In a Word . . . family
Some psychologists insist 95% of families are dysfunctional, with the other 5% in denial
It would appear the first European was also Irish.
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” so wrote the great Russian author Leo Tolstoy. It is the opening line to his 1878 novel Anna Karenina.
In other words, happy families are boring. Not to worry. Few of us are in that category. These days some psychologists insist that 95 per cent of families are dysfunctional, with the other five per cent in denial. And it may even be true.
Then let’s not forget Friedrich Nietzsche. “Madness”, he wrote, “is rare in individuals, but in groups it is the norm.”
In other words you are just fine; it’s your family that’s driving you mad.
So where did Tolstoy come across those boring happy families he wrote about? Certainly not in his own experience. He lost his mother when he was two and his father when he was nine. He was an unhappy child whose teachers said he was “both unable and unwilling to learn.”
He abandoned university, joined the army and was appalled by the violence of warfare (what did he expect, happiness?).
Still, the early years of his marriage to Sonya were happy and sufficiently humdrum to allow him write his masterpieces – War and Peace and Anna Karenina – proving, were that needed, that happiness can have a positive side even for an artist.
It did not last. Their later married life was described by Tolstoy’s biographer AN Wilson as “one of the unhappiest in literary history.”
Which must come as relief to those who believe that no man, or woman, should live in an institution. Or, as it was put to me by an older man in my younger days (when women had their place whether they liked it or not), “marriage is an institution and no man should live in an institution.”
Nowadays you’d have to add “. . . or woman . . .” to such sage advice.
Too late for Tolstoy, even as he rejected the things of this life, including his wife. Aged 82 he died in a rural Russian railway station running away from his Sonya but pneumonia got to him first. Proving that even in death, unhappiness is so much more interesting.
Family from Latin familia, meaning ‘servants of a household’. However the Latin for family - as in parents and children - was domus, from which the word ‘domestic’ derives.