One has just been sent out as a biblical dove, has found nothing green, and slips back
into the darkness of the ark -- Kafka

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Edmund Wilson's "To the Finland Station"

Now I know I've at least two connections to Wilson: 1.) Nabokov; and 2.) Apparently Wilson and I both like to "wave" to Virginia Woolf (according to the forward by Louis Menand Wilson's title was inspired by Woolf's To the Lighthouse).

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One read leads to another: I read Dear Bunny, Dear Volodya: The Nabokov-Wilson Letters, 1940 - 1971 a couple summers ago, and that led to Wilson's Memoirs of Hecate County (NYRBC). Once I'd dipped into Wilson, I liked him well enough to read some more.

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Started reading To the Finland Station a couple days ago. A big swath, for sure (always skeptical of those). As Menand says: "And yet To the Finland Station is, if  not a great book, a grand book. It brings a vanished world to life."

Though the book is flawed (Wilson admits as much in his Introduction, 1971), I suspect I'll learn enough (e.g., I've already learned how Michelet "ironed out" Vico and came up with the view of history as the story of  "human progress").

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Apparently one of the greatest flaws of the book is Wilson's overly positive portrait of Lenin (the hero of the book). Wilson relied heavily on sources (mostly Soviet) that painted Lenin as the "intellectual man of action," and didn't mention the cruel Lenin who put the "struggle" before "regard for humanity." Menand mentions Nabokov's reaction to this flaw in the book:
He was also a savage and ruthless politician--a "pail of the milk of human kindness with a dead rat at the bottom," as Vladimir Nabokov explained to Wilson after reading To the Finland Station in 1940.
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