Losing One’s Antipathies.

I’m getting towards the end of the English translation of Annenkov’s «Замечательное десятилетие. 1838–1848», and I was struck by this passage from Chapter XXXV:

It is understandable, however, that, with his new attitude of mind, the perturbations and squabbles of the Russian literary circles, in which Belinsky had quite recently taken so lively a part, retreated to the background.[…] Belinsky became a solitary figure within his own party, despite the journal founded on his behalf, and the first symptom of the departure from its ranks was his losing all his old antipathies, antipathies to which his followers still firmly adhered as a way of imparting the appearance of staunchness and energy to their convictions. He had so far departed from the frame of mind of the circle that he found it possible to be fair, and he finally rid himself of all his deep-rooted, virtually obligatory aversions which formerly were accounted literary and political duties.

Понятно, однако же, что с новым настроением Белинского волнения и схватки русских литературных кругов, в которых он еще недавно принимал такое живое участие, отошли на задний план.[…] Белинский становился одиноким посреди собственной партии, несмотря на журнал, основанный во имя его, и первым симптомом выхода из ее рядов явилась у него утрата всех старых антипатий, за которые еще крепко держались его последователи как за средство сообщать вид стойкости и энергии своим убеждениям. Он до того удалился от кружкового настроения, что получил возможность быть справедливым и наконец упразднил в себе все закоренелые, почти обязательные ненависти, которые считались прежде и литературным и политическим долгом.

This took place during the final year of Belinsky’s life, while he was at Salzbrunn (a spa town then in Prussian Silesia, now Polish Szczawno-Zdrój) trying to recover from the tuberculosis that would soon kill him. I was irresistibly reminded of an unforgettable scene from Time Regained (Le Temps Retrouvé), the final volume of Proust’s great novel, in which another sick and dying man has a similar loss, though presented in tragicomic rather than matter-of-fact terms (translation by Andreas Mayor):

A man with staring eyes and hunched figure was placed rather than seated in the back [of the cab], and was making, to keep himself upright, the efforts that might have been made by a child who has been told to be good. But his straw hat failed to conceal an unruly forest of hair which was entirely white, and a white beard, like those which snow forms on the statues of river-gods in public gardens, flowed from his chin. It was — side by side with Jupien, who was unremitting in his attentions to him — M. de Charlus, now convalescent after an attack of apoplexy […] But what was most moving was that one felt that this lost brightness [of his eyes] was identical with his moral pride, and that somehow the physical and even the intellectual life of M. de Charlus had survived the eclipse of that aristocratic haughtiness which in the past had seemed indissolubly linked to them. To confirm this, at the moment which I am describing, there passed in a victoria, no doubt also on her way to the reception of the Prince de Guermantes, Mme de Sainte-Euverte, whom formerly the Baron had not considered elegant enough for him. Jupien, who tended him like a child, whispered in his ear that it was someone with whom he was acquainted, Mme de Sainte-Euverte. And immediately, with infinite laboriousness but with all the concentration of a sick man determined to show that he is capable of all the movements which are still difficult for him, M. de Charlus lifted his hat, bowed, and greeted Mme de Sainte-Euverte as respectfully as if she had been the Queen of France or as if he had been a small child coming timidly in obedience to his mother’s command to say “How do you do?” to a grown-up person. […] And the exposure of the veins of silver in his hair was less indicative of profound convulsions than this unconscious humility which turned all social relationships upside down and abased before Mme. de Sainte-Euverte […] what had seemed to be the proudest snobbishness of all. […] M. de Charlus, who until this moment would never have consented to dine with Mme. de Sainte-Euverte, now bowed down to the ground in her honour.

Shortly afterwards comes this touching passage, of linguistic interest:

But when after a while I had grown accustomed to this pianissimo of whispered words, I perceived that the sick man retained the use of his intelligence completely intact. There were, however, two M. de Charluses, not to mention any others. Of the two, one, the intellectual one, passed his time in complaining that he suffered from progressive aphasia, that he constantly pronounced one word, one letter by mistake for another. But as soon as he actually made such a mistake, the other M. de Charlus, the subconscious one, who was as desirous of admiration as the first was of pity and out of vanity did things that the first would have despised, immediately, like a conductor whose orchestra has blundered, checked the phrase which he had started and with infinite ingenuity made the end of his sentence follow coherently from the word which he had uttered by mistake for another but which he thus appeared to have chosen.


  1. My OSO Beatrice has aphasic problems as a result of traumatic brain injury (she fell down a flight of stairs). Most of the time she “stalls out” and cannot find the word she wants, nor usually abandon and rephrase her sentences: the effect is like stuttering but without the stutter. On rare occasions, however, she simply produces the wrong word and carries on as if she had said the right one. When I draw her attention to this, sometimes she says she was aware of it, sometimes not.

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