Monday, February 28, 2011

The Doll (an excerpt)

To continue with all this rambling about books (I have some real neat astronomy and nature stuff coming up later -- and also comics, I promise), I've recently begun reading Bolesław Prus's The Doll ("Lalka" in the original), held by some to be the finest novel Poland has ever produced. I'm only about 1/8 of the way into it (page 85 out of 680), but there is a passage from this last chapter that I would like to share.

When Wokulski rang the doctor's doorbell, the doctor was busy classifying the hair of various individuals of Slavic, Teutonic, and Semitic races, measuring the largest and smallest cross-sections through a microscope.

'So it's you . . .' he said to Wokulski, looking round. 'Light your pipe if you want to, and sit down on the sofa, if you can find room.' His visitor did as instructed, the doctor went on with his own business. For a time both were silent, then Wokluski said:

'Tell me this: does medical science know of a state of mind in which it seems to a man that all his previously scattered knowledge . . . and feelings have become concentrated, as it were, into one organism?'

'Of course. Continuous mental work and good food can form new cells in the brain or join together old ones. And then one unity is formed out of the various sections of the brain and various spheres of knowledge.'

'But what is the meaning of that state of mind in which a man grows indifferent to death, or begins to feel the need of legends of eternal life?'

'Indifference to death,' the doctor replied, 'is a trait of mature minds, and the desire for an eternal life is the sign of approaching old age.'

Again they fell silent. The visitor smoked his pipe, the doctor concerned himself with the microscope.

'Do you think,' Wokulski asked, 'that it's possible . . . to love a woman ideally, without desiring her?'

'Of course. It is a kind of mask, in which the instinct to preserve the species likes to disguise itself.'

'Instinct . . . species . . . the instinct for preserving something and -- preserving the species . . .' Wokulski repeated. 'Three phrases and four pieces of nonsense.'

'Make a sixth,' said the doctor, not looking away from his eyepiece, 'and get married.'

'The sixth?' asked Wokulski, rising, 'where's the fifth?'

'You have already done it; you have fallen in love.'

'Me? At my age?'

'Forty-five years old -- that is the period for a man's last love, and the most serious.'

'Experts say first love is the worst,' Wokulski murmured.

'Not so. After the first, a hundred others are waiting, but after the hundredth, there's nothing. Get married; that is the only cure for your ailment.'

'Why didn't you ever marry?'

'My fiancée died,' the doctor answered, leaning back in his chair and eyeing the ceiling. 'So I did all I could: I took chloroform. This was in the provinces . . . But God sent me a good colleague who broke down the door and saved me. The worst kind of charity! I had to pay for the door he smashed, and my colleague inherited my practice by pronouncing me insane.'

He turned back to his hairs and his microscope.

'But what moral significance am I to draw from your remarks about last love?'

'That one should never interfere with a suicide,' the doctor replied.


  1. Funny, I think of love like a drug addiction, feels good, but is ultimately bad for you.

    Also to add more to my style vs substance comment earlier, I believe that the very best works will mix both style and substance creating something both entertaining and worth remembering/contemplating later. Those are the truest masterpieces IMO.

    Also, I know how much you believe that all of this media and the internet is making everything we do seem trivial and leading to cutting and stuff... I was just wondering if you were paying attention to Anonymous electronic civil disobedience over attempted censorship of Wikileaks and democracy in the middle east?

    In my stories Anonymous ALSO did stuff like this, so it's almost like fiction becoming reality... Although in my stories Anonymous, organizing from the internet, goes on black-ops missions to kill/terrorize everyone that the law can't do anything about.

  2. Oh, the Internet had done and is doing many positive things. I can't argue with that. But like any new game-changing technology, it introduces unforeseen negative consequences. I think it's worth considering them instead of dismissing them as oldthink.