I taught at a former finishing school for one year back in 2000 in Lausanne. By then, the school had long been a co-ed A-level and International Baccalaureate institution for the children Russian and Chinese oligarchs, which was where the money was at (and probably still is). The pay was terrible, but the teachers’ lounge was amazing, with a panoramic view of Lac Léman and unlimited Nespresso. There used to be 45 finishing schools in Lausanne alone, but now there is only one in the entire canton of Vaud. Alice Gregory writes about that last one—the Institut Villa Pierrefeu—in The New Yorker: “Unaccredited, expensive, and, typically, family run, Swiss finishing schools took the place of men’s university education for many wealthy Western European women with matrimonial ambitions. ‘It’s the same as the watch industry,’ Neri’s son, who tends to the school’s business matters, has said. ‘If you want the highest quality, you stick with Swiss.’ Institut Alpin Videmanette, whose alumnae include Princess Diana as well as her sons’ nanny, Tiggy Legge-Bourke, closPed in 1991, and Château Mont-Choisi, attended by France’s former First Lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy and, reportedly, by Princess Elena of Romania, shut in 1995. Le Manoir, the alma mater of the British spy Vera Atkins, is now the world headquarters of the multinational food-packaging company Tetra Pak. The real estate these schools sat on was valuable, and the feminist movement all but obliterated demand for their offerings, as the domestic talents once suggestive of elegance and good breeding began to look more like instruments of oppression. Why learn how to run one’s home like a corporation if suddenly it was possible to run the corporation itself? This change was perhaps responsible for the discretion that is a hallmark of I.V.P., where one student told me that she was hiding from her friends the fact that she had come.”

Rod Dreher praises the iconography of Vladimir Grigorenko.

Mark Hemingway reviews Strange Stars, a history of the confluence of pop and sci-fi: “For readers with any significant interest in either rock or science fiction—and especially for readers interested in both—Strange Stars will connect pop culture dots in ways that delight.”

Chris Morgan writes about a narrow and boring book on literature in the supposed age of “post-truth”: “The Work of Literature is a disappointing book, then, because its central concern is of eminent significance, but Schaberg appears ill-equipped to address it. His references to books, films, and thinkers seem copious but are actually quite narrow. J. G. Ballard’s depiction of humanity as a compulsively self-harming species that treats the earth like a giant mound of flesh would have given his rapine account of the anthropocene an intense illustration. Yet Ballard goes unmentioned. Schaberg returns again and again to the colder modernities of Don DeLillo and David Foster Wallace while remaining ambivalent about their ‘authorial’ presence.”

Charles Dickens pet ravens: “Lots of writers have kept corvids as pets and companions. Lord Byron kept a tame crow, I believe, though in fairness he also kept dogs, monkeys, peacocks, hens, an eagle, and a bear. The poet John Clare kept a raven, as did the American writer Truman Capote, whose raven was called Lola…But it was of course the London writer, Charles Dickens, who kept the most famous ravens of all.”

A Reader Recommends: Pat Maloney recommends Stoner by John Williams. A new biography of Williams will be published in a few weeks, so if you’ve never read Stoner, you have just enough time to do so before the biography hits the shelves. Here’s Maloney’s recommendation: “A deeply melancholy and strangely affecting story of a turn-of-the-20th century farm boy who became an academic at a Midwest land grant college. On the one hand, it is a fascinating if somewhat depressing study of a character who is largely passive in the face of life, and whose few attempts at true agency—a late-in-life affair and an ethics show down with a more influential colleague—end badly. But on the other hand, it is an uplifting story of the power of ideas to change a person and the nobility of the teaching life. The book will not appeal to everyone, but to someone like me, it came with a strong shock of self-recognition.”

Essay of the Day:

In The New Criterion, which has published a blockbuster October issue, Jacob Howland writes about Vasily Grossman’s anti-Soviet novel Life and Fate:

“This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the first publication in the Soviet Union of Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate, a nine-hundred-page novel of life under Stalin. This was a small posthumous triumph for the author. The kgb had confiscated the manuscript in 1961, and Grossman—who wrote to Khrushchev asking, “What is the point of me being physically free when the book I dedicated my life to is arrested?”—was told that it could not be published in the ussr for another two hundred years. Depressed and suffering from stomach cancer, he died in 1964.

“The censors knew what they were doing. Like Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, Life and Fate depicts Communism and Fascism as ideological mirror-images, two quarreling heads on one great monster. The manuscript made it out of the ussr on smuggled microfilm in the late 1970s, and appeared in English in Robert Chandler’s 1985 Harper & Row translation (reissued by New York Review Books in 2006). Although the Soviet Union’s collapse was still a few years off, Life and Fate is far too great to be quickly absorbed, and Grossman’s book was swept under in the wave of historical forgetfulness that followed the Cold War. Immediately after the collapse, Francis Fukuyama’s more-celebrated book descried The End of History; ironically, its Hegelian presentation of liberal democracy as the culmination of the Universal History of mankind was a réchauffé of the work of Alexandre Kojève, a Russian-born self-avowed Stalinist posthumously exposed in 1999 as a Soviet spy. Since then History has marched on, trampling memory underfoot. Chandler justly remarks that Life and Fate is ‘the true War and Peace’ of the twentieth century, ‘the most complete portrait of Stalinist Russia we have or are ever likely to have.’ Those who have read both books will agree that the comparison honors Tolstoy no less than Grossman. But most American readers still know next to nothing about Grossman’s masterwork.”

Read the rest.

Photo: Lavaux

Poem: Henry Allen, “October”

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