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The eclipse of an entire world,
This review is from: The Snows of Yesteryear (New York Review Books Classics) (Paperback)
In brilliant, naturally flowing prose, Gregor von Rezzori brushes a sublime portrait of his parents, his sister, his nanny and a governess during the violent whirlwind of times, in which an age-old order was destroyed by war (the Double Monarchy).
The author grew up with the myth of that lost bygone `golden and miraculous' world of `property and learning', characterized by an unbridgeable gulf between the so-called educated classes and the so-called common people.
The author is still not capable to bridge this gap: `A species of man arose from that ghostly landscape of bomb craters and trenches whose bestiality was unconstrained. A free field was given to the Hitlers and Stalins.' He forgets to mention that the `landed aristocracy' itself was responsible for the outbreak of WW I and their own downfall.
Female archetypes, death
The author grew up among three archetype embodiments of the female: a nanny (`brood-warm, protectively enveloping motherliness'), his sister (`the airy, spiritual, nimbly evasive figure of the nymph') and his mother (`interplay of all arch female characteristics: sensual excitement, the fitful capriciousness of the potential mistress, vacillating between stormy tenderness and pretended indifference, between lovingly passionate empathy and cruelly punishing iciness.'
His nanny taught him the all important lesson that `we all have to die one day.' From then on, `I took up life as if it were but a succession of leave-takings in the course of a long journey.'
His mother's life was a long journey of disappointments. Her secretly entertained dream of becoming a pediatrician could not be realized by a girl of her class. After one too many waltzes during her first ball, she knew herself to have been cheated of life's happiness. All her life she had true obsessions and outbreaks of impotent rages. She kept all her energy for her son: `it was an amorous relationship, a love-affair.'
His father was `a solitary to the point of melancholia', `a leftover functionary of a liquidated empire.' His view of the world was that of `a medieval woodcut': the huntsmen and the others. Anything to do with soldiering was repugnant to him. Socially unacceptable were all those in trade, and totally despicable was anyone dealing in money.
With his sharply delineated psychological portraits, Gregor von Rezzori evocates the lost world of an enormous empire, dominated and ruled by the landed aristocracy.
It made this aristocracy (and his parents) `sleepwalkers in an alienated present', `members of a dying and largely already superannuated class.'
Not to be missed.