Six Degrees of Separation – From A Christmas Carol to War and Peace

Inspired by fellow blogger An Argumentative Old Git, I decided to make a #6degrees blogpost too. The idea is that each month there is another book as a starting point, and this month it’s A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. From there you can connect to six other books. The meme is hosted by Kate of Books are my Favourite and Best.

So we start with A Christmas Carol (1843), the classic Christmas story. 

fullsizeoutput_6f.jpegScrooge is visited by three ghosts, showing him the past, the present and the future. Scrooge quickly understands that he needs to better his life. The Undertaker by Pushkin (1831) features an un-Dickensian undertaker with a Scrooge-like disposition. He too is visited by ghosts, a whole party of them: they are his dead clients, accusing him of ripping of their next of kin. Unlike Scrooge, Prokhorov does not seem inclined to better his life the next morning; he simply orders tea and calls his daughters. And we can almost hear him think “Bah! Humbug!”.

IMG_3931.JPGThere’s a ghostly party in The Master and Margarita (1940) by Bulgakov too. In this satirical novel Satan himself himself has come to Stalinist Moscow to organise a ball on Walpurgis night. The guests are all dead and they have all committed a crime that has sent them to hell. Among the guests are famous people and notorious criminals. They arrive at the party through the fireplace. Sounds familiar, right? But we’re not going there. The novel’s most famous quote is “Manuscripts don’t burn”.

IMG_3923.JPGIn 1852 Gogol famously burned most of the manuscripts containing the second part of Dead Souls shortly before he died in sad circumstances, suffering from depression. Dead Souls (1842) is, contrary to the title, a lively tale. A satire about an aspiring noble man traveling around Russia and the people he meets. Chichikov is accompanied by a faithful servant, Petrushka, who likes a drink and smells peculiarly, but is devoted to his master.

fullsizeoutput_5d.jpegThat brings us to another devoted servant: Zakhar. The interfering, lazy, complaining and gossiping servant of Oblomov. Oblomov has perfected the art of procrastinating and famously does not get out of bed for the first 150 pages of the novel. Oblomov was written by Goncharov in 1858, as an example of a ‘superfluous man’. Oblomov simply refuses to worry about things that everybody else already worries about, and does not like it when ‘things’ are expected of him. His home is his safe haven.

fullsizeoutput_6cFrom that save haven on Gorokhovaya Street we take stroll to Stolyarny Alley, to the humble quarters of another famous Petersburg hero: Raskolnikov. The protagonist of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment (1866) doesn’t just dream and scheme; he acts out his plan and murders an old pawnbroker. With her money he wants to help the poor, but he becomes consumed by guilt.

fullsizeoutput_6eCrime and Punishment was first published in episodes in the famous Russian magazine The Messenger. If you were a subscriber to that magazine, you were in for a real treat each month; just imagine, in 1866 it also ran Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Of course the reader already knew how the war with Napoleon ended, but what about Natasha, was she going to be reunited with prince Andrey?! The novel is full of cliffhangers and the reason is precisely that: the monthly episodes.

Dickens was immensely popular in Russia, and both Dostoevsky and Tolstoy admired him and were influenced by him. Where would A Christmas Carol lead you?

Text and photos © Elisabeth van der Meer

Books read: all of the above and an article from The Dickens Magazine by George Gorniak about Tolstoy, sent to me by Roger W. Smith 

45 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation – From A Christmas Carol to War and Peace

  1. Beautifully written, Elisabeth. I love how you follow your thoughts through different “pathways” and works, beginning with “A Christmas Carol,” which I have loved since childhood and have read I don’t know how many times.

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  2. “Dead Souls” and “Oblomov” are two of my favorite Russian novels. When a friend was preparing to visit Russia for the first time, back in the 1990s, he asked me to recommend a Russian novel that might give him insight into the people. I suggested “Dead Souls.” It probably didn’t help much, haha!

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  3. What a beautiful post–The splendid photographs, so creatively accomplished, adds so much to the content of this entry. I so enjoyed all the connections. I must read War and Peace again, again, and to think I’ve never read Oblomov! 2019 is going to be a big classics year for me.

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  4. Elisabeth, a VERY impressive step-by-step transition from “A Christmas Carol” to “War and Peace”! Offhand, I’d move from “A Christmas Carol” to another fictional work starring a miser – George Eliot’s “Silas Marner.” Then to another novel, like “Silas Marner,” in which the unexpected appearance of a girl helps give more meaning to the life of a parent or parents: L.M. Montgomery’s “Anne of Green Gables.” Anne eventually becomes a teacher, so I’ll mention James Hilton’s “Goodbye, Mr. Chips.” Then to J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series and its many teachers. Then from magic to the magical realism of Isabel Allende’s “The House of the Spirits.” Which includes a war of sorts (the Pinochet coup in Chile), so, like you, I’ll end with…”War and Peace”!

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  5. Woah! Never knew War and Peace was serialised. Within 6 weeks I read the book from cover to cover and yet couldn’t curb my excitement to get to the next chapter. I can’t imagine having to wait a month to find out if Natasha indeed ran off with Anatole in the dead of the night and many such cliffhangers!

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  6. Hello Judith, thank you so much, I’m happy to hear you enjoyed my post. It was a pleasure to make. If you’ve never read Oblomov, you’re in for a treat. And War and Peace is always good. Happy reading in 2019!

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  7. Thank you, Dave, both for your appreciation and your 6 degrees. Wonderful choices, all great classics. You have given me some reading inspiration. And we both end with War and Peace!

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  8. Good to hear from you, Sriram. I know, I would have been soooo impatient for the next episode to arrive! And what if it was late, because of a snow storm or something… By the way, it took 4 years to get published completely, from 1865 to 1869.

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  9. Another charming article, Elisabeth! I like your humorous remarks 🙂 You mentioned one of my favorite books – The Master and Margarita. I can reread this book numerous times, and it always feels brilliant like the first time 🙂
    I know I have to read the Pushkin’s prose, and Gogol’s stories. Hopefully, when the days get longer, I will.
    Wishing you a very happy Christmas! xx

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  10. Thank you very much, Inese 😊 Isn’t it nice to know that we have great stories to come back to whenever we want to, and more great stories in store for us? I was so surprised by The Master and Margarita, I didn’t know much about it before I read it, and like you I absolutely loved it! Wishing you a very merry Christmas too! Take care, xx

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  11. Hello Markus!
    Thank you so much, for your enthusiasm. It was great fun to make this blog post. We had a quiet and white Christmas, hope yours was nice too. Of course you can celebrate again for the Russian Christmas:-)
    Happy New Year and cheers to that!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Christy — your comment is apt. It is my understanding that many great nineteenth century novels first appeared in serial form as installments in a magazine. This was true, for example, of Dickens’s novels. People would eagerly await the next issue to learn what happened next.

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