Arthur Schnitzler’s novella Dying reminded me of Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilych in its insightful depiction of the thoughts over time of a dying man, and Schnitzler impressed me by giving equal attention to the thoughts and fears of his wife or girlfriend or - I’ll just say wife for today’s purpose.
In his recent Anna Karenina hatchet job, obooki singles out the well-known passage in which Anna is in a carriage, turning over recent events but being distracted by shop signs. Here is a sliver of Anna’s thoughts:
Office and warehouse … Dental surgeon … Yes, I will tell Dolly everything. She doesn’t like Vronsky. [I’ll skip a bit] I won’t give in to him. I won’t allow him to teach me … Filippov, pastry cook – I’ve heard he sends his pastry to Petersburg. The Moscow water is so good. (Pt. VII, Ch. XXVIII)
And so on. The ellipses are in the original, an orthographic feature, although different translators treat them differently. They signify Tolstoy’s pauses, not obooki’s omissions. This is an early example of stream of consciousness used for a specific purpose, (I am quoting obooki) “to show a disordered human mind – a mind pushed to emotional extremes – rather than the everyday state we find ourselves in.”
The dental surgeon is foreshadowing, and the pastry cook's pancakes – but I am not writing about Tolstoy.
Schnitzler’s dying Felix and the faithful Marie have been in the mountains, hoping to improve Felix’s health, and are now returning to Vienna by train. Felix's mind is understandably disordered:
She looks so pale, or is that just the light? ... Ah, yes, the overhead lighting is on. But it isn’t entirely dark outside yet … And now autumn is coming … autumn, such a sad, quiet time … We’ll be back home in Vienna this evening … And then I’ll feel as if I’d never been away … [I gotta skip some of this] There are a great many passengers in a worse way than me on the train … It’s good to be alone … How has this whole day passed? Was it really today that I was lying on the sofa in Salzburg? It’s so long ago … ah, what do we know about time and space? ... the mystery of the world, perhaps we’ll solve it when we die … And now a melody sounded in his ear. He knew it was only the sound of the moving train, yet it was a melody … A folk-song, a Russian song … monotonous … very beautiful … (67)
He is asleep by the end. Ellipses again in the original. Somewhere in the middle I was thinking, gee this sounds, and even looks, a lot like that part of Anna Karenina, and then Schnitzler drops in the Russian folk-song, out of nowhere. The previous scenes in Salzburg had taken place in the midst of “a great festival of vocal music” (53), but there was nothing Russian until this moment.
“Russian” is like a signature or seal – “yes, dagnabit, I have been reading Tolstoy!”
Why I do not write reviews – just look at these: Winston’s Dad, Lizzy’s Literary Life, John Self, and Pechorin’s Journal, all enjoying Arthur Schnitzler’s Dying.