In spite of the hard conditions in which they were placed, life among the political prisoners seemed very good to Katusha after the depraved, luxurious and effeminate life she had led in town for the last six years, and after two months’ imprisonment with criminal prisoners. The fifteen to twenty miles they did per day, with one day’s rest after two days’ marching, strengthened her physically, and the fellowship with her new companions opened out to her a life full of interests such as she had never dreamed of. People so wonderful (as she expressed it) as those whom she was now going with she had not only never met but could not even have imagined.
“There now, and I cried when I was sentenced,” she said. “Why, I must thank God for it all the days of my life. I have learned to know what I never should have found out else.”
The motives she understood easily and without effort that guided these people, and, being of the people, fully sympathised with them. She understood that these persons were for the people and against the upper classes, and though themselves belonging to the upper classes had sacrificed their privileges, their liberty and their lives for the people. This especially made her value and admire them. She was charmed with all the new companions, but particularly with Mary Pavlovna, and she was not only charmed with her, but loved her with a peculiar, respectful and rapturous love. She was struck by the fact that this beautiful girl, the daughter of a rich general, who could speak three languages, gave away all that her rich brother sent her, and lived like the simplest working girl, and dressed not only simply, but poorly, paying no heed to her appearance. This trait and a complete absence of coquetry was particularly surprising and therefore attractive to Maslova. Maslova could see that Mary Pavlovna knew, and was even pleased to know, that she was handsome, and yet the effect her appearance had on men was not at all pleasing to her; she was even afraid of it, and felt an absolute disgust to all love affairs. Her men companions knew it, and if they felt attracted by her never permitted themselves to show it to her, but treated her as they would a man; but with strangers, who often molested her, the great physical strength on which she prided herself stood her in good stead.
“It happened once,” she said to Katusha, “that a man followed me in the street and would not leave me on any account. At last I gave him such a shaking that he was frightened and ran away.”
She became a revolutionary, as she said, because she felt a dislike to the life of the well-to-do from childhood up, and loved the life of the common people, and she was always being scolded for spending her time in the servants’ hall, in the kitchen or the stables instead of the drawing-room.
“And I found it amusing to be with cooks and the coachmen, and dull with our gentlemen and ladies,” she said. “Then when I came to understand things I saw that our life was altogether wrong; I had no mother and I did not care for my father, and so when I was nineteen I left home, and went with a girl friend to work as a factory hand.”
After she left the factory she lived in the country, then returned to town and lived in a lodging, where they had a secret printing press. There she was arrested and sentenced to hard labour. Mary Pavlovna said nothing about it herself, but Katusha heard from others that Mary Pavlovna was sentenced because, when the lodging was searched by the police and one of the revolutionists fired a shot in the dark, she pleaded guilty.
As soon as she had learned to know Mary Pavlovna, Katusha noticed that, whatever the conditions she found herself in, Mary Pavlovna never thought of herself, but was always anxious to serve, to help some one, in matters small or great. One of her present companions, Novodvoroff, said of her that she devoted herself to philanthropic amusements. And this was true. The interest of her whole life lay in the search for opportunities of serving others. This kind of amusement had become the habit, the business of her life. And she did it all so naturally that those who knew her no longer valued but simply expected it of her.
When Maslova first came among them, Mary Pavlovna felt repulsed and disgusted. Katusha noticed this, but she also noticed that, having made an effort to overcome these feelings, Mary Pavlovna became particularly tender and kind to her. The tenderness and kindness of so uncommon a being touched Maslova so much that she gave her whole heart, and unconsciously accepting her views, could not help imitating her in everything.
This devoted love of Katusha touched Mary Pavlovna in her turn, and she learned to love Katusha.
These women were also united by the repulsion they both felt to sexual love. The one loathed that kind of love, having experienced all its horrors, the other, never having experienced it, looked on it as something incomprehensible and at the same time as something repugnant and offensive to human dignity.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00