A few years ago I was in Dresden. I was staying at an hotel. From early morning till late evening I strolled about the town, and did not think it necessary to make acquaintance with my neighbours; at last it reached my ears in some chance way that there was a Russian in the hotel — lying ill. I went to see him, and found a man in galloping consumption. I had begun to be tired of Dresden; I stayed with my new acquaintance. It’s dull work sitting with a sick man, but even dulness is sometimes agreeable; moreover, my patient was not low-spirited and was very ready to talk. We tried to kill time in all sorts of ways; We played ‘Fools,’ the two of us together, and made fun of the doctor. My compatriot used to tell this very bald-headed German all sorts of fictions about himself, which the doctor had always ‘long ago anticipated.’ He used to mimic his astonishment at any new, exceptional symptom, to throw his medicines out of window, and so on. I observed more than once, however, to my friend that it would be as well to send for a good doctor before it was too late, that his complaint was not to be trifled with, and so on. But Alexey (my new friend’s name was Alexey Petrovitch S——) always turned off my advice with jests at the expense of doctors in general, and his own in particular; and at last one rainy autumn evening he answered my urgent entreaties with such a mournful look, he shook his head so sorrowfully and smiled so strangely, that I felt somewhat disconcerted. The same night Alexey was worse, and the next day he died. Just before his death his usual cheerfulness deserted him; he tossed about uneasily in his bed, sighed, looked round him in anguish . . . clutched at my hand, and whispered with an effort, ‘But it’s hard to die, you know . . . dropped his head on the pillow, and shed tears. I did not know what to say to him, and sat in silence by his bed. But Alexey soon got the better of these last, late regrets. . . . ‘I say,’ he said to me, ‘our doctor’ll come today and find me dead. . . . I can fancy his face.’ . . . And the dying man tried to mimic him. He asked me to send all his things to Russia to his relations, with the exception of a small packet which he gave me as a souvenir.
This packet contained letters — a girl’s letters to Alexey, and copies of his letters to her. There were fifteen of them. Alexey Petrovitch S—— had known Marya Alexandrovna B—— long before, in their childhood, I fancy. Alexey Petrovitch had a cousin, Marya Alexandrovna had a sister. In former years they had all lived together; then they had been separated, and had not seen each other for a long while. Later on, they had chanced one summer to be all together again in the country, and they had fallen in love — Alexey’s cousin with Marya Alexandrovna, and Alexey with her sister. The summer had passed by, the autumn came; they parted. Alexey, like a sensible person, soon came to the conclusion that he was not in love at all, and had effected a very satisfactory parting from his charmer. His cousin had continued writing to Marya Alexandrovna for nearly two years longer . . . but he too perceived at last that he was deceiving her and himself in an unconscionable way, and he too dropped the correspondence.
I could tell you something about Marya Alexandrovna, gentle reader, but you will find out what she was from her letters. Alexey wrote his first letter to her soon after she had finally broken with his cousin. He was at that time in Petersburg; he went suddenly abroad, fell ill, and died at Dresden. I resolved to print his correspondence with Marya Alexandrovna, and trust the reader will look at it with indulgence, as these letters are not love-letters — Heaven forbid! Love-letters are as a rule only read by two persons (they read them over a thousand times to make up), and to a third person they are unendurable, if not ridiculous.
FROM ALEXEY PETROVITCH TO MARYA ALEXANDROVNA
ST. PETERSBURG, March 7, 1840.
DEAR MARYA ALEXANDROVNA —
I fancy I have never written to you before, and here I am writing to you now. . . . I have chosen a curious time to begin, haven’t I? I’ll tell you what gave me the impulse. Mon cousin Théodore was with me today, and . . . how shall I put it? . . . and he confided to me as the greatest secret (he never tells one anything except as a great secret), that he was in love with the daughter of a gentleman here, and that this time he is firmly resolved to be married, and that he has already taken the first step — he has declared himself! I made haste, of course, to congratulate him on an event so agreeable for him; he has been longing to declare himself for a great while . . . but inwardly, I must own, I was rather astonished. Although I knew that everything was over between you, still I had fancied. . . . In short, I was surprised. I had made arrangements to go out to see friends today, but I have stopped at home and mean to have a little gossip with you. If you do not care to listen to me, fling this letter forthwith into the fire. I warn you I mean to be frank, though I feel you are fully justified in taking me for a rather impertinent person. Observe, however, that I would not have taken up my pen if I had not known your sister was not with you; she is staying, so Théodore told me, the whole summer with your aunt, Madame B——. God give her every blessing!
And so, this is how it has all worked out. . . . But I am not going to offer you my friendship and all that; I am shy as a rule of high-sounding speeches and ‘heartfelt’ effusions. In beginning to write this letter, I simply obeyed a momentary impulse. If there is another feeling latent within me, let it remain hidden under a bushel for the time.
I’m not going to offer you sympathy either. In sympathising with others, people for the most part want to get rid, as quick as they can, of an unpleasant feeling of involuntary, egoistic regret. . . . I understand genuine, warm sympathy . . . but such sympathy you would not accept from just any one. . . . Do, please, get angry with me. . . . If you’re angry, you’ll be sure to read my missive to the end.
But what right have I to write to you, to talk of my friendship, of my feelings, of consolation? None, absolutely none; that I am bound to admit, and I can only throw myself on your kindness.
Do you know what the preface of my letter’s like? I’ll tell you: some Mr. N. or M. walking into the drawing-room of a lady who doesn’t in the least expect him, and who does, perhaps, expect some one else. . . . He realises that he has come at an unlucky moment, but there’s no help for it. . . . He sits down, begins talking . . . goodness knows what about: poetry, the beauties of nature, the advantages of a good education . . . talks the most awful rot, in fact. But, meanwhile, the first five minutes have gone by, he has settled himself comfortably; the lady has resigned herself to the inevitable, and so Mr. N. or M. regains his self-possession, takes breath, and begins a real conversation — to the best of his ability.
In spite, though, of all this rigmarole, I don’t still feel quite comfortable. I seem to see your bewildered — even rather wrathful — face; I feel that it will be almost impossible you should not ascribe to me some hidden motives, and so, like a Roman who has committed some folly, I wrap myself majestically in my toga, and await in silence your final sentence. . . .
The question is: Will you allow me to go on writing to you? — I remain sincerely and warmly devoted to you,
FROM MARYA ALEXANDROVNA TO ALEXEY PETROVITCH
VILLAGE OF X— — March 22, 1840.
I have received your letter, and I really don’t know what to say to you. I should not even have answered you at all, if it had not been that I fancied that under your jesting remarks there really lies hid a feeling of some friendliness. Your letter made an unpleasant impression on me. In answer to your rigmarole, as you call it, let me too put to you one question: What for? What have I to do with you, or you with me? I do not ascribe to you any bad motives . . . on the contrary, I’m grateful for your sympathy . . . but we are strangers to each other, and I, just now at least, feel not the slightest inclination for greater intimacy with any one whatever. — With sincere esteem, I remain, etc.,
FROM ALEXEY PETROVITCH TO MARYA ALEXANDROVNA
ST. PETERSBURG, March 30.
Thank you, Marya Alexandrovna, thank you for your note, brief as it was. All this time I have been in great suspense; twenty times a day I have thought of you and my letter. You can’t imagine how bitterly I laughed at myself; but now I am in an excellent frame of mind, and very much pleased with myself. Marya Alexandrovna, I am going to begin a correspondence with you! Confess, this was not at all what you expected after your answer; I’m surprised myself at my boldness. . . . Well, I don’t care, here goes! But don’t be uneasy; I want to talk to you, not of you, but of myself. It’s like this, do you see: it’s absolutely needful for me, in the old-fashioned phraseology, to open my heart to some one. I have not the slightest right to select you for my confidant — agreed.
But listen: I won’t demand of you an answer to my letters; I don’t even want to know whether you read my ‘rigmarole’; but, in the name of all that’s holy, don’t send my letters back to me!
Let me tell you, I am utterly alone on earth. In my youth I led a solitary life, though I never, I remember, posed as a Byronic hero; but first, circumstances, and secondly, a faculty of imaginative dreaming and a love for dreaming, rather cool blood, pride, indolence — a number of different causes, in fact, cut me off from the society of men. The transition from dream-life to real life took place in me late . . . perhaps too late, perhaps it has not fully taken place up to now. So long as I found entertainment in my own thoughts and feelings, so long as I was capable of abandoning myself to causeless and unuttered transports and so on, I did not complain of my solitude. I had no associates; I had what are called friends. Sometimes I needed their presence, as an electrical machine needs a discharger — and that was all. Love . . . of that subject we will not speak for the present. But now, I will own, now solitude weighs heavy on me; and at the same time, I see no escape from my position. I do not blame fate; I alone am to blame and am deservedly punished. In my youth I was absorbed by one thing — my precious self; I took my simple-hearted self-love for modesty; I avoided society — and here I am now, a fearful bore to myself. What am I to do with myself? There is no one I love; all my relations with other people are somehow strained and false.
And I’ve no memories either, for in all my past life I can find nothing but my own personality. Save me. To you I have made no passionate protestations of love. You I have never smothered in a flood of aimless babble. I passed by you rather coldly, and it is just for that reason I make up my mind to have recourse to you now. (I have had thoughts of doing so before this, but at that time you were not free. . . . ) Among all my self-created sensations, pleasures and sufferings, the one genuine feeling was the not great, but instinctive attraction to you, which withered up at the time, like a single ear of wheat in the midst of worthless weeds. . . . Let me just for once look into another face, into another soul — my own face has grown hateful to me. I am like a man who should have been condemned to live all his life in a room with walls of looking-glass. . . . I do not ask of you any sort of confessions — oh mercy, no! Bestow on me a sister’s unspoken sympathy, or at least the simple curiosity of a reader. I will entertain you, I will really.
Meanwhile I have the honour to be your sincere friend,
FROM ALEXEY PETROVITCH TO MARYA ALEXANDROVNA
ST. PETERSBURG, April 7.
I am writing to you again, though I foresee that without your approval I shall soon cease writing. I must own that you cannot but feel some distrust of me. Well, perhaps you are right too. In old days I should have triumphantly announced to you (and very likely I should have quite believed my own words myself) that I had ‘developed,’ made progress, since the time when we parted. With condescending, almost affectionate, contempt I should have referred to my past, and with touching self-conceit have initiated you into the secrets of my real, present life . . . but, now, I assure you, Marya Alexandrovna, I’m positively ashamed and sick to remember the capers and antics cut at times by my paltry egoism. Don’t be afraid: I am not going to force upon you any great truths, any profound views. I have none of them — of those truths and views. I have become a simple good fellow — really. I am bored, Marya Alexandrovna, I’m simply bored past all enduring. That is why I am writing to you. . . . I really believe we may come to be friends. . . .
But I’m positively incapable of talking to you, till you hold out a hand to me, till I get a note from you with the one word ‘Yes.’ Marya Alexandrovna, are you willing to listen to me? That’s the question. — Yours devotedly,
FROM MARYA ALEXANDROVNA TO ALEXEY PETROVITCH
VILLAGE OF X— — April 14.
What a strange person you are! Very well, then. — Yes!
FROM ALEXEY PETROVITCH TO MARYA ALEXANDROVNA
ST. PETERSBURG, May 2, 1840.
Hurrah! Thanks, Marya Alexandrovna, thanks! You are a very kind and indulgent creature.
I will begin according to my promise to talk about myself, and I shall talk with a relish approaching to appetite. . . . That’s just it. Of anything in the world one may speak with fire, with enthusiasm, with ecstasy, but with appetite one talks only of oneself.
Let me tell you, during the last few days a very strange experience has befallen me. I have for the first time taken an all-round view of my past. You understand me. Every one of us often recalls what is over — with regret, or vexation, or simply from nothing to do. But to bend a cold, clear gaze over all one’s past life — as a traveller turns and looks from a high mountain on the plain he has passed through — is only possible at a certain age . . . and a secret chill clutches at a man’s heart when it happens to him for the first time. Mine, anyway, felt a sick pang. While we are young, such an all-round view is impossible. But my youth is over, and, like one who has climbed on to a mountain, everything lies clear before me.
Yes, my youth is gone, gone never to return! . . . Here it lies before me, as it were in the palm of my hand.
A sorry spectacle! I will confess to you, Marya Alexandrovna, I am very sorry for myself. My God! my God! Can it be that I have myself so utterly ruined my life, so mercilessly embroiled and tortured myself! . . . Now I have come to my senses, but it’s too late. Has it ever happened to you to save a fly from a spider? Has it? You remember, you put it in the sun; its wings and legs were stuck together, glued. . . . How awkwardly it moved, how clumsily it attempted to get clear! . . . After prolonged efforts, it somehow gets better, crawls, tries to open its wings . . . but there is no more frolicking for it, no more light-hearted buzzing in the sunshine, as before, when it was flying through the open window into the cool room and out again, freely winging its way into the hot air. . . . The fly, at least, fell through none of its own doing into the dreadful web . . . but I!
I have been my own spider!
And, at the same time, I cannot greatly blame myself. Who, indeed, tell me, pray, is ever to blame for anything — alone? Or, to put it better, we are all to blame, and yet we can’t be blamed. Circumstances determine us; they shove us into one road or another, and then they punish us for it. Every man has his destiny. . . . Wait a bit, wait a bit! A cleverly worked-out but true comparison has just come into my head. As the clouds are first condensed from the vapours of earth, rise from out of her bosom, then separate, move away from her, and at last bring her prosperity or ruin: so, about every one of us, and out of ourselves, is fashioned — how is one to express it? — is fashioned a sort of element, which has afterwards a destructive or saving influence on us. This element I call destiny. . . . In other words, and speaking simply, every one makes his own destiny and destiny makes every one. . . .
Every one makes his destiny — yes! . . . but people like us make it too much — that’s what’s wrong with us! Consciousness is awakened too early in us; too early we begin to keep watch on ourselves. . . . We Russians have set ourselves no other task in life but the cultivation of our own personality, and when we’re children hardly grown-up we set to work to cultivate it, this luckless personality! Receiving no definite guidance from without, with no real respect for anything, no strong belief in anything, we are free to make what we choose of ourselves . . . one can’t expect every one to understand on the spot the uselessness of intellect ‘seething in vain activity’ . . . and so we get again one monster the more in the world, one more of those worthless creatures in whom habits of self-ccnsciousness distort the very striving for truth, and a ludicrous simplicity exists side by side with a pitiful duplicity . . . one of those beings of impotent, restless thought who all their lives know neither the satisfaction of natural activity, nor genuine suffering, nor the genuine thrill of conviction. . . . Mixing up together in ourselves the defects of all ages, we rob each defect of its good redeeming side . . . we are as silly as children, but we are not sincere as they are; we are cold as old people, but we have none of the good sense of old age. . . . To make up, we are psychologists. Oh yes, we are great psychologists! But our psychology is akin to pathology; our psychology is that subtle study of the laws of morbid condition and morbid development, with which healthy people have nothing to do. . . . And, what is the chief point, we are not young, even in our youth we are not young!
And at the same time — why libel ourselves? Were we never young, did we never know the play, the fire, the thrill of life’s forces? We too have been in Arcady, we too have strayed about her bright meadows! . . . Have you chanced, strolling about a copse, to come across those dark grasshoppers which, jumping up from under your very feet, suddenly with a whirring sound expand bright red wings, fly a few yards, and then drop again into the grass? So our dark youth at times spread its particoloured wings for a few moments and for no long flight. . . . Do you remember our silent evening walks, the four of us together, beside your garden fence, after some long, warm, spirited conversation? Do you remember those blissful moments? Nature, benign and stately, took us to her bosom. We plunged, swooning, into a flood of bliss. All around, the sunset with a sudden and soft flush, the glowing sky, the earth bathed in light, everything on all sides seemed full of the fresh and fiery breath of youth, the joyous triumph of some deathless happiness. The sunset flamed; and, like it, our rapturous hearts burned with soft and passionate fire, and the tiny leaves of the young trees quivered faintly and expectantly over our heads, as though in response to the inward tremor of vague feelings and anticipations in us. Do you remember the purity, the goodness and trustfulness of ideas, the softening of noble hopes, the silence of full hearts? Were we not really then worth something better than what life has brought us to? Why was it ordained for us only at rare moments to see the longed-for shore, and never to stand firmly on it, never to touch it:
‘Never to weep with joy, like the first Jew
Upon the border of the promised land’!
These two lines of Fet’s remind me of others, also his. . . . Do you remember once, as we stood in the highroad, we saw in the distance a cloud of pink dust, blown up by the light breeze against the setting sun? ‘In an eddying cloud,’ you began, and we were all still at once to listen:
‘In an eddying cloud
Dust rises in the distance . . .
Rider or man on foot
Is seen not in the dust.
I see some one trotting
On a gallant steed . . .
Friend of mine, friend far away,
Think! oh, think of me!’
You ceased . . . we all felt a shudder pass over us, as though the breath of love had flitted over our hearts, and each of us — I am sure of it — felt irresistibly drawn into the distance, the unknown distance, where the phantom of bliss rises and lures through the mist. And all the while, observe the strangeness; why, one wonders, should we have a yearning for the far away? Were we not in love with each other? Was not happiness ‘so close, so possible’? As I asked you just now: why was it we did not touch the longed-for shore? Because falsehood walked hand in hand with us; because it poisoned our best feelings; because everything in us was artificial and strained; because we did not love each other at all, but were only trying to love, fancying we loved. . . .
But enough, enough! why inflame one’s wounds? Besides, it is all over and done with. What was good in our past moved me, and on that good I will take leave of you for a while. It’s time to make an end of this long letter. I am going out for a breath here of the May air, in which spring is breaking through the dry fastness of winter with a sort of damp, keen warmth. Farewell. — Yours,
FROM MARYA ALEXANDROVNA TO ALEXEY PETROVITCH
VILLAGE OF X— — May 1840.
I have received your letter, Alexey Petrovitch, and do you know what feeling t aroused in me? — indignation . . . yes, indignation . . . and I will explain to you at once why it aroused just that feeling in me. It’s only a pity I’m not a great hand with my pen; I rarely write, and am not good at expressing my thoughts precisely and in few words. But you will, I hope, come to my aid. You must try, on your side, to understand me, if only to find out why I am indignant with you.
Tell me — you have brains — have you ever asked yourself what sort of creature a Russian woman is? what is her destiny? her position in the world — in short, what is her life? I don’t know if you have had time to put this question to yourself; I can’t picture to myself how you would answer it. . . . I should, perhaps, in conversation be capable of giving you my ideas on the subject, but on paper I am scarcely equal to it. No matter, though. This is the point: you will certainly agree with me that we women, those of us at least who are not satisfied with the common interests of domestic life, receive our final education, in any case, from you men: you have a great and powerful influence on us. Now, consider what you do to us. I am talking about young girls, especially those who, like me, live in the wilds, and there are very many such in Russia. Besides, I don’t know anything of others and cannot judge of them. Picture to yourself such a girl. Her education, suppose, is finished; she begins to live, to enjoy herself. But enjoyment alone is not much to her. She demands much from life, she reads, and dreams . . . of love. Always nothing but love! you will say. . . . Suppose so; but that word means a great deal to her. I repeat that I am not speaking of a girl to whom thinking is tiresome and boring. . . . She looks round her, is waiting for the time when he will come for whom her soul yearns. . . . At last he makes his appearance — she is captivated; she is wax in his hands. All — happiness and love and thought — all have come with a rush together with him; all her tremors are soothed, all her doubts solved by him. Truth itself seems speaking by his lips. She venerates him, is over-awed at her own happiness, learns, loves. Great is his power over her at that time! . . . If he were a hero, he would fire her, would teach her to sacrifice herself, and all sacrifices would be easy to her! But there are no heroes in our times. . . . Anyway, he directs her as he pleases. She devotes herself to whatever interests him, every word of his sinks into her soul. She has not yet learned how worthless and empty and false a word may be, how little it costs him who utters it, and how little it deserves belief! After these first moments of bliss and hope there usually comes — through circumstances —(circumstances are always to blame)— there comes a parting. They say there have been instances of two kindred souls, on getting to know one another, becoming at once inseparably united; I have heard it said, too, that things did not always go smoothly with them in consequence . . . but of what I have not seen myself I will not speak — and that the pettiest calculation, the most pitiful prudence, can exist in a youthful heart, side by side with the most passionate enthusiasm — of that I have to my sorrow had practical experience. And so, the parting comes. . . . Happy the girl who realises at once that it is the end of everything, who does not beguile herself with expectations! But you, valorous, just men, for the most part, have not the pluck, nor even the desire, to tell us the truth. . . . It is less disturbing for you to deceive us. . . . However, I am ready to believe that you deceive yourselves together with us. . . . Parting! To bear separation is both hard and easy. If only there be perfect, untouched faith in him whom one loves, the soul can master the anguish of parting. . . . I will say more. It is only then, when she is left alone, that she finds out the sweetness of solitude — not fruitless, but filled with memories and ideas. It is only then that she finds out herself, comes to her true self, grows strong. . . . In the letters of her friend far away she finds a support for herself; in her own, she, very likely for the first time, finds full self-expression. . . . But as two people who start from a stream’s source, along opposite banks, at first can touch hands, then only communicate by voice, and finally lose sight of each other altogether; so two natures grow apart at last by separation. Well, what then? you will say; it’s clear they were not destined to be together. . . . But herein the difference between a man and a woman comes out. For a man it means nothing to begin a new life, to shake off all his past; a woman cannot do this. No, she cannot fling off her past, she cannot break away from her roots — no, a thousand times no! And now begins a pitiful and ludicrous spectacle. . . . Gradually losing hope and faith in herself — and how bitter that is you cannot even imagine! — she pines and wears herself out alone, obstinately clinging to her memories and turning away from everything that the life around offers her. . . . But he? Look for him! where is he? And is it worth his while to stand still? When has he time to look round? Why, it’s all a thing of the past for him. Or else this is what happens: it happens that he feels a sudden inclination to meet the former object of his feelings, that he even makes an excursion with that aim. . . . But, mercy on us! the pitiful conceit that leads him into doing that! In his gracious sympathy, in his would-be friendly advice, in his indulgent explanation of the past, such consciousness of his superiority is manifest! It is so agreeable and cheering for him to let himself feel every instant — what a clever person he is, and how kind! And how little he understands what he has done! How clever he is at not even guessing what is passing in a woman’s heart, and how offensive is his compassion if he does guess it! . . . Tell me, please, where is she to get strength to bear all this? Recollect this, too: for the most part, a girl in whose brain — to her misfortune — thought has begun to stir, such a girl, when she begins to love, and falls under a man’s influence, inevitably grows apart from her family, her circle of friends. She was not, even before then, satisfied with their life, though she moved in step with them, while she treasured all her secret dreams in her soul. . . . But the discrepancy soon becomes apparent. . . . They cease to comprehend her, and are ready to look askance at everything she does. . . . At first this is nothing to her, but afterwards, afterwards . . . when she is left alone, when what she was striving towards, for which she had sacrificed everything — when heaven is not gained while everything near, everything possible, is lost — what is there to support her? Jeers, sly hints, the vulgar triumph of coarse commonsense, she could still endure somehow . . . but what is she to do, what is to be her refuge, when an inner voice begins to whisper to her that all of them are right and she was wrong, that life, whatever it may be, is better than dreams, as health is better than sickness . . . when her favourite pursuits, her favourite books, grow hateful to her, books out of which there is no reading happiness — what, tell me, is to be her support? Must she not inevitably succumb in such a struggle? how is she to live and to go on living in such a desert? To know oneself beaten and to hold out one’s hand, like a beggar, to persons quite indifferent, for them to bestow the sympathy which the proud heart had once fancied it could well dispense with — all that would be nothing! But to feel yourself ludicrous at the very instant when you are shedding bitter, bitter tears . . . O God, spare such suffering! . . .
My hands are trembling, and I am quite in a fever. . . . My face burns. It is time to stop. . . . I’ll send off this letter quickly, before I’m ashamed of its feebleness. But for God’s sake, in your answer not a word — do you hear? — not a word of sympathy, or I’ll never write to you again. Understand me: I should not like you to take this letter as the outpouring of a misunderstood soul, complaining. . . . Ah! I don’t care! — Good-bye.
FROM ALEXEY PETROVITCH TO MARYA ALEXANDROVNA
ST. PETERSBURG, May 28, 1840.
Marya Alexandrovna, you are a splendid person . . . you . . . your letter revealed the truth to me at last! My God! what suffering! A man is constantly thinking that now at last he has reached simplicity, that he’s no longer showing off, humbugging, lying . . . but when you come to look at him more attentively, he’s become almost worse than before. And this, too, one must remark: the man himself, alone that is, never attains this self-recognition, try as he will; his eyes cannot see his own defects, just as the compositor’s wearied eyes cannot see the slips he makes; another fresh eye is needed for that. My thanks to you, Marya Alexandrovna. . . . You see, I speak to you of myself; of you I dare not speak. . . . Ah, how absurd my last letter seems to me now, so flowery and sentimental! I beg you earnestly, go on with your confession. I fancy you, too, will be the better for it, and it will do me great good. It’s a true saying: ‘A woman’s wit’s better than many a reason,’ and a woman’s heart’s far and away — by God, yes! If women knew how much better, nobler, and wiser they are than men — yes, wiser — they would grow conceited and be spoiled. But happily they don’t know it; they don’t know it because their intelligence isn’t in the habit of turning incessantly upon themselves, as with us. They think very little about themselves — that’s their weakness and their strength; that’s the whole secret — I won’t say of our superiority, but of our power. They lavish their soul, as a prodigal heir does his father’s gold, while we exact a percentage on every worthless morsel. . . . How are they to hold their own with us? . . . All this is not compliments, but the simple truth, proved by experience. Once more, I beseech you, Marya Alexandrovna, go on writing to me. . . . If you knew all that is coming into my brain! . . . But I have no wish now to speak, I want to listen to you. My turn will come later. Write, write. — Your devoted,
FROM MARYA ALEXANDROVNA TO ALEXEY PETROVITCH
VILLAGE OF X— — June 12, 1840.
I had hardly sent off my last letter to you, Alexey Petrovitch, when I regretted it; but there was no help for it then. One thing reassures me somewhat: I am sure you realised that it was under the influence of feelings long ago suppressed that it was written, and you excused me. I did not even read through, at the time, what I had written to you; I remember my heart beat so violently that the pen shook in my fingers. However, though I should probably have expressed myself differently if I had allowed myself time to reflect, I don’t mean, all the same, to disavow my own words, or the feelings which I described to you as best I could. To-day I am much cooler and far more self-possessed.
I remember at the end of my letter I spoke of the painful position of a girl who is conscious of being solitary, even among her own people. . . . I won’t expatiate further upon them, but will rather tell you a few instances; I think I shall bore you less in that way. In the first place, then, let me tell you that all over the country-side I am never called anything but the female philosopher. The ladies especially honour me with that name. Some assert that I sleep with a Latin book in my hand, and in spectacles; others declare that I know how to extract cube roots, whatever they may be. Not a single one of them doubts that I wear manly apparel on the sly, and instead of ‘good-morning’, address people spasmodically with ‘Georges Sand!’— and indignation grows apace against the female philosopher. We have a neighbour, a man of five-and-forty, a great wit . . . at least, he is reputed a great wit . . . for him my poor personality is an inexhaustible subject of jokes. He used to tell of me that directly the moon rose I could not take my eyes off it, and he will mimic the way in which I gaze at it; and declares that I positively take my coffee with moonshine instead of with milk — that’s to say, I put my cup in the moonlight. He swears that I use phrases of this kind —‘It is easy because it is difficult, though on the other hand it is difficult because it is easy’. . . . He asserts that I am always looking for a word, always striving ‘thither,’ and with comic rage inquires: ‘whither-thither? whither?’ He has also circulated a story about me that I ride at night up and down by the river, singing Schubert’s Serenade, or simply moaning, ‘Beethoven, Beethoven!’ She is, he will say, such an impassioned old person, and so on, and so on. Of course, all this comes straight to me. This surprises you, perhaps. But do not forget that four years have passed since your stay in these parts. You remember how every one frowned upon us in those days. Their turn has come now. And all that, too, is no consequence. I have to hear many things that wound my heart more than that. I won’t say anything about my poor, good mother’s never having been able to forgive me for your cousin’s indifference to me. But my whole life is burning away like a house on fire, as my nurse expresses it. ‘Of course,’ I am constantly hearing, ‘we can’t keep pace with you! we are plain people, we are guided by nothing but common-sense. Though, when you come to think of it, what have all these metaphysics, and books, and intimacies with learned folks brought you to?’ You perhaps remember my sister — not the one to whom you were once not indifferent — but the other elder one, who is married. Her husband, if you recollect, is a simple and rather comic person; you often used to make fun of him in those days. But she’s happy, after all; she’s the mother of a family, she’s fond of her husband, her husband adores her. . . . ‘I am like every one else,’ she says to me sometimes, ‘but you!’ And she’s right; I envy her. . . .
And yet, I feel I should not care to change with her, all the same. Let them call me a female philosopher, a queer fish, or what they choose — I will remain true to the end . . . to what? to an ideal, or what? Yes, to my ideal. Yes, I will be faithful to the end to what first set my heart throbbing — to what I have recognised, and recognise still, as truth, and good. . . . If only my strength does not fail me, if only my divinity does not turn out to be a dumb and soulless idol! . . .
If you really feel any friendship for me, if you have really not forgotten me, you ought to aid me, you ought to solve my doubts, and strengthen my convictions. . . .
Though after all, what help can you give me? ‘All that’s rubbish, fiddle-faddle,’ was said to me yesterday by my uncle — I think you don’t know him — a retired naval officer, a very sensible man; ‘husband, children, a pot of soup; to look after the husband and children and keep an eye on the pot — that’s what a woman wants.’ . . . Tell me, is he right?
If he really is right, I can still make up for the past, I can still get into the common groove. Why should I wait any longer? what have I to hope for? In one of your letters you spoke of the wings of youth. How often — how long they are tied! And later on comes the time when they fall off, and there is no rising above earth, no flying to heaven any more. Write to me. — Yours,
FROM ALEXEY PETROVITCH TO MARYA ALEXANDROVNA
ST. PETERSBURG, June 16, 1840.
I hasten to answer your letter, dear Marya Alexandrovna. I will confess to you that if it were not . . . I can’t say for business, for I have none . . . if it were not that I am stupidly accustomed to this place, I should have gone off to see you again, and should have talked to my heart’s content, but on paper it all comes out cold and dead. . . .
Marya Alexandrovna, I tell you again, women are better than men, and you ought to prove this in practice. Let such as us fling away our convictions, like cast-off clothes, or abandon them for a crust of bread, or lull them into an untroubled sleep, and put over them — as over the dead, once dear to us — a gravestone, at which to come at rare intervals to pray — let us do all this; but you women must not be false to yourselves, you must not be false to your ideal. . . . That word has become ridiculous. . . . To fear being ridiculous — is not to love truth. It happens, indeed, that the senseless laughter of the fool drives even good men into giving up a great deal . . . as, for instance, the defence of an absent friend. . . . I have been guilty of that myself. But, I repeat, you women are better than we. . . . In trifling matters you give in sooner than we; but you know how to face fearful odds better than we. I don’t want to give you either advice or help — how should I? besides, you have no need of it. But I hold out my hand to you; I say to you, Have patience, struggle on to the end; and let me tell you, that, as a sentiment, the consciousness of an honestly sustained struggle is almost higher than the triumph of victory. . . . Victory does not depend on ourselves. Of course your uncle is right from a certain point of view; family life is everything for a woman; for her there is no other life.
But what does that prove? None but Jesuits will maintain that any means are good if only they attain the end. It’s false! it’s false! Feet sullied with the mud of the road are unworthy to go into a holy temple. At the end of your letter is a phrase I do not like; you want to get into the common groove; take care, don’t make a false step! Besides — do not forget — there is no erasing the past; and however much you try, whatever pressure you put on yourself, you will not turn into your sister. You have reached a higher level than she; but your soul has been scorched in the fire, hers is untouched. Descend to her level, stoop to her, you can; but nature will not give up her rights, and the burnt place will not grow again. . . .
You are afraid — let us speak plainly — you are afraid of being left an old maid. You are, I know, already twenty-six. Certainly the position of old maids is an unenviable one; every one is so ready to laugh at them, every one comments with such ungenerous amusement on their peculiarities and weaknesses. But if you scrutinise with a little attention any old bachelor, one may just as well point the finger of scorn at him; one will find plenty in him, too, to laugh at. There’s no help for it. There is no getting happiness by struggling for it. But we must not forget that it’s not happiness, but human dignity, that’s the chief aim in life.
You describe your position with great humour. I well understand all the bitterness of it; your position one may really call tragic. But let me tell you you are not alone in it; there is scarcely any quite modern person who isn’t placed in it. You will say that that makes it no better for you; but I am of opinion that suffering in company with thousands is quite a different matter from suffering alone. It is not a matter of egoism, but a sense of a general inevitability which comes in.
All this is very fine, granted, you will say . . . but not practicable in reality. Why not practicable? I have hitherto imagined, and I hope I shall never cease to imagine, that in God’s world everything honest, good, and true is practicable, and will sooner or later come to pass, and not only will be realised, but is already being realised. Let each man only hold firm in his place, not lose patience, nor desire the impossible, but do all in his power. But I fancy I have gone off too much into abstractions. I will defer the continuation of my reflections till the next letter; but I cannot lay down my pen without warmly, most warmly, pressing your hand, and wishing you from my soul all that is good on earth.
Yours, A. S.
P.S. — By the way, you say it’s useless for you to wait, that you have nothing to hope for; how do you know that, let me ask?
FROM MARYA ALEXANDROVNA TO ALEXEY PETROVITCH
VILLAGE OF X— — June 30, 1840.
How grateful I am to you for your letter, Alexey Petrovitch! How much good it did me! I see you really are a good and trustworthy man, and so I shall not be reserved with you. I trust you. I know you would make no unkind use of my openness, and will give me friendly counsel. Here is the question.
You noticed at the end of my letter a phrase which you did not quite like. I will tell what it had reference to. There is one of the neighbours here . . . he was not here when you were, and you have not seen him. He . . . I could marry him if I liked; he is still young, well-educated, and has property. There are no difficulties on the part of my parents; on the contrary, they — I know for a fact — desire this marriage. He is a good man, and I think he loves me . . . but he is so spiritless and narrow, his aspirations are so limited, that I cannot but be conscious of my superiority to him. He is aware of this, and as it were rejoices in it, and that is just what sets me against him. I cannot respect him, though he has an excellent heart. What am I to do? tell me! Think for me and write me your opinion sincerely.
But how grateful I am to you for your letter! . . . Do you know, I have been haunted at times by such bitter thoughts. . . . Do you know, I had come to the point of being almost ashamed of every feeling — not of enthusiasm only, but even of faith; I used to shut a book with vexation whenever there was anything about hope or happiness in it, and turned away from a cloudless sky, from the fresh green of the trees, from everything that was smiling and joyful. What a painful condition it was! I say, was . . . as though it were over!
I don’t know whether it is over; I know hat if it does not return I am indebted to you for it. Do you see, Alexey Petrovitch, how much good you have done, perhaps, without suspecting it yourself! By the way, do you know I feel very sorry for you? We are now in the full blaze of summer, the days are exquisite, the sky blue and brilliant. . . . It couldn’t be lovelier in Italy even, and you are staying in the stifling, baking town, and walking on the burning pavement. What induces you to do so? You might at least move into some summer villa out of town. They say there are bright spots at Peterhof, on the sea-coast.
I should like to write more to you, but it’s impossible. Such a sweet fragrance comes in from the garden that I can’t stay indoors. I am going to put on my hat and go for a walk.
. . . Good-bye till another time, good Alexey Petrovitch. Yours devotedly, M. B.
P.S. — I forgot to tell you . . . only fancy, that witty gentleman, about whom I wrote to you the other day, has made me a declaration of love, and in the most ardent terms. I thought at first he was laughing at me; but he finished up with a formal proposal — what do you think of him, after all his libels! But he is positively too old. Yesterday evening, to tease him, I sat down to the piano before the open window, in the moonlight, and played Beethoven. It was so nice to feel its cold light on my face, so delicious to fill the fragrant night air with the sublime music, through which one could hear at times the singing of a nightingale. It is long since I have been so happy. But write to me about what I asked you at the beginning of my letter; it is very important.
FROM ALEXEY PETROVITCH TO MARYA ALEXANDROVNA
ST. PETERSBURG, July 8, 1840.
DEAR MARYA ALEXANDROVNA — Here is my opinion in a couple of words: both the old bachelor and the young suitor — overboard with them both! There is no need even to consider it. Neither of them is worthy of you — that’s as clear as that twice two makes four. The young neighbour is very likely a good-natured person, but that’s enough about him! I am convinced that there is nothing in common between him and you, and you can fancy how amusing it would be for you to live together! Besides, why be in a hurry? Is it a possible thing that a woman like you — I don’t want to pay compliments, and that’s why I don’t expatiate further — that such a woman should meet no one who would be capable of appreciating her? No, Marya Alexandrovna, listen to me, if you really believe that I am your friend, and that my advice is of use. But confess, it was agreeable to see the old scoffer at your feet. . . . If I had been in your place, I’d have kept him singing Beethoven’s Adelaïda and gazing at the moon the whole night long.
Enough of them, though — your adorers! It’s not of them I want to talk to you today. I am in a strange, half-irritated, half-emotional state of mind today, in consequence of a letter I got yesterday. I am enclosing a copy of it to you. This letter was written by one of my friends of long ago, a colleague in the service, a good-natured but rather limited person. He went abroad two years ago, and till now has not written to me once. Here is his letter. — N.B. He is very good-looking.
‘CHER ALEXIS — I am in Naples, sitting at the window in my room, in Chiaja. The weather is superb. I have been staring a long while at the sea, then I was seized with impatience, and suddenly the brilliant idea entered my head of writing a letter to you. I always felt drawn to you, my dear boy — on my honour I did. And so now I feel an inclination to pour out my soul into your bosom . . . that’s how one expresses it, I believe, in your exalted language. And why I’ve been overcome with impatience is this. I’m expecting a friend — a woman; we’re going together to Baiae to eat oysters and oranges, and see the tanned shepherds in red caps dance the tarantella, to bask in the sun, like lizards — in short, to enjoy life to the utmost. My dear boy, I am more happy than I can possibly tell you.
If only I had your style — oh! what a picture I would draw for you! But unfortunately, as you are aware, I’m an illiterate person. The woman I am expecting, and who has kept me now more than a hour continually starting and looking at the door, loves me — but how I love her I fancy even your fluent pen could not describe.
‘I must tell you that it is three months since I got to know her, and from the very first day of our acquaintance my love mounts continually crescendo, like a chromatic scale, higher and higher, and at the present moment I am simply in the seventh heaven. I jest, but in reality my devotion to this woman is something extraordinary, supernatural. Fancy, I scarcely talk to her, I can do nothing but stare at her, and laugh like a fool. I sit at her feet, I feel that I’m awfully silly and happy, simply inexcusably happy. It sometimes happens that she lays her hand on my head. . . . Well, I tell you, simply . . . But there, you can’t understand it; you ‘re a philosopher and always were a philosopher. Her name is Nina, Ninetta, as you like; she’s the daughter of a rich merchant here. Fine as any of your Raphaels; fiery as gunpowder, gay, so clever that it’s amazing how she can care for a fool like me; she sings like a bird, and her eyes . . .
‘Please excuse this unintentional break. . . . I fancied the door creaked. . . . No, she’s not coming yet, the heartless wretch! You will ask me how all this is going to end, and what I intend to do with myself, and whether I shall stay here long? I know nothing about it, my boy, and I don’t want to. What will be, will be. . . . Why, if one were to be for ever stopping and considering . . . ‘She! . . . she’s running up the staircase, singing. . . . She is here. Well, my boy, good-bye. . . . I’ve no time for you now, I’m so sorry. She has bespattered the whole letter; she slapped a wet nosegay down on the paper. For the first moment, she thought I was writing to a woman; when she knew that it was to a friend, she told me to send her greetings, and ask you if you have any flowers, and whether they are sweet? Well, good-bye. . . . If you could hear her laughing. Silver can’t ring like it; and the good-nature in every note of it — you want to kiss her little feet for it. We are going, going. Don’t mind the untidy smudges, and envy yours, M.’
The letter was in fact bespattered all over, and smelt of orange-blossom . . . two white petals had stuck to the paper. This letter has agitated me. . . . I remember my stay in Naples. . . . The weather was magnificent then too — May was just beginning; I had just reached twenty-two; but I knew no Ninetta. I sauntered about alone, consumed with a thirst for bliss, at once torturing and sweet, so sweet that it was, as it were, like bliss itself. . . . Ah, what is it to be young! . . . I remember I went out once for a row in the bay. There were two of us; the boatman and I . . . what did you imagine? What a night it was, and what a sky, what stars, how they quivered and broke on the waves! with what delicate flame the water flashed and glimmered under the oars, what delicious fragrance filled the whole sea — cannot describe this, ‘eloquent’ though my style may be. In the harbour was a French ship of the line. It was all red with lights; long streaks of red, the reflection of the lighted windows, stretched over the dark sea. The captain of the ship was giving a ball. The gay music floated across to me in snatches at long intervals. I recall in particular the trill of a little flute in the midst of the deep blare of the trumpets; it seemed to flit, like a butterfly, about my boat. I bade the man row to the ship; twice he took me round it. . . . I caught glimpses at the windows of women’s figures, borne gaily round in the whirl-wind of the waltz. . . . I told the boatman to row away, far away, straight into the darkness. . . . I remember a long while the music persistently pursued me. . . . At last the sounds died away. I stood up in the boat, and in the dumb agony of desire stretched out my arms to the sea. . . . Oh! how my heart ached at that moment! How bitter was my loneliness to me! With what rapture would I have abandoned myself utterly then, utterly . . . utterly, if there had been any one to abandon myself to! With what a bitter emotion in my soul I flung myself down in the bottom of the boat and, like Repetilov, asked to be taken anywhere, anywhere away! But my friend here has experienced nothing like that. And why should he? He has managed things far more wisely than I. He is living . . . while I . . . He may well call me a philosopher. . . . Strange! they call you a philosopher too. . . . What has brought this calamity on both of us?
I am not living. . . . But who is to blame for that? Why am I staying on here, in Petersburg? what am I doing here? why am I wearing away day after day? why don’t I go into the country? What is amiss with our steppes? has not one free breathing space in them? is one cramped in them? A strange craze to pursue dreams, when happiness is perhaps within reach! Resolved! I am going, going tomorrow, if I can. I am going home — that is, to you — it’s just the same; we’re only twenty versts from one another. Why, after all, grow stale here! And how was it this idea did not strike me sooner? Dear Marya Alexadrovna, we shall soon see each other. It’s extraordinary, though, that this idea never entered my head before! I ought to have gone long, long ago. Good-bye till we meet, Marya Alexandrovna.
I purposely gave myself twenty-four hours for reflection, and am now absolutely convinced that I have no reason to stay here. The dust in the streets is so penetrating that my eyes are bad. To-day I am beginning to pack, the day after tomorrow I shall most likely start, and within ten days I shall have the pleasure of seeing you. I trust you will welcome me as in old days. By the way, your sister is still staying at your aunt’s, isn’t she?
Marya Alexandrovna, let me press your hand warmly, and say from my heart, Good-bye till we meet. I had been getting ready to go away, but that letter has hastened my project. Supposing the letter proves nothing, supposing even Ninetta would not please any one else, me for instance, still I am going; that’s decided now. Till we meet, yours,
FROM MARYA ALEXANDROVNA TO ALEXEY PETROVITCH
VILLAGE OF X—— — July 16, 1840.
You are coming here, Alexey Petrovitch, you will soon be with us, eh? I will not conceal from you that this news both rejoices and disturbs me. . . . How shall we meet? Will the spiritual tie persist which, as it seems to me, has sprung up between us? Will it not be broken by our meeting? I don’t know; I feel somehow afraid. I will not answer your last letter, though I could say much; I am putting it all off till our meeting. My mother is very much pleased at your coming. . . . She knew I was corresponding with you. The weather is delicious; we will go a great many walks, and I will show you some new places I have discovered. . . . I especially like one long, narrow valley; it lies between hillsides covered with forest. . . . It seems to be hiding in their windings. A little brook courses through it, scarcely seeming to move through the thick grass and flowers. . . . You shall see. Come: perhaps you will not be bored.
P.S. — I think you will not see my sister; she is still staying at my aunt’s. I fancy (but this is between ourselves) she is going to marry a very agreeable young man — an officer. Why did you send me that letter from Naples? Life here cannot help seeming dingy and poor in contrast with that luxuriance and splendour. But Mademoiselle Ninetta is wrong; flowers grow and smell sweet — with us too.
FROM MARYA ALEXANDROVNA TO ALEXEY PETROVITCH
VILLAGE OF X— — January 1841.
I have written to you several times, Alexey Petrovitch . . . you have not answered. Are you living? Or perhaps you are tired of our correspondence; perhaps you have found yourself some diversion more agreeable than what can be afforded for you by the letters of a provincial young lady. You remembered me, it is easy to see, simply from want of anything better to do. If that’s so, I wish you all happiness. If you do not even now answer me, I will not trouble you further. It only remains for me to regret my indiscretion in having allowed myself to be agitated for nothing, in having held out a hand to a friend, and having come for one minute out of my lonely corner. I must remain in it for ever, must lock myself up — that is my apportioned lot, the lot of all old maids. I ought to accustom myself to this idea. It’s useless to come out into the light of day, needless to wish for fresh air, when the lungs cannot bear it. By the way, we are now hemmed in all round by deadly drifts of snow. For the future I will be wiser. . . . People don’t die of dreariness; but of misery, perhaps, one might perish. If I am wrong, prove it to me. But I fancy I am not wrong. In any case, good-bye. I wish you all happiness.
FROM ALEXEY PETROVITCH TO MARYA ALEXANDROVNA
DRESDEN, September 1842.
I am writing to you, my dear Marya Alexandrovna, and I am writing only because I do not want to die without saying good-bye to you, without recalling myself to your memory. I am given up by the doctors . . . and I feel myself that my life is ebbing away. On my table stands a rose: before it withers, I shall be no more. This comparison is not, however, altogether an apt one. A rose is far more interesting than I.
I am, as you see, abroad. It is now six months since I have been in Dresden. I received your last letters — I am ashamed to confess — more than a year ago. I lost some of them and never answered them. . . . I will tell you directly why. But it seems you were always dear to me; to no one but you have I any wish to say good-bye, and perhaps I have no one else to take leave of.
Soon after my last letter to you (I was on the very point of going down to your neighbourhood, and had made various plans in advance) an incident occurred which had, one may truly say, a great influence on my fate, so great an influence that here I am dying, thanks to that incident. I went to the theatre to see a ballet. I never cared for ballets; and for every sort of actress, singer, and dancer I had always had a secret feeling of repulsion. . . . But it is clear there’s no changing one’s fate, and no one knows himself, and one cannot foresee the future. In reality, in life it’s only the unexpected that happens, and we do nothing in a whole lifetime but accommodate ourselves to facts. . . . But I seem to be rambling off into philosophising again. An old habit! In brief, I fell in love with a dancing-girl.
This was the more curious as one could not even call her a beauty. It is true she had marvellous hair of ashen gold colour, and great clear eyes, with a dreamy, and at the same time daring, look in them. . . . Could I fail to know the expression of those eyes? For a whole year I was pining and swooning in the light — of them! She was splendidly well-made, and when she danced her national dance the audience would stamp and shout with delight. . . . But, I fancy, no one but I fell in love with her — at least, no one was in love with her as I was. From the very minute when I saw her for the first time (would you believe it, I have only to close my eyes, and at once the theatre is before me, the almost empty stage, representing the heart of a forest, and she running in from the wing on the right, with a wreath of vine on her head and a tiger-skin over her shoulders)— from that fatal moment I have belonged to her utterly, just as a dog belongs to its master; and if, now that I am dying, I do not belong to her, it is only because she has cast me off.
To tell the truth, she never troubled herself particularly about me. She scarcely noticed me, though she was very good-natured in making use of my money. I was for her, as she expressed it in her broken French, ‘oun Rousso, boun enfant,’ and nothing more. But I . . . I could not live where she was not living; I tore myself away once for all from everything dear to me, from my country even, and followed that woman.
You will suppose, perhaps, that she had brains. Not in the least! One had only to glance at her low brow, one needed only one glimpse of her lazy, careless smile, to feel certain at once of the scantiness of her intellectual endowments. And I never imagined her to be an exceptional woman. In fact, I never for one instant deceived myself about her. But that was of no avail to me. Whatever I thought of her in her absence, in her presence I felt nothing but slavish adoration. . . . In German fairy-tales, the knights often fall under such an enchantment. I could not take my eyes off her features, I could never tire of listening to her talk, of admiring all her gestures; I positively drew my breath as she breathed. However, she was good-natured, unconstrained — too unconstrained indeed — did not give herself airs, as actresses generally do. There was a lot of life in her — that is, a lot of blood, that splendid southern blood, into which the sun of those parts must have infused some of its beams. She slept nine hours out of the twenty-four, enjoyed her dinner, never read a single line of print, except, perhaps, the newspaper articles in which she was mentioned; and almost the only tender feeling in her life was her devotion to il Signore Carlino, a greedy little Italian, who waited on her in the capacity of secretary, and whom, later on, she married. And such a woman I could fall in love with — I, a man, versed in all sorts of intellectual subtleties, and no longer young! . . . Who could have anticipated it? I, at least, never anticipated it. I never anticipated the part I was to play. I never anticipated that I should come to hanging about rehearsals, waiting, bored and frozen, behind the scenes, breathing in the smut and grime of the theatre, making friends with all sorts of utterly unpresentable persons. . . . Making friends, did I say? — cringing slavishly upon them. I never anticipated that I should carry a ballet-dancer’s shawl; buy her her new gloves, clean her old ones with bread-crumbs (I did even that, alas!), carry home her bouquets, hang about the offices of journalists and editors, waste my substance, give serenades, catch colds, wear myself out. . . . I never expected in a little German town to receive the jeering nickname ‘der Kunst-barbar.’ . . . And all this for nothing, in the fullest sense of the word, for nothing. That’s just it.
. . . Do you remember how we used, in talk and by letter, to reason together about love and indulge in all sort of subtleties? But in actual life it turns out that real love is a feeling utterly unlike what we pictured to ourselves. Love, indeed, is not a feeling at all, it’s a malady, a certain condition of soul and body. It does not develop gradually. One cannot doubt about it, one cannot outwit it, though it does not always come in the same way. Usually it takes possession of a person without question, suddenly, against his will — for all the world like cholera or fever. . . . It clutches him, poor dear, as the hawk pounces on the chicken, and bears him off at its will, however he struggles or resists. . . . In love, there’s no equality, none of the so-called free union of souls, and such idealisms, concocted at their leisure by German professors. . . . No, in love, one person is slave, and the other master; and well may the poets talk of the fetters put on by love. Yes, love is a fetter, and the heaviest to bear. At least I have come to this conviction, and have come to it by the path of experience; I have bought this conviction at the cost of my life, since I am dying in my slavery.
What a life mine has been, if you think of it! In my first youth nothing would satisfy me but to take heaven by storm for myself. . . . Then I fell to dreaming of the good of all humanity, of the good of my country. Then that passed too. I was thinking of nothing but making a home, family life for myself . . . and so tripped over an ant-heap — and plop, down into the grave. . . . Ah, we’re great hands, we Russians, at making such a finish!
But it’s time to turn away from all that, it’s long been time! May this burden be loosened from off my soul together with life! I want, for the last time, if only for an instant, to enjoy the sweet and gentle feeling which is shed like a soft light within me, directly I think of you. Your image is now doubly precious to me. . . . With it, rises up before me the image of my country, and I send to it and to you a farewell greeting. Live, live long and happily, and remember one thing: whether you remain in the wilds of the steppes — where you have sometimes been so sorrowful, but where I should so like to spend my last days — or whether you enter upon a different career, remember life deceives all but him who does not reflect upon her, and, demanding nothing of her, accepts serenely her few gifts and serenely makes the most of them. Go forward while you can. But if your strength fails you, sit by the wayside and watch those that pass by without anger or envy. They, too, have not far to go. In old days, I did not tell you this, but death will teach any one. Though who says what is life, what is truth? Do you remember who it was made no reply to that question? . . . Farewell, Marya Alexandrovna, farewell for the last time, and do not remember evil against poor ALEXEY.
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Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01