment in, The Catholic Novelist in the Protestant South (1969). At the age of 21, her first short story, The Geranium was published. Wise Blood the novel appeared in 1952. It dealt with a young religious enthusiast, Hazel Mote, who returns from the army with his faith gone awry. He attempts to establish a church without Christ. He wears a preacher's bright blue suit and a preacher's black hat. He is accompanied by bizarre villains such as Asa Hawks, who pretends to have blinded himself, Sabbath Lily, his daughter who turns into a monster of sexual voracity, and the fox-faced young Enoch Emery, who steals a mummy from a museum that he christens, "the new Jesus." Enoch knows things because "He had wise blood like his daddy." Eventually Enoch finds his religious fulfillment dressed in a stolen gorilla costume. Hazel buys an old Essex automobile, his own religious mystery: "Nobody with a good car needs to be justified." Hazel murders the Enoch (False Prophet), his rival, by running him over.
Similarly, in O'Connor's second novel, The Violent Bear It Away (1960), the protagonist is Francis Marion Tarwater who begins his ministry in his youth. He baptizes and drowns his retarded cousin, Bishop. Old Tarwater warns his grand-nephew: "You are the kind of boy,' the old man said, 'that the devil is always going to be offering to assists, to give you a smoke or a drink or a ride, and to ask you your bidnis [sic]. You had better mind how you take up with strangers." Young Tarwater sets fire to his own woods to clean himself, and like his great-uncle, a mad prophet, he finally becomes a prophet and a madman.
The Complete Short Stories (O'Connor, 1971) contained imaginative occasional prose and several stories that had not previously appeared in book form. O'Connor's letters, published as The Habit of Being (1979), reveal a consciousness of her writing abilities and the role of Roman Catholicism in her life. O'Connor's short stories have been considered her finest work. With A Good Man Is Hard to Find, and Other Stories (O'Connor, 1955) she came to be regarded…[continue]
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