Tag Archives: Фёдор Миха́йлович Достое́вский

unable to love

 

 

“What is hell? I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love.”

— Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

 

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Could Theodore Dreiser ever truly love anyone?

The answer is NO.

Theodore Dreiser (1871-1945) is an American novelist in whom I have had a longstanding interest.

 

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Roger W. Smith, email to Thomas P. Riggio, November 4, 2016:

 

“Dreiser (who was not a good husband and never became a parent) was incapable of really, truly loving another person in his adulthood and never did. (See Harry Stack Sullivan’s oft quoted definition of absolute love.) A corollary was that he could never freely accept love or kindness nor trust anyone’s good intentions towards him.

“As Sullivan wrote: “When the satisfaction or the security of another person becomes as significant to one as is one’s own satisfaction or security, then the state of love exists. … under no other circumstances is a state of love present, regardless of the popular usage of the word.

(Harry Stack Sullivan, Conceptions of Modern Psychiatry: The First William Alanson White Memorial Lectures. New York; W. W. Norton & Company, 1966. pp. 42-43)

“Dreiser NEVER attained this.”

 

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Thomas P. Riggio, email to Roger W. Smith, November 4, 2016:

 

“The issue I thought we were discussing was Dreiser’s relationship with women. As to his ability to love another person, that’s another matter — one too complicated, for me at least, to make any judgments about.

“It’s tough enough dealing with that topic in regard to people we know well in our own lives, never mind someone long dead whom we’ve never met. And then there are so many different criteria that people use to determine what it means to love. For instance, you mention only two, not being a husband and not having children, but that could be applied to Christ as well! Philandering husbands might still love their wives: Bill Clinton seems to ‘love’ Hillary, for instance. As I said, it’s too complex for my simple mind to understand, so you may well be correct.”

 

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The following are my conclusions pursuant to the exchange with Professor Riggio.

 

The issue is not too complex! Biographers and psychobiographers make such judgments all the time.

Dreiser scholars don’t want to go to deeply into his psyche because of what they might find.

The Dreiser archives are massive. He saved practically every letter, telegram, and scrap of paper that ever came into his hands. His love affairs and romantic entanglements have been well documented.

There is much, also, in Dreiser’s own autobiographical writings that reveals how he habitually dealt with other people, his family, relatives, and his spouses. What is notable is that he was constantly worried that someone would be unfaithful to him — or, in the case of non-intimate acquaintances, such as people he had business dealings with — that someone would cheat him. He had many acquaintances, but hardly any in the category of what you would call a best friend. He just plain could not trust or give himself to anyone. In the case of intimate relationships with women, he demanded that they pledge and observe absolute fidelity to him, but would not pledge it to them. See my essay

“Theodore Dreiser, Ervin Nyiregyházi, Helen Richardson, and Marie Pergain” at

Roger W. Smith, “Theodore Dreiser, Ervin Nyiregyházi, Helen Richardson, and Marie Pergain”

for just one example — a very telling one –of how this played out in real life.

 

— Roger W. Smith

   October 2017

a colloquy regarding Vladimir Nabokov

 

 

 

At Elisabeth van der Meer’s awesome site on Russian literature

A Russian Affair

there was a post the other day about Dostoevsky.

 

https://arussianaffair.wordpress.com/2016/12/13/typically-dostoevsky/

 

 

The following is an exchange between myself and another respondent to the pot, based on an observation I made about Vladimir Nabokov.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   December 2016

 

 

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Roger W. Smith:

This is a typical post for this site. Which is to say that it is extremely well — I should say, beautifully — written and very informative. And, it makes one want to go back and read an author one hasn’t read for a long while. It seems that everything essential has been said about Dostoevsky, with nothing superfluous. Critics write whole books and never get as close as this to the heart of the matter.

A couple of thoughts re Dostoevsky. I am wondering, is he not — as regards style — somewhat like a writer such as Balzac, in that he didn’t give a hoot about style, basically. it was the story and the characters that mattered?

An opinion that I have formed, not based on an extensive acquaintance with his works, is that Nabokov is overrated. Brilliant, but nonetheless, overrated. I recall reading critical writings of Nabokov in which he refers slightingly to Dostoevsky and seems to rank him much lower than contemporaries such as Tolstoy.

A final comment. The illustrations on this site are always chosen, one can see, with great care, and they enhance appreciation and understanding.

 

Benn Bell:

I would like to say that I agree with him that your article is an excellent piece. You already know that I love Dostoevsky and have read him extensively. But I must disagree with Roger’s comment on Nabokov and cannot let it go unchallenged. I have also read Nabokov extensively and I find the notion that he is over rated as a writer quite absurd. Between the two of them I would rather read Nabokov any day.

 

Roger W. Smith:

I have taken note of your comment and see why you might differ with me.

In response, I would be inclined to say the following.

I don’t know Nabokov that well, having read some of his stuff, e.g., “Speak, Memory,” “Despair,” “Pnin,” and “Lolita” (in part).

“Lolita,” frankly, left me feeling wanting, impoverished. I could not get into it.

I have also read, in whole or part, the following critical works of Nabokov: “Nikolai Gogol” and “Lectures on Russian Literature” (parts)

Does this make me an authority? No.

But, I got the feeling that Nabokov is:

— undoubtedly brilliant;

— somewhat superficial or arid in terms of the emotional depth of his works.

Regarding the second comment – so called superficiality – I feel that Nabokov does not have or achieve in his writings the emotional depth of a Tolstoy or Dostoevsky, that his works do not strike the same deep chords. It seems to me, from my personal experience as a reader, that often one, while being impressed if not amazed by the pyrotechnics of Nabokov auteur and his ingenuity and linguistic ability, finds oneself left wanting more emotional nourishment from his works.