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My Past and Thoughts: Memoirs Volume 2: Memoirs v. 2 [Paperback]

Alexander Herzen , Constance Garnett
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

18 Sep 2008

Alexander Herzen's own brilliance and the extraordinary circumstances of his life combine to place his memoirs among the great testimonies of the modern era. Born in 1812, the illegitimate son of a wealthy Russian landowner, he became one of the most important revolutionary and intellectual figures of his time - as theorist, polemicist and political actor; and fifty years after his death Lenin pronounced him 'the father of Russian socialism'.

My Past and Thoughts uniquely assimilates the personal to the historical, and is both a classic of autobiography an an unparalleled record of his century's remarkable life. His account of a privileged childhood among the Russian aristocracy is illuminated with the insight of a great novelist; his friends and enemies - Marx, Wagner, Mill, Bakunin, Garibaldi, Kropotkin - are brought brilliantly to life; and as a sceptical and free-thinking observer, he unerringly traces the line of revolutionary development, from the earliest stirrings of Russian radicalism through the tumultuous ideological debates of the International.

'His power of observation is extraordinary. He tells a story with the economy of a great reporter. His gift is for knowing not only what people are, but how they are historically situated. Somewhere in the pages of this hard, honest observer of what movements do to men, we shall find ourselves.' - V. S. Pritchett


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My Past and Thoughts: Memoirs Volume 2: Memoirs v. 2 + My Past and Thoughts: Memoirs Volume 1: Memoirs v. 1 + My Past and Thoughts: Memoirs Volume 4: Memoirs v. 4
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Product details

  • Paperback: 418 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (18 Sep 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571245420
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571245420
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 12.8 x 3.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 841,150 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

Alexander Herzen was born in Moscow in 1812 and educated at Moscow University. He entered government service but was denounced for his democratic and westernizing ideas. After inheriting a fortune on his father's death, he left Russia in 1847, never to return. He experienced the revolutions of 1848 in France and Italy, and settled in London in 1852, where his home became a mecca for Russian visitors and for an assortment of liberals and radicals. He wrote prolifically, embarking on the monumental and amorphous body of memoirs by which he is best known, the first two volumes of which appeared in 1861. He left London in 1865 to continue his activities as a radical publicist on the continent, and died in Paris in 1870.

The subtitle of Richard Garnett's biography (reissued in Faber Finds) of his grandmother, Constance Garnett (1861-1946) is A Heroic Life. It couldn't be more apt. She remains the most prolific English translator of Russian literature: twelve volumes of Dostoevsky, five of Gogol, six of Herzen (his complete My Past and Thoughts), seventeen of Tchehov (her spelling), five of Tolstoy, eleven of Turgenev and so on. Many of these will be appearing in Faber Finds. In all she translated over sixty works. It is not, however, the sheer quantity that is to be celebrated, though that in itself is remarkable, it is more the enduring quality of her work. Of course there have been critics - translation is a peculiarly controversial subject, but there have been many more admirers. Tolstoy himself praised her. Of her Turgenev translations, Joseph Conrad said 'Turgeniev (sic) for me is Constance Garnett and Constance Garnett is Turgeniev'. Katherine Mansfield declared the lives of her generation of writers were transformed by Constance Garnett's translations, and H. E. Bates went so far as to say that modern English Literature itself could not have been what it is without her translations.This extraordinary achievement was accomplished despite poor health and poor eyesight, the latter being ruined by her labours on War and Peace ,a tragic if fitting sacrifice; hers indeed was A Heroic Life.

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4.0 out of 5 stars The Culture of Despair 4 Oct 2010
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In this, the second volume of six, Alexander Herzen covers that period of his life which elapsed between his return from post-university exile in 1838 and his departure for Europe in 1847. Apart from a second period spent in exile at Novgorod, Herzen spent nearly all that part of his life in Moscow and St.Petersburg, and this volume provides a striking account of the intellectual and cultural life of Russsia in the 1840s.

The principal interest in such a survey lies in the particular character given to that life by severe restrictions on speech and action imposed by the reactionary régime of Tsar Nicholas II - a man portrayed by Herzen as more fitted to a non-comissioned rank in the Prussian army than supreme rulership of a semi-barbarous slave state in desperate need of reform, emancipation and modernisation. Instead, the reaction to the French Revolution, and the attempted coup in December 1825, created an all but paranoid establishment run by a priveleged élite with the aid of a deeply corrupt, and strikingly inefficient civil service, sometimes staffed by exiled dissidents; a bumbling, unintelligent and casually brutal police force; and a network of spies capable of insinuating itself into the most intimate of social, intellectual and cultural circles.

The distorting effect of such régime is well-presented in the portrait painted in these pages. Herzen suggests that the philosophy of Hegel, with it's complex, idealistic structure; it's specialised terms; and its metaphysical abstractions were ideally suited to an intellectual and cultural world in which talk, though dangerous, was at least possible, whereas practical action was not.
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