Youth, by Leo Tolstoy

XXIX

Relations Between the Girls and Ourselves

OF the girls Woloda took the strange view that, although he wished that they should have enough to eat, should sleep well, be well dressed, and avoid making such mistakes in French as would shame him before strangers, he would never admit that they could think or feel like human beings, still less that they could converse with him sensibly about anything. Whenever they addressed to him a serious question (a thing, by the way, which he always tried to avoid), such as asking his opinion on a novel or inquiring about his doings at the University, he invariably pulled a grimace, and either turned away without speaking or answered with some nonsensical French phrase —“Comme c’est tres jolie!” or the like. Or again, feigning to look serious and stolidly wise, he would say something absolutely meaningless and bearing no relation whatever to the question asked him, or else suddenly exclaim, with a look of pretended unconsciousness, the word bulku or poyechali or kapustu, [Respectively, “ roll of butter,” “away,” and “ cabbage.”] or something of the kind; and when, afterwards, I happened to repeat these words to him as having been told me by Lubotshka or Katenka, he would always remark:

“Hm! So you actually care about talking to them? I can see you are a duffer still”— and one needed to see and near him to appreciate the profound, immutable contempt which echoed in this remark. He had been grown-up now two years, and was in love with every good-looking woman that he met; yet, despite the fact that he came in daily contact with Katenka (who during those two years had been wearing long dresses, and was growing prettier every day), the possibility of his falling in love with her never seemed to enter his head. Whether this proceeded from the fact that the prosaic recollections of childhood were still too fresh in his memory, or whether from the aversion which very young people feel for everything domestic, or whether from the common human weakness which, at a first encounter with anything fair and pretty, leads a man to say to himself, “Ah! I shall meet much more of the same kind during my life,” but at all events Woloda had never yet looked upon Katenka with a man’s eyes.

All that summer Woloda appeared to find things very wearisome — a fact which arose out of that contempt for us all which, as I have said, he made no effort to conceal. His expression of face seemed to be constantly saying, “Phew! how it bores me to have no one to speak to!” The first thing in the morning he would go out shooting, or sit reading a book in his room, and not dress until luncheon time. Indeed, if Papa was not at home, he would take his book into that meal, and go on reading it without addressing so much as a single word to any one of us, who felt, somehow, guilty in his presence. In the evening, too, he would stretch himself on a settee in the drawing-room, and either go to sleep, propped on his elbow, or tell us farcical stories — sometimes stories so improper as to make Mimi grow angry and blush, and ourselves die with laughter. At other times he would not condescend to address a single serious word to any member of the family except Papa or (occasionally) myself. Involuntarily I offended against his view of girls, seeing that I was not so afraid of seeming affectionate as he, and, moreover, had not such a profound and confirmed contempt for young women. Yet several times that summer, when driven by lack of amusement to try and engage Lubotshka and Katenka in conversation, I always encountered in them such an absence of any capacity for logical thinking, and such an ignorance of the simplest, most ordinary matters (as, for instance, the nature of money, the subjects studied at universities, the effect of war, and so forth), as well as such indifference to my explanations of such matters, that these attempts of mine only ended in confirming my unfavourable opinion of feminine ability.

I remember one evening when Lubotshka kept repeating some unbearably tedious passage on the piano about a hundred times in succession, while Woloda, who was dozing on a settee in the drawing-room, kept addressing no one in particular as he muttered, “Lord! how she murders it! WHAT a musician! WHAT a Beethoven!” (he always pronounced the composer’s name with especial irony). “Wrong again! Now — a second time! That’s it!” and so on. Meanwhile Katenka and I were sitting by the tea-table, and somehow she began to talk about her favourite subject — love. I was in the right frame of mind to philosophise, and began by loftily defining love as the wish to acquire in another what one does not possess in oneself. To this Katenka retorted that, on the contrary, love is not love at all if a girl desires to marry a man for his money alone, but that, in her opinion, riches were a vain thing, and true love only the affection which can stand the test of separation (this I took to be a hint concerning her love for Dubkoff). At this point Woloda, who must have been listening all the time, raised himself on his elbow, and cried out some rubbish or another; and I felt that he was right.

Apart from the general faculties (more or less developed in different persons) of intellect, sensibility, and artistic feeling, there also exists (more or less developed in different circles of society, and especially in families) a private or individual faculty which I may call APPREHENSION. The essence of this faculty lies in sympathetic appreciation of proportion, and in identical understanding of things. Two individuals who possess this faculty and belong to the same social circle or the same family apprehend an expression of feeling precisely to the same point, namely, the point beyond which such expression becomes mere phrasing. Thus they apprehend precisely where commendation ends and irony begins, where attraction ends and pretence begins, in a manner which would be impossible for persons possessed of a different order of apprehension. Persons possessed of identical apprehension view objects in an identically ludicrous, beautiful, or repellent light; and in order to facilitate such identical apprehension between members of the same social circle or family, they usually establish a language, turns of speech, or terms to define such shades of apprehension as exist for them alone. In our particular family such apprehension was common to Papa, Woloda, and myself, and was developed to the highest pitch, Dubkoff also approximated to our coterie in apprehension, but Dimitri, though infinitely more intellectual than Dubkoff, was grosser in this respect. With no one, however, did I bring this faculty to such a point as with Woloda, who had grown up with me under identical conditions. Papa stood a long way from us, and much that was to us as clear as “two and two make four” was to him incomprehensible. For instance, I and Woloda managed to establish between ourselves the following terms, with meanings to correspond. Izium [Raisins.] meant a desire to boast of one’s money; shishka [Bump or swelling.] (on pronouncing which one had to join one’s fingers together, and to put a particular emphasis upon the two sh’s in the word) meant anything fresh, healthy, and comely, but not elegant; a substantive used in the plural meant an undue partiality for the object which it denoted; and so forth, and so forth. At the same time, the meaning depended considerably upon the expression of the face and the context of the conversation; so that, no matter what new expression one of us might invent to define a shade of feeling the other could immediately understand it by a hint alone. The girls did not share this faculty of apprehension, and herein lay the chief cause of our moral estrangement, and of the contempt which we felt for them.

It may be that they too had their “apprehension,” but it so little ran with ours that, where we already perceived the “phrasing,” they still saw only the feeling — our irony was for them truth, and so on. At that time I had not yet learnt to understand that they were in no way to blame for this, and that absence of such apprehension in no way prevented them from being good and clever girls. Accordingly I looked down upon them. Moreover, having once lit upon my precious idea of “frankness,” and being bent upon applying it to the full in myself, I thought the quiet, confiding nature of Lubotshka guilty of secretiveness and dissimulation simply because she saw no necessity for digging up and examining all her thoughts and instincts. For instance, the fact that she always signed the sign of the cross over Papa before going to bed, that she and Katenka invariably wept in church when attending requiem masses for Mamma, and that Katenka sighed and rolled her eyes about when playing the piano — all these things seemed to me sheer make-believe, and I asked myself: “At what period did they learn to pretend like grown-up people, and how can they bring themselves to do it?”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/tolstoy/leo/t65y/chapter29.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 20:05