Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass are, above all, concerned with the problem of meaning. A seven year old girl tumbles underground through a rabbit hole where she meets querulous creatures who deploy nit-picking logic and idle philosophical banter; she runs a race, fails to drink tea, is danced in a qaudrille, plays croquet, gives evidence in court and negotiates a fiendish chess game (where the living pieces are ignorant of the game’s plan). As befits a book for children there are many death jokes and beheadings. The two novels are reputed, with the Bible and Shakespeare, to be the most quoted texts in the English language. What is the meaning of this nonsense? Continue reading
Stoicism is the ethics of fortitude. No human life can escape vicissitude and so, given its inevitability, why not develop an attitude that enables trouble to be borne with equanimity? When fate drags us into misfortune a stoic attitude enables the cultivation of a sentiment of tranquility. The over-wrought, muddle-headed reactions of most people to tribulation often just increases the suffering.
The great Russian novelist Mikhail Bulgakov (1891-1940) studied medicine at university, and after graduating in 1916 was sent to be the sole doctor at an isolated hospital in the depths of the remote countryside. In the early part of the war, instead of conscripting them into the army, young civilian doctors were assigned to small provincial hospitals all over Russia. In his virgin white coat, he single-handedly administered to the local peasants. He treated gout, delivered babies, carried out rudimentary amputations and tried in vain to stop the spread of syphilis. His highly suspicious agricultural patients, of little education, mistrusted his techniques and ignored his advice. His first stories (A Young Doctor’s Notebook) were set in this outpost. They are tales of a modest, modern man of science fighting back archaic superstition. The educated doctor fighting an elemental force of unreason, ignorance and prejudice. They were written in the first person using the realistic narrative prose style of a late nineteenth century liberal. Continue reading