L. F. DOSTOIEFFSKAYA
WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY
“The Emigrant” (Emigranta), by L. F. Dostoieffskaya,a daughter of Dostoieffsky thenovelist, was published in 1913, and obtainedconsiderable success in Russia. It isa study of the life of a Russian girl (or shouldwe say woman? for she is not young) inItaly. It is a deeply interesting study ofcontemporary types. In truth, only twoRussians take part in the story, the heroand heroine, Prince Gzhatsky and Irene.But the long struggle which is portrayed is aRussian struggle.
These Russians, however, are not theRussians of Dostoieffsky’s time. They areclearly of to-day.
Pride in Russia, and in Russia’s might andwealth and brilliant future, was one of Irene’sgreatest joys. The Russian people seemed to herto be a race of chivalrous knights, ever ready to[vi]fight for truth and Christianity, and to defendthe weak and the persecuted. When the JapaneseWar broke out, she asked herself, with thesincerest astonishment, how such pitiful monkeysever could have declared war on such indomitableknights. She even pitied the Japanese for havingfallen victims to such madness! Her despairand suffering at the news of our first failures istherefore easy to imagine. None of Irene’snear relations were at the war, but each of ourlosses, nevertheless, found its echo in her heart,like a personal misfortune. Overwhelmed withgrief, she attached no importance either to theRussian revolution, or to the reforms that followed.Like all passionate idealists when their ideal isshattered, Irene rushed to the other extreme—thatof a profound contempt for Russia.
And it is in contempt of Russia that theheroine finds consolation in Italy, and iseven ready to throw over the OrthodoxChurch to which she belongs and enter aconvent of sœurs mauves.
The chief interest in the book is the conflictbetween the influence of a certain PèreEtienne and the influence of a compatriot ofhandsome looks and robust mind, PrinceGzhatsky. Irene is in a pension “teemingwith old maids.” She is herself forty and unmarried.[vii]She is apparently without near ofkin, and is lonely beyond words, but alsoselfish and extremely condemnatory in heroutlook. But she is vivacious, spontaneous,engaging, and always asking pertinent questions.
The high demands she made of her idealhero, the man she might marry, give one theidea that there is a certain amount of autobiographyin this volume, for no doubt idealsranged high in the home of Dostoieffsky. Itis strange, however, that the question ofselfishness and unselfishness does not arisein this enthralling study of an unsatisfiedsoul. Dostoieffsky himself was never tiredof a certain Gospel sentence, the thought ofwhich might have given calm to Irene:“Except a corn of wheat fall into the groundand die it abideth alone; but if it die itbringeth forth much fruit.” The whole book,however, has a haunting suggestion of Dostoieffsky—theghost of the father is somewhereabout.
This poor Russian woman has, however,lost herself in going to Rome. One sees[viii]how much happier she would have been ifshe had remained at home. It is common inRussians to go into ecstasy about Italy whenthey see it first.
“In Italy, amidst the brilliance and magnificenceof Nature, in the magnificent chaosof cities buzzing with automobiles, hummingwith factories, you feel at least that Man isnot losing himself; you feel he is the master,the centre. But in Moscow …” wroteGorky, another unhappy exile; and it isa characteristic expression. The exile admiresthe West, but he must return toRussia.
A word should be said as to the discussionof the relative merits or demerits of theRoman Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Itis not very competently handled by theauthoress, but there is at least one mosteffective comment on ecclesiasticism as such:
“In your place I would go a little furtherstill,” exclaimed Irene’s inner soul withmalicious sarcasm. “I would destroy everyNew Testament in the world, except one—andthat one I would put in a golden, jewel-studded[ix]box, and would bury it deep in theearth, forbidding its disinterment on pain ofdeath. Over it, I would build a splendidgolden shrine, and in this shrine I wouldcelebrate night and day magnificent serviceswith gorgeous processions. That would beentirely in accordance with the spirit of yourChristianity.”
And she yearns for a Christianity freedfrom the prison walls of churches and forms.
Irene, however, thinks that if the OrthodoxRussian Church elected a Patriarch it mightrecover its ancient power, and utter a “newword.” And there once more we see vaguelythe ghost of Dostoieffsky. The great Russian,however, would not have spoken sokindly of the Roman Church (which he regardedas a sort of political conspiracy againstChristianity).
Il n’y a qu’un héroisme au monde: c’est de voir lemonde tel qu’il est—et de l’aimer.—Romain Rolland.
On the 15th of October, 19—, at four o’clockin the afternoon, in the garden of the MontePincio in Rome, sat a girl, no longer in thefirst flush of youth, Irene Mstinskaia. Sheheld a book in her hand, having come to thepark with the object of reading in the freshair; but, as had always been the case sinceher arrival in Rome, she could not concentrateher thoughts on the English novel openbefore her. Her glance glided across theblue autumnal sky, lingered caressingly onthe magnificent southern pines and palms,rested on the statues gleaming white amongthe verdure, and always returned to theEternal City, as it lay spread out beforeher, at the feet of the Pincio.
Irene had travelled much and seen much,but no town had yet produced so deep animpression on her. She tried in vain todefine this power that Rome wielded overher, and, finding no explanation, she inventedone of her own: “Who knows,” thoughtIrene dreamily, “perhaps people never reallyquite die, but remain for ever hovering inspirit round those places where they havemost forcibly lived and suffered. It may bethat Rome is full of the ghosts of ancientRomans, of early Christians, of Renaissancepainters, of nineteenth-century Italians, whodied nobly in the struggle for Italy’s freedomand unity. All these phantoms are unableto tear themselves away from their belovedEternal City. They are the rulers of Rometo-day, as much as in their own time, andwe, foreigners, fall under their influence andcannot dissociate our thoughts from them.”
On the whole, the influence of Rome wasnot only overwhelming—it was also soothing.Wandering in museums, among ruins, throughchurches and catacombs, Irene felt, day byday, stealing into her soul a profound, indescribablesense of peace, such as that whichunconsciously comes over one as one entersa convent. And it was just for this holystillness and peace that her tired soul wasthirsting.
Let not the reader think, however, thatmy heroine had passed through the stormof some great misfortune, or the suffering ofsome severe illness. On the contrary, herlife and circumstances were such, that manya short-sighted and superficial observer enviedher exceedingly.
At the death of her parents, Irene hadremained entirely free, with plenty of money,a good name, and a good position in society.She enjoyed excellent health, in spite of thefact that she had been born and had passedall her life in Petrograd; she was clever andwell educated. What more, one asks oneself,could anyone desire of the Fates?
But, somehow, it is an unfortunate fact indear Russia, that even the most preciousgifts of the gods seem never to be of anybenefit to our people. How is one to explainthis curious circumstance? Does it arise fromsome peculiarity in the Russian temperament,or from the general disorder and purposelessnessof our way of living? The French,in the similar case of “La Belle au BoisDormant,” have laid all the blame at thedoor of the wicked fairy who was offendedat not being invited to the christening. Ithink I shall not go far wrong if I say thatin Russia the part of the wicked fairy isplayed by the parents of the infant themselves.Oh, of course not intentionally, butsimply as a consequence of our Russian lazinessand the absence of organized and formulatedideas in the bringing up of our children.
Irene Mstinskaia lost her mother early andwas brought up by her father, a scientist whospent all his life in his laboratory, dislikedsociety, and received nobody but an occasionalfriend, as jealously devoted to scienceas himself. He adored his little Irene, pettedand spoiled her; but, like most Russianparents, took very little interest in herspiritual development. The child grew up,lonely, silent, pensive. Books took, in heryoung life, the place of companions andchildish games. She read a great dealwithout guidance or discrimination, andgained all her ideas on life, all her faith,all her ideals and aims and aspirations frombooks. Books stood between her and reality,and hid from her those deep truths that cannever be learnt from even the greatest literaryproduction, but can only be understood afterlong years of untiring observation and experience.It was in books also that Irenefound her ideal of the man she could love.Her hero was an exceedingly complicatedcharacter. He united in himself the stoicismof an ancient Roman, the romanticism of amediæval knight, the gallantry of a powderedmarquis, and the dignified chivalry of thehero of an English novel.
Do not laugh, reader! Irene was notstupid; she was only young and inexperienced,knew little or nothing of life, and sincerelybelieved in her fantastic dream hero. Mostpathetic of all was the fact that she set aboutlooking for him among the relations andfriends of her late mother, who had belongedby birth to the higher government circles—i.e.,the most unromantic circles of Russiansociety. The proximity of the court, theglitter of wealth and social position, transformsalmost every young Petrograd officialinto a mere hunter after honours, money,decorations, caring for nothing but his careerand the chance of some brilliant appointment.The distance that separates Petrograd fromthe rest of Russia destroys in these youngpeople what should be the fundamental ideaat the root of all conscientious governmentservice—the good of the country. Theirservice becomes simply a ladder by whichthey can mount upwards towards the makingof a career, and any means seems justifiableto attain this end. Already in childhoodthese young people are familiar with conversationsabout promotions and honours,and their souls early imbibe the poison thatmakes worldlings and cynics. Their wivesalso cannot influence them for good, sincethey, too, in the majority of cases growup in the same official circles, and seenothing blameworthy in career-hunting. Onthe contrary, they intrigue and help andencourage their husbands in the rush foradvantageous appointments.
To a fresh young soul, such as Irene’s thecynicism of “officialdom’s” conversations andideals could not but stand out in all its trueugliness, causing her to turn away, sick withdisillusionment and disgust. She regardedthis whole spirit of self-advancement-at-any-pricewith the profoundest contempt, and consideredit low and vulgar and worthy only ofmenials. Her father, holding his noble birthin high honour, had instilled into his daughterthe assurance that her aristocratic antecedentsplaced her on a level with all the de Rohansand de Montmorencys in the world. Sheregarded decorations and titles and socialhonours with contempt, and could not understandhow anybody could attach importanceto such toys. Her means were sufficient toensure lifelong freedom from care; luxury,however, did not attract her, for Irene was anidealist, who looked upon love, pure, sanctifiedlove, as the greatest happiness life could offer.
Had she been English or American, thislonely girl would not have been content withher limited circle of acquaintances, and wouldhave gone in search of her hero through thelength and breadth not only of Russia, butof all Europe.
Irene, however, was Russian, and thereforeplacid and unenterprising! So she notonly did not travel, but had not the energy,even at home in Petrograd, to look roundand make sure that her hero was not concealedsomewhere in the social circles of thecapital. She profoundly despised the pitifultypes she met in society, and though sick atheart, waited patiently and untiringly for theone man before whom she was destined someday to bow her head. Her own individualfaith was largely responsible for this patient,confident expectation. Already in her earlychildhood, Irene had worked out for herselfher own personal credo, in the place of which,without understanding it in the least, mostpeople unthinkingly accept the religion officiallyadopted by the State. Her faith, ofcourse, rested upon a Christian basis—buther Christianity was of the kind that shapesitself