Sorokin and Defoe (and Winston Churchill)

 

 

 

 

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Daniel Defoe’s customary skill as a writer was to speak in the voices of others. His novels are only the most famous examples of the first-person accounts, memoirs, and polemics that he fabricated throughout his career. Memoirs of a Cavalier is a special example because it took the pursuit of authenticity–which is the standard of all Defoe’s novels–to its limits. So successfully did it mimic the voice of the seventeenth-century soldier of fortune who is its narrator, that for over half a century the memoirs were considered to be genuine. The struggle of this narrator to turn his observations into facts, to make a certain history of his uncertain experiences, was so well caught that, as one of its eighteenth-century editors declared, “tis a Romance the likest to Truth that I ever read’. It is this struggle, as much as the battles and adventures which comprise the Cavalier’s story, that gives this narrative its dramatic qualities.

 

— back cover copy; Daniel Defoe, Memoirs of a Cavalier, or a Military Journal of the Wars in Germany, and The Wars in England; From the Year 1632, to the Year 1648 (World’s Classics Edition; Oxford University Press 1991)

 

 

 

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In my post

 

“Sorokin” (“Сорокин”)

 

https://pitirimsorokin.com/2018/02/03/sorokin%d1%81%d0%be%d1%80%d0%be%d0%ba%d0%b8%d0%bd/

 

 

I wrote:

“Leaves from A Russian Diary,” which details Sorokin’s experiences as a revolutionary opponent of the Czarist government, an official in the short lived Kerensky government, and an anti-Bolshevik, was a work that I could not put down. It has a cogency and dramatic interest, being written at white heat, so to speak, that make it compelling. It reads live a novel, a sort of “Les Misérables” minus about a thousand pages. l feel that it is an underrated book and could never understand why it never achieved a wide readership. For me, it is the best book on the Russian Revolution, the only one I practically ever read about it, in fact. It made me feel what the revolution must have been like. I regard it as a classic, and I felt it was very well written, much more so than when Sorokin was writing as a scholar.

The analogy to Defoe, applied to Sorokin’s reminiscences of the February Revolution and it’s immediate aftermat, is very apt. I am happy to say that I have just recently interested a literarily minded friend in reading Leaves from a Russian Diary, a book I couldn’t put down.

 

 

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In his preface to The Second World War: The Gathering Storm (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1948), Winston S. Churchill wrote:

I have followed, as in previous volumes, as far as I am able, the method of Defoe’s Memoirs of a Cavalier, in which the author hangs the chronicle and discussion of great military and political events upon the thread of the personal experiences of an individual. I am perhaps the only man who has passed through both the two supreme cataclysms of recorded history in high Cabinet office. Whereas, however, in the First World War I filled responsible but subordinate posts, I was for more than five years in this second struggle with Germany the Head of His Majesty’s Government. I write, therefore, from a different standpoint and with more authority than was possible in my earlier books.

Precisely the same as Leaves from a Russian Diary. Both Sorokin and Churchill were participant-observers.

 
— Roger W. Smith

   February 2019

Author: Roger W. Smith

Roger W. Smith is a writer and independent scholar based in New York City. His experience includes freelance writing and editing, business writing, book reviewing, and the teaching of writing and literature as an adjunct professor. Mr. Smith's interests include personal essays and opinion pieces; American and world literature; culture, especially books and reading; classical music; current issues that involve social, moral, and philosophical views; and experiences of daily living from a ground level perspective. Sites on WordPress hosted by Mr. Smith include: (1) rogersgleanings.com (a personal site comprised of essays on a wide range of topics) ; (2) rogers-rhetoric.com (covering principles and practices of writing); (3) roger-w-smiths-dreiser.site (devoted to the author Theodore Dreiser); and (4) pitirimsorokin.com (devoted to sociologist and social philosopher Pitirim A. Sorokin).

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