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Futility by William Gerhardie

Futility (1922)

by William Gerhardie

Other authors: Michael Holroyd (Preface)

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Gerhardie was English, but was brought up in Russia and coming of age at the time of the First World War and Russian Revolution broke out. Futility follows an haute bourgeois Russian family as their fortunes wane. The narrator one Andrei Andreich (also an Englishman of Russian upbringing) is in love with one of the three sisters of the family, Nina. The father supports not only them, but his ex-wife, her lover (a Jewish dentist), his current mistress, a Prince who has attached himself to the household and the family of his very young new "wife" (not sure he ever married her) and her entire family. Where he goes, they all go. The theme, besides the obvious one of the title, is of waiting -- the father waiting to find out if his gold mines are still his, the mistress, also waiting for her pay off after which she will go back to her native Germany, all of them waiting for things to get better.
". . . this gathering of souls dissatisfied with life, yet always waiting patiently for betterment: enduring this unsatisfactory present because they believed that this present was not really life at all: that life was somewhere in the future: that this was but a temporary and transitory stage to be spent in patient waiting. And so they waited, year in, year out, looking out for life: while life, unnoticed, had noiselessly piled up the years that they had cast away promiscuously in waiting, and stood behind them--while they still waited." There is homage to Chekhov and to Goncharov here, but something more, an attempt to capture what is alien to westerners, a fatalism and a faith both, a blindness that is both innocence and cynicism. The family move west as the country goes to pieces, the father wants to be closer to his mines and they end up in Vladisvostock. Andrei returns in the employ of the British Navy, working as a translator for an Admiral. He woos Nina, she spurns him, then draws him. Does he love her? Or an idea o of her? As the different governments and revolutions succeed one another, the family remains together, waiting, seemingly untouched by events while people around them die. It's a short book, but took me a long time to read, quite extraordinary, I think, but also so quiet and uneventful you hardly realize how much is happening, how the world around these people is changing even while they are not. Reprinted as an 'unknown classic'--it is indeed that. **** 1/2 ( )
1 vote sibyx | Mar 26, 2018 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
William Gerhardieprimary authorall editionscalculated
Holroyd, MichaelPrefacesecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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There are honest men in Russia, and there are clever men in Russia; but there are no honest clever men in Russia. And if there are, they're probably heavy drinkers. (Nikolai Vasilievich)
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