Tag: self-delusion

Malamud, “The Literary Life of Laban Goldman” (1943)

bernard malamud literary life of laban goldman

Laban Goldman is kin to Chekhov’s Mitia Kouldarov in “Joy,” but without youth’s excuse. He’s a middle-aged man married 27 years to Emma, “a small woman, heavily built,” with a daughter, Sylvia, married and raising two children elsewhere. Goldman is self-delusional: he writes letters to the Brooklyn Eagle and the New York Times and thinks he’s on his way to becoming a literary star, or was, but for his wife. He’s just had a letter printed in the Eagle that morning. He uses “big words,” says things like “It’s a sociological subject of import” when he speaks to his daughter on the phone and has only contempt for his wife. “Twenty-seven years I have been married to you in a life which I got nothing from it,” he tells her. He attends night school, where he’s infatuated with a Miss Moscowitz, “a tall, thin woman in her early thirties.” His English class is discussing Romeo and Juliet. He “squirmed uncomfortably in his seat as the period grew shorter. He knew that he would feel miserable if he had not raised his letter…” But he finds a way, though his letter is about divorce. He contrives a way to squish the Capulet-Montague clash through his letter: “The result of this incongruence is very frequently tragedy or, nowadays, divorce.” It’s actually quite a funny line. “On this subject I would like to quote you some words of mine…” (Laban is Arabic for yogurt, and a reference to Libnah in Numbers, but not seemingly meaningful here.)

Afterward Goldman and Moscowitz go out for coffee and are exchanging verbally masturbatory flatteries when Moscowitz notices a woman rushing their way, with another woman trying to hold her back. “Mr. Goldman,” she said in a tight voice, “your wife is coming.” The scene reminds me of the scene where Mr. Zipsky in Woody Allen’s Radio Days has a nervous breakdown and runs amok in the neighborhood. Not fair to Emma of course, but the way Malamud describes her approach is cleaverly evocative. And so: esclandre. Miss Moscowitz quickly exits. Goldman is indifferent to his wife. His letter that morning erases all depression, leaving him with his final delusion: “Ah,” he sighed, as he walked along, “with my experience, what a book I could really write!”

Assembly, November 1943

Chekhov, “Le miroir déformant” (1883)

The first story in the Pleiade edition, not incliuded in the Constance Garnette edition. An immediately vivid scene-setting–the dread, the dankness, the age of the hall of paintings of the narrator’s ancestors), the rain on the window panes, the way the paintings seem to address the narrator for breaching their long isolation (“Tu mérites une correction, mon petit !”) and that brilliant image of the echoing cough: “Nos pas résonnaient dans toute la maison. Le même écho qui répondait jadis à mes aïeux renvoyait le bruit de ma toux.” The husband points out a deforming mirror to his wife, the same mirror that one of his ancestors would never go without. It shows him grotesquely deformed. But when she holds it, she screams, faints, and becomes ill for days until he finally relents to her pleas to have the mirror again. Once she does, she rejoices: the mirror deforms all her ugliness into beauty. They both stare at the mirror, because he can finally see his wife as a beauty.

Spectator, 1883, Nr. 2

Chekhov, “Une grande joie” (“Joy,” 1883)

chekhov

Chekhov, by Bazaroff.

One of my favorite Chekhov stories. Brings back memories of working the blotter at the Beckley paper. The overwhelming joy of Mitia Kouldarov, a young clerk who sees his name in print–in the police blotter, after falling drunk outside of a bar and getting struck by a carriage. He can’t contain his joy with his perplexed parents, the mother constantly crossing herself. Now they know me all over Russia, he says happily.

The Spectator, 1883, Nr. 3