November 23, 2012

What Stoppard copied from Waugh for "Anna Karenina"

This isn't hugely important, but it's fun to note where major writers get their ideas. From my movie review in Taki's Magazine of Anna Karenina, which features an adaptation of Tolstoy's novel by playwright Tom Stoppard:
Stoppard is often attacked for his notorious cleverness, but he tries to use his brainpower to make audience comprehension as simple as possible (but not simpler). 
Russian novels, however, are notorious for their endless characters with endless names. For example, Anna’s husband is Count Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin, while her lover is Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky. In his narration, Tolstoy gets around this self-inflicted problem by calling the father of Anna’s son “Alexei Alexandrovich” and the father of her daughter “Vronsky.” To help Western audiences, Stoppard mostly skips the patronymics. 
Besides cutting away until he ends up with an efficient rendition of the grand plot, Stoppard adds a brilliant new climax to the steeplechase scene that Tolstoy had overlooked, perhaps because it didn’t occur to him how confounding having two Alexeis might be to foreigners. In Stoppard’s variation, when Vronsky falls in a horse race for cavalry officers, Anna screams “Alexei!” Her husband comes running when she calls his name, only for her to ignore him in front of tout le Moscou in her anguish over her new Alexei. 
Stoppard presumably lifted this device from the most shocking scene in Evelyn Waugh’s 1934 novel A Handful of Dust, in which the wife has a young son and a lover both named “John.” Informed only of the death of “John,” she exclaims “Oh, thank God” when she then learns that it was merely her little boy who was killed in an equestrian accident.  (Here’s a recent interview with Stoppard to promote Anna Karenina where, unprompted, he cites A Handful of Dust as a “masterpiece.”)

In other words, Stoppard has been thinking about Waugh's plot device recently. That shouldn't be surprising: Back in the 1990s, Stoppard told a reviewer that his three favorite writers were Waugh, Vladimir Nabokov, and Thomas Babington Macaulay, so there's nothing new here. (By the way, I like Waugh, Nabokov, and Macaulay, too, so it's hardly surprising I like Stoppard.) Indeed, when I type "Stoppard Waugh" into Google, I find this:
From September 1962 until April 1963, [Stoppard] worked in London as a drama critic for Scene, a new arts magazine, writing reviews and interviews, both under his name and under the pseudonym William Boot which was taken from the protagonist in Evelyn Waugh's novel Scoop. Stoppard says he was drawn to this character because he was "a journalist who brought a kind of innocent incompetence and contempt to what he was doing.... I used it, and got quite fond of Boot as a name." He liked it so much in fact, that his early tv and radio plays frequently feature characters with the name Boot.

In turn, I wonder if Waugh's original scene in A Handful of Dust was a parody of the horseback accident scene in Anna Karenina? I can't find any evidence online that Waugh ever read Tolstoy -- in general, Waugh hated 19th Century novels for their long-windedness, but he mostly excoriated Dickens in print -- but I can imagine Waugh muttering his way through Anna Karenina, "Alexei Alexandrovich? Alexei Kirillovich? Why can't this loquacious Muscovite use proper English names, such as, say, John? Wait a minute, that gives me an idea ..."

A few years ago, I bought myself for Christmas War and Peace and a new copy of Scoop to replace the one that I had reread so often it fell apart. After 100+ pages of War and Peace, I said to myself, "You know, the plot is kind of like Scoop -- rich people socialize in the city and the country, and then off to war -- but Waugh only needs about 1/3 as many words as Tolstoy to communicate." So, I reread Scoop for a 10th time instead of War and Peace for the first time.

Waugh's non-verbose style was influenced by 1920s silent films. I believe he was employed as a screenwriter at a big studio for awhile, but only the amateur 28-minute silent comedy The Scarlet Woman: An Ecclesiastical Melodrama, made by Waugh's friends in 1925, ever made it to the screen.

51 comments:

anony-mouse said...

Note: a lot of 19th c. novels were longwinded because they were serialized first in magazines which paid by the word.

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times, ad nauseum.

Follow the money.

Aaron Gross said...

Waugh's non-verbose style was influenced by 1920s silent films.

I wonder how much it was influenced by telephones. Most obviously and literally in Vile Bodies, but maybe throughout his work?

gumbic said...

"I bought myself for Christmas"

Who else does this?

Steve Sailer said...

"I wonder how much it was influenced by telephones."

It was kind of like how screenwriters couldn't really handle cell phones - a huge fraction of the their plotting tricks relied on one person knowing something but being unable to tell the other person - until about Thomas Monahan's screenplay for "The Departed."

Anonymous said...

English fascination with Russia... why?

Lean made Doc Zhiv. And BBC did some productions too.

English and Russians are so different. Why the fascination?

English wanna sing like American blacks and dress up like Russians.

Anonymous said...

Waugh was never employed as a screen writer. The Scarlet Woman was a home-made production that Waugh appeared in but I don't think actually wrote. It was never shown publicly.

But cinema was a huge influence on him throughout his life and especially in the stripped down Modernist prose of his early comedies.

Anonymous said...

The "Infernal Affairs" adaptation AKA the screenplay for "The Departed" was written by *William* Monahan (the caller ID gag appears in both east & west versions). You may be thinking instead of the founder of Domino's Pizza.

Come to think of it that entire post sorta resembles something you'd find at one of Blogger's many, many aspiring screenwriter sites

Senor Choloquito said...

No intiendo.

diana said...

ANNA KARENINA and LES MIZ. Two big budget costume dramas (OK, LM, is a musical, but still...)

I wonder how well these will do.

I saw something on Nightline yesterday that finally convinced me that Xbox gaming is the art form of the 21st century and will totally eclipse poor old Hollywood if it hasn't already. I'm probably behind the curve.

deconstructingleftism said...

"War and Peace" is just awful. I kept reading, because I told myself "This is a classic, at some point it must get better" and read all the way to the end. It never got better. Just stupid rich people behaving stupidly. I guess there is supposed to be some pacifist Christian message in here but even the "good" characters are beastly. It occured to me the one good thing about the Russian Revolution is all these people got killed. If rich Russians really *were* like that, I can hardly blame the Bolsheviks.

Anonymous said...

Tolstoy waughed?
That's like Dostoevsky wilded.

Anonymous said...

"English fascination with Russia... why?"

I don't think there's much of a fascination - much more with France.

Tom Stoppard is Tomáš Straüssler, born in Moravia, not Northampton.

After reading Jane Austen the Russian novelists come as rather a shock - everyone spends hours discussing at great length the things which the English would avoid talking about.

Thursday said...

I love Scoop, but Waugh is a bug compared to Tolstoy. If you don't have the endurance the longer works I'd suggest the short novels, particularly The Devil, The Kreutzer Sonata, The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Hadji Murad. Start with the last.

Anonymous said...

This isn't hugely important, but it's fun...

I like your musings on books and movies, Steve. With the world crumbling we gotta have some fun.

@deconstructingleftism
It occured to me the one good thing about the Russian Revolution is all these people got killed.


Extremely funny line!

Lucius said...

Oy. Steve, you're a great public intellectual and all, but . . . .

We all have our subjective preferences, and I don't relish plowing through 19th Century novels that tip past the "Villette" word count, which, as a distractible and weeniefied sort of reader, is long enough for me, but . . . .

Just man up and read Tolstoy already. I don't know how funny you think it is your wife has to key you in to plot points in Austen and Tolstoy, but this is pitiful.

Even in a godless universe, there is transcendental order. And it is an absolute that Austen and Tolstoi (even if I have complaints against Tolstoi!) trump Waugh (great as he is) and Tom Wolfe (much as he lends you fodder).

Not that you can't go back to Waugh--again-- but: live a little already.

Anyway, just because Russian names are long doesn't mean Tolstoy (or Constance Gardner) is wasting words.

Besides, this Stoppard gimmick, which is rather self-explanatory, was already covered in the review well enough.

I might as well add: I don't see that Joe Wright is doing anything besides what Bernard Rose was doing in the 90s (less lucratively) with his "Immortal Beloved" and AK adaptation. It's low-middlebrow Visconti M-TV.

Maybe the perfume commercial remark was meant as a satiric swipe against the degraded decorative sensibilities at work, but I fear it wasn't.

Not every Tony Scott is a Josef Von Sternberg. Chanel is not "Barry Lyndon". I know Obama got reelected and all, but still, we can maintain *some* standards . . . .

C. Van Carter said...

Look up William Gerhardie.



Anonymous said...

"… adaptation of Tolstoy's novel by playwright Tom Stoppard"

I always surprised at these adaptations. Why the need to adapt a great classical book? Why not to keep most of what the author wrote?

I love Tolstoy but I’m having big doubts about going to watch the movie. I suspect I will be as much disappointed as after watching “Onegin” (1999). The “adaptation” made a cheap vaudeville out of great Pushkin’s drama.

If you want to watch good “Les Miz”, watch the 2000 French television miniseries with Gérard Depardieu as Jean Valjean.

I will not be surprised if the new movie portrays Jean Valjean as an atheist...

Anonymous said...

"Tom Stoppard is Tomáš Straüssler, born in Moravia, not Northampton."

From Wikipedia: Stoppard was born in 1937. In 1939, the family with baby Tom (1.8 years) fled to Singapore. In 1946 (he was 9), the family moved to England. He is much more English than Czech.

t. lydgate said...

Tolstoy demands reading, if only the shorter volumes as Thursday recommends. They are much more significant than Waugh's body of work, which I have read to completion and enjoyed.

I would recommend the Constance Garnett translations.

Anonymous said...

To what extent do people like artists for their political beliefs, affiliations, or leanings?

Did Sailer one day wake up and recognize the genius of Waugh, Heinlein, and Stoppard, or did he gravitate toward them because of their conservative or conservative-leaning sensibilities/views?
He also seems to be partial to Jodie Foster and Mel Gibson partly for their political or ideological leanings. Foster is no conservative but still sort of HBD-ish.

This must be tougher for conservatives than for liberals since, at least in the modern period--especially after WWII which led to the downfall and moral discrediting of the European right--because liberals and leftists have had such a commanding presence in the arts and culture whereas conservatives have been few and far between. Even the cultural heroes of conservatism have tended to be leftists or liberals. Take George Orwell, a leftist but praised by the right for having exposed Stalinism.



Anonymous said...

Should the male version of feminism be called semenism?

Anonymous said...

"He is much more English than Czech"

I'd still look for a more English exemplar of the purported English fascination with Russia.

(Compare a conversation with Mrs Bennet or Mrs Dashwood with one with Madame Epanchin...)

Anonymous said...

"English fascination with Russia... why?"

"I don't think there's much of a fascination - much more with France."

But the fascination with France is much easier to grasp. Geographically, UK and France are very close. They were competing world powers. Historically, the British dominated the seas whereas France dominated the European continent. In the 18th century, Britain was called the whale and France was called the elephant.
UK and France were also the leading cultural, economic, and political powers in Europe for a long spell. They had the benefit of earlier centralization. Italy had ups and downs but didn't become a united nation until well into the 19th century. Germans had great potential but was divided into so many principalities and was late to unify. But once it did unify, it almost overnight became the predominant land power in Europe and upset the long balance that UK and France had arrived at with one another.

Maybe the British fascination with Russia was, in some ways, similar to its fascination with France. Though there was a lot of cultural exchange between France and Britain, they also made interesting contrasts. Brits were more restrained, progressive, Protestant, rational, and economy-oriented. French were more flamboyant, ooh lala, Catholic, romantic, and culture-oriented.

Similarly, maybe the British came to be fascinated with Russia for its great contrasts. Britain was small, Russia was gigantic. Britain gained an overseas empire whereas Russian empire was all connected in a single land mass. Brits were rational, liberal, well-mannered, and progressive. Russia was autocratic, reactionary, boorish, and mystical/superstitious.

And then things got even more interesting in the 20th century with the Russian Revolution. The most backward European nation suddenly catapulted into the one most committed to radical change. It was as if Russia had jumped from the past to the future without setting its foot on the present. It was almost sci-fi like, and writers like H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw(Irish but not without touch of Englishness) were fascinated by this nation of the future created in the present.

And during both WWI and WWII, Britain found itself allied with Russia against Germany.
Brits, or at least their elites, knew that Russians had done most to defeat Nazi Germany.
And as Labor Party socialists came to power after WWII, there were plenty of leaders and intellectuals who sympathized with the USSR. Though UK was closely allied with the US, the British elite, on both left and right, knew that Americans had played a crucial role in stripping UK of its empire, wealth, and prestige. There was bound to be some resentment toward Americans. Reduced to being America's poodle-bitch, many British elites looked to Soviet Union as a kind of counter-balance against the Yankees. As intellectuals, they admired the USSR as being ruled by a radically moral ideology--even if the reality was often brutal and oppressive--whereas America seemed to be ruled only by vulgar greed and naked materialism.
And I suppose the rise of leftist Jewish intellectuals in Britain also fed the increasing fascination with the Russia/USSR.

Anonymous said...

And maybe part of the mystique was romantic and sensual. Brits used to be proud of their good manners and form, but after the WWII, especially since the 60s, the British saw traditional British culture as repressive, anal, snobby, hoity toity, too fairy airy, and all that stuff.
So, in their search to be more natural, sensual, and wild & free, some Brits took up blues-singing and tried to act like soulful Negroes. And maybe other Brits looked to Russia as a world of earthy-spiritual mysticism and/or muscular sweaty proud working-class-ism.
With the breakdown of the class system in UK where it was no longer fashionable for social superiors to turn up their noses at the lower classes who called them "guv'nor", maybe the image of the proud working class Soviet warrior had great appeal to many British folks. And of course, Marx died in Britain but his revolution happened in Russia. Marx had predicted that communism would first happen in UK, but it didn't... and so, maybe British progressives felt that they'd failed the great prophet and therefore were obligated to root for the revolution in Russia. If a people as backward as the Russians could embrace the revolution, why couldn't a people as advanced as the British? Was the British left too mousy and timid to push for real revolution? If so, what a shame, and so, it was only right for the British progressives to admire the noble Russians who'd gone whole hog in their revolution.

DaveinHackensack said...

"I always surprised at these adaptations. Why the need to adapt a great classical book? Why not to keep most of what the author wrote?"

For starters, one minute of movie time roughly equates to one page of a screenplay, and the book is over 800 pages long, while the movie is 130 minutes long. So the screenwriter needed to condense the book into about a 130 page script. Also, a novelist has to paint the entire picture with words, whereas a movie can condense some of that by conveying information visually or aurally.

DaveinHackensack said...

"I'd still look for a more English exemplar of the purported English fascination with Russia."

How about Martin Booth's The Industry of Souls (which was quite good, btw)?

Unknown said...

If you'd like an introduction to Tolstoy less weighty than either "War and Peace" or "Anna Karenina", try "The Cossacks". A relatively short book. A young, upper middle class lad joins the army and is stationed to the Caucasus and falls in love with a Cossack girl.

Far fewer characters to keep track of.

Anonymous said...

Tolstoy supposedly used Kitty Shechrbatsky and Levin's marriage as a sort of foil to, after the seperation from Karenin, Vronsky and Anna's relationship. They were a lesser attractive pair to thr eye, but better people for Rusian society because they governed their impulses and resisted temptation (remember, Vronsky pursued Anna for a while, and she put herself in places initially where she knew he'd be, even if it was her own vanity tempting her to do so at the outset). Look what that grew into. I thought it interesting that Tolstoy presented Anna and her brother Stiva as unfaithful, thus suggestive of that trait perhaps running in families, which is (admittedly tenuously) a little predictive of traits being at least influenced by gentics. Look at the harm it caused both families. Tolstoy did a good job of making the reader see the events through the eyes of multiple characters. Dorothy and Karenin's hurt and concerns were given broad consideration and exploration. That sentence, "Vengence is mine, and I will repay", that Tolstoy used at the beginning of the novel haunts the reader throughout, and even though he knows in his bones tragedy is going to visit the guilty, like the forgiving Levin, Tolstoy makes the reader wish it could be avoided.

How many modern, screenplay & script-influenced writers would have us be so patient so we could learn a little from the unglamourous? I didn't enjoy War and Peace all that much, but Anna Karenina was second only to The Brothers Karamazov amongst the novels I read back in the day. If anyone hasn't read the latter here, it would be a Christmas present to yourself you wouldn't regret. SEC over ND, m

Robert said...

Part of the English preoccupation with Russia came about through the English mania for Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, particularly before 1914. Osbert Sitwell, for one, was obsessed with the whole phenomenon.

Anonymous said...

William Boot? Always William bloody Boot.

Gilbert Pinfold.

Steve Sailer said...

Peak Waugh.

Anonymous said...

Hah. Handful of Dust is my favourite. Although the case for Brideshead Revisited is not as risible as some would have it. It's hardly schlocky to be more sentimental than the pre-war Waugh of Dust.

Anonymous said...

Steve,

OT but I thought you might find this news article interesting. It discusses the history of Mexican racism toward Chinese immigrants.

World on fire theme ... and I thought that only Whites could be racist (well at least in the upside down bizarro world of some Cultural Marxist Scotch-Irish professors that fantasy is true LOL)

Chinese-Mexicans celebrate repatriation to Mexico - Yahoo! News news.yahoo.com/chinese-mexicans-celebrate-repatriation-mexico-06...

By the way agree with the poster who suggested you throttle back a little.

You are the most awesome blogger on the web with the most interesting group of commentors hands down.

But even too much of a good thing is too much.

I would suggest that if you see that one of your articles has a lot of people commenting that you let it ride a little before posting again... a lot of comments shows that people are interested and want some time to think about it and discuss it.

By moving on to more articles right away you short circuit that process...

My thoughts anyways ... you are still the best by a country mile.

Anonymous said...

Hey Steve, I like it when you post more, don't stop posting just because some anonymous dude says you post too much.

Alternatively, if you are going to have a break, best to end with the most calculatingly trolling article to elicit the maximum number of enraged comments, e.g. Republican party up to its usual harebrained numbskullery, rather than this this sort of article.

(We love you though, don't ever stop.)

Anonymous said...

http://www.the-tls.co.uk/tls/public/article1124297.ece

Anonymous said...

http://www.the-tls.co.uk/tls/public/article1133310.ece

Henry Canaday said...

I stopped reading “Bonfire of the Vanities” after about a hundred pages because it seemed to be an intelligent, funny, clever, enjoyable satire of a society I already knew well and thought of as a self-parody. I pushed through the early part of “War and Peace,” which is hard work and often boring, because I thought I might learn a little about a society I did not know, and was richly rewarded.

The great books usually do not come to you. They more often insist that you come to them. They require what Kutuzov tells Prince Andrei will be necessary to defeat Napoleon: “Time and patience, my dear Bolkonsky.”

unix said...

Anonymous said...
"Should the male version of feminism be called semenism?"

yes. That trips off the tongue better than masculinism.

unix said...

"It was kind of like how screenwriters couldn't really handle cell phones - a huge fraction of the their plotting tricks relied on one person knowing something but being unable to tell the other person - until about Thomas Monahan's screenplay for "The Departed."


I've thought of that. Several Seinfeld episodes depended on the lack of cell phones, which were only a year or so away. I remember someone's going off in class in the fall of '93.

pat said...

Looking through your old articles it appears that you stopped writing about IQ and race nearly a decade ago. More recently we have had articles like this one on literary matters.

Worrisome.

Albertosaurus

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
don't stop posting just because some anonymous dude says you post too much.


Irony, LOL...

DaveinHackensack said...

Henry Canaday,

"I stopped reading “Bonfire of the Vanities” after about a hundred pages because it seemed to be an intelligent, funny, clever, enjoyable satire of a society I already knew well..."

Your loss. Bonfire was peak Wolfe, and in edition to being a great satire, it was also prophetic.

"I pushed through the early part of “War and Peace,” which is hard work and often boring, because I thought I might learn a little about a society I did not know, and was richly rewarded."

I could say the same about Gravity's Rainbow, but I haven't read a book like that in more than a decade, for one good reason: since there are "richly rewarding" books that are actually entertaining to read (e.g., Scoop, The Corrections, Bonfire of the Vanities, etc.), why punish myself with books that are bores? Gravity's Rainbow's wasn't great because of its boring parts; it was great in spite of them.

DaveinHackensack said...

Steve, you ought to consider writing a novel. Maybe one imagining a presidential campaign between a Republican Latino modeled on George P. Bush and a Democrat modeled on Julian Castro. You know plenty of strange-but-true stuff you could put in the novel.

Strange-but-true stuff is often more interesting than fiction anyway. Some of the most interesting stuff in Gravity's Rainbow, for example (e.g., the Society for Space Travel) is based on fact.

Anonymous said...

"Looking through your old articles it appears that you stopped writing about IQ and race nearly a decade ago. More recently we have had articles like this one on literary matters.

Worrisome.

Albertosaurus"

STAWP POASTING!!!!!!!!

Jeremiah Worthington said...

A HANDFUL OF DUST is dull, dull, dull! It's Waugh's "good taste" novel, written to get him back into the good books of the Church after BLACK MISCHIEF. Yes, the prose is magisterial and the plot a superb piece of carpentry, but BLACK MISCHIEF or SCOOP or DECLINE AND FALL or PUT OUT MORE FLAGS (perhaps his funniest book) are far better examples of what makes Waugh worthwhile.

Anonymous said...

"@deconstructingleftism
It occured to me the one good thing about the Russian Revolution is all these people got killed.

Extremely funny line!"

You know what's even funnier? That this guy is "deconstructing" leftism.

neil craig said...

Heinlein self deprecatingly said that the way to be a successful writer was to read all sorts of genres and take ideas "across state lines and give them a respray" Seems likely Waugh thought the same.

Cail Corishev said...

'"War and Peace" is just awful. I kept reading, because I told myself "This is a classic, at some point it must get better" and read all the way to the end. It never got better.'

I had that reaction to Gatsby, as well as many other classic works. I've come to the conclusion that the craft of writing has improved over the years just like other areas of expertise, and a modern story that takes its inspiration from a classic and builds on it with things like superior dialog and characterization can be a much more fulfilling read. Classic books may be important and worth reading for what they have to say about their times, but truly enjoyable to read? Rarely.

Steve Sailer said...

"'I've come to the conclusion that the craft of writing has improved over the years"

Right.

Not poetry, but prose, which was mostly invented later, definitely got better. I like to quote 18th Century classics by Franklin or Washington's Farewell Address (which the Federalist Papers' boys helped out with), but they lack immediate impact.

Also, on average, the Brits are better than the Americans at prose.

Over time, however, prose gets too prosaic, as it loses the resources of high-flown rhetoric. My current theory is that the peak was between the wars. Obviously, I'm biased toward Waugh, but he strikes me as coming at just the right moment where he still had living access to the rhetorical skills of the past, but was also tuned in to the new compression of non-verbose Modernists like Eliot and Hemingway.

lightreadingguide said...

Waugh and Tolstoy are an interesting pair, as they were both very companionable people, raised as pagans in Christian societies, each with a despicable side consisting in hidden mistreatment of the defenseless (in Tolstoy's case, let us say the defenseless included the fathers of the serf-born and free women the rich serf-owning lad Leo "seduced" and left with whatever biological and emotional detritus such whore-mongers typically leave) (in Waugh's case, let us say the defenseless were all the less-witty English people, most of them nicer to their children and co-workers than he was, about whom he mercilessly and even viciously joked with his God-given one in ten million wit). Of course, neither one was any more than a novelist, and my belief is that no matter how good a novelist is there is just a very limited glimpse of reality that the sort of person (with 4 or 5 exceptions in the last 400 years)who writes novels can imagine or reimagine for us - and as interesting as that view is, it really can't tell us more about the real life of people than can dozens of other artistic forms (parish churches, landscape paintings, comedic plays, autobiographies, and so on). So who is better? Well, Tolstoy was way better educated and had much more leisure time and exposure to the rhythyms of noble agricultural and city life; he also had a slightly (by a few decades)older supergenius contemporary in Pushkin to pastiche when he was not feeling inspired; Waugh was more like us slobs , with a middling education and not many vacations in paradisical ancestral settings.
I guess it is a question of taste.

lightreadingguide said...

fwiw, the 4 or 5 exceptions I mentioned in the last post (as novelists who were more, imho, than just supra-professional phenomena and companionable fellow wayfarers) are (from roughly my father's generation) Tolkien, (from roughly my great-grandfather's generation)maybe Dickens, from America probably Hawthorne and maybe Melville, and from way way back Austen and maybe Cervantes. ymmv. (for the adult reasons Tolkien is there, google Bruce Charlton and the Silmarillion; the rest are self-explanatory)