Ideals and Realities in Russian Literature : Chapter 5 : Goncharóff -- Dostoyévskiy -- Nekrasoff
(1842 - 1921) ~ Russian Father of Anarcho-Communism : As anarchism's most important philosophers he was in great demand as a writer and contributed to the journals edited by Benjamin Tucker (Liberty), Albert Parsons (Alarm) and Johann Most (Freiheit). Tucker praised Kropotkin's publication as "the most scholarly anarchist journal in existence." (From : Spartacus Educational Bio.)
• "...let us remember that if exasperation often drives men to revolt, it is always hope, the hope of victory, which makes revolutions." (From : "The Spirit of Revolution," by Peter Kropotkin, fi....)
• "...the strength of Anarchy lies precisely in that it understands all human faculties and all passions, and ignores none..." (From : "The Conquest of Bread," by Peter Kropotkin, 1906.)
• "The fatherland does not exist.... What fatherland can the international banker and the rag-picker have in common?" (From : "The Conquest of Bread," by Peter Kropotkin, 1906.)
GONCHARÓFF occupies in Russian literature the next place after Turguéneff and Tolstóy, but this extremely interesting writer is almost entirely unknown to English readers. He was not a prolific writer and, apart from small sketches, and a book of travel (The Frigate Pallas), he has left only three novels: A Common Story (translated into English by Constance Garnett), Oblómoff, and The Precipice, of which the second, Oblómoff, has conquered for him a position by the side of the two great writers just named.
In Russia Goncharóff is always described as a writer of an eminently objective talent, but this qualification must evidently be taken with a certain restriction. A writer is never entirely objective-he has his sympathies and antipathies, and do what he may, they will appear even through his most objective descriptions. On the other hand, a good writer seldom introduces his own individual emotions to speak for his heroes: there is none of this in either Turguéneff or Tolstóy. However, with Turguéneff and Tolstóy you feel that they live with their heroes, that they suffer and feel happy with them-that they are in love when the hero is in love, and that they feel miserable when misfortunes befall him; but you do not feel that to the same extent with Goncharóff. Surely he has lived through every feeling of his heroes, but the attitude he tries to preserve towards them is an attitude of strict impartiality-an attitude, I hardly need say, which, properly speaking, a writer can never maintain. An epic repose and an epic profusion of details certainly characterize Goncharóff's novels; but these details are not obtrusive, they do not diminish the impression, and the reader's interest in the hero is not distracted by all these minutiae, because, under Goncharóff's pen, they never appear insignificant. One feels, however, that the author is a person who takes human life quietly, and will never give way to a burst of passion, whatsoever may happen to his heroes.
The most popular of the novels of Goncharóff is Oblómoff, which, like Turguéneff's Fathers and Sons, and Tolstóy's War and Peace and Resurrection, is, I venture to say, one of the profoundest productions of the last half century. It is thoroughly Russian, so Russian indeed that only a Russian can fully appreciate it; but it is at the same time universally human, as it introduces a type which is almost as universal as that of Hamlet or Don Quixote.
Oblómoff is a Russian nobleman, of moderate means-the owner of six or seven hundred serfs-and the time of action is, let us say, in the fifties of the nineteenth century. All the early childhood of Oblómoff was such as to destroy in him any capacity of initiative. Imagine a spacious, well-kept nobleman's estate in the middle of Russia, somewhere on the picturesque banks of the Vólga, at a time when there were no railways to disturb a peaceful patriarchal life, and no "questions" that could worry the minds of its inhabitants, A "reign of plenty," both for the owners of the estate and the scores of their servants and retainers, characterizes their life. Nurses, servants, serving boys and maids surround the child from its earliest days, their only thoughts being how to feed it, make it grow, render it strong, and never worry it with either much learning or, in fact, with any sort of work. "From my earliest childhood, have I myself ever put on my socks?" Oblómoff asks later on. In the morning, the coming mid-day meal is the main question for all the household; and when the dinner is over, at an early hour of the day, sleep-a reign of sleep, sleep rising to an epical degree which implies full loss of consciousness for all the inhabitants of the mansion and its dependencies-spreads its wings for several hours from the bedchamber of the landlord even as far as the remotest corner of the retainers' dwellings.
In these surroundings Oblómoffs childhood and youth were passed, Later on, he enters the University; but his trustworthy servants follow him to the capital, and the lazy, sleepy atmosphere of his native 'Oblómovka' (the estate) holds him even there in its enchanted arms. A few lectures at the university, some elevating talk with a young friend in the evening, some vague aspiration towards the ideal, occasionally stir the young man's heart; and a beautiful vision begins to rise before his eyes-these things are certainly a necessary accompaniment of the years spent at the university; but the soothing, soporific influence of Oblómovka, its quietness and laziness, its feeling of a fully guaranteed, undisturbed existence, deaden even these impressions of youth. Other students grow hot in their discussions, and join "circles." Oblómoff looks quietly at all that and asks himself: "What is it for?" And then, the moment that the young student has returned home after his university years, the same atmosphere again envelops him. "Why should you think and worry yourself with this or that?" Leave that to "others." Have you not there your old nurse, thinking whether there is anything else she might do for your comfort?
"My people did not let me have even a wish," Goncharóff wrote in his short autobiography, from which we discovered the close connection between the author and his hero: "all had been foreseen and attended to long since. The old servants, with my nurse at their head, looked into my eyes to guess my wishes, trying to remember what I liked best when I was with them, where my writing table ought to be put, which chair I preferred to the others, how to make my bed. The cook tried to remember which dishes I had liked in my childhood-and all could not admire me enough."
Such was Oblómoff's youth, and such was to a very great extent Goncharóff's youth and character as well.
The novel begins with Oblómoff's morning in his lodgings at St. Petersburg. It is late, but he is still In bed; several times already he has tried to get up, several times his foot was in the slipper; but after a moment's reflection, he has returned under his blankets. His trusty Zakhár-his old faithful servant who formerly had carried him as a baby in his arms-is by his side, and brings him his glass of tea. Visitors come in; they try to induce Oblómoff to go out, to take a drive to the yearly First of May promenade; but-"What for?" he asks. "For what should I take all this trouble, and do all this moving about?" And he remains in bed.
His only trouble is that the landlord wants him to leave the lodgings which he occupies. The rooms are dull, dusty- Zakhár is no great admirer of cleanliness; but to change lodgings is such a calamity for Oblómoff that he tries to avoid it by all possible means, or at least to postpone it,
Oblómoff is very well educated, well-bred, he has a refined taste, and in matters of art he is a fine judge. Everything that is vulgar is repulsive to him. He never will commit any dishonest act; he cannot. He also shares the highest and noblest aspirations of his contemporaries. Like many others, he is ashamed of being a serf-owner, and he has in his head a certain scheme which he is going to put some day into writing-a scheme which, if it is only carried out, will surely improve the condition of his peasants and eventually free them.
"The joy of higher inspirations was accessible to him"-Goncharóff writes, "the, miseries of mankind were not strange to him. Sometimes he cried bitterly in the depths of his heart about human sorrows. He felt unnamed, unknown sufferings and sadness, and a desire of going somewhere far away,-probably into that world towards which his friend Stoltz had tried to take him in his younger days. Sweet tears would then flow upon his cheeks, It would also happen that he would himself feel hatred towards human vises, towards deceit, towards the evil which is spread all over the world; and he would then feel the desire to show mankind its diseases. Thoughts would then burn within him, rotting in his head like waves in the sea; they would grow into decisions which would make all his blood boil; his muscles would be ready to move, his sinews would be strained, intentions would be on the point of transforming themselves into decisions. . . . Moved by a moral force he would rapidly change over and over again his position in his bed; with a fixed stare he would half lift himself from it, move his hand, look about with inspired eyes . . . the inspiration would seem ready to realize itself, to transform itself into an act of heroism, and then, what miracles, what admirable results might one not expect from so great an effort! But-the morning would pass away, the shades of evening would take the place of the broad daylight, and with them the strained forces of Oblómoff would incline towards rest-the storms in his soul would subside-his head would shake off the worrying tboughts-his blood would circulate more slowly in his veins-and Oblómoff would slowly turn over, and recline an his back; looking sadly through his window upon the sky, following sadly with his eyes the sun which was setting gloriously behind the neighboring house-and how many times had he thus followed with his eyes that sunset!"
In such lines as these Goncharóff depicts the state of inactivity into which Oblómoff had fallen at the age of about thirty-five. It is the supreme poetry of laziness-a laziness created by a whole life of old-time landlordism.
Oblómoff, as I just said, is very uncomfortable in his lodgings; moreover, the landlord, who intends to make some repairs in the house, wants him to leave; but for Oblómoff to change his lodgings, is something so terrific, so extraordinary, that he tries by all sorts of artifices to postpone the undesirable moment. His old Zakhár tries to convince him that they cannot remain any longer in that house, and ventures the unfortunate word, that, after all, "others" move when they have to.
"I thought," he said, "that others are not worse than we are, and that they move sometimes; so we could move, too."
It "What, what?" exclaimed Oblómoff, rising from his easy chair, "what is it that you say?"
Zakhár felt very ashamed. He could not understand what had provoked the reproachful exclamation of his master, and did not reply.
"Others are not worse than we are!" repeated Iliyá Iliych (Oblómoff) with a sense of horror. "That is what you have come to. Now I shall know henceforth that I am for you the same as 'the others'."
After a time Oblómoff calls Zakhár back and has with him an explanation which is worth reproducing.
"Have you ever thought what it meant-'the others,' " Oblómoff began. "Must I tell you what this means?"
Poor Zakhár shifted about uneasily, like a bear in his den, and sighed aloud.
" 'Another'-that means a wild, uneducated man; he lives poorly, dirtily, in an attic; he can sleep on a piece of felt stretched somewhere on the floor-what does that matter to him?-Nothing! He will feed on potatoes and herrings; misery compels him continuously to shift from one place to another. He runs about all day long-he, he may, of course, go to new lodgings. There is Lagáeff; he takes under his arm his ruler and his two shirts wrapped in a handkerchief, and he is off. 'Where are you going?' you ask him.-'I am moving', he says. That is what 'the others' means.-Am I one of those others, do you mean?"
Zakhár threw a glance upon his master, shifted from one foot to the other, but said nothing.
"Do you understand now what 'another' means?" continued Oblómoff. " 'Another,' that is the man who cleans his own boots, who himself puts on his clothes-without any help! Of course, he may sometimes look like a gentleman, but that is mere deceit: he does not know what it means to have a servant-he has nobody to send to the shop to make his purchases; he makes them himself-he will even poke his own fire, and occasionally use a duster."
" Yes," replied Zakhár sternly, " there are many such people among the Germans."
"That's it, that's it! And I? do you think that I am one of them?"
"No, you are different," Zakhár said, still unable to understand what his master was driving at. But God knows what is coming upon you. . . . "
"Ah! I am different! Most certainly, I am. Do I run about? do I work? don't I eat whenever I am hungry? Look at me-am I thin? am I sickly to look at? Is there anything I lack Thank God, I have people to do things for me. I have never put on my own socks since I was born, thank God! Must I also be restless like the others?What for?-And to whom am I saying all this? Have you not been with me from childhood? . . . You have seen it all. You know that I have received a delicate education; that I have never suffered from cold or from hunger,-never knew want-never worked for my own bread-have never done any sort of dirty work. . . . Well, how dare you put me on the same level as the 'others'?"
Later on, when Zakhár brought him a glass of water, "No, wait a moment," Oblómoff said. "I ask you, How did you dare to so deeply offend your master, whom you carried in your arms while he was a baby, whom you have served all your life, and who has always been a benefactor to you?" Zakhár could not stand it any longer-the word benefactor broke him down-he began to blink. The less he understood the speech of lliyá Iliych, the more sad he felt. Finally, the reproachful words of his master made him break into tears, while Ilyá Iliych seizing this pretext for postponing his letter-writing till to-morrow, tells Zakhár, "you had better pull the blinds down and cover me nicely, and see that nobody disturbs me. Perhaps I may sleep for an hour or so, and at half past five wake me for dinner."
About this time Oblómoff meets a young girl, Olga, who is perhaps one of the finest representatives of Russian women in our novels. A mutual friend, Stoltz, has said much to her about Oblómoff-about his talents and possibilities, and also about the laziness of his life, which would surely ruin him if it continued. Women are always ready to undertake rescue work, and Olga tries to draw Oblómoff out of his sleepy, vegetative existence. She sings beautifully, and Oblómoff, who is a great lover of music, is deeply moved by her songs.
Gradually Olga and Oblómoff fall in love with each other, and she tries to shake off his laziness, to arouse him to higher interests in life. She insists that he shall finish the great scheme for the improvement of his peasant serfs upon which he is supposed to have been working for years. She tries to awaken in him an interest for art and literature, to create for him a life in which his gifted nature shall find a field of activity. It seems at first as if the vigor and charm of Olga are going to renovate Oblómoff by insensible steps. He wakes up, he returns to life. The love of Olga for Oblómoff, which is depicted in its development with a mastery almost equaling that of Turguéneff, grows deeper and deeper, and the inevitable next step-marriage-is approaching. . . . But this is enough to frighten away Oblómoff. To take this step he would have to bestir himself, to go to his estate, to break the lazy monotony of his life, and this is too much for him. He lingers and hesitates to make the first necessary steps. He postpones them from day to day, and finally he falls back into his Oblómoffdom, and returns to his sofa, his dressing gown, and his slippers. Olga is ready to do the impossible; she tries to carry him away by her love and her energy; but she is forced to realize that all her endeavors are useless, and that she has trusted too much to her own strength: the disease of Oblómoff is incurable. She has to abandon him, and Goncharóff describes their parting in a most beautiful scene, from which I will give here a few of the concluding passages:
"Then we must part?" she said . . . . .. "If we married, what would come next?" He replied nothing. "You would fall asleep, deeper and deeper every day-is it not so? And I-you see what I am-I shall not grow old, I shall never be tired of life. We should live from day to day and year to year, looking forward to Christmas, and then to the Carnival; we, should go to parties, dance, and think about nothing at all. We should lie down at night thanking God that one day has passed, and next morning we should wake up with the desire that to-day may be like yesterday; that would be our future, is it not so? But is that life? I should wither under it-I should die. And for what, Iliyá? Could I make you happy? "
He cast his eyes around and tried to move, to run away, but his feet would not obey him. He wanted to say something, but his mouth was dry, his tongue motionless, his voice would not come out of his throat. He moved his hand towards her, then he began something with lowered voice, but could not finish it, and with his look he said to her, "Good-bye-farewell."
She also wanted to say something, but could not-moved her band in his direction, but before it had reached his it dropped. She wanted to say "Farewell," but her voice broke in the middle of the word and took a false accent. Then her face quivered, she put her hand and her head on his shoulder and cried. It seemed now as if all her weapons had been taken out of her hand-reasoning had gone-there remained only the woman, helpless against her sorrow. "Farewell, Farewell" came out of her sobbings. . . .
"No," said Olga, trying to look upon him through her tears, " it is only now that I see that I loved in you what I wanted you to be, I loved the future Oblómoff. You are good, honest, Iliyá, you are tender as a dove, you put your head under your wing and want nothing more, you are ready all your life to coo under a roof . . . but I am not so, that would be too little for me. I want something more-what, I do not know; can you tell me what it is that I want? give me it, that I should. . . . As to sweetness, there is plenty of it everywhere."
They part, Olga passes through a severe illness, and a few months later we see Oblómoff married to the landlady of his rooms, a very respectable person with beautiful elbows, and a great master in kitchen affairs and household work generally. As to Olga, she marries Stoltz later on. But this Stoltz is rather a symbol of intelligent industrial activity than a living man. He is invented, and I pass him by.
The impression which this novel produced in Russia, on its appearance in 1859, was indescribable. It was a far greater event than the appearance of a new work by Turguéneff. All educated Russia read Oblómoff and discussed "Oblómovism." Everyone recognized something of himself in Oblómoff, felt the disease of Oblómoff in his own veins. As to Olga, thousands of young people fell in love with her: her favorite song, the "Casta Diva," became their favorite melody. And now, forty years afterwards, one can read and re-read "Oblómoff" with the same pleasure as nearly half a century ago, and it has lost nothing of its meaning, while it has acquired many new ones: there are always living Oblómoffs.
At the time of the appearance of this novel "Oblómoffdom" became a current word to designate the state of Russia. All Russian life, all Russian history, bears traces of the malady-that laziness of mind and heart, that right to laziness proclaimed as a virtue, that conservatism and inertia, that contempt of feverish activity, which characterize Oblómoff and were so much cultivated in serfdom times, even among the best men in Russia-and even among the malcontents. "A sad result of serfdom"-it was said then. But, as we live further away from serfdom times, we begin to realize that Oblómoff is not dead among us: that serfdom is not the only thing which creates this type of men, but that the very conditions of wealthy life, the routine of civilized life, contribute to maintain it.
"A racial feature, distinctive of the Russian race," others said; and they were right, too, to a great extent. The absence of a love for struggle; the "let me alone" attitude, the want of "aggressive" virtue; nonresistance and passive submission-these are to a great extent distinctive features of the Russian race. And this is probably why a Russian writer own work. As a result there is no wholeness, so to speak, in the main personages of the novel. The woman upon whom he has bestowed all his admiration, Vyéra, and whom he tries to represent as most sympathetic, is certainly interesting, but not sympathetic at all. One would say that Goncharóff's mind was haunted by two women of two totally different types when he pictured his Vyéra-the one whom he tried-and failed-to picture in Sophie Byelovódova, and the other-the coming woman of the sixties, of whom he saw some features, and whom he admired, without fully understanding her. Vyéra's cruelty towards her grandmother, and towards Ráisky, the hero, render her most unsympathetic, although you feel that the author quite adores her. As to the Nihilist, Vólokhoff, he is simply a caricature-taken perhaps from real life,-even seemingly from among the author's personal acquaintances,-but obviously drawn with the desire of ventilating personal feelings of dislike. One feels a personal drama concealed behind the pages of the novel. Goncharóff's first sketch of Vólokhoff was, as he wrote himself, some sort of Bohemian Radical of the forties who had retained in full the Don Juanesque features of the "Byronists" of the preceding generation. Gradually, however, Goncharóff, who had not yet finished his novel by the end of the fifties, transformed the figure into a Nihilist of the sixties-a revolutionist-and the result is that one has the sensation of the double origin of Vólokhoff, as one feels the double origin of Vyéra.
The only figure of the novel really true to life is the grandmother of Vyéra. This is an admirably painted figure of the simple, commonsense, independent woman of old Russia, while Martha, the sister of Vyéra, is an excellent picture of the commonplace girl, full of life, respectful of old traditions-to be one day the honest and reliable mother of a family. These two figures are the work of a great artist; but all the other figures are made-up, and consequently are failures; and yet there is much exaggeration in the tragical way in which Vyéra's fall is taken by her grandmother. As to the background of the novel-the estate on a precipice leading to the Vólga-it is one of the most beautiful landscapes in Russian literature.
Few authors have been so well received, from their very first appearance in literature, as Dostoyévskiy was. In 1845 he arrived in St. Petersburg, a quite unknown young man who only two years before had finished his education in a school of military engineers, and after having spent two years in the engineering service had then abandoned it with the intention of devoting himself to literature. He was only twenty-four when he wrote his first novel, Poor People, which his school-comrade, Grigoróvitch, gave to the poet Nekrásoff, offering it for a literary almanac. Dostoyévskiy had inwardly doubted whether the novel would even be read by the editor. He was living then in a poor, miserable room, and was fast asleep when at four o'clock in the morning Nekrásoff and Grigoróvitch knocked at his door. They threw themselves on Dostoyévskiy's neck, congratulating him with tears in their eyes. Nekrásoff and his friend had begun to read the novel late in the evening; they could not stop reading till they came to the end, and they were both so deeply impressed by it that they could not help going on this nocturnal expedition, to see the author and tell him what they felt. A few days later Dostoyévskiy was introduced to the great critic of the time, Byelínskiy, and from him he received the same warm reception. As to the reading public, the novel produced quite a sensation. The same must be said about all subsequent novels of Dostoyévskiy. They had an immense sale all over Russia.
The life of Dostoyévskiy was extremely sad. In the year 1849, four years after he had won his first success with Poor People, he became mixed up in the affairs of some Fourierists (members of the circles of Petrashévskiy), who used to meet together to read the works of Fourier, commenting on them, and talking about the necessity of a Socialistic movement in Russia. At one of these gatherings Dostoyévskiy read, and copied later on, a certain letter from Byelínskiy to Gógol, in which the great critic spoke in rather sharp language about the Russian Church and the State; he also took part in a meeting at which the starting of a secret printing office was discussed. He was arrested, tried (of course with closed doors), and, with several others, was condemned to death. In December, 1849, he was taken to a public square, placed on the scaffold, under a gibbet, to listen there to a profusedly-worded death-sentence, and only at the last moment came a messenger from Nicholas I., bringing a pardon. Three days later he was transported to Siberia and locked up in a hard-labor prison at Omsk. There he remained for four years, when owing to some influence at St. Petersburg he was liberated, only to be made a soldier. During his detention in the hard-labor prison he was submitted, for some minor offense, to the terrible punishment of the cat-o'-nine-tails, and from that time dates his disease-epilepsy-which he never quite got rid of during all his life. The coronation amnesty of Alexander II. did not improve Dostoyévskiy's fate. Not until 1859-four years after the advent of Alexander II. to the throne-was the great writer pardoned and allowed to return to Russia. He died in 1883.
Dostoyévskiy was a rapid writer, and even before his arrest he had published ten novels, of which The Double was already a forerunner of his later psycho-pathological novels, and Nétochka Nezvánova showed a rapidly maturing literary talent of the highest quality. On his return from Siberia he began publishing a series of novels which produced a deep impression on the reading public. He opened the series by a great novel, The Downtrodden and Offended, which was soon followed by Memoirs from a Dead-House, in which he described his hard-labor experience. Then came an extremely sensational novel, Crime and Punishment, which lately was widely read all over Europe and America. The Brothers Karamázoff, which is considered his most elaborate work, is even more sensational, while The Youth, The Idiot, The Devils are a series of shorter novels devoted to the same psycho-pathological problems.
If Dostoyévskiy's work had been judged from the purely esthetic point of view, the verdict of critics concerning its literary value would have been anything but flattering. Dostoyévskiy wrote with such rapidity and he so little cared about the working out of his novels, that, as Dobrolúboff has shown, the literary form is in many places almost below criticism. His heroes speak in a slipshod way, continually repeating themselves, and whatever hero appears in the novel (especially is this so in The Downtrodden), you feel it is the author who speaks. Besides, to these serious defects one must add the extremely romantic and obsolete forms of the plots of his novels, the disorder of their construction, and the unnatural succession of their events-to say nothing of the atmosphere of the lunatic asylum with which the later ones are permeated. And yet, with all this, the works of Dostoyévskiy are penetrated with such a deep feeling of reality, and by the side of the most unreal characters one finds characters so well known to every one of us, and so real, that all these defects are redeemed. Even when you think that Dostoyévskiy's record of the conversations of his heroes is not correct, you feel that the men whom he describes-at least some of them-were exactly such as he wanted to describe them.
The Memoirs from a Dead-House is the only production of Dostoyévskiy which can be recognized as truly artistic: its leading idea is beautiful, and the form is worked out in conformity with the idea; but in his later productions the author is so much oppressed by his ideas, all very vague, and grows so nervously excited over them that he cannot find the proper form. The favorite themes of Dostoyévskiy are the men who have been brought so low by the circumstances of their lives, that they have not even a conception of there being a possibility of rising above these conditions. You feel moreover that Dostoyévskiy finds a real pleasure in describing the sufferings, moral and physical, of the down-trodden-that he revels in representing that misery of mind, that absolute hopelessness of redress, and that completely broken-down condition of human nature which is characteristic of neuro-pathological cases. By the side of such sufferers you find a few others who are so deeply human that all your sympathies go with them; but the favorite heroes of Dostoyévskiy are the man and the woman who consider themselves as not having either the force to compel respect, or even the right of being treated as human beings. They once have made some timid attempt at defending their personalities, but they have succumbed, and never will try it again. They will sink deeper and deeper in their wretchedness, and die, either from consumption or from exposure, or they will become the victims of some mental affection-a sort of half-lucid lunacy,during which man occasionally rises to the highest conceptions of human philosophy-while some will conceive an embitterment which will bring them to commit some crime, followed by repentance the very next instant after it has been done.
In Downtrodden and Offended we see a young man madly in love with a girl from a moderately poor family. This girl falls in love with a very aristocratic prince-a man without principles, but charming in his childish egotism-extremely attractive by his sincerity, and with a full capacity for quite unconsciously committing the worst crimes towards those with whom life brings him into contact. The psychology of both the girl and the young aristocrat is very good, but where Dostoyévskiy appears at his best is in representing how the other young man, rejected by the girl, devotes the whole of his existence to being the humble servant of that girl, and against his own will becomes instrumental in throwing her into the hands of the young aristocrat. All this is quite possible, all this exists in life, and it is all told by Dostoyévskiy so as to make one feel the deepest commiseration with the poor and the down-trodden; but even in this novel the pleasure which the author finds in representing the unfathomable submission and servitude of his heroes, and the pleasure they find in the very sufferings and the ill-treatment that has been inflicted upon them-is repulsive to a sound mind.
The next great novel of Dostoyévskiy, Crime and Punishment, produced quite a sensation. Its hero is a young student, Raskólnikoff, who deeply loves his mother and his sister-both extremely poor, like himself-and who, haunted by the desire of finding some money in order to finish his studies and to become a support to his dear ones, comes to the idea of killing an old woman-a private money-lender whom he knows and who is said to possess a few thousand rubles. A series of more or less fortuitous circumstances confirms him in this idea and pushes him this way. Thus, his sister, who sees no escape from their poverty, is going at last to sacrifice herself for her family, and to marry a certain despicable, elderly man with much money, and Raskólnikoff is firmly decided to prevent this marriage. At the same time he meets with an old man-a small civil service clerk and a drunkard who has a most sympathetic daughter from the first marriage, Sónya. The family are at the lowest imaginable depths of destitution --such as can only be found in a large city like St. Petersburg, and Raskólnikoff is brought to take interest in them. Owing to all these circumstances, while he himself sinks deeper and deeper into the darkest misery, and realizes the depths of hopeless poverty and misery which surround him, the idea of killing the old money-lending woman takes a firm hold of him. He accomplishes the crime and, of course, as might have been foreseen, does not take advantage of the money: he even does not find it in his excitement; and, after having lived for a few days haunted by remorse and shame-again under the pressure of a series of various circumstances which add to the feeling of remorse-he goes to surrender himself, denouncing himself as the murderer of the old woman and her sister.
This is, of course, only the framework of the novel; in reality it is full of the most thrilling scenes of poverty on the one hand and of moral degradation on the other, while a number of secondary characters-an elderly gentleman in whose family Raskólnikoff's sister has been a governess, the examining magistrate, and so on-are introduced. Besides, Dostoyévskiy, after having accumulated so many reasons which might have brought a Raskólnikoff to commit such a murder, found it necessary to introduce another theoretical motive. One learns in the midst of the novel that Raskólnikoff, captivated by the modern, current ideas of materialist philosophy, has written and published a newspaper article to prove that men are divided into superior and inferior beings,, and that for the former-Napoleon being a sample of them -the current rules of morality are not obligatory.
Most of the readers of this novel and most of the literary critics speak very highly of the psychological analysis of Raskólnikoff's soul and of the motives which brought him to his desperate step. However, I will permit myself to remark that the very profusion of accidental causes accumulated by Dostoyévskiy shows how difficult he felt it himself to prove that the propaganda of materialistic ideas could in reality bring an honest young man to act as Raskólnikoff did. Raskólnikoffs do not become murderers under the influence of such theoretical considerations, while those who murder and invoke such motives, like Lebiès at Paris, are not in the least of the Raskólnikoff type. Behind RaskólnIkoff I feel Dostoyévskiy trying to decide whether he himself, or a man like him, might have been brought to act as Raskólnikoff did, and what would be the psychological explanation if he had been driven to do so. But such men do not murder. Besides, men like the examining magistrate and M. Swidrigailoff are purely romantic inventions.
However, with all its faults, the novel produces a most powerful effect by its real pictures of slum-life, and inspires every honest reader with the deepest commiseration towards even the lowest sunken inhabitants of the slums. When Dostoyévskiy comes to them, he becomes a realist in the very best sense of the word, like Turguéneff or Tolstóy. Marmeládoff -the old drunken official-his drunken talk and his death, his family, and the incidents which happen after his burial, his wife and his daughter Sónya-all these are living beings and real incidents of the life of the poorest ones, and the pages that Dostoyévskiy gave to them belong to the most impressive and the most moving pages in any literature. They have the touch of genius.
The Brothers Karamázoff is the most artistically worked out of Dostoyévskiy's novels, but it is also the novel in which all the inner defects of the author's mind and imagination have found their fullest expression. The philosophy of this novel-incredulous Western Europe; wildly passionate; drunken, unreformed Russia; and Russia reformed by creed and monks the three represented by the three brothers Karamázoff--only faintly appears in the background. But there is certainly not in any literature such a collection of the most repulsive types of mankind-lunatics, half-lunatics, criminals in germ and in reality, in all possible gradationsas one finds in this novel. A Russian specialist in brain and nervous diseases finds representatives of all sorts of such diseases in Dostoyévskiy's novels, and especially in The Brothers Karamázoff-the whole being set in a frame which represents the strangest mixture of realism and romanticism run wild. Whatsoever a certain portion of contemporary critics, fond of all sorts of morbid literature, may have written about this novel, the present writer can only say that he finds it, all through, so unnatural, so much fabricated for the purpose of introducing-here, a bit of morals, there, some abominable character taken from a psycho-pathological hospital; or again, in order to analyze the feelings of some purely imaginary criminal, that a few good pages scattered here and there do not compensate the reader for the hard task of reading these two volumes.
Dostoyévskiy is still very much read in Russia; and when, some twenty years ago, his novels were first translated into French, German and English, they were received as a revelation. He was praised as one of the greatest writers of our own time, and as undoubtedly the one who "had best expressed the mystic Slavonic soul"-whatever that expression may mean! Turguéneff was eclipsed by Dostoyévskiy, and Tolstóy was forgotten for a time. There was, of course, a great deal of hysterical exaggeration in all this, and at the present time sound literary critics do not venture to indulge in such praises. The fact is, that there is certainly a great deal of power in whatever Dostoyévskiy wrote: his powers of creation suggest those of Hoffman; and his sympathy with the most down-trodden and down-cast products of the civilization of our large towns is so deep that it carries away the most indifferent reader and exercises a most powerful impression in the right direction upon young readers. His analysis of the most varied specimens of incipient psychical disease is said to be thoroughly correct. But with all that, the artistic qualities of his novels are incomparably below those of any one of the great Russian masters: Tolstóy, Turguéneff, or Gontcharóff. Pages of consummate realism are interwoven with the most fantastical incidents worthy only of the most incorrigible romantics. Scenes of a thrilling interest are interrupted in order to introduce a score of pages of the most unnatural theoretical discussions. Besides, the author is in such a hurry that he seems never to have had the time himself to read over his novels before sending them to the printer. And, worst of all, every one of the heroes of Dostoyévskiy, especially in his novels of the later period, is a person suffering from some psychical disease or from moral perversion. As a result, while one may read some of the
by the side of Púshkin and Lérmontoff ("higher still than Púshkin and Lérmontoff," exclaimed some young enthusiast in the crowd), and the question, "Is Nekrásoff a great poet, like Púshkin and Lérmontoff?" has been discussed ever since.
Nekrásoff's poetry played such an important part in my own development, during my youth, that I did not dare trust my own high appreciation of it; and therefore to verify and support my impressions and appreciations I have compared them with those of the Russian critics, Arsénieff, Skabitchévskiy, and Venguéroff (the author of a great biographical dictionary of Russian authors).
When we enter the period of adolescence, from sixteen years to twenty, we need to find words to express the aspirations and the higher ideas which begin to wake up in our minds. It is not enough to have these aspirations: we want words to express them. Some will find these words in those of the prayers which they hear in the church; othersand I belonged to their number-will not be satisfied with this expression of their feelings: it will strike them as too vague, and they will look for something else to express in more concrete terms their growing sympathies with mankind and the philosophical questions about the life of the universe which pre-occupy them. They will look for poetry. For me, Goethe on the one side, by his philosophical poetry, and Nekrásoff on the other, by the concrete images in which he expressed his love of the peasant masses, supplied the words which the heart wanted for the expression of its poetical feelings. But this is only a personal remark. The question is, whether Nekrásoff can really be put by the side of Púshkin and Lérmontoff as a great poet.
Some people repudiate such a comparison. He was not a poet, they say, because he always wrote with a purpose. However, this reasoning, which is often defended by the pure esthetics, is evidently incorrect. Shelley also had a purpose, which did not prevent him from being a great poet; Browning has a purpose in a number of his poems, and this did not prevent him from being a great poet. Every great poet has a purpose in most of his poems, and the question is only whether he has found a beautiful form for expressing this purpose, or not. The poet who shall succeed in combining a really beautiful form, i. e., impressive images and sonorous verses, with a grand purpose, will be the greatest poet.
Now, one certainly feels, on reading Nekrásoff, that he had difficulty in writing his verses. There is nothing in his poetry similar to the easiness with which Púshkin used the forms of versification for expressing his thoughts, nor is there any approach to the musical harmony of Lérmontoff's verse or A. K. Tolstóy's. Even in his best poems there are lines which are not agreeable to the ear on account of their wooden and clumsy form; but you feel that these unhappy verses could be improved by the change of a few words, without the beauty of the images in which the feelings are expressed being altered by that. One certainly feels that Nekrásoff was not master enough of his words and his rhymes; but there is not one single poetical image which does not suit the whole idea of the poem, or which strikes the reader as a dissonance, or is not beautiful; while in some of his verses Nekrásoff has certainly succeeded in combining a very high degree of poetical inspiration with great beauty of form. It must not be forgotten that the Yambs of Barbier, and the Châtiments of Victor Hugo also leave, here and there, much to be desired as regards form.
Nekrásoff was a most unequal writer, but one of the above-named critics has pointed out that even amid his most unpoetical "poem"-the one in which he describes in very poor verses the printing office of a newspaper-the moment that he touches upon the sufferings of the workingman there come in twelve lines which for the beauty of poetical images and musicalness, connected with their inner force, have few equals in the whole of Russian literature.
When we estimate a poet, there is something general in his poetry which we either love or pass by indifferently, and to reduce literary criticism exclusively to the analysis of the beauty of the poet's verses or to the correspondence between "idea and form" is surely to immensely reduce its value. Everyone will recognize that Tennyson possessed a wonderful beauty of form, and yet he cannot be considered as superior to Shelley, for the simple reason that the general tenor of the latter's ideas was so much superior to the general tenor of Tennyson's. It is on the general contents of his poetry that Nekrásoff's superiority rests.
We have had in Russia several poets who also wrote upon social subjects or the duties of a citizen-I need only mention Pleschéeff and Mináyeff-and they attained sometimes, from the versifier's point of view, a higher beauty of form than Nekrásoff. But in whatever Nekrásoff wrote there is an inner force which you do not find in either of these poets, and this force suggests to him images which are rightly considered as pearls of Russian poetry.
Nekrásoff called his Muse, "A Muse of Vengeance and of Sadness," and this Muse, indeed, never entered into compromise with injustice. Nekrásoff is a pessimist, but his pessimism, as Venguéroff remarks, has an original character. Although his poetry contains so many depressing pictures representing the misery of the Russian masses, nevertheless the fundamental impression which it leaves upon the reader is an elevating feeling. The poet does not bow his head before the sad reality: he enters into a struggle with it, and he is sure of victory. The reading of Nekrásoff wakes up that discontent which bears in itself the seeds of recovery.
The mass of the Russian people, the peasants and their sufferings, are the main themes of our poet's verses. His love to the people passes as a red thread through all his works; he remained true to it all his life. In his younger years that love saved him from squandering his talent in the sort of life which so many of his contemporaries have led; later on it inspired him in his struggle against serfdom; and when serfdom was abolished he did not consider his work terminated, as so many of his friends did: he became the poet of the dark masses oppressed by the economical and political yoke; and towards the end of his life he did not say: "Well, I have done what I could," but till his last breath his verses were a complaint about not having been enough of a fighter. He wrote: "Struggle stood in the way of my becoming a poet, and songs prevented me from becoming a fighter," and again: "Only he who is serviceable to the aims of his time, and gives all his life to the struggle for his brother men-only he will live longer than his life."
Sometimes he sounds a note of despair; however, such a note is not frequent in Nekrásoff. His Russian peasant is not a man who only sheds tears. He is serene, sometimes humourous, and sometimes an extremely gay worker. Very seldom does Nekrásoff idealize the peasant: for the most part he takes him just as he is, from life itself; and the poet's faith in the forces of that Russian peasant is deep and vigorous. "A little more freedom to breathe-he says-and Russia will shew that she has men, and that she has a future." This is an idea which frequently recurs in his poetry.
The best poem of Nekrásoff is Red-nosed Frost. It is the apotheosis of the Russian peasant woman. The poem has nothing sentimental in it. It is written, on the contrary, in a sort of elevated epic style, and the second part, where Frost personified passes on his way through the wood, and where the peasant woman is slowly freezing to death, while bright pictures of past happiness pass through her brain-all this is admirable, even from the point of view of the most esthetic critics, because it is written in good verses and in a succession of beautiful images and pictures.
The Peasant Children is a charming village idyll. The "Muse of Vengeance and Sadness"--one of our critics remarks-becomes wonderfully mild and gentle as soon as she begins to speak of women and children. In fact, none of the Russian poets has ever done so much for the apotheosis of women, and especially of the mother-woman, as this supposedly severe poet of Vengeance and Sadness. As soon as Nekrásoff begins to speak of a mother he grows powerful; and the strophes he devoted to his own mother-a woman lost in a squire's house, amid men thinking only of hunting, drinking, and exercising their powers as slave owners in their full brutality-these strophes are real pearls in the poetry of all nations.
His poem devoted to the exiles in Siberia and to the Russian women-that is, to the wives of the Decembrists-in exile, is excellent and contains really beautiful passages, but it is inferior to either his poems dealing with the peasants or to his pretty poem, Sasha, in which he describes, contemporaneously with Turguéneff, the very same types as Rúdin and Natasha.
It is quite true that Nekrásoff's verses often bear traces of a painful struggle with rhyme, and that there are lines in his poems which are decidedly inferior; but he is certainly one of our most popular poets amid the masses of the people. Part of his poetry has already become the inheritance of all the Russian nation. He is immensely read-not only by the educated classes, but by the poorest peasants as well. In fact, as has been remarked by one of our critics, to understand Púshkin a certain more or less artificial literary development is required; while to understand Nekásoff it is sufficient for the peasant simply to know reading; and it is difficult to imagine, without having seen it, the delight with which Russian children in the poorest village schools are now reading Nekásoff and learning full pages from his verses by heart.
OTHER PROSE WRITERS OF THE SAME EPOCH
Having analyzed the work of those writers who may be considered as the true founders of modern Russian literature, I ought now to review a number of prose-writers and poets of less renown, belonging to the same epoch. However, following the plan of this book, only a few words will be said, and only some of the most remarkable among them will be mentioned.
A writer of great power, quite unknown in Western Europe, who occupies a quite unique position in Russian literature, is SERGHÉI TIMOFÉEVITCH AKSÁKOFF (1791-1859), the father of the two Slavophile writers, Konstantín and Iván Aksákoff. He is in reality a contemporary of Púlshkin and Lérmontoff, but during the first part of his career he displayed no originality whatever, and lingered in the fields of pseudo-classicism. It was only after Gógol had written-that is, after 1846-that he struck a quite new vein, and attained the full development of his by no means ordinary talent. In the years 1847-1855 he published his Memoirs of Angling, Memoirs of a Hunter with his Fowling Piece in the Government of Orenbúrg, and Stories and Remembrances of a Sportsman; and these three works would have been sufficient to conquer for him the reputation of a first-rate writer. The Orenbúrg region, in the Southern Uráls, was very thinly inhabited at that time, and its nature and physiognomy are so well described in these books that Aksákoff 's work reminds one of the Natural History of Selbourne. It has the same accuracy; but Aksákoff is moreover a poet and a first-rate poetical landscape painter. Besides, he so admirably knew the life of the animals, and he so well understood them, that in this respect his rivals could only be Krylóff on the one hand, and Brehm the elder and Audubon among the naturalists.
The influence of Gógol induced S. T. Aksákoff to entirely abandon the domain of pseudo-classical fiction. In 1846 he began to describe real life, and the result was a large work, A Family Chronicle and Remembrances (1856), soon followed by The Early Years of Bagróff-the-Grandchild (1858), which put him in the first ranks among the writers of his century. Slavophile enthusiasts described him even as a Shakespeare, nay, as a Homer; but all exaggeration apart, S. T. Aksákoff has really succeeded not only in reproducing a whole epoch in his Memoirs, but also in creating real types of men of that time, which have served as models for all our subsequent writers. If the leading idea of these Memoirs had not been so much in favor of the "good old times" of serfdom, they would have been even much more widely read than they are now. The appearance of A Family Chronicle-in 1856-was an event, and the marking of an epoch in Russian literature.
V. DAL (1801-1872) cannot be omitted even from this short sketch. He was born in Southeastern Russia, of a Danish father and a Franco-German mother, and received his education at the Dorpat university. He was a naturalist and a doctor by profession, but his favorite study was ethnography, and he became a remarkable ethnographer, as well as one of the best connoisseurs of the Russian spoken language and its provincial dialects. His sketches from the life of the people, signed KOZAK LUGANSKIY (about a hundred of them are embodied in a volume, Pictures from Russian Life, 1861), were very widely read in the forties and the fifties, and were highly praised by Turguéneff and Byelínskiy. Although they are mere sketches and leaflets from a diary, without real poetical creation, they are delightful reading. As to the ethnographical work of Dal it was colossal. During his continual peregrinations over Russia, in his capacity of a military doctor attached to his regiment, he made most wonderful collections of words, expressions, riddles, proverbs, and so on, and embodied them in two large works. His main work is An Explanatory Dictionary of the Russian Language, in four quarto volumes (first edition in 1861-68, second in 1880-1882). This is really a monumental work and contains the first and very successful attempt at a lexicology of the Russian language, which, notwithstanding some occasional mistakes, is of the greatest value for the understanding and the etymology of the Russian tongue as it is spoken in different provinces. It contains at the same time a precious and extremely rich collection of linguistic material for future research, part of which would have been lost by now if Dal had not collected it, fifty years ago, before the advent of railways. Another great work of Dal , only second to the one just mentioned, is a collection of proverbs, entitled The Proverbs of the Russian People (second edition in 1879).
A writer who occupies a prominent place in the evolution of the Russian novel, but has not yet been sufficiently appreciated, is IVAN PANAEFF (1812-1862), who was a great friend of all the literary circle of the Sovreménnik (Contemporary). Of this review he was coeditor with Nekrásoff, and he wrote for it a mass of literary notes and feuilletons upon all sorts of subjects, extremely interesting for characterizing those times. In his novels Panáeff, like Turguéneff, took his types chiefly from the educated classes, both at St. Petersburg and in the provinces. His collection of "Swaggerers" (hlyschí), both from the highest classes in the capitals, and from provincials, is not inferior to Thackeray's collection of "snobs." In fact, the "swaggerer," as Panáeff understood him, is even a much broader and much more complicated type of man than the snob, and cannot easily be described in a few words. The greatest service rendered by Panáeff was, however, the creation in his novels of a series of such exquisite types of Russian women that they were truly described by some critics as "the spiritual mothers of the heroines of Turguéneff."
A. HERZEN (1812- 1870) also belongs to the same epoch, but he will be spoke of in a subsequent chapter.
A very sympathetic woman writer, who belongs to the same group and deserves in reality much more than a brief notice, is N. D. HVOSCHINSKAYA (1825-1869; Zaionchkóvskaya after her marriage). She wrote under the masculine nom-de-plume of V. KRESTOVSKIY, and in order not to confound her with a very prolific writer of novels in the style of the French detective novel-the author of St. Petersburg Slums, whose name was VSEVOLOD KRESTOVSKIY-she is usually known in Russia as "V. Krestóvskiy-pseudonyme."
N. D. Hvóschinskaya began to write very early, in 1847, and her novels were endowed with such an inner charm that they were always admired by the general public and were widely read. It must, however, be said that during the first part of her literary career the full value of her work was not appreciated, and that down to the end of the seventies literary criticism remained hostile to her. It was only towards the end of her career (in 1878-1880) that our best literary critics--Mihailóvskiy, Arsénieff and the novelist Boborýkin -recognized the full value of this writer, who certainly deserves being placed by the side of George Eliot and the author of Jane Eyre.
N. D. Hvóschinskaya certainly was not one of those who conquer their reputation at once; but the cause of the rather hostile attitude of Russian critics towards her was that, having been born in a poor nobleman's family of Ryazán, and having spent all her life in the province, her novels of the first period, in which she dealt with provincial life and provincial types only, suffered from a certain narrowness of view. This last defect was especially evident in those types of men for whom the young author tried to win sympathy, but who, after all, had no claims to it, and simply proved that the author felt the need of idealizing somebody, at least, in her sad surroundings.
Apart from this defect, N. D. Hvóschinskaya knew provincial life very well and pictured it admirably. She represented it exactly in the same pessimistic light in whichTurguéneff saw it in those same years-the last years of the reign of Nicholas I. She excelled especially in representing the sad and hopeless existence of the girl in most of the families of those times.
In her own family she meets the bigoted tyranny of her mother and the " let-me-alone " egotism of her father, and among her admirers she finds only a collection of good-for-nothings who cover their shallowness with empty, sonorous phrases. Every novel written by our author during this period contains the drama of a girl whose best self is crushed back in such surroundings, or it relates the still more heartrending drama of an old maid compelled to live under the tyranny, the petty persecutions and the pin-prickings of her relations.
When Russia entered into a better period, in the early sixties, the novels of N. D. Hvóschinskaya also took a different, much more hopeful character, and among them The Great Bear (1870-70 is the most prominent. At the time of its appearance it produced quite a sensation amid our youth, and it had upon them a deeper influence, in the very best sense of the word, than any other novel. The heroine, Kátya, meets, in Verhóvskiy, a man of the weakling type which we know from Turguéneff's Correspondence, but dressed this time in the garb of a social reformer, prevented only by "circumstances" and "misfortunes" from accomplishing greater things. Verhóvskiy, whom Kátya loves and who falls in love with her-so far, at least, as such men can fall in love-is admirably pictured. It is one of the best representatives in the already rich gallery of such types in Russian literature. It must be owned that there are in The Great Bear one or two characters which are not quite real, or, at least, are not correctly appreciated by the author (for instance, the old Bagryánskiy) ; but we find also a fine collection of admirably painted characters; while Kátya stands higher, is more alive, and is more fully pictured, than Turguéneff's Natásha or even his Helen. She has had enough of all the talk about heroic deeds which "circumstances" prevent the would-be heroes from accomplishing, and she takes to a much smaller task-she becomes a loving school mistress in a village school, and undertakes to bring into the village-darkness her higher ideals and her hopes of a better future. The appearance of this novel, just at the time when that great movement of the youth "towards the people" was beginning in Russia, made it favorite reading by the side Of MORDÓVTSEFF'S Signs of the Times, and Spielhagen's Amboss und Hammer and In Reih und Glied. The warm tone of the novel and the refined, deeply humane, poetical touches of which it is full-all these added immensely to the inner merits of The Great Bear. In Russia it has sown many a good idea, and there is no doubt that if it were known in Western Europe, it would be, here as well, a favorite with the thinking and well inspired young women and men.
A third period may be distinguished in the art of N. Hvóschinskaya, after the end of the seventies. The novels of this period-among which the series entitled The Album: Groups and Portraits is the most striking-have a new character. When the great liberal movement which Russia had lived through in the early sixties came to an end, and reaction had got the upper hand, after 1864, hundreds and hundreds of those who had been prominent in this movement as representatives of advanced thought and reform abandoned the faith and the ideals of their best years. Under a thousand various pretexts they now tried to persuade themselves-and, of course, those women who had trusted themthat new times had come, and new requirements had grown up; that they had only become "practical" when they deserted the old banner and ranged themselves under a new one-that of personal enrichment; that to do this was on their part a necessary self-sacrifice, a manifestation of "virile citizenship," which requires from every man that he should not stop even before the sacrifice of his ideals in the interest of his "cause." "V. Krestovskiy," as a woman who had loved the ideals, understood better than any man the real sense of these sophisms. She must have bitterly suffered from them in her personal life; and I doubt whether in any literature there is a collection of such "groups and portraits" of deserters as we see in The Album, and especially in At the Photographer's. In reading these stories we are conscious of a loving heart which bleeds as it describes these deserters, and this makes of "The groups and portraits" of N. D.Hvóschinskaya one of the finest pieces of "subjective realism" we possess in our literature.
Two sisters of N. D. Hvóschinskaya, who wrote under the noms-de-plume of ZIMAROFF and VESENIEFF, were also novelists. The former wrote a biography of her sister Nathalie.
POETS OF THE SAME EPOCH
Several poets of the epoch described in the last two chapters ought to be analyzed at some length in this place, if this book pretended to be a Course in Russian literature. I shall have, however, to limit myself to very short notes, although most of the poets could not have failed to be favorites with other nations if they had written in a language better known abroad than Russian.
Such was certainly KOLTSOFF (1808-1842), a poet from the people, who has sung in his songs, so deeply appealing to every poetical mind, the borderless steppes of Southern Russia, the poor life of the tiller of the soil, the sad existence of the Russian peasant woman, that love which is for the loving soul only a source of acute suffering, that fate which is not a mother but a step-mother, and that happiness which has been so short and has left behind only tears and sadness.
The style, the contents, the form-all was original in this poet of the Steppes. Even the form of his verse is not the form established in Russian prosody: it is something as musical as the Russian folk-song and in places is equally irregular. However, every line of the poetry of the Koltsóff of his second period-when he had freed himself from imitation and had become a true poet of the people-every expression and every thought appeal to the heart and fill it with poetical love for nature and men. Like all the best Russian poets he died very young, just at the age when he was reaching the full maturity of his talent and deeper questions were beginning to inspire his poetry.
NIKITIN (1824-1861) was another poet of a similar type. He was born in a poor artisan's family, also in South Russia. His life in this family, of which the head was continually under the influence of drink, and which the young man had to maintain, was terrible. He also died young, but he left some very fine and most touching pieces of poetry, in which, with a simplicity that we shall find only with the later folk novelists, he described scenes from popular life, colored with the deep sadness impressed upon him by his own unhappy life.
A. PLESCHÉEFF (1825-1893) has been for the last thirty years of his life one of the favorite Russian poets. Like so many other gifted men of his generation, he was arrested in 1849 in connection with the affair of the "Petrashévskiy circles," for which Dostoyévskiy was sent to bard tabour. He was found even less "guilty" than the great novelist, and was marched as a soldier to the Orenbúrg region, where he probably would have died a soldier, if Nicholas I. had not himself died in 1856. He was pardoned by Alexander II., and permitted to settle at Moscow.
Unlike so many of his contemporaries, Pleschéeff never let himself be crushed by persecution, or by the dark years which Russia has lately lived through. On the contrary, he always retained that same note of vigor, freshness, and faith in his humanitarian though perhaps too abstract ideals, which characterized his first poetical productions in the forties. Only towards his very latest years, under the influence of ill-health, did a pessimistic note begin to creep into his verses. Besides writing original poetry he translated very much, and admirably well, from the German, English, French and Italian poets.
Besides these three poets, who sought their inspiration in the realities of life or in higher humanitarian ideals, we have a group of poets who are usually described as admirers of "pure beauty" and "Art for Art's sake." TH. TYÚTCHEFF (1803-1873) may be taken as the best, or, at any rate, the eldest representative of this group. Turguéneff spoke of him very highly-in 1854-praising his fine and true feeling for nature and his fine taste. The influence of the epoch of Púshkin upon him was evident, and he certainly was endowed with the impressionability and sincerity which are necessary in a good poet. With all that, his verses are not much read, and seem rather dull to our generation.
APOLLON MAYKOFF (1821-1897) is often described as a poet of pure art for art's sake; at any rate, this is what he preached in theory; but in reality his poetry belonged to four distinct domains. In his youth he was a pure admirer of antique Greece and Rome, and his chief work, Two Worlds, was devoted to the conflict between antique paganism and natureism and Christianity-the best types in his poem being representatives of the former. Later on he wrote several very good pieces of poetry devoted to the history of the Church in medieval times. Still later, in the sixties, he was carried away by the liberal movement in Russia and in Western Europe, and his poems were imbued with its spirit of freedom. He wrote during those years his best poems, and made numbers of excellent translations from Heine. And finally, after the liberal period had come to an end in Russia, he also changed his opinions and began to write in the opposite direction, losing more and more both the sympathy of his readers and his talent. Apart from some of the productions of this last period of decay, the verses of Máykoff are as a rule very musical, really poetical, and not devoid of force. In his earlier productions and in some pieces of his third period, he attained real beauty.
N. SCHERBINA (1821-1869), also an admirer of classical Greece, may be mentioned for his really good anthological poetry from the life of Greek antiquity, in which he even excelled Máykoff.
POLONSKIY (1820-1898), a contemporary and a great friend of Turguéneff, displayed all the elements of a great artist. His verses are full of true melody, his poetical images are rich, and yet natural and simple, and the subjects he took were not devoid of originality. This is why his verses were always read with interest. But he had none of that force, or of that depth of conception, or of that intensity of passion which might have made of him a great poet. His best piece, A Musical Cricket, is written in a jocose mood, and his most popular verses are those which he wrote in the style of folk-poetry. One may say that they have become the property of the people. Altogether Polónskiy appealed chiefly to the quiet, moderate "intellectual" who does not much care about going to the bottom of the great problems of life. If he touched upon some of these, it was owing to a passing, rather than to a life interest in them.
One more poet of this group, perhaps the most characteristic of it, was A. SHENSHIN (1820-1892), much better known under his nom-de-plume of A. FET. He remained all his life a poet of "pure art for art's sake." He wrote a good deal about economical and social matters, always in the reactionary sense, but-in prose. As to verses, he never resorted to them for anything but the worship of beauty for beauty's sake. In this direction he succeeded very well. His short verses are especially pretty and sometimes almost beautiful. Nature, in its quiet, lovely aspects, which lead to a gentle, aimless sadness, he depicted sometimes to perfection, as also those moods of the mind which can be best described as indefinite sensations, slightly erotic. However, taken as a whole, his poetry appears monotonous.
To the same group one might add A. K. TOLSTÓY, whose verses attain sometimes a rare perfection and sound like the best music. The feelings expressed in them may not be very deep, but the form and the music of the verses are delightful. They have, moreover, the stamp of originality, because nobody could write poems in the style of Russian folk-poetry better than Alexéi Tolstóy. Theoretically, he preached art for art's sake. But he never remained true to this canon and, taking either the life of old epical Russia, or the period of the struggle between the Moscow Czars and the feudal boyars, he developed his admiration of the olden times in very beautiful verses. He also wrote a novel, Prince Serébryanyi, from the times of John the Terrible, which was very widely read; but his main work was a trilogy of dramas from the same interesting period of Russian history (see Ch. VI).
Almost all the poets just mentioned have translated a great deal, and they have enriched Russian literature with such a number of translations from all languages-so admirably done as a rule-that no other literature of the world, not even the German, can claim to possess an equally great treasury. Some translations, beginning with Zhukóvskiy's rendering of the Prisoner of Chillon, or the translations of Hiawatha, are simply classical. All Schiller, most of Goethe,nearly all Byron, a great deal of Shelley, all that is worth knowing in Tennyson, Wordsworth, Crabbe, all that could be translated from Browning, Barbier, Victor Hugo, and so on, are as familiar in Russia as in the mother countries of these poets, and occasionally even more so. As to such favorites as Heine, I really don't know whether his best poems lose anything in those splendid translations which we owe to our best poets; while the songs of Béranger, in the free translation of Kúrotchkin, are not in the least inferior to the originals.
We have moreover some excellent poets who are chiefly known for their translations. Such are: N. GERBEL (18271883), who made his reputation by an admirable rendering of the Lay of Igor's Raid (see Ch. 1.), and later on, by his versions of a great number of West European poets. His edition of Schiller, translated by Russian Poets ( 1857), followed by similar editions of Shakespeare, Byron, and Goethe, was epoch making.
MIKHAIL MIKHAILOFF (1826-1865), one of the most brilliant writers of the Contemporary, condemned in 1861 to hard labor in Siberia, where he died four years later, was especially renowned for his translations from Heine, as also for those from Longfellow, Hood, Tennyson, Lenan, and others.
P. WEINBERG (born 1830) made his reputation by his excellent translations from Shakespeare, Byron (Sardanapal), Shelley (Cenci), Sheridan, Coppe, Gutzkow, Heine, etc., and for his editions of the work of Goethe and Heine in Russian translations. He still continues to enrich Russian literature with excellent versions of the masterpieces of foreign literatures.
L. MEY (1822-1862), the author of a number of poems from popular life, written in a very picturesque language, and of several dramas, of which those from old Russian life are especially valuable and were taken by RIMSKIY KORSÁKOFF as the subjects of his operas, has also made a great number of translations. He translated not only from the modern West European poets-English, French, German, Italian, and Polish-but also from Greek, Latin, and Old Hebrew, all of which languages he knew to perfection. Besides excellent translations of Anacreon and the idyls of Theocritus, he wrote also beautiful poetical versions of the Song of Songs and of various other portions of the Bible.
D. MINAYEFF (1835-1889), the author of a great number of satirical verses, also belongs to this group of translators. His renderings from Byron, Burns, Cornwall, and Moore, Goethe and Heine, Leopardi, Dante, and several others, were, as a rule, extremely fine.
And finally I must mention one, at least, of the prose-translators, VVEDÉNSKIY (1813-1855), for his very fine translations of the chief novels of Dickens. His renderings are real works of art, the result of a perfect knowledge of English life, and of such a deep assimilation of the genius of Dickens that the translator almost identified himself with the original author.
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