Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Sunday, July 24, 2016

"The Czarist Emigres" by Joseph Roth (first published September 23, 1926, included in Hotel Days Wanderings Between the Wars, Edited And translated by Michael Hoffman, 2015)

My post also includes scenes from a movie perfect for Paris in July, Ninotchka.

Joseph Roth was born in Brody, now in the Ukraine, in 1894.  It was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire

He left his beloved Vienna on January 30, 1933, the day Hitler became chancellor of Germany, moving to Paris.  Paris was his home for the remaining six years of his life.  He died in Paris May 27, 1939

His most famous work is The Radetzky March.  The Legend of the Holy Drinker, is, as far as i know, his only work of fiction set in Paris.  His novel The Hundred Days is set in the time of Napolean's brief escape but is nor centered in Paria.

For a time he was the best paid journalist in Europe.  Reading his journalism it is a pleasure and an honor to encounter such extreme intelligence and perceptivity.  His personal life can only be described as a "mess".  

I could not let Paris in July come to an end without posting on one of his articles about Paris.

In "The Czarist Emigres" Roth evokes the romantic figures of White Russians living in Paris, Grand Dukes driving taxis, counts working as waiters.  Roth knows that White Russians were almost all very anti-semetic.  Here are Roth's beautifully expressed thoughts

"We were armed with the old literary formula reflexively applied for every transgression and excess: “the Russian soul”. Europe was familiar with music-hall Cossacks, the operatic excesses of Russian peasant weddings, Russian singers and their balalaikas. It never understood (not even after the Russians turned up on our doorstep) how French romanciers—the most conservative in the world—and sentimental Dostoyevsky readers had deformed the Russian to a kitschy figure compounded of divinity and bestiality, alcohol and philosophy, samovar cosiness and the barren steppes of Asia. ....

The longer the emigration went on, the more our Russians resembled the notion we had of them. They flattered us by assimilating themselves to it. Their feeling of playing a part maybe soothed their misery. They bore it more easily once it was appreciated as literature. The Russian count as Paris cabbie takes his fares straight into a storybook. His fate itself may be ghastly. But it is at least literary. The anonymous life of the émigrés became a public production. And then they began to make an exhibition of themselves. Hundreds of them founded theatres, choirs, dance groups, balalaika orchestras."

A perfect movie to accompany this is Ninotchka, made in 1939.  Three Russian envoys have been send to Paris to sell some  Crown Jewels.  They get distracted by the opulence of capitalistic Paris and a special envoy is sent to follow up on the sale. The Grand Duchess who used to own them makes a legal claim on the jewels.  When Ninotchka, played to perfection by Greta Garbo arrives in Paris she is totally dedicated to Russia and abhors the decadence of Paris.  Slowly Paris seduces her.   Niniotchka is one of my favorite movies.  I must have seen it at least six times.  It is hilarious, poignant, the settings and clothes are marvelous.  It has all the Russian cliche figures Roth mentioned.  It premiered the year Roth died so I doubt he saw it.

Here are a few scene shots


     Greta researching some legal matters.

Do you have a favorite set in Paris movie?

Mel u

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Mel, Season three of BBC's TV series "Peaky Blinders" (great British, Irish, Australian acting) revolves around White Russians in London in the 1920s. They come across as funny, ghastly, cynical, selfish, narcissistic, etc. It's a very entertaining show.

michael a.