Schulers Books Online
books - games - software - wallpaper - everything
- Rudin - 2/32 -
not appreciate and enjoy pure art. This was the painful, almost tragic, position of an artist, who lived in a most inartistic epoch, and whose highest aspirations and noblest efforts wounded and irritated those among his countrymen whom he was most devoted to, and whom he desired most ardently to serve.
This strife embittered Turgenev's life.
At one crucial epoch of his literary career the conflict became so vehement, and the outcry against him, set in motion by his very artistic truthfulness and objectiveness, became so loud and unanimous, that he contemplated giving up literature altogether. He could not possibly have held to this resolution. But it is surely an open question whether, sensitive and modest as he was, and prone to despondency and diffidence, he would have done so much for the literature of his country without the enthusiastic encouragement of various great foreign novelists, who were his friends and admirers: George Sand, Gustave Flaubert, in France; Auerbach, in Germany; W. D. Howells, in America; George Eliot, in England.
We will tell the story of his troubled life piece by piece as far as space will allow, as his works appear in succession. Here we will only give a few biographical traits which bear particularly upon the novel before us, and account for his peculiar hold over the minds of his countrymen.
Turgenev, who was born in 1818, belonged to a set of Russians very small in his time, who had received a thoroughly European education in no way inferior to that of the best favoured young German or Englishman. It happened, moreover, that his paternal uncle, Nicholas Turgenev, the famous 'Decembrist,' after the failure of that first attempt (December 14, 1825) to gain by force of arms a constitutional government for Russia, succeeded in escaping the vengeance of the Tsar Nicholas I., and settled in France, where he published in French the first vindication of Russian revolution.
Whilst studying philosophy in the Berlin University, Turgenev paid short visits to his uncle, who initiated him in the ideas of liberty, from which he never swerved throughout his long life.
In the sixties, when Alexander Hertzen, one of the most gifted writers of our land, a sparkling, witty, pathetic, and powerful journalist and brilliant essayist, started in London his _Kolokol_, a revolutionary, or rather radical paper, which had a great influence in Russia, Turgenev became one of his most active contributors and advisers,--almost a member of the editorial staff.
This fact has been revealed a few years ago by the publication, which we owe to Professor Dragomanov, of the private correspondence between Turgenev and Hertzen. This most interesting little volume throws quite a new light upon Turgenev, showing that our great novelist was at the same time one of the strongest--perhaps the strongest--and most clear-sighted political thinkers of his time. However surprising such a versatility may appear, it is proved to demonstration by a comparison of his views, his attitude, and his forecasts, some of which have been verified only lately, with those of the acknowledged leaders and spokesmen of the various political parties of his day, including Alexander Hertzen himself. Turgenev's are always the soundest, the most correct and far-sighted judgments, as latter-day history has proved.
A man with so ardent a love of liberty, and such radical views, could not possibly banish them from his literary works, no matter how great his devotion to pure art. He would have been a poor artist had he inflicted upon himself such a mutilation, because freedom from all restraints, the frank, sincere expression of the artist's individuality, is the life and soul of all true art.
Turgenev gave to his country the whole of himself, the best of his mind and of his creative fancy. He appeared at the same time as a teacher, a prophet of new ideas, and as a poet and artist. But his own countrymen hailed him in the first capacity, remaining for a long time obtuse to the latter and greater.
Thus, during one of the most important and interesting periods of our national history, Turgenev was the standard-bearer and inspirer of the Liberal, the thinking Russia. Although the two men stand at diametrically opposite poles, Turgenev's position can be compared to that of Count Tolstoi nowadays, with a difference, this time in favour of the author of _Dmitri Rudin_. With Turgenev the thinker and the artist are not at war, spoiling and sometimes contradicting each other's efforts. They go hand in hand, because he never preaches any doctrine whatever, but gives us, with an unimpeachable, artistic objectiveness, the living men and women in whom certain ideas, doctrines, and aspirations were embodied. And he never evolves these ideas and doctrines from his inner consciousness, but takes them from real life, catching with his unfailing artistic instinct an incipient movement just at the moment when it was to become a historic feature of the time. Thus his novels are a sort of artistic epitome of the intellectual history of modern Russia, and also a powerful instrument of her intellectual progress.
_Rudin_ is the first of Turgenev's social novels, and is a sort of artistic introduction to those that follow, because it refers to the epoch anterior to that when the present social and political movements began. This epoch is being fast forgotten, and without his novel it would be difficult for us to fully realise it, but it is well worth studying, because we find in it the germ of future growths.
It was a gloomy time. The ferocious despotism of Nicholas I.--overweighing the country like the stone lid of a coffin, crushed every word, every thought, which did not fit with its narrow conceptions. But this was not the worst. The worst was that progressive Russia was represented by a mere handful of men, who were so immensely in advance of their surroundings, that in their own country they felt more isolated, helpless, and out of touch with the realities of life than if they had lived among strangers.
But men must have some outlet for their spiritual energies, and these men, unable to take part in the sordid or petty pursuits of those around them, created for themselves artificial life, artificial pursuits and interests.
The isolation in which they lived drew them naturally together. The 'circle,' something between an informal club and a debating society, became the form in which these cravings of mind or heart could be satisfied. These people met and talked; that was all they were able to do.
The passage in which one of the heroes, Lezhnyov, tells the woman he loves about the circle of which Dmitri Rudin and himself were members, is historically one of the most suggestive. It refers to a circle of young students. But it has a wider application. All prominent men of the epoch--Stankevitch, who served as model to the poetic and touching figure of Pokorsky; Alexander Hertzen, and the great critic, Belinsky--all had their 'circles,' or their small chapels, in which these enthusiasts met to offer worship to the 'goddess of truth, art, and morality.'
They were the best men of their time, full of high aspirations and knowledge, and their disinterested search after truth was certainly a noble pursuit. They had full right to look down upon their neighbours wallowing in the mire of sordid and selfish materialism. But by living in that spiritual hothouse of dreams, philosophical speculations, and abstractions, these men unfitted themselves only the more completely for participation in real life; the absorption in interests having nothing to do with the life of their own country, estranged them still more from it. The overwhelming stream of words drained them of the natural sources of spontaneous emotion, and these men almost grew out of feeling by dint of constantly analysing their feelings.
Dmitri Rudin is the typical man of that generation, both the victim and the hero of his time--a man who is almost a Titan in word and a pigmy in deed. He is eloquent as a young Demosthenes. An irresistible debater, he carries everything before him the moment he appears. But he fails ignominiously when put to the hard test of action. Yet he is not an impostor. His enthusiasm is contagious because it is sincere, and his eloquence is convincing because devotion to his ideals is an absorbing passion with him. He would die for them, and, what is more rare, he would not swerve a hair's-breadth from them for any worldly advantage, or for fear of any hardship. Only this passion and this enthusiasm spring with him entirely from the head. The heart, the deep emotional power of human love and pity, lay dormant in him. Humanity, which he would serve to the last drop of his blood, is for him a body of foreigners--French, English, Germans--whom he has studied from books, and whom he has met only in hotels and watering-places during his foreign travels as a student or as a tourist.
Towards such an abstract, alien humanity, a man cannot feel any real attachment. With all his outward ardour, Rudin is cold as ice at the bottom of his heart. His is an enthusiasm which glows without warmth, like the aurora borealis of the Polar regions. A poor substitute for the bountiful sun. But what would have become of a God-forsaken land if the Arctic nights were deprived of that substitute? With all their weaknesses, Rudin and the men of his stamp--in other words, the men of the generation of 1840--have rendered an heroic service to their country. They inculcated in it the religion of the ideal; they brought in the seeds, which had only to be thrown into the warm furrow of their native soil to bring forth the rich crops of the future.
The shortcomings and the impotence of these men were due to their having no organic ties with their own country, no roots in the Russian soil. They hardly knew the Russian people, who appeared to them as nothing more than an historic abstraction. They were really cosmopolitan, as a poor makeshift for something better, and Turgenev, in making his hero die on a French barricade, was true to life as well as to art.
The inward growth of the country has remedied this defect in the course of the three generations which have followed. But has the remedy been complete? No; far from it, unfortunately. There are still thousands of barriers preventing the Russians from doing something useful for their countrymen and mixing freely with them. The spiritual energies of the most ardent are still compelled--partially at least--to run into the artificial channels described in Turgenev's novel.
Hence the perpetuation of Rudin's type, which acquires more than an historical interest.
In discussing the character of Hlestakov, the hero of his great comedy, Gogol declared that this type is pretty nigh universal, because 'every Russian,' he says, 'has a bit of Hlestakov in him.' This not very flattering opinion has been humbly indorsed and repeated
Previous Page Next Page
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 10 20 30 32
Schulers Books Online
books - games - software - wallpaper - everything