One of the many things I like about novels from different times and places is when something is said that is so utterly timeless that it reminds me that we aren’t all that different.
Last month I talked about how even the ancient Greeks knew what it was to really fancy a particular food for no reason and today I thought we’d chat about how older generations talk about younger people. The current media is convinced that the Baby Boomers (anyone born from the mid 1940s to the mid ’60s) are in a constant battle with the Millennials (anyone born in the 1980s to the mid ’90s), but did previous generations get on any better?
Just to warn you – I am going to talk about Tolstoy this week but don’t worry, I’ll be looking one of his short stories not his novels. While I quite like his novels, I do appreciate that people tend to read War and Peace because they feel the should, don’t enjoy it and it’s really long, and get put off Tolstoy completely. It’s true that his short stories are of variable quality – and be careful reading his children’s stories to actual children – when he’s good, he’s really good (and I’d recommend the short story book linked above to get you started).
After The Ball is about a gentleman recalling a particular night and morning that had happened many years ago. He remembers the person that he was:
I was a very gay, lively, careless fellow, […] and used to go tobogganing with the young ladies. Skating had not yet come into fashion. I went to drinking parties with my comrades – in those days we drank nothing but champagne – if we had no champagne we drank nothing at all. We never drank vodka, as they do now.
He goes on to describe dancing with a beautiful young woman that he was in love with until he was unconscious of any bodily existence. A friend suggests he must have been conscious of your arm round her waist at the very least, and the older man becomes angry.
There you are, moderns all over! Nowadays you think of nothing but the body. It was different in our day. The more I was in love the less corporeal was she in my eyes. Nowadays you set legs, ankles, and I don’t know what. You undress the women you are in love with. […] We never thought of doing so; we tried to veil her nakedness, like Noah’s good-natured son. Oh, well, you can’t understand.
I’m sure young people still go tobogganing together as well as drinking vodka and thinking about… ankles. It was ever thus.
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