Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Diary of a Superfluous Man and Other Stories by Ivan Turgenev

Part 4 out of 4

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.4 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.


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.,




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

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,

A. S.



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,

A. S.



VILLAGE OF X----, _April_ 14.

What a strange person you are! Very well, then.--Yes!




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

'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,

A. S.



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




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,

A. S.



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

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,




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

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?



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

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



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 Adela´da
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 to-day. I am in a strange, half-irritated, half-emotional state
of mind to-day, 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

'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 to-morrow, 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.

_July_ 9.

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 to-morrow 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,

A. S.



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.



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.

M. B.



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.

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest