French press: English comedian squeezes light genre out of French literature


The French, as a nation, are famous for their easy attitude to life, sometimes bordering on carelessness. However, you cannot say the same about great French literature: since time immemorial, the French writer has been an animal-serious creature (Molière is a happy exception, and he is still a playwright). However, one can skillfully find something funny even in Flaubert and Proust, not to mention the scandalous Maupassant. Critic Lidia Maslova presents the book of the week, especially for Izvestia.

Viv Groskop

“Goodbye, sadness! 12 Lessons of Happiness from French Literature

M.: Individuum, 2023. – per. from English. E. Fomenko. — 256 p.

In the book “Farewell, sadness!” British journalist Viv Groskop shares her personal experience of studying the French language and way of thinking, analyzing 12 works of famous authors that she liked: Francoise Sagan, Marcel Proust, Colette, Victor Hugo, Choderlos de Laclos, Marguerite Duras, Gustave Flaubert, Edmond Rostand, Guy de Maupassant, Stendhal, Honore de Balzac, Albert Camus. The author ironically speaks about the extremely subjective principle of selecting just such a company in the introduction with the subtitle “Happiness is … pretending to be a Frenchman”: Dumas, no Baudelaire’s Flowers of Evil, no comedies by Molière. In addition, Groskop regrets that he did not include Sartre’s Being and Nothing in the review, which was incredibly popular in 1947 with Parisian housewives who bought up a book weighing exactly 1 kg instead of copper weights melted down during the war.

Photo: social networks

Viv Groskop

Groskop’s selected books are arranged in descending order of degree of cheerfulness, starting “with the one most likely to lead you to happiness, that is, from the most cheerful (although it ends, ahem, with a probable suicide) to the least spiritually uplifting (and this one with an execution).” Françoise Sagan, who at the age of 17 became famous for her novel “Hello, Sadness!”, judging by the enthusiastic tone of Groskop, still remains an icon for her, personifying “joyful indifference”, “thirst for life” and “freedom to create whatever comes into your head” . A picture illustrating Sagan’s joyful disregard for everyone is repeated admiringly by Groskop twice, at the beginning and at the end of the book, when the magnificent Françoise rushes through Paris in her convertible, making pedestrians jump off. At the other end of the emotional spectrum, the unhappy Albert Camus roams around with his “Outsider”, but even here Groskop finds a way to taxi to the topic of happiness: “Perhaps Camus’ main lesson is real proof of happiness: it’s natural for a person to feel like an outsider, and the more comfortable we are in this status outsider, the easier it is to get rid of him and establish connections with other people.

Viv Groskop, who lived in Russia for some time, has already done something similar to that “love letter to beloved writers”, which is “Farewell, sadness!” Life Lessons from Russian Literature (it was published in Russian in 2019 under the title “Self-development according to Tolstoy”). An interesting dichotomy emerges with the new book: the French and the Russians appear in some way as existential antipodes. It is one thing – French “lessons of happiness” and quite another – “instruction for survival”, as Groskop defined the genre of a book about Russian literature, which the Englishwoman loves no less, although she considers it full of “gloomy characters in search of an answer to the question of how damn, they were in such a disgusting situation.” In fact, for Russians, this comparison is somewhere even flattering: it turns out that the French are moths who only know how to rejoice and chew, and the Russians are moral heroes who are able to withstand such external and internal troubles that would instantly crush a fragile Frenchman like a train – Anna Karenina.

Photo: Individuum Publishing House

“Goodbye sadness!” lives up to its name as an entertaining galloping tour of the key works of the French classics, which turned out to be quite informative and devoid of academic tediousness. Groskop talks a lot with the reader, dealing with his complex, which pushed her first into the arms of Russian culture, then French: “an Englishwoman from the countryside who wants to think that she is “more interesting” than she really is. Sometimes the writer plays the fool very nicely, remembering herself as a reckless young woman, a kind of ingenuous Bridget Jones, either head over heels in love with a colorful Odessa from a rock band, or meticulously looking for the perfect Frenchman.

Groskop’s favorite leitmotif migrated from the first book to the second: don’t be fools, don’t harm yourself. Last time she scolded for the idiocy of Eugene Onegin, who killed his best friend and rejected a potential ideal wife. This is written quite smartly and witty, but it’s a pity that the sociable Englishwoman is a little misunderstood (even after reading A Hero of Our Time) why a character from the breed of “superfluous people” can, in principle, have neither friends nor wives – he does not need them. In the new book, Groskop names Julien Sorel from Stendhal’s novel Red and Black as the main idiot who missed his happiness: “The novel is replete with such signs and omens that show that Julien is our idiot! – never sees what’s under his nose, because he is always absorbed in his dreams of greatness.

Photo: social networks

The main instructive conclusion that stems from the book is similar to advice from many popular guides to self-development, finding happiness and inner harmony. It boils down to accepting yourself as you are, not trying to impersonate someone you are not, and not preventing yourself from living your own life. However, in these sound reasonings, some kind of logical contradiction, some kind of inconsistency, vaguely seems. It seems that the writer herself did not waste her best years precisely in a romantic pursuit of the unrealizable, in an effort to go beyond the limits of her mental and social personality, to turn into someone else, now a Russian, then a Frenchwoman, and that is why now she has something to remember and what to write about. And if you follow the logic of the down-to-earth advice “to be yourself” and be content with a tit in your hands, then Viv Groskop herself should limit her knowledge of Russian with the saying “where you are tied, there you bark”, not to rock the boat from your native outback and not read anything except Dickens and Jane Austen.


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