lenin the head banger

Kremlin papers reveal Lenin the head banger

Lenin, one the most powerful leaders of the last century, was a problem child who slammed his head on the ground to demand attention, claims a new biography.
    Details of Lenin’s troubled early life were discovered in the handwritten memoirs of his elder sister Anna, which had been censored after his death and stored in sealed vaults under the Kremlin.
    The disclosures will further unravel the official account promoted by the communist government, which portrayed him as a saintly purist, far removed from the weaknesses and foibles of ordinary men.
    The memoirs reveal that the young Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, later known as Lenin, had short, weak legs and a large head that made him top heavy and caused him to fall over. He was unable to walk until he was three. When he fell over he would bang his head on the ground in frustration. “The wooden structure of the house made it into an echo chamber and the floors and walls resounded as the little fellow went on crashing his head on the carpet — or even the floorboards,” wrote Anna, who was six years older.
    Lenin’s parents were deeply concerned that he would end up mentally retarded. As well as his headbanging habit, Lenin had boisterous and destructive tendencies which upset his cultured family. “It was such obsessive behaviour that the family were very worried,” said Robert Service, author of the biography which will be published later this month.
    “He was very noisy and extremely disruptive as a child.”
    At three, he stamped all over his brother’s collection of theatre posters. His parents gave him a papier-mâché horse for his birthday but he twisted its legs off one by one. After Lenin’s death in 1924, anything that might have been perceived as even mildly critical was censored. As the Communist party developed the cult of Lenin, personal details vanished. His sister abandoned the drafts of her memoirs, which contained frank details of his personal life that she knew would not pass the censor. They remained locked in the Kremlin until discovered by Service after the fall of the communist state in 1991.
    “What has been brought out is how spoilt the little brat was by all the women around him,” said Dominic Lieven, professor of Russian history at the London School of Economics. “This family correspondence gives you an awful lot of little insights into the hatreds which boiled up inside him, as well as the strength of his personality.”
    Service has played an important role in uncovering the Kremlin’s secrets since he was granted access to its archives. Three years ago he revealed that Lenin kept his mistress in the Kremlin alongside his rejected wife.

— Tom Robbins, The Sunday Times (UK), 12 March 2000

shocked, shocked

One of Gainsbourg’s most controversial musical successes was an antipatriotic rendition of the “Marseillaise,” which he sang in concert and recorded in the 1970s. It was the national anthem sung with a sneer, sung to stress the ultimate hollowness not only of patriotic symbols but of all attempts at significant association, at the delusion of belonging to anything larger than the basic, instinctual self, and it was, significantly, sung by a man who looked the part, whose very appearance was a calculated act of indifference to the decent opinion of mankind. Gainsbourg’s “Marseillaise,” outraged many, delighted many others. Its appeal, for those to whom it appealed, lay, of course, in the very outrage it inspired in those who found it offensive. There is something very close to the French soul in this nihilism of style. Lying beneath the smooth surface of more conventional French stylishness, the stylishness of international fame and big business, whose centerpieces are on the avenue Montaigne and the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré and in the big tents set up in the Tuileries for the spectacular semiannual fashion shows, is, this leather-jacketed Gainsbourgian snicker, this reminder of contempt.

— Richard Bernstein, Fragile Glory: a Portrait of France and the French, Knopf, 1990, p. 211

what is to be done?

At the end of Patrice Leconte’s sublime film Ridicule, the marquis de Bellegarde, the refined and humane physician played by Jean Rochefort, discovers the villainy that underlies the “bel esprit” committed to the art of brilliant repartee that determines and defines the pecking order at the royal court. Revolution sweeps away the French aristocracy, and Bellegarde finds himself exiled in England, a humble tutor to the overprivileged offspring of his indigenous counterpart. There, while walking along a seaside cliff with his native host, he becomes agitated as a gust of wind carries away his hat. “Mieux vaut perdre son chapeau que sa tête”, better to lose one’s hat than one’s head, phlegmatically points out the Englishman. Whereupon Bellegarde, recalling his long forgotten befuddlement by the notion he is about to invoke, has his epiphany: “Ah… L’humour!”

Which is to say that it would take another Revolution followed by a therapeutic exile to instill a sense of humor in Russian intelligentsia.

— Быть невесёлым, это как кому угодно, — сказал Бьюмонт: — но скучать, по моему мнению, неизвинительно, Скука в моде у наших братьев, англичан; но мы, американцы, не знаем ее. Нам некогда скучать: у нас слишком много дела. Я считаю, мне кажется (поправил он свой американизм), что и русский народ должен бы видеть себя в таком положении: по-моему, у него тоже слишком много дела на руках. Но действительно, я вижу в русских совершенно противное: они очень расположены хандрить. Сами англичане далеко не выдерживают сравнения с ними в этом. Английское общество, ославленное на всю Европу, и в том числе на всю Россию, скучнейшим в мире, настолько же разговорчивее, живее, веселее русского, насколько уступает в этом французскому. И ваши путешественники говорят вам о скуке английского общества? Я не понимаю, где ж у этих людей глаза на своё домашнее!
    — И русские правы, что хандрят, — сказала Катерина Васильевна: — какое ж у них дело? им нечего делать; они должны сидеть сложа руки. Укажите мне дело, и я, вероятно, не буду скучать.

— Николай Гаврилович Чернышевский, «Что делать?»

“One may be melancholy as he pleases,” said Beaumont; “but to be bored is in my opinion unpardonable. Boredom is a fashion among our brethren, the English, but we Americans know nothing about it. We have no time to be bored; we have too much to do. I think; I mean, it seems to me” (he corrected his Americanism) “that the Russian people ought to see themselves in the same situation: as I see it, they too have too much to do. But, in reality, I see exactly the opposite in the Russians; they are very much disposed to gloom. Even the English cannot equal them in this respect. Englishmen are known all over Europe, including Russia, to be the most boring people in the world, but they are as superior to the Russians in sociability, vivacity, and good cheer, as they are inferior to the French in these respects. And your travelers tell you how boring English society is. I don’t understand what they see when they look at themselves.”
    “And the Russians are right in being gloomy,” said Katerina Vasilyevna; “what chance do they have for activity? They have nothing to do! They have to sit with folded hands. Give me something to do, and in all likelihood I shall not be bored.”

— Nikolay Gavrilovich Chernyshevsky, What Is to Be Done?