Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Garbo, Raskolnikov and the Lure of Isolation

While I'm mentioning birthdays, I'll mention Greta Garbo, who was born on this date in 1905 (in Stockholm), and whom the New York Times called "the enigmatic and elusive star of some of Hollywood's most memorable romantic movies of the 1930's and a 50-year focus of curiosity and myth."

Part of Garbo's allure, of course, was her apparent need for solitude. She is supposedly famous for saying, in her lovely contralto, Swedish-accented voice, "I vant to be alone," but the Times corrects that in her obituary: "A declaration often attributed to her was, 'I want to be alone.' Actually she said, 'I want to be let alone.'"

Garbo's mystique lasted long after she retired, because she became rather a recluse in New York, that bustling city, and people only occasionally glimpsed her walking the streets of Manhattan.

I always reference Garbo when I teach Crime and Punishment, because Raskolnikov is isolated by his act of murder, and he demands solitude more than once. At one point, he screams at a group of people who are all trying to help him: "Get away from me! I want to be alone, alone, alone!"

Like Garbo, Raskolnikov only draws more interest with his anti-social behavior, and I suppose it says something of our society that we are continually fascinated with the recluses. (J.D. Salinger and Harper Lee, where are you now?)

In the case of Raskolnikov, though, his desire for solitude is both caused by his murder and an aid to solving that crime. In the case of Garbo, it merely made her a subject of interest, of "myth," and gave her a place on the list of mysterious celebrities.

Photo link here.

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