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- On the Eve - 2/36 -
through the harmonious tenor of the whole, and strangely and swiftly transfigure the quiet story, troubling us with a dawning consciousness of the march of mighty events. Suddenly a strange sense steals upon the reader that he is living in a perilous atmosphere, filling his heart with foreboding, and enveloping at length the characters themselves, all unconsciously awaiting disaster in the sunny woods and gardens of Kuntsovo. But not till the last chapters are reached does the English reader perceive that in recreating for him the mental atmosphere of a single educated Russian household, Turgenev has been casting before his eyes the faint shadow of the national drama which was indeed played, though left unfinished, on the Balkan battlefields of 1876-7. Briefly, Turgenev, in sketching the dawn of love in a young girl's soul, has managed faintly, but unmistakably, to make spring and flourish in our minds the ineradicable, though hidden, idea at the back of Slav thought--the unification of the Slav races. How doubly welcome that art should be which can lead us, the foreigners, thus straight to the heart of the national secrets of a great people, secrets which our own critics and diplomatists must necessarily misrepresent. Each of Turgenev's novels may be said to contain a light-bringing rejoinder to the old-fashioned criticism of the Muscovite, current up to the rise of the Russian novel, and still, unfortunately, lingering among us; but _On the Eve_, of all the novels, contains perhaps the most instructive political lesson England can learn. Europe has always had, and most assuredly England has been over-rich in those alarm-monger critics, watchdogs for ever baying at Slav cupidity, treachery, intrigue, and so on and so on. It is useful to have these well-meaning animals on the political premises, giving noisy tongue whenever the Slav stretches out his long arm and opens his drowsy eyes, but how rare it is to find a man who can teach us to interpret a nation's aspirations, to gauge its inner force, its aim, its inevitability. Turgenev gives us such clues. In the respectful, if slightly forced, silence that has been imposed by certain recent political events on the tribe of faithful watchdogs, it may be permitted to one to say, that whatever England's interest may be in relation to Russia's development, it is better for us to understand the force of Russian aims, before we measure our strength against it And a novel, such as On the Eve, though now nearly forty years old, and to the short-sighted out of date, reveals in a flash the attitude of the Slav towards his political destiny. His aspirations may have to slumber through policy or necessity; they may be distorted or misrepresented, or led astray by official action, but we confess that for us, _On the Eve_ suggests the existence of a mighty lake, whose waters, dammed back for a while, are rising slowly, but are still some way from the brim. How long will it take to the overflow? Nobody knows; but when the long winter of Russia's dark internal policy shall be broken up, will the snows, melting on the mountains, stream south-west, inundating the Valley of the Danube? Or, as the national poet, Pushkin, has sung, will there be a pouring of many Slavonian rivulets into the Russian sea, a powerful attraction of the Slav races towards a common centre to create an era of peace and development within, whereby Russia may rise free and rejoicing to face her great destinies? Hard and bitter is the shaping of nations. Uvar Ivanovitch still fixes his enigmatical stare into the far distance.
THE NAMES OF THE CHARACTERS IN THE BOOK
NIKOLA'I [Nicolas] ARTE'MYEVITCH STA'HOV.
ELE'NA [LE'NOTCHKA, Helene] NIKOLA'EVNA.
ZO'YA [Zoe] NIKI'TISHNA MU'LLER.
ANDRE'I PETRO'VITCH BERSE'NYEV.
PA'VEL [Paul] YA'KOVLITCH (or YA'KOVITCH) SHU'BIN.
DMI'TRI NIKANO'ROVITCH (or NIKANO'RITCH) INSA'ROV.
YEGO'R ANDRE'ITCH KURNATO'VSKY.
UVA'R IVA'NOVITCH STA'HOV.
In transcribing the Russian names into English--
a has the sound of a in father. e , , .............a in pane. i , , .............ee. u , ,............. oo. y is always consonantal except when it is the last letter of the word. g is always hard.
On one of the hottest days of the summer of 1853, in the shade of a tall lime-tree on the bank of the river Moskva, not far from Kuntsovo, two young men were lying on the grass. One, who looked about twenty-three, tall and swarthy, with a sharp and rather crooked nose, a high forehead, and a restrained smile on his wide mouth, was lying on his back and gazing meditatively into the distance, his small grey eyes half closed. The other was lying on his chest, his curly, fair head propped on his two hands; he, too, was looking away into the distance. He was three years older than his companion, but seemed much younger. His moustache was only just growing, and his chin was covered with a light curly down. There was something childishly pretty, something attractively delicate, in the small features of his fresh round face, in his soft brown eyes, lovely pouting lips, and little white hands. Everything about him was suggestive of the happy light-heartedness of perfect health and youth--the carelessness, conceit, self-indulgence, and charm of youth. He used his eyes, and smiled and leaned his head as boys do who know that people look at them admiringly. He wore a loose white coat, made like a blouse, a blue kerchief wrapped his slender throat, and a battered straw hat had been flung on the grass beside him.
His companion seemed elderly in comparison with him; and no one would have supposed, from his angular figure, that he too was happy and enjoying himself. He lay in an awkward attitude; his large head--wide at the crown and narrower at the base--hung awkwardly on his long neck; awkwardness was expressed in the very pose of his hands, of his body, tightly clothed in a short black coat, and of his long legs with their knees raised, like the hind-legs of a grasshopper. For all that, it was impossible not to recognise that he was a man of good education; the whole of his clumsy person bore the stamp of good-breeding; and his face, plain and even a little ridiculous as it was, showed a kindly nature and a thoughtful habit. His name was Andrei Petrovitch Bersenyev; his companion, the fair-haired young man, was called Pavel Yakovlitch Shubin.
'Why don't you lie on your face, like me?' began Shubin. 'It's ever so much nicer so; especially when you kick up your heels and clap them together--like this. You have the grass under your nose; when you're sick of staring at the landscape you can watch a fat beetle crawling on a blade of grass, or an ant fussing about. It's really much nicer. But you've taken up a pseudo-classical pose, for all the world like a ballet-dancer, when she reclines upon a rock of paste-board. You should remember you have a perfect right to take a rest now. It's no joking matter to come out third! Take your ease, sir; give up all exertion, and rest your weary limbs!'
Shubin delivered this speech through his nose in a half-lazy, half-joking voice (spoilt children speak so to friends of the house who bring them sweetmeats), and without waiting for an answer he went on:
'What strikes me most forcibly in the ants and beetles and other worthy insects is their astounding seriousness. They run to and fro with such a solemn air, as though their life were something of such importance! A man the lord of creation, the highest being, stares at them, if you please, and they pay no attention to him. Why, a gnat will even settle on the lord of creation's nose, and make use of him for food. It's most offensive. And, on the other hand, how is their life inferior to ours? And why shouldn't they take themselves seriously, if we are to be allowed to take ourselves seriously? There now, philosopher, solve that problem for me! Why don't you speak? Eh?'
'What?' said Bersenyev, starting.
'What!' repeated Shubin. 'Your friend lays his deepest thoughts before you, and you don't listen to him.'
'I was admiring the view. Look how hot and bright those fields are in the sun.' Bersenyev spoke with a slight lisp.
'There's some fine colour laid on there,' observed Shubin. 'Nature's a good hand at it, that's the fact!'
Bersenyev shook his head.
'You ought to be even more ecstatic over it than I. It's in your line: you're an artist.'
'No; it's not in my line,' rejoined Shubin, putting his hat on the back of his head. 'Flesh is my line; my work's with flesh--modelling flesh, shoulders, legs, and arms, and here there's no form, no finish; it's all over the place. . . . Catch it if you can.'
'But there is beauty here, too,' remarked Bersenyev.--'By the way, have you finished your bas-relief?'
'The boy with the goat.'
'Hang it! Hang it! Hang it!' cried Shubin, drawling--'I looked at the genuine old things, the antiques, and I smashed my rubbish to pieces. You point to nature, and say "there's beauty here, too." Of course, there's beauty in everything, even in your nose there's beauty; but you can't try after all kinds of beauty. The ancients, they didn't try after it; beauty came down of itself upon their
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