Monday, November 14, 2011

Bazarov and Bluto: Where are they now?

Ivan Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons has been regarded as the first truly modern Russian novel, and is certainly one of the first to gain wide recognition in the West. Among other things, the book delivers the world’s first great literary nihilist in the character of Eugene Bazarov. But Turgenev’s masterpiece may also hold another interesting distinction: it may just be the birthplace of the ‘where are they now’ snippets that occasionally accent the closing credits of screw-ball comedies and films based on true stories.

Believe me, the last thing I expected to think of as I read Turgenev’s closing passages was John Blutarsky from Animal House, yet that’s precisely what the last four pages brought to mind. The author brings the action to a close, then offers this:

“It seems to me that all is ended. But some of my readers will perhaps desire to know what the different persons of who we have just been talking are now doing. We will ask nothing better than to satisfy them.”
He then goes on to relate a few sentences for each of the principal characters, some humorous, others sentimental. Here’s a smattering:

“The princess is dead, and forgotten from the day of her death.”

“Nicholas Petrovitch has been chosen justice of the peace, and fulfils his duties with greatest zeal; he traverses unceasingly the district assigned to him, makes long speeches, for he thinks that the peasant needs to be well  “argued with,” that is, that it is necessary to repeat the same thing to him, to satiety; and yet, to tell the  truth, he does not succeed in fully satisfying either the enlightened gentlemen who discuss “emancipation” at one time with affectation, at another with melancholy, or the unlearned masters who openly curse this unfortunate “emuncipation.” Both find him too tame.

“Do not let us forget Peter. He has become quite stupid and more inflated with importance than ever; but that has not prevented him from making quite an advantageous marriage; he has married the daughter of a gardener of the city, who preferred him to two other suitors, because they had no watch, while he possessed not only a watch,- but even varnished boots!”
I think most film scholars would attribute the birth of this farewell trope to the closing credits of American Graffitti: 

And it was famously parodied a few years later by Animal House:

Since that time it has become commonplace.

But it got me to thinking about whether the world had seen anything like this prior to Fathers and Sons. There are obviously plenty of examples of authors addressing their readership directly at the end of their writing: the morals shared at the end of Aesop’s Fables, for example, or Shakespeare’s frequent closing speeches asking for the indulgence of the audience. But these would be the rough equivalents of an Author’s Note- not "where are they now" cutaways.

We do see formal epilogues like the one in Crime and Punishment (published a few years after Fathers and Sons) and time jumps like the last chapter of Great Expectations (written one year before Fathers and Sons), but these are usually continuations of the regular narrative- after some interval of time- rather than quick glimpses at the future fates of several characters.

So, I ask the question: Are there any earlier examples of ‘where are they now’ snippets to close out a literary work? Or was Turgenev the pop culture innovator I think he was?

1 comment:

  1. An interesting idea. I always thought that VH1 invented the Where Are They Now concept.

    Also, I'm impressed with your stomach for Russian novelists - I am not a fan. My wife tells me that fact betrays my lack of humanity.