Fathers and Sons

Fathers and Sons

Fathers and Sons

Fathers and Sons

Excerpt

Among the regular guests at the famous literary dinners that Flaubert held in the restaurant Magny was Ivan Turgenev, the first great Russian writer to be widely translated and admired in Europe. Maupassant has left an account of these affairs, including a vivid picture of the big, mild, candid Russian. The company discussed literary and political news over the early courses, and personal recollections at the main course, but for dessert they reserved the subject of women and love. Flaubert was fond of recalling his memories of voluptuous Oriental women; Daudet and the de Goncourt brothers specialized in cynical or obscene anecdotes; Zola, the naturalist, would demonstrate that love is nothing but a poetic amplification of an ordinary biological need. As for Turgenev, although he occasionally contributed an indecent story, out of politeness, he was obviously disturbed by the attitudes of his French friends. He defended the transcendent value of love as the source of all inspiration. He approached women, he would explain, with a sentiment of respect or even awe, and was always surprised by his good fortune when they welcomed his advances. He might have added that love was one reason why he spent so much of his life in France. As a young man he had fallen in love with a famous singer, Pauline Garcia Viardot; and since she was happily married, he was content to follow her the rest of his life, as a friend of the family.

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