Ideals and Realities in Russian Literature : Chapter 7 : Folk-Novelists
(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.)
• "Which side will you take? For the law and against justice, or for justice and against the law?" (From : "An Appeal to the Young," by Peter Kropotkin, 1880.)
• "To recognize all men as equal and to renounce government of man by man is another increase of individual liberty in a degree which no other form of association has ever admitted even as a dream." (From : "Communism and Anarchy," by Peter Kropotkin, 1901.)
• "...outside of anarchism there is no such thing as revolution." (From : "Revolutionary Government," by Peter Kropotkin, 18....)
An important division of Russian novelists, almost totally unknown in Western Europe, and yet representing perhaps the most typical portion of Russian literature, "Folk-Novelists." It is under this name that we know them chiefly in Russia, and under this name the critic Skabitchévskiy has analyzed them-first, in a book bearing this title, and then in his excellent History of Modern Russian Literature (4th ed. 1900). By "Folk-Novelists" we mean, of course, not those who write for the people, but those who write about the people: the peasants, the miners, the factory workers, the lowest strata of population in towns, the tramps. Bret Harte in his sketches of the mining camps, Zola in L'Assommoir and Germinal, Mr. Gissing in Liza of Lambeth, Mr. Whiting in No. 5 John Street, belong to this category; but what is exceptional and accidental in Western Europe is organic in Russia.
Quite a number of talented writers have devoted themselves during the last fifty years, some of them entirely, to the description of this or that division of the Russian people. Every class of the toiling masses, which in other literatures would have appeared in novels as the background for events going on amid educated people (as in Hardy's Woodlanders), has had in the Russian novel its own painter. All great questions concerning popular life which are debated in political and social books and reviews have been treated in the novel as well. The evils of serfdom and, later on, the struggle between the tiller of the soil and growing commercialism; the effects of factories upon village life, the great coöperative fisheries, peasant life in certain monasteries, and life in the depths of the Siberian forests, slum life and tramp life-all these have been depicted by the folk-novelists, and their novels have been as eagerly read as the works of the greatest authors. And while such questions as, for instance, the future of the village-community, or of the peasants' Common Law Courts, are debated in the daily papers, in the scientific reviews and the journals of statistical research, they are also dealt with by means of artistic images and types taken from life in the folk-novel.
Moreover, the folk-novelists, taken as a whole, represent a great school of realism in art, and in true realism they have surpassed all those writers who have been mentioned in the preceding chapters. Of course, Russian "realism," as the reader of this book is already well aware, is something quite different from what was represented as "naturalism" and "realism" in France by Zola. As already remarked, Zola, notwithstanding his propaganda of realism, always remained an inveterate romantic in the conception of his leading characters, both of the "saint" and of the "villain" type; and no doubt because of this-perhaps feeling it himself-he gave, as a compensation, such an exaggerated importance to speculations about physiological heredity and, to the accumulation of pretty descriptive details, many of which, especially among his repulsive types, might have been omitted without depriving the characters of any really significant feature. In Russia the "realism" of Zola has always been considered too superficial, too outward, and while our folk-novelists also have often indulged in an unnecessary profusion of detail-sometimes decidedly ethnographicalthey have aimed nevertheless at that inner realism which appears in the construction of such characters as are really representative of life taken as a whole. Their aim has been to represent life without distortion-whether that distortion consists in introducing petty details, which may be true, but are accidental, or in endowing heroes with virtues or vises which are indeed met with here and there, but ought not to be generalized. Several novelists, as will be seen presently, have objected even to the usual ways of describing types and relating the individual dramas of a few typical heroes. They have made the extremely bold attempt of describing life itself, in its succession of petty actions, moving on amid its gray and dull surroundings, introducing only that dramatic element which results from the endless succession of petty and depressing details and wonted circumstances; and it must be owned that they have not been quite unsuccessful in striking out this new line of art-perhaps the most tragical of all. Others, again, have introduced a new type of artistic representation of life, which occupies an intermediate position between the novel, properly so-called, and a demographic description of a given population. Thus, Gleb Uspénskiy knew how to intermingle artistic descriptions of typical village-people with discussions belonging to the domain of folk-psychology in so interesting a manner that the reader willingly pardons him these digressions; while others like Maxímoff succeeded in making out of their ethnographical descriptions real works of art, without in the least diminishing their scientific value.
THE EARLY FOLK-NOVELISTS
One of the earliest folk-novelists was GRIGORÓVITCH (1822-1899), a man of great talent, who sometimes is placed by the side of Tolstóy, Turguéneff, Gontcharóff and Ostróvskiy. His literary career was very interesting. He was born of a Russian father and a French mother, and at the age of ten hardly knew Russian at all. His education was entirely foreign-chiefly French-and he never really lived the village life amid which Turguéneff or Tolstóy grew up. Moreover, he never gave himself exclusively to literature: he was a painter as well as a novelist, and at the same time a fine connoisseur of art, and for the last thirty years of his life he wrote almost nothing, but gave all his time to the Russian Society of Painters. And yet this half-Russian was one of those who rendered the same service to Russia before the abolition of serfdom that Harriet Beecher Stowe rendered to the United States by her description of the sufferings of the negro slaves.
Grigoróvitch was educated in the same military school of engineers as was Dostoyévskiy, and after having finished his education there, he took a tiny room from the warder of the Academy of Arts, with the intention of giving himself entirely to art. However, in the studios he made the acquaintance of the Little Russian poet Shevtchénko, and next of Nekrásoff and Valerián Máykoff (a critic of great power, who died very young), and through them he found his vocation in literature.
In the early forties he was known only by a charming sketch, The Organ Grinders, in which he spoke with great warmth of feeling of the miserable life of this class of the St. Petersburg population. Russian society, in those years, felt the impression of the Socialist revival of France, and its best representatives were growing impatient with serfdom and absolutism. Fourier and Pierre Leroux were favorite writers in advanced intellectual circles, and Grigoróvitch was carried on by the growing current. He left St. Petersburg, went to stay for a year or two in the country, and in 1846 he published his first novel dealing with country life, The Village. He depicted in it, without any exaggeration, the dark sides of village life and the horrors of serfdom, and he did it so vividly that Byelínskiy, the critic, at once recognized in him a new writer of great power, and greeted him as such. His next novel, Antón the Unfortunate, also drawn from village life, was a tremendous sucesss, and its influence was almost equal to that of Uncle Tom's Cabin. No educated man or woman of his generation or of ours could have read the book without weeping over the misfortunes of Antón, and finding better feelings growing in his heart towards the serfs. Several novels of the same character followed in the next eight years (1847 to 1855)-The Fishermen, The Immigrants, The Tiller, The Tramp, The Country Roads-and then Grigoróvitch came to a stop. In 1865 he took part with some of our best writers-Gontcharóff, Ostróvskiy, Maxímoff (the ethnographer), and several others-in a literary expedition organized by the Grand Duke Constantine for the exploration of Russia and voyages round the world on board ships of the Navy. Grigoróvitch made a very interesting sea-voyage; but his sketches of travel -The Ship Retvizan-cannot be compared with Gontcharóff's Frigate Pallas. On returning from the expedition he abandoned literature to devote himself entirely to art, and he subsequently brought out only a couple of novels and his Reminiscences. He died in 1899.
Grigoróvitch thus published all his chief novels between the years 1846 and 1855. Opinion about his work is divided. Some of our critics speak of it very highly, but others-and they are the greater number-say that his peasants are not quite real. Turguéneff made also the observation that his descriptions are too cold: the heart is not felt in them. This last remark may be true, although the average reader who did not know Grigoróvitch personally hardly would have made it: at any rate, at the time of the appearance of Antón, The Fishermen, etc., the great public judged the author of these works differently. As to his peasants, I will permit myself to make one suggestion. Undoubtedly they are slightly idealized; but it must also be said that the Russian peasantry does not present a compact, uniform mass. Several races have settled upon the territory of European Russia, and different portions of the population have followed different lines of development. The peasant from South Russia is quite different from the Northerner, and the Western peasants differ in every respect from the Eastern ones. Grigoróvitch described chiefly those living directly south of Moscow, in the provinces of Túla and Kalúga, and they are exactly that mild and slightly poetical, downtrodden and yet inoffensive, good-hearted race of peasants that Grigoróvitch described in is novels-a sort of combination of the Lithuanian and the Little-Russian poetical mind, with the Great-Russian communal spirit. Ethnographers themselves see in the populations of this part of Russia a special ethnographical division.
Of course, Turguéneff's peasants (Túla and Oryól) are more real, his types are more definite, and every one of the modem folk-novelists, even of the less talented, has gone much further than Grigoróvitch did into the depths of peasant character and life. But such as they were, the novels of Grigoróvitch exercised a profound influence on a whole generation. They made us love the peasants and feel how heavy was the indebtedness towards them which weighed upon us-the educated part of society. They powerfully contributed towards creating a general feeling in favor of the serfs, without which the abolition of serfdom would have certainly been delayed for many years to come, and assuredly would not have been so sweeping as it was. And at a later epoch his work undoubtedly contributed to the creation of that movement " towards the people " (v naród) which took place in the seventies. As to the literary influence of Grigoróvitch, it was such that it may be questioned whether Turguéneff would ever have been bold enough to write as he did about the peasants, in his Sportsman's Note Book, or Nekrásoff to compose his passionate verses about the people, if they had not had a forerunner in him.
Another writer of the same school, who also produced a deep impression on the very eve of the liberation of the serfs, was Mme. MARIE MÁRKOVITCH, who wrote under the pseudonym Of MARKO VOVTCHÓK. She was a Great Russian-her parents belonged to the nobility of Central Russia -but she married the Little-Russian writer, MÁRKOVITCH, and her first book of stories from peasant-life (1857-58) was written in excellent Little Russian. (Turguéneff translated them into Great Russian.) She soon returned, however, to her native tongue, and her second book of peasant stories, as well as her subsequent novels from the life of the educated classes, were written in Great Russian.
At the present time the novels of Márko Vovtchók may seem to be too sentimental-the world-famed novel of Harriett Beecher Stowe produces the same impression nowadays -but in those years, when the great question for Russia was whether the serfs should be freed or not, and when all the best forces of the country were needed for the struggle in favor of their emancipation-in those years all educated Russia read the novels of Márko Vovtchók with delight, and wept over the fate of her peasant heroines. However, apart from this need of the moment-and art is bound to be at the service of society in such crises-the sketches of Márko Vovtchók had serious qualities. Their "sentimentalism" was not the sentimentalism of the be. ginning of the nineteenth century, behind which was concealed an absence of real feeling. A loving heart throbbed in them; and there is in them real poetry, inspired by the poetry of the Ukrainian folklore and its popular songs. With these, Mme. Maacute;rkovitch was so familiar that, as has been remarked by Russian critics, she supplemented her imperfect knowledge of real popular life by introducing in a masterly manner many features inspired by the folklore and the popular songs of Little Russia. Her heroes were invented, but the atmosphere of a Little-Russian village, the colors of local life, are in these sketches; and the soft poetical sadness of the Little-Russian peasantry is rendered with the tender touch of a woman's hand.
Among the novelists of that period DANILÉVSKIY (1829-1890) must also be mentioned. Although he is better known as a writer of historical romances, his three long novels, The Runaways in Novoróssiya ( 1862), Freedom, or The Runways Returned (1863), and New Territories (1867)-all dealing with the free settlers in Bessarabia-were widely read. They contain lively and very sympathetic scenes from the life of these settlers-mostly runaway serfs-who occupied the free lands, without the consent of the central government, in the newly annexed territories of southwestern Russia, and became the prey of enterprising adventurers.
Notwithstanding all the qualities of their work, Grigoróvitch and Márko Vovtchók failed to realize that the very fact of taking the life of the poorer classes as the subject of novels, ought to imply the working out of a special literary manner. The usual literary technique evolved for the novel which deals with the leisured classes-with its mannerism, its "heroes," poetized now, as the knights used to be poetized in the tales of chivalry-is certainly not the most appropriate for novels treating the life of American squatters or Russian peasants. New methods and a different style had to be worked out; but this was done step by step only, and it would be extremely interesting to show this gradual evolution, from Grigoróvitch to the ultra-realism of Ryeshétnikoff, and finally to the perfection of form attained by the realist-idealist Górkiy in his shorter sketches. Only a few intermediate steps can, however, be indicated in these pages.
I. T. KÓKOREFF (1826-1853) , who died very young, after having written a few tales from the life of the petty artisans in towns, had not freed himself from the sentimentalism of a benevolent outsider; but he knew this life from the inside: he was born and brought up in great poverty among these very people; consequently, the artisans in his novels are real beings, described, as Dobrolúboff said, "with warmth and yet with tender restraint, as if they were his nearest kin." However, "No shriek of despair, no mighty wrath, no mordant irony came out of this tender, patiently suffering heart." There is even a note of reconciliation with the social inequalities.
A considerable step in advance was made by the folknovel in A. TH. PÍSEMSKIY (1820-1881), and A. A. POTYEKHIN (born 18 29), although neither of them was exclusively a folk-novelist. Písemskiy was a contemporary of Turguéneff, and at a certain time of his career it seemed as if he were going to take a place by the side of Turguéneff, Tolst&oacut;y and Gontcharóff. He undoubtedly possessed a great talent. There was power and real life in whatever he wrote, and his novel, A Thousand Souls, appearing on the eve of the emancipation of the serfs (1858), produced a deep impression. It was fully appreciated in Germany as well, where it was translated the next year. But Písemskiy was not a man of principle, and this novel was his last serious and really good production. When the great Radical and Nihilist movement took place (1858-1864), and it became necessary to take a definite position amid the sharp conflict of opinions, Písemskiy, who was deeply pessimistic in his judgment of men and ideas, and considered "opinions" as a mere cover for narrow egotism of the lowest sensual sort, took a hostile position towards this movement, and wrote such novels as The Unruly Sea, which were mere libels upon the young generation. This was, of course, the death of his by no means ordinary talent.
Písemskiy wrote also, during the early part of his literary career, a few tales from the life of the peasants (The Carpenters' Artel, The St. Petersburg Man, etc.), and a drama, from village life, A Bitter Fate, all of which have a real literary value. He displayed in them a knowledge of peasant life and a mastery of the spoken, popular Russian language, together with a perfectly realistic perception of peasant character. There was no trace of the idealization which is so strongly felt in the later productions of Grigoróvitch, written under the influence of George Sand. The steady, commonsense peasant characters that Písemskiy pictured are taken from a real, sound observation of life, and rival the best peasant characters of Turguéneff. As to the drama of Písemskiy (he was, by the way, a very good actor), it loses nothing from comparison with the best dramas of Ostróvskiy, and is more tragic than any of them, while in powerful realism it is by no means inferior to Tolstóy's Power of Darkness, with which it has much in common, and which it perhaps surpasses in its stage qualities.
The chief work of Potyékhin was his comedies, memtioned in the preceding chapter. All of them are from the life of the educated classes, but he wrote also a few less known dramas from the peasant life, and twice-in his early career in the fifties, and later on in the seventies-he turned to the writing of short stories and novels from popular life.
These stories and novels are most characteristic of the evolution of the folk-novel during those years. In his earlier tales Potyékhin was entirely under the spell of the then prevailing manner of idealizing the peasants; but in his second period, after having lived through the years of realism in the sixties, and taken part in the above-mentioned ethnographic expedition, he changed his manner. He entirely got rid of benevolent idealization, and represented the peasants as they were. In the creation of individual characters he was undoubtedly successful, but the life of the village-the mir-without which Russian village-life cannot be represented, and which so well appears in the works of the later folk-novelists, is yet missing. Altogether one feels that Potyékhin knew well the outer symptoms of the life of the Russian peasants, including their way of talking, but that he had not yet grasped the real soul of the peasant. This came only later on.
Serfdom was abolished in 1861, and the time for mere lamentation over its evils was gone. Proof that the peasants were human beings, accessible to all human feelings, was no longer needed. New and far deeper problems concerning the life and ideals of the Russian people rose before every thinking Russian. Here was a mass of nearly fifty million people, whose manners of life, whose creed, ways of thinking, and ideals were totally different from those of the educated classes, and who at the same time were as unknown to the would-be leaders of progress as if these millions spoke a quite different language and belonged to a quite different race.
Our best men felt that all the future development of Russia would be hampered by that ignorance, if it continued-and literature did its best to answer the great questions which besieged the thinking man at every step of his social and political activity.
The years 1858-1878 were years of the ethnographical exploration of Russia on such a scale that nowhere in Europe or America do we find anything similar. The monuments of old folklore and poetry; the common law of different parts and nationalities of the Empire; the religious beliefs and the forms of worship, and still more the social aspirations characteristic of the many sections of dissenters; the extremely interesting habits and customs which prevail in the different provinces; the economical conditions of the peasants; their domestic trades; the immense communal fisheries in southeastern Russia; the thousands of forms taken by the popular coöperative organizations (the Artels) ; the "inner colonization" of Russia, which can only be compared with that of the United States; the evolution of ideas of landed property, and so on-all these became the subjects of extensive research.
The great ethnographical expedition organized by the Grand Duke Constantine, in which a number of our best writers took part, was only the forerunner of many expeditions, great and small, which were organized by the numerous Russian scientific societies for the detailed study of Russia's ethnography, folklore, and economics. There were men like YAKÚSHKIN (182o-1872), who devoted all his life to wandering on foot from village to village, dressed like the poorest peasant, and without any sort of thought of to-morrow; drying his wet peasant cloth on his shoulders after a day's march under the rain, living with the peasants in their poor huts, and collecting folk-songs or ethnographic material of the highest value.
A special type of the Russian "intellectuals" developed in the so-called "Song-Collectors," and "Zemstvo Statisticians," a group of people, old and young, who during the last twenty-five years have as volunteers and at a ridiculously small price, devoted their lives to house-to-house inquiry in behalf of the County Councils. (A. Oertel has admirably described these "Statisticians" in one of his novels.)
Suffice it to say that, according to A. N. PÝPIN, the author of an exhaustive History of Russian Ethnography (4 vols.), not less than 4000 large works and bulky review articles were published during the twenty years, 1858-1878, half of them dealing with the economical conditions of the peasants, and the other half with ethnography in its wider sense; and research still continues on the same scale. The best of all this movement has been that it has not ended in dead material in official publications. Some of the reports, like MAXíMOFF's A Year in the North, Siberia and Hard Labor, and Tramping Russia, AFANÁSIEFF (Legends), ZHELEZNÓFF'S Ural Cossacks, MÉLNIKOFF'S (PETCHÉRSKY), In the Woods and On the Mountains, or MORDÓVTSEFF'S many sketches, were so well written that they were as widely read as the best novels; while the dry satistical reports were summed up in lively review articles (in Russia the reviews are much more bulky, and the articles much longer than in England), which were widely read and discussed all over the country. Besides, admirable researches dealing with special classes of people, regions, and institutions were made by men like PRUGÁVIN, ZASÓDIMSKIY, PYZHÓFF (History of the Public Houses, which is in fact a popular history of Russia).
Russian educated society, which formerly hardly knew the peasants otherwise than from the balcony of their country houses, was thus brought in a few years into a close inter course with all divisions of the toiling masses; and it is easy to understand the influence which this intercourse exercised, not only upon the development of political ideas, but also upon the whole character of Russian literature.
The idealized novel of the past was now outgrown. The representation of "the dear peasants" as a background for opposing their idyllic virtues to the defects of the educated classes was possible no more. The taking of the people as a mere material for burlesque tales, as NICHOLAS USPÉNSKIY and V. A. SLYEPTSÓFF tried to do, enjoyed but a momentary success. A new, eminently realistic school of folk-novelists was wanted. And the result was the appearance of quite a number of writers who broke new ground and, by cultivating a very high conception concerning the duties of art in the representation of the poorer, uneducated classes, opened, I am inclined to think, a new page in the evolution of the novel for the literature of all nations.
The clergy in Russia-that is, the priests, the deacons, the cantors, the bell-ringers-represent a separate class which stands between "the classes" and "the masses"-much nearer to the latter than to the former. This is especially true as regards the clergy in the villages, and it was still more so some fifty years ago. Receiving no salary, the village priest, with his deacon and cantors, lived chiefly by the cultivation of the land that was attached to the village church; and in my youth, in our Central Russia ncighbourhood, during the hot summer months when they were hay-making or taking in the crops, the priest would always hurry through the mass in order to return to their field-work. The priest's house was in those years a log-house, only a little better built than the houses of the peasants, alongside which it stood sometimes thatched, instead of being simply covered with straw, that is, held in position by means of straw ropes. His dress differed from that of the peasants more by its cut than by the materials it was made of, and between the church services and the fulfillment of his parish duties the priest might always be seen in the fields, following the plow or working in the meadows with the scythe.
All the children of the clergy receive free education in special clerical schools, and later on, some of them, in seminaries; and it was by the description of the abominable educational methods which prevailed in these schools in the forties and fifties that POMYALÓVSKIY (1835-1863) acquired his notoriety. He was the son of a poor deacon in a village near St. Petersburg, and had himself passed through one of these schools and a seminary. Both the lower and the higher schools were then in the hands of quite uneducated priests-chiefly monks-and the most absurd learning by rote of the most abstract theology was the rule. The general moral tone of the schools was extremely low, drinking went on to excess, and flogging for every lesson not recited by heart, sometimes two or three times a day, with all sorts of refinements of cruelty-was the chief instrument of education. Pomyalóvskiy passionately loved his younger brother and wanted at all hazards to save him from such an experience as his own; so he began to write for a pedagogical review, on the education given in the clerical schools, in order to get the means to educate his brother in a gymnasium. A most powerful novel, evidently taken from real life in these schools, followed, and numbers of priests, who had themselves been the victims of a like "education," wrote to the papers to confirm what Pomyalóvskiy had said. Truth, without any decoration, naked truth, with an absolute negation of art for art's sake, were the distinctive features of Pomyalóvskiy, who went so far in this direction as even to part with the so-called heroes. The men whom he described were, not sharply outlined types, but, if I may be permitted to express myself in this way, the "neutral-tint" types of real life: those indefinite, not too good and not too bad characters of whom mankind is mostly composed, and whose inertia is everywhere the great obstacle to progress.
Besides his sketches from the life of the clerical schools,
Pomyalóvskiy wrote also two novels from the life of the poorer middle classes: Philistine Happiness, and Mólotoff--which is autobiographic to a great extent--and an unfinished larger novel, Brother and Sister. He displayed in these works the same broad humanitarian spirit as Dostoyévskiy had for noticing humane redeeming features in the most degraded men and women, but with the sound realistic tendency which made the distinctive feature of the young literary school of which he was one of the founders. And he depicted also, in an extraordinarily powerful and tragic manner, the hero from the poorer classes-who is imbued with hatred towards the upper classes and toward all forms of social life which exist for their advantage-and yet has not the faith in his own possibilities, which knowledge gives, and which a real force always has. Therefore this hero ends, either in a philistine family idyll, or, this failing, in a propaganda of reckless cruelty and of contempt towards all mankind, as the only possible foundation for personal happiness.
These novels were full of promise, and Pomyalóvskiy was looked upon as the future leader of a new school of literature; but he died, even before he had reached the age of thirty.
RYESHÉTNIKOFF (1841-1870) went still further in the same direction, and, with Pomyalóvskiy, he may be considered as the founder of the ultra-realistic school of Russian folk-novelists. He was born in the Uráls and was the son of a poor church cantor who became a postman. The family was in extreme poverty. An uncle took him to the town of Perm, and there he was beaten and thrashed all through his childhood. When he was ten years old they sent him to a miserable clerical school, where he was treated even worse than at his uncle's. He ran away, but was caught, and they flogged the poor child so awfully that he had to lie in a hospital for two months. As soon as he was taken back to school he ran away a second time, joining a band of tramping beggars. He suffered terribly during his peregrinations with them, and was caught once more, and again flogged in the most barbarous way. His uncle also was a postman, and Ryeshétnikoff, having nothing to read, used to steal newspapers from the Post Office, and after reading them, he destroyed them. This was, however, discovered, the boy having destroyed some important Imperial manifesto addressed to the local authorities. He was brought before a Court and condemned to be sent to a monastery for a few months (there were no reformatories then). The monks were kind to him, but they led a most dissolute life, drinking excessively, overeating, and stealing away from the monastery at night, and they taught the boy to drink. In spite of all this, after his release from the monastery Ryeshétnikoff passed brilliantly the examinations in the district school, and was received as a clerk in the Civil Service, at a salary of six shillings, and later on, half-a-guinea per month. This meant, of course, the most wretched poverty, because the young man took no bribes, as all clerks in those times were accustomed to do. The arrival of a "revisor" at Perm saved him. This gentleman employed Ryeshétnikoff as a copyist, and, having come to like him, gave him the means to move to St. Petersburg, where he found him a position as clerk in the Ministry of Finance at almost double his former salary. Ryeshétnikoff had begun to write already, at Perm, and he continued to do so at St. Petersburg, sending contributions to some of the lesser newspapers, until he made the acquaintance of Nekrásoff. Then he published his novel, Podlíl;povtsy, in The Contemporary (Ceux de Podlipnaïa, in a French translation).
Ryeshétnikoff's position in literature is quite unique. "The sound truth of Ryeshétnikoff"-in these words Turguéneff characterized his writings. It is truth, indeed, nothing but truth, without any attempt at decoration or lyric effects-a sort of diary in which the men with whom the author lived in the mining works of the Urals, in his Permian village, or in the slums of St. Petersburg, are described. "Podlípovtsy" means the inhabitants of a small village Podlípnaya, lost somewhere in the mountains of the Uráls. They are Permians, not yet quite Russified, and are still in the stage which so many populations of the Russian Empire are living through nowadays-namely the early agricultural. Few of them have for more than two months a year pure rye-bread to eat: the remaining ten months they are compelled to add the bark of trees to their flour in order to have "bread" at all. They have not the slightest idea of what Russia is, or of the State, and very seldom do they see a priest. They hardly know how to cultivate the land. They do not know how to make a stove, and periodical starvation during the months from January to July has taken the very soul and heart out of them. They stand on a lower level than real savages.
One of their best men, Pilá, knows how to count up to five, but the others are unable to do so. Pilá's conceptions of space and time are of the most primitive description, and yet this Pilá is a born leader of his semi-savage village people, and is continually making something for them. He tells them when it is time to plow; he tries to find a sale for their small domestic industries; he knows how to go to the next town, and when there is anything to be done there, he does it. His relations with his family, which consists of an only daughter, Apróska, are at a stage belonging to prehistorical anthropology, and yet he and his friend Sysói love that girl Apróska so deeply, that after her death they are ready to kill themselves. They abandon their village to lead the hard life of boatmen on the river, dragging the heavy boats up the current. But these semi-savages are deeply human, and one feels that they are so, not merely because the author wants it, but in reality; and one cannot read the story of their lives and the sufferings which they endure, with the resignation of a patient beast, without being moved at times even more deeply than by a good novel from our own life.
Another novel of Ryeshétnikoff, The Glúmoffs, is perhaps one of the most depressing novels in this branch of literature. There is nothing striking in it-no misfortunes, no calamities, no dramatic effects; but the whole life of the ironworkers of the Uráls, who are described in this novel, is so gloomy, there is so little possibility of possible escape from this gloominess, that sheer despair seizes you, as you gradually realize the immobility of the life which this novel represents. In Among Men Ryeshétnikoff tells the story of his own terrible childhood. As to his larger two-volume novel Where is it Better?-it is an interminable string of misfortunes which befell a woman of the poorer classes, who came to St. Petersburg in search of work. We have here (as well as in another long novel, One's Own Bread) the same shapelessness and the same absence of strongly depicted characters as in The Glúmoffs, and we receive the same gloomy impression.
The literary defects of all Ryeshétnikoff's work are only too evident. Yet in spite of them, he may claim to be considered as the initiator of a new style of novel, which has its artistic value, notwithstanding its want of form and the ultra-realism of both its conception and structure. Ryeshétnikoff certainly could not inspire a school of imitators; but he has given hints to those who came after him as to what must be done to create the true folk-novel, and what must be avoided. There is not the slightest trace of romanticism in his work; no heroes; nothing but that great, indifferent, hardly individualized crowd, among which there are no striking colors, no giants; all is small; all interests are limited to a microscopically narrow neighborhood. In fact, they all center round the all-dominating question, Where to get food and shelter, even at the price of unbearable toil. Every person described has, of course, his individuality; but all these individualities are merged into one single desire: that of finding a living which shall not be sheer misery-shall not consist of days of well-being alternating with days of starvation. How lessen the hardships of work which is beyond a man's forces? how find a place in the world where work shall not be done amid such degrading conditions? these questions make the unanimity of purpose among all these men and women.
There are, I have just said, no heroes in Ryeshétnikoff's novels: that means, no "heroes" in our usual literary sense; but you see before you real Titans-real heroes in the primitive sense of the word-heroes of endurance-such as the species must produce when, a shapeless crowd, it bitterly struggles against frost and hunger. The way in which these heroes support the most incredible physical privations as they tramp from one part of Russia to another, or have to face the most cruel deceptions in their search for work-the way they struggle for existence-is already striking enough; but the way in which they die, is perhaps even more striking. Many readers remember, of course, Tolstóy's Three Deaths: the lady dying from consumption, and cursing her illness, the peasant who in his last hours thinks of his boots, and directs to whom they shall be given, so that they may go to the toiler most in need of them; and the third-the death of the birch tree. For Ryeshétnikoff's heroes, who live all their lives without being sure of bread for the morrow, death is not a catastrophe: it simply means less and less force to get one's food, less and less energy to chew one's dry piece of bread, less and less bread, less oil in the lamp-and the lamp is blown out.
Another most terrible thing in Ryeshétnikoff's novels is his picture of how the habit of drunkenness takes possession of men, You see it coming-see how it must come, organically, necessarily, fatally-how it takes possession of the man, and how it holds him till his death. This Shakespearian fatalism applied to drink-whose workings are only too well known to those who know popular life-is perhaps the most terrible feature of Ryeshétnikoffs novels. Especially is it apparent in The G1úmoffs, where you see how the teacher in a mining town, because he refuses to join the administration in exploitation of children, is deprived of all means of living and although he marries in the long run a splendid woman, sinks at last into the clutches of the demon of habitual drunkenness. Only the women do not drink, and that saves the race from utter destruction; in fact, nearly every one of Ryeshétnikoff's women is a heroine of persevering labor, of struggle for the necessities of life, as the female is in the whole animal world; and such the women are in real popular life in Russia.
If it is very difficult to avoid romantic sentimentalism, when the author who describes the monotony of the everyday life of a middle-class crowd intends to make the reader sympathize nevertheless with this crowd, the difficulties are still greater when he descends a step lower in the social scale and deals with peasants, or, still worse, with those who belong to the lowest strata of city life. The most realistic writers have fallen into sentimentalism and romanticism when they attempted to do this. Even Zola in his last novel, Work, falls into the trap. But that is precisely what Ryeshétnikoff never did. His writings are a violent protest against esthetics, and even against all sorts of conventional art. He was a true child of the epoch characterized by Turguéneff in Bazároff. "I do not care for the form of my writings: truth will speak for itself," he seems to say to his readers. He would have felt ashamed if, even unconsciously, he had resorted anywhere to dramatic effects in order to touch his readers-just as the public speaker who entirely relies upon the beauty of the thought he develops would feel ashamed if some merely oratorical expression escaped his lips.
For myself, I think that a great creative genius was required in order to pick, as Ryeshétnikoff did, out of the everyday, monotonous life of the crowd, those trifling expressions, those exclamations, those movements expressive of some feelings or some idea without which his novels would have been quite unreadable. It has been remarked by one of our critics that when you begin to read a novel of Ryeshétnikoff you seem to have plunged into a chaos. You have the description of a commonplace landscape, which, in fact, is no "landscape" at all; then the future hero or heroine of the novel appears, and he or she is a person whom you may see in every crowd-with no claims to rise above this crowd, with hardly anything even to distinguish him or her from the crowd. This hero speaks, eats, drinks, works, swears, as everyone else in the crowd does. He is not a chosen creature-he is not a demoniacal character-a Richard Ill. in a fustian jacket; nor is she a Cordelia or even a Dickens' "Nell." Ryeshétnikoff's men and women are exactly like thousands of men and women around them; but gradually, owing to those very scraps of thought, to an exclamation, to a word dropped here and there, or even to a slight movement that is mentioned-you begin to feel interested in them. After thirty pages you feel that you are already decidedly in sympathy with them and you are so captured that you read pages and pages of these chaotic details with the sole purpose of solving the question which begins passionately to interest you: Will Peter or Anna find to-day the piece of bread which they long to have? Will Mary get the work which might procure her a pinch of tea for her sick andhalf crazy mother? Will the woman Praskóvia freeze during that bitterly cold night when she is lost in the streets of St. Petersburg or will she be taken at last to a hospital where she may have a warm blanket and cup of tea? Will the postman abstain from the "fire-water," and will he get a situation, or not?
Surely, to obtain this result with such unconventional means reveals a very great talent; it means, to possess that power of moving one's readers-of making them love and hate-which makes the very essence of literary talent; and this is why those shapeless, and much too long, and much too dreary novels of Ryeshétnikoff make a landmark in Russian literature, and are the precursors not only of a Gókiy, but, most surely, of a greater talent still.
Another folk-novelist of the same generation was LEVÍTOFF (1835 or 1842-1877). He described chiefly those portions of southern Middle Russia which are in the border-land between the wooded parts of the country and the treeless prairies. His life was extremely sad. He was born in the family of a poor country priest in a village of the province of Tambóf, and was educated in a clerical school of the type described by Pomyalóvskiy. When he was only sixteen he went on foot to Moscow, in order to enter the university, and then moved to St. Petersburg. There he was soon involved in some "students' affair," and was exiled, in 1858, to Shenkúrsk, in the far north, and next removed to Vólogda. Here he lived in complete isolation from everything intellectual, and in awful poverty verging on starvation. Not until three years later was he allowed to return to Moscow, and, being absolutely penniless, he made all the journey from Vólogda to Moscow on foot, earning occasionally a few shillings by clerical work done for the cantonal Board of some village. These years of exile left a deep trace upon all his subsequent life, which he passed in extreme poverty, never finding a place where he could settle, and drowning in drink the sufferings of a loving, restless soul.
During his early childhood he was deeply impressed by the charm and quiet of village life in the prairies, and he wrote later on: "This quietness of village life passes before me, or rather flies, as something really living, as a well defined image. Yes, I distinctly see above our daily life in the village, somebody gliding-a little above the cross of our church, together with the light clouds-somebody light and soft of outline, having the mild and modest face of our prairie girls.". . . Thus, after many years spent amid the untold sufferings of my present existence, do I represent to myself the genius of country life."
The charm of the boundless prairies of South Russia-the Steppes-is so admirably rendered by Levítoff that no Russian author has surpassed him in the poetical description of their nature, excepting Koltsóff in his poetry. Levítoff was a pure flower of the Steppes, full of the most poetical love of his birthplace, and he certainly must have suffered deeply when he was thrown amid the intellectual proletarians in the great, cold, and egotistic capital of the Nevá. Whenever he stayed at St. Petersburg or at Moscow he always lived in the poorest quarters, somewhere on the outskirts of the town: they reminded him of his native village; and when he thus settled among the lowest strata of the population, he did so, as he wrote himself, "to run away from the moral contradictions, the artificiality of life, the would-be humanitarianism, and the cut and dried imaginary superiority of the educated classes." He could not live, for even a couple of months in succession, in relative well-being: he began to feel the gnawings of conscience, and it ended in his leaving behind his extremely poor belongings and going somewhere-anywhere where he would be poorer still, amid other poor who live from hand to mouth.
I do not even know if I am right in describing Levítoff's works as novels. They are more like shapeless, lyrical-epical improvizations in prose. Only in these improvizations we have not the. usual hackneyed presentment of the writer's compassion for other people's sufferings. It is an epical description of what the author has lived through in his close contact with all classes of people of the poorest sort, and its lyric element is the sorrow that he himself knew-not in imagination-as he lived that same life; the sorrow of want, offamily troubles, of hopes unsatisfied, of isolation, of all sorts, of oppression, and of all sorts of human weakness. The pages which he has given to the feelings of the drunken man and to the ways in which this disease-drunkenness-takes possession of men, are something really terrible. Of course, he died young-from an inflammation of the lungs caught one day in January, as he went in an old summer coat to get ten shillings from some petty editor at the other end of Moscow.
The best known work of Levítoff is a volume of Sketches from the Steppes; but he has also written scenes from the life of the towns, under the title of Moscow Dens and Slums, Street Sketches, etc., and a volume to which some of his friends must have given the title of Sorrows of the Villages, the High Roads, and the Towns. In the second of these works we find a simply terrifying collection of tramps and outcasts of the large cities-of men sunk to the lowest level of city slum-life, represented without the slightest attempt at idealizing them-and yet deeply human, Sketches from the Steppes remains his best work. It is a collection of poems, written in prose, full of the most admirable descriptions of prairie nature and of tiny details from the life of the peasants, with all their petty troubles, their habits, customs, and superstitions. Plenty of personal reminiscences are scattered through these sketches, and one often finds in them a scene of children playing in the meadows of the prairies and living in accordance with the life of nature, in which every little trait is pictured with a warm, tender love; and almost every. where one feels the unseen tears of sorrow, shed by the author.
Among the several sketches of the life and work of Levítoff there is one-written with deep feeling and containing charming idyllic features from his childhood as well as a terrible account of his later years-by A. Skabitchévskiy, in his History of Modern Russian Literature.
GLEB USPÉNSKIY (1840-19O2) widely differs from all the preceding writers. He represents a school in himself, and I know of no writer in any literature with whom he might be compared. Properly speaking, he is not a novelist; but his work is not enthnography or demography either, because it contains, besides descriptions belonging to the domain of folk-psychology, all the elements of a novel. His first productions were novels with a leaning towards ethnography. Thus, Ruin is a novel in which Uspénskiy admirably described how all the life of a small provincial town, which had flourished under the habits and manners of serfdom, went to ruin after the. abolition of that institution: but his later productions, entirely given to village life, and representing the full maturity of his talent, had more the character of ethnographic sketches, written by a gifted novelist, than of novels proper. They began like novels. Different persons appear before you in the usual way, and gradually you grow interested in their doings and their life. Moreover, they are not offered you haphazard, as they would be in the diary of an ethnographer; they have been chosen by the author because he considers them typical of those aspects of village life which he intends to deal with. However, the author is not satisfied with merely acquainting the reader with these types: he soon begins to discuss them and to talk about their position in village life and the influence they must exercise upon the future of the village; and, being already interested in the people, you read the discussions with interest. Then some admirable scene, which would not be out of place in a novel of Tolstóy or Turguéneff, is introduced; but after a few pages of such artistic creation. Uspénskiy becomes again an ethnographer discussing the future of the village- community.He was too much a political writer to always think in images and to be a pure novelist, but he was also too passionately impressed by the individual facts which came under his observation to calmly discuss them, as the merely political writer would do. In spite of all this, notwithstanding this mixture of political literature with art, because of his artistic gifts, you read Uspénskiy just as you read a good novelist.
Every movement among the educated classes in favor of the poorer classes begins by an idealization of the latter. It being necessary to clear away, first of all, a number of prejudices which exist among the rich as regards the poor, some idealization is unavoidable. Therefore, the earlier folk-novelist takes only the most striking types-those whom the wealthier people can better understand and sympathize with; and he lightly passes over the less sympathetic features of the life of the poor. This was done in the forties in France and England, and in Russia by Grigoróvitch, Márko Vovtchók, and several others. Then came Ryeshétnikoff with his artistic Nihilisin: with his negation of all the usual tricks of art, and his objectivism; his blunt refusal to create "types" and his preference for the quite ordinary man; his manner of transmitting to you his love of his people, merely through the suppressed intensity of his own emotion. Later on, new problems arose for Russian literature. The readers were now quite ready to sympathize with the individual peasant or factory worker; but they wanted to know something more: namely, what were the very foundations, the ideals, the springs of village life? what were they worth in the further development of the nation? what, and in what form, could the immense agricultural population of Russia contribute to the further development of the country and the civilized world altogether? All such questions could not be answered by the statistician alone; they required the genius of the artist, who must decipher the reply out of the thousands of small indications and facts, and our folk-novelists understood this new demand of the reader. A rich collection of individual peasant types having already been given, it was now the life of the village-the mir, with its advantages and drawbacks, and its promises for the future-that the readers were anxious to find in the folk-novel. These were the questions which the new generation of folk-novelists undertook to discuss.
In this venture they were certainly right. It must not be forgotten that in the last analysis every economical and social question is a question of psychology of both the individual and the social aggregation. It cannot be solved by arithmetic alone. Therefore, in social science, as in human pyschology, the poet often sees his way better than the physiologist. At any rate, he too has his voice in the matter.
When Uspénskiy began writing his first sketches of village life-it was in the early seventies-Young Russia was in the grip of the great movement "towards the people," and it must be owned that in this movement, as in every other, there was some idealization. Those who did not know village-life at all cherished exaggerated, idyllic illusions about the villagecommunity. In all probability Uspénskiy, who was born in a large industrial town, Túla, in the family of a small functionary and hardly knew country life at all, shared these illusions to some extent, very probably in their most extreme aspect; and still preserving them he went to a province of southeastern Russia, Samára, which had lately become the prey of modern commercialism, and where, owing to a number of peculiar circumstances, the abolition of serfdom had been accomplished under conditions specially ruinous to the peasants and to village-life altogether. Here he must have suffered intensely from seeing his youthful dreams vanishing; and, as artists often do, he hastened to generalize; but he had not the education of the thorough ethnographer, which might have prevented him from making too hasty ethnological generalizations from his limited materials, and he began to write a series of scenes from village-life, imbued with a deep pessimism. It was only much later on, while staying in a village of Northern Russia, in the province of Nóvgorod, that he came to understand the influences which the culture of the land and life in an agricultural village may exercise upon the tiller of the soil; then only had he some glimpses of what are the social and moral forces of land cultivation and communal life, and of what free labor on a free soil might be. These observations inspired Uspénskiv with perhaps the best thing he wrote, The Power of the Soil (1882). It will remain, at any rate, his most important contribution in this domain the artist appearing here in all the force of his talent and in his true function of explaining the inner springs of a certain mood of life.
One of the great questions of the day for Russia is, whether we shall abolish the communal ownership of the land, as it has been abolished in Western Europe, and introduce instead of it individual peasant proprietorship; or whether we shall endeavor to retain the village community, and do our best to develop it further in the direction of coöperative associations, both agricultural and industrial. A great struggle goes on accordingly among the educated classes of Russia upon this question, and in his first Samára sketches, entitled From a Village Diary, Uspénskiy paid a great deal of attention to this subject. He tried to prove that the village community, such as it is, results in a formidable oppression of the individual, in a hampering of individual initiative, in all sorts of oppression of the poorer peasants by the richer ones, and, consequently, in general poverty. He omitted, however, all the arguments which these same poorer peasants, if they should be questioned, would bring forward in favor of the present communal ownership of the land; and he attributed to this institution what is the result of other general causes, as may be seen from the fact that exactly the same poverty, the same inertia, and the same oppression of the individual, are found in an even greater degree in Little Russia, where the village community has ceased to exist long since. Uspénskiy thus expressed-at least in those sketches which dealt with the villages of Samára-the views which prevail among the middle classes of Western Europe, and are current in Russia among the growing village bourgeoisie.
This attitude called forth a series of replies from another folk-novelist of an equally great talent, ZLATOVRÁTSKIY (born 1845), who answered each sketch of Uspénskiy's by a novel in which he took the extreme opposite view. He had known peasant life in Middle Russia from his childhood; and the less illusions he had about it, the better was he able, when he began a serious study of the peasants, to see the good features of their lives, and to understand those types of them who take to heart the interests of the village as a whole-types that I also well knew in my youth in the same provinces.
Zlatovrátskiy was accused, of course, of idealizing the peasants; but the reality is, that Uspénskiy and Zlatovrátskiy complement each other. Just as they complement each other geographically-the latter speaking for the truly agricultural region of Middle Russia, while Uspénskiy spoke for the periphery of this region-so also they complement each other psychologically. Uspénskiy was right in showing the drawbacks of the village community institution-deprived of its vitality by an omnipotent bureaucracy; and Zlatovrátskiy was quite right, too, in showing what sort of men are nevertheless bred by the village-communal institutions and by attachment to the land, and what services they could render to the rural masses under different conditions of liberty and independence.
Zlatovrátskiy's novels are thus an important ethnographical contribution, and they have at the same time an artistic value. His Everyday Life in the Village, and perhaps even more his Peasant Jurymen (since 1864, the peasant heads of households have acted in turn as jurors in the law courts), are full of the most charming scenes of village-life; while his Foundations represents a serious attempt at grasping in a work of art the fundamental conceptions of Russian rural life. In this last work we also find types of men, who personify the revolt of the peasant against both external oppres. sion and the submissiveness of the mass to that oppressionmen, who, under favorable conditions might become the initiators of movements of a deep purport. That types have not been invented will be agreed by everyone who knows Russian village-life from the inside.
The writers who have been named in the preceding pages are: far from representing the whole school of folk-novelists. Not only has every Russian novelist of the past, from Turguéneff down, been inspired in some of his work by folk life, but some of the best productions of the most prominent contemporary writers, such as Korolénko, Tchéhoff, Oertel and many others (see next chapter), belong to the same category. There are besides quite a number of novelists distinctively of this class, who would be spoken of at some length in any course of Russian literature, but whom, unfortunately, I am compelled to mention in but a few lines.
NAÚMOFF was born at Tobílsk (in 1838) and, settling in Western Siberia after he had received a university education at St. Petersburg, he wrote a series of short novels and sketches in which he described life in West Siberian villages and mining towns. These stories were widely read, owing to their expressive, truly popular language, the energy with which they were imbued, and the striking pictures they contained of the advantage taken of the poverty of the mass by the richer peasants, known in Russia as " mir-eaters" (miroyéd).
ZASÓDIMSKIY (born 1843) belongs to the same period. Like many of his contemporaries, he spent years of his youth in exile, but he remains still the same "populist" that he was in his youth, imbued with the same love of the people and the same faith in the peasants. His Chronicle of the Village Smúrino (1874) and Mysteries of the Steppes (1882) are especially interesting, because Zasódimskiy made in these novels attempts at representing types of intellectual and protesting peasants, true to life, but usually neglected by our folk-novelists. Some of them are rebels who revolt against the conditions of village-life, chiefly in their own, personal interest, while others are peaceful religious propagandists and still others are men who have developed under the influence of educated propagandists.
Another writer who excelled in the representation of the type of "mir-eaters " in the villages of European Russia is SÁLOFF (1843-1902).
PETROPÁVLOVSKIY (1857-1892), who wrote under the pseudonym of KARÓNIN, was, on the other hand, a real poet of village-life and of the cultivation of the fields. He was born in southeastern Russia, in the province of Samara, but was early exiled to the government of Tobólsk, in Siberia, where he was kept many years, and from which he was released only to die soon after from consumption. He gave in his novels and stories several very dramatic types of village "ne'er-do-well's," but the novel which is most typical of his talent is My World. In it he tells how an "intellectual," "rent in twain" and nearly losing his reason in consequence of this dualism, finds inner peace and reconciliation with life when he settles in a village and works in the same almost superhuman way that the peasants do, when hay has to be mown and the crops to be carried in. Thus living the life they live, he is loved by them, and finds a healthy and intelligent girl to love him. This is, of course, to some extent an idyll of village life; but so slight is the idealization, as we know from the experience of those "intellectuals" who went to the villages as equals coming among equals, that the idyll reads almost as a reality.
Several more folk-novelists ought to be mentioned. Such are L. MELSHIN (born 1860), the pseudonym of an exile, "P. YA.," who is also a poet, and who, having been kept for twelve years at hard labor in Siberia as a political convict, has published two volumes of hard-labor sketches, In the World of the Outcasts (a work to put by the side of Dostoyévskiy's Dead House); S. ELPÁTIEVSKIY (born 1854), also an exile, who has given good sketches of Siberian tramps; NEFÉDOFF (1847-1902), an ethnographer who has made valuable scientific researches and at the same time has published excellent sketches of factory and village life, and whose writings are thoroughly imbued with a deep faith in the store of energy and plastic creative power of the masses of the country people; and several others. Every one of these writers deserves, however, more than a short notice, because each has contributed something, either to the comprehension of this or that class of the people, or to the work. ing out of those forms of "idealistic realism " which are best suited for dealing with types taken from the toiling masses, and which has lately made the literary success of Maxim Górkiy.
Few writers have established their reputation so rapidly as MAXIM GÓRKIY. His first sketches (1892-95) were published in an obscure provincial paper of the Caucasus, and were totally unknown to the literary world, but when a short tale of his appeared in a widely-read review, edited by Korolénko, it at once attracted general attention. The beauty of its form, its artistic finish, and the new note of strength and courage which rang through it, brought the young writer immediately into prominence. It became known that "Maxim Górkiy" was the pseudonym of a quiet young man, A. PYÉSHKOFF, who was born in 1868 in Níjniy Nóvgorod, a large town on the Vólga; that his father was a merchant or an artisan, his mother a remarkable peasant woman, who died soon after the birth of her son, and that the boy, orphaned when only nine, was brought up in a family of his father's relatives. The childhood of "Górkiy" must have been anything but happy, for one day he ran away and entered into service on a Vólga river steamer. This took place when he was only twelve. Later on he worked as a baker, became a street porter, sold apples in a street, till at last he obtained the position of clerk at a lawyer's. In 1891 he lived and wandered on foot with the tramps in South Russia, and during these wanderings he wrote a number of short stories, of which the first was pubished in 1892, in a newspaper of Northern Caucasia. The stories proved to be remarkably fine, and when a collection of all that he had hitherto written was published in 1900, in four small volumes, the whole of a large edition was sold in a very short time, and the name of Górkiy took its place-to speak of living novelists only-by the side of those of Korolénko and Tchéhoff, immediately after the name of Leo Tolstóy. In Western Europe and America his reputation was made with the same rapidity as soon as a couple of his sketches were translated into French and German, and re-translated into English.
It is sufficient to read a few of Górkiy's short stories, for instance, Málva, or Tchelkásh, or The Ex-Men or Twenty-Six Men and One Girl, to realize at once the causes of his rapidly won popularity. The men and women he describes are not heroes: they are the most ordinary tramps or slumdwellers; and what he writes are not novels in the proper sense of the word, but merely sketches of life. And yet, in the literature of all nations, including the short stories of Guy de Maupassant and Bret Harte, there are few things in which such a fine analysis of complicated and struggling human feelings is given, such interesting, original, and new characters are so well depicted, and human psychology is so admirably interwoven with a background of naturea calm sea, menacing waves, or endless, sunburnt prairies.
In the first-named story you really see the promontory that juts out into "the laughing waters," that promontory upon which the fisherman has pitched his hut; and you understand why Málva, the woman who loves him and comes to see him every Sunday, loves that spot as much as she does the fisherman himself. And then at every page you are struck by the quite unexpected variety of fine touches with which the love of that strange and complicated nature, Málva, is depicted, or by the unforeseen aspects under which both the ex-peasant fisherman and his peasant-son appear in the short space of a few days. The variety of strokes, refined and brutal, tender and terribly harsh, with which Górkiy pictures human feelings is such that in comparison with his heroes the heroes and heroines of our best novelists seem so simple-so simplified-just like a flower in European decorative art in comparison with a real flower.
Górkiy is a great artist; he is a poet; but he is also a child of all that long series of folk-novelists whom Russia has had for the last half century, and he has utilized their experience: he has found at last that happy combination of realism with idealism for which the Russian folk-novelists have been striving for so many years. Ryeshétnikoff and his school had tried to write novels of an ultra-realistic character without any trace of idealization. They restrained themselves whenever they felt inclined to generalize, to create, to idealize. They tried to write mere diaries, in which events, great and small, important and insignificant, were related with an equal exactitude, without even changing the tone of the narrative. We have seen that in this way, by dint of their talent, they were able to obtain the most poignant effects; but like the historian who vainly tries to be "impartial," yet always remains a party man, they had not avoided the idealization which they so much dreaded. They could not avoid it. A work of art is always personal; do what he may, the author's sympathies will necessarily appear in his creation, and he will always idealize those who answer to them. Grigórovitch and Márko Vovtchók had idealized the all-pardoning patience and the all-enduring submissiveness of me Russian peasant; and Ryeshétnikoff had quite unconsciously, and maybe against his will, idealized the almost supernatural powers of endurance which he had seen in the Urals and in the slums of St. Petersburg. Both had idealized something: the ultra-realist as well as the romantic. Górkiy must have understood the significance of this; at all events he does not object in the least to a certain idealization. In his adherence to truth he is as much of a realist as Ryeshétnikoff; but he idealizes in the same sense as Turguéneff did when he pictured Rúdin, Helen, or Bazároff. He even that we must idealize, and he chooses for idealization the type he admired most among those tramps whom he knew-the rebel. This made his success; it appeared to be exactly what the readers of all nations were unconsciously calling for as a relief from the dull mediocrity and absence of strong individuality all about them.
The stratum of society from which Górkiy took the heroes of his first short stories-and in short stories he appears at his best-is that of the tramps of Southern Russia: men who have broken with regular society, who never accept the yoke of permanent work, laboring only as long as they want to, as "casuals" in the sea-ports on the Black Sea; who sleep in doss-houses or in ravines on the outskirts of the cities, and tramp in the summer from Odessa to the Crimea, and from the Crimea to the prairies of Northern Caucasia, where they are always welcome at harvest time.
That eternal complaint about poverty and bad luck, that helplessness and hopelessness which were the dominant notes with the early folk-novelists, are totally absent from Górkiy's stories. His tramps do not complain. "Everything is all right," one of them says; "no use to whine and complain-that would do no good. Live and endure till you are broken down, or if you are so already-wait for death. This is all the wisdom in the world-do you understand?"
Far from his whining and complaining about the hard lot of his tramps, a refreshing note of energy and courage, which is quite unique in Russian literature, sounds through the stories of Górkiy. His tramps are miserably poor, but they "don't care." They drink, but there is nothing among them nearly approaching the dark drunkenness of despair which we saw in Levítoff. Even the most "down-trodden" one of them-far from making a virtue of his helplessness, as Dostoyévskiy's heroes always did-dreams of reforming the world and making it rich. He dreams of the moment when "we, once 'the poor,' shall vanish, after having enriched the Croesuses with the richness of the spirit and the power of life." (A Mistake, 1, 170.)
Górkiy cannot stand whining; he cannot bear that self-castigation in which other Russian writers so much delight: which Turguéneff's sub-Hamlets used to express so poetically, of which Dostoyévskiy has made a virtue, and of which Russia offers such an infinite variety of examples. Górkiy knows the type, but he has no pity for such men. Better anything than one of those egotistic weaklings who gnaw all the time at their own hearts, compel others to drink with them in order to perorate before them about their "burning souls"; those beings, "full of compassion" which, however, never goes beyond self-commiseration, and "full of love" which is never anything but self-love. Górkiy knows only too well these men who never fail to wantonly ruin the lives of those women who trust them; who do not even stop at murder, like Raskólnikoff, or the brothers Karamázoff, and yet whine about the circumstances which have brought them to it. "What's all this talk about circumstances!" he makes Old Izerghil say. "Everyone makes his own circumstances! I see all sorts of men-but the strong oneswhere are they? There are fewer and fewer noble men!"
Knowing how much the Russian "intellectuals" suffer from this disease of whining, knowing how rare among them are the aggressive idealists, the real rebels, and how numerous on the other hand are the Nezhdánoffs (Turguéneff's Virgin Soil), even among those "politicals" who march with resignation to Siberia, Górkiy does not take his types from among the "intellectuals," for he thinks that they too easily become the "prisoners of life."
In Váreñka Olésova Górky expresses all his contempt for the average "intellectual" of our own days. He introduces to us the interesting type of a girl, full of vitality; a most primitive creature, absolutely untouched by any ideals of liberty and equality, but so full of an intense life, so independent, so much herself, that one cannot but feel greatly
interested in her. She meets with one of those "intellectuals" who know and admire higher ideals, but are weaklings, utterly devoid of the nerve of life. Of course, Váreñka laughs at the very idea of such a man's falling in love with her; and these are the expressions in which Górkiy makes her define the usual hero of Russian novels:
"The Russian hero is always silly and stupid," she says; "he is always sick of something; always thinking about something that cannot be understood, and is himself so miserable, so mi-i-serable! He will think, think, then talk, then he will go and make a declaration of love, and after that he thinks, and thinks again, till he marries. . . And when he is married, he talks all sorts of nonsense to his wife, and then abandons her." (Vàreñka Olèsova, 11, 281.)
Górkiy's favorite type is the "rebel"-the man in full revolt against Society, but at the same time a strong man, a power; and as he has found among the tramps with whom he has lived at least the embryo of this type, it is from this stratum of society that he takes his most interesting heroes.
In Konováloff Górkiy himself gives the psychology, or, rather, a partial psychology, of his tramp hero:-"An 'intellectual' among those whom fate has ill-used-among the ragged, the hungry and embittered half-men and half-beasts with whom the city slums teem"-"Usually a being that can be included in no order," the man who has "been torn from all his moorings, who is hostile to everything and ready to turn upon anything the force of his angry, embittered skepticism" (II, 23). His tramp feels that he has been defeated in life, but he does not seek excuse in circumstances. Konováloff, for instance, will not admit the theory which is in such vogue among the educated ne'er-do-well, namely, that he is the sad product of adverse conditions. "One must be fainthearted indeed," he says, "to become such a man ... .. I live, and something goads me on" . . . but "I have no inner line to follow. . . . do you understand me? I don't know how to say it. I have not that spark in my soul, . . . force, perhaps? Something is missing; that's all!" And when his young friend who has read in books all sorts of excuses for weakness of character mentions "the dark hostile forces round you," Konováloff retorts: "Then make a stand! take a stronger footing! find your ground, and make a stand!"
Some of Górkiy's tramps are, of course, philosophers. They think about human life, and have had opportunities to know what it is. "Everyone," he remarks somewhere, "who has had a struggle to sustain in his life, and has been defeated by life, and now feels cruelly imprisoned amid its squalor, is more of a philosopher than Schopenhauer himself; for abstract thought can never be cast into such a correct and vivid plastic form as that in which is expressed the thought born directly out of suffering." (1, p. 31.) "The knowledge of life among such men is striking," he says again.
Love of nature is, of course, another characterstic feature of the tramp-"Konováloff loved nature with a deep, inarticulate love, which was betrayed only by a glitter in his eyes. Every time he was in the fields, or on the river bank, he became permeated with a sort of peace and love which made him still more like a child. Sometimes he would exclaim looking at the sky: 'Good!' and in this exclamation there was more sense and feeling than in the rhetoric of many poets. . . . Like all the rest, poetry loses its holy simplicity and spontaneity when it becomes a profession." (I, 33-4.)
However, Górkiy's rebel-tramp is not a Nietzsche who ignores everything beyond his narrow egotism, or imagines himself a "man"; the "diseased ambition" of "an intellectual" is required to create the true Nietzsche type. In Górkiy's tramps, as in his women of the lowest class, there are flashes of greatness of character and a simplicity which is incompatible with the super-man's self-conceit. He does not idealize them so as to make of them real heroes; that would be too untrue to life: the tramp is still a defeated being. But he shows how among these men, owing to an inner consciousness of strength, there are moments of greatness, even though that inner force be not strong enough to make out of Orlóff (in The Orlóffs) or lliyá (in The Three) a real power, a real hero-the man who fights against those much stronger than himself. He seems to say: Why are not you, intellectuals, as truly "individual," as frankly rebellious against the Society you criticize, and as strong as some of these submerged ones are?
In his short stories Górkiy is great; but like his two contemporaries, Korolénko and Tchéhoff, whenever he has tried to write a longer novel, with a full development of characters, he has not succeeded. Taken as a whole, Fomá Gordéeff, notwithstanding several beautiful and deeply impressive scenes, is weaker than most of Górkiy's short stories-, and while the first portion of The Three-the idyllic life of the three young people, and the tragical issues foreshadowed in it-makes us expect to find in this novel one of the finest productions in Russian literature-its end is disappointing. The French translator of The Three has even preferred to terminate it abruptly, at the point where Iliyá stands on the grave of the man whom he has killed, rather than to give Górkiy's end of the novel.
Why Górkiy should fail in this direction is, of course, too delicate and too difficult a question to answer. One cause, however, may be suggested. Górkiy, like Tolstóy, is too honest an artist to "invent" an end which the real lives of his heroes do not suggest to him, although that end might have been very picturesque; and the class of men whom he so admirably depicts is not possessed of that consistency and that "oneness" which are necessary to render a work of art perfect and to give it that final accord without which it is never complete.
Take, for instance, Orlóff in The Orlóffs. "My soul burns within me," he says. "I want space, to give full swing to my strength. I feel within me an indomitable force! If the cholera, let us say, could become a man, a giant-were it Iliyá Múromets himself-I would meet it! 'Let it be a struggle to the death,' I would say; 'you are a force, and I, Grishka Orlóff, am a force, too: let us see which is the better!'"
But that power, that force does not last. Orlóff says somewhere that "he is torn in all directions at once," and that his fate is to be-not a fighter of giants, but merely a tramp. And so he ends. Górkiy is too great an artist to make of him a giant-killer. It is the same with Iliyá in The Three. This is a powerful type, and one feels inclined to ask, Why did not Górkiy make him begin a new life under the influence of those young propagandists of socialism whom he meets? Why should he not die, let us say, in one of those encounters between workingmen on strike and soldiers which took place in Russia precisely at the time Górkiy was finishing this novel? But here, too, Górkiy's reply probably would be that such things do not happen in real life. Men, like lliyá, who dream only of the "clean life of a merchant," do not join in labor movements. And he preferred to give a very disappointing end to his hero-to make him appear miserable and small in his attack upon the wife of the police-officer, so as to turn the reader's sympathies towards even this woman -rather than to make of lliyá a prominent figure in a strikeconflict. If it had been possible to idealize lliyá so much, without over-straining the permissible limits of idealization, Górkiy probably would have done it, because he is entirely in favor of idealization in realistic art; but this would have been pure romanticism.
Over and over again he returns to the idea of the necessity of an ideal in the work of the novel-writer. "The cause of the present opinion (in Russian Society) is," he says, "the neglect of idealism. Those who have exiled from life all romanticism have stripped us so as to leave us quite naked: this is why we are so uninteresting to one another, and so disgusted with one another." (A Mistake, I. 151.) And in The Reader (1898), he develops his esthetic canons in full. He tells how one of his earliest productions, on its appearance in print, is read one night before a circle of friends. He receives many compliments for it, and after leaving the house is tramping along a deserted street, feeling for the first time in his existence the happiness of life, when a person unknown to him, and whom he had not noticed among those present at the reading, overtakes him, and begins to talk about the duties of the author.
"You will agree with me," the stranger says, "that the duty of literature is to aid man in understanding himself, to raise his faith in himself, to develop his longing, for truth; to combat what is bad in men; to find what is good in them, and to wake up in their souls shame, anger, courage, to do everything, in short, to render men strong in a noble sense of the word, and capable of inspiring their lives with the holy spirit of beauty." (III, 271.) "It seems to me, we need once more to have dreams, pretty creations of our fancy and visions, because the life we have built up is poor in color, is dim and dull. . . . Well, let us try, perhaps imagination will help to rise for a moment above the earth and find his true place on it, which he has lost," (245.)
But further on Górkiy makes a confession which explains perhaps why be has not yet succeeded in creating a longer character-novel: "I discovered in myself," he says, "many good feelings and desires-a fair proportion of what is usually called good, but a feeling which could unify all this-a well-founded, clear thought, embracing all the phenomena of life-I did not find in myself." And on reading this, one at once thinks of Turguéneff, who saw in such a "freedom," in such a unified comprehension of the universe and its life, the first condition for being a great artist.
"Can you," the Reader goes on to ask, "create for men ever so small an illusion that has the power to raise them? No! " "All of you teachers of the day take more than you give, because you speak only about faults-you see only those. But there must also be good qualities in men: you possess some, don't you? . . . Don't you notice that owing to your continual efforts to define and to classify them, the virtues and the vises have been entangled like two balls of black and white thread which have become gray by taking color from each other?" . . . "I doubt whether God has sent you on earth. If he had sent messengers, he would have chosen stronger men than you are. He would have lighted in them the fire of a passionate love of life, of truth, of men."
"Nothing but everyday life, everyday life, only everyday people, day thoughts and events!" the same pitiless Reader continues. "When will you, then, speak of 'the rebel spirit,' of the necessity of a new birth of the spirit? Where is, then, the calling to the creation of a new life? where the lessons of courage? where the words which would give wings to the soul?"
"Confess you don't know how to represent life, so that your pictures of it shall provoke in a man a redemptive spirit of shame and a burning desire of creating new forms of life. . . . Can you accelerate the pulsation of life? Can you inspire it with energy, as others have done?"
"I see many intelligent men round about me, but few noble ones among them, and these few are broken and suffering souls. I don't know why it should be so, but so it is: the better the man, the cleaner and the more honest his soul, the less energy he, has; the more he suffers and the harder is his life. . . . But although they suffer so much from feeling the want of something better, they have not the force to create it."
"One thing more"-said after an interval my strange interlocutor. "Can you awake in man a laughter full of the joy of life and at the same time elevating to the soul? Look, men have quite forgotten good wholesome laughter!"
"The sense of life is not in self-satisfaction; after all, man is better than that. The sense of life is in the beauty and the force of striving towards some aim; every moment of being ought to have its higher aim." "Wrath, hatred, shame, loathing, and finally a grim despair-these are the levers by means of which you may destroy everything on earth." "What can you do to awake a thirst for life when you only whine, sigh, moan, or coolly point out to man that he is nothing but dust? "
"Oh, for a man, firm and loving, with a burning heart and a powerful all-embracing mind. In the stuffy atmosphere of shameful silence, his prophetic words would resound like an alarm-bell, and perhaps the mean souls of the living dead would shiver!" (253.)
These ideas of Górkiy about the necessity of something better than everyday life-something that shall elevate the soul, fully explain also his last drama, At the Bottom, which has had such a success at Moscow, but played by the very same artists at St. Petersburg met with but little enthusiasm. The idea is the same as that of Ibsen's Wild Duck. The inhabitants of a doss-house, all of them, maintain their life-power only as long as they cherish some illusion: the drunkard actor dreams of recovery in some special retreat; a fallen girl takes refuge in her illusion of real love, and so on. And the dramatic situation of these beings with already so little to retain them in life, is only the more poignant when the illusions are destroyed. The drama is powerful. It must lose, though, on the stage on account of some technical mistakes (a useless fourth act, the unnecessary person of a woman introduced in the first scene and then disappearing); but apart from these mistakes it is eminently dramatic. The positions are really tragical, the action is rapid, and as to the conversations of the inhabitants of the doss-house and their philosophy of life, both are above all praise. Altogether one feels that Górkiy is very far yet from having said his last word. The question is only whether in the classes of society he now frequents he will be able to discover the further developments-undoubtedly existing-of the types which he understands best. Will he find among them further materials responding to the esthetic canons whose following has hitherto been the source of his power?
From : Anarchy Archives
No comments so far. You can be the first!
<< Last Work in Ideals and Realities in Russian Literature
Current Work in Ideals and Realities in Russian Literature
Next Work in Ideals and Realities in Russian Literature >>
All Nearby Works in Ideals and Realities in Russian Literature