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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.
G. R. Lomer, ed. The Student’s Course in Literature.

Lectures on the World’s Best Literature: Russian Literature

By Louis Sigmund Friedland (1884–1955)

Introduction. RUSSIA has come to the forefront in the turmoil of modern events. Until very recently it had been an unknown factor in international relations. A great mystery enshrouded it. What was the secret of its half-western, half-oriental mode of life, of its political system, its mystic religions, its fascinating arts? What forces in its body politic would gain the ascendency in the stress of war? The West waited expectantly for Russia to declare itself. To-day, there is no longer any doubt. Russia has emerged forever from its clinging mediævalism. Its face is turned to the West. Never again will one be able to describe Russia as a huge giant standing half-asleep, with his feet in the Caucasus and his head in the Arctic regions, and clasping to his breast a mighty jug of vodka. In time the veil of mystery will be lifted, but our interest in the great country, and especially in its literature, will be stimulated by its entry into the family of democratic nations.

The Background. Most of us seek to reach an understanding of Russia by way of that portion of its literature which is accessible to us in translation. But in order to attain a fuller measure of appreciation of an alien literature it is necessary to have some knowledge of the conditions, geographical, social, political, environmental, that molded that literature. This background is especially important when the reader takes up the complex, puzzling, paradoxical literature of Russia. In Russia, literature is linked to the actualities of life in a way that is no longer true of the West. The Russian looks to his literature for solutions to the “accursed problems of life.” The great Russian critics judge a book not primarily as a work of art, but as a contribution to social service, as an attempt to throw light on the questions that vex the minds of men. There is little of art for art’s sake. The great writers have sworn fealty to man, not to the State. It is in this spirit that a Russian poet has said,

  • “The writer,—if he is a wave
  • Of the ocean which we call Russia,
  • Can but awaken to rebellion
  • When the ocean itself rebels.
  • The writer—if he is a nerve
  • Of that great body which is the people,
  • Can but feel the wound
  • When liberty is stricken.”
  • Instinctively, Russian writers know that the meaning of life is involved in life itself, so that, without losing sight of a great spiritual goal, they grapple with the realities about them. For this reason Russian literature presents a wonderful union of idealism and realism. Let us see how this combination came about.

    Political Conditions. England is the hub of a huge maritime empire which is the result of a ceaseless radiation. The British Empire grew by means of an “absent treatment,” so that its expansion seldom retarded the solution of the internal problems of England. In fact, the necessity for increasingly liberal colonial policies often helped to bring about social reforms in the mother country. In Russia, on the contrary, social development had to wait until the whole of the vast plain was conquered and more outlets to the great world had been secured. Russian expansion was a slow, gradual process of diffusion over the endless plain.

    Because of this fact there was no equilibrium in Russia between the growth of the empire and internal development. Social organization had to wait. The Russians began the task of uniting the broad territories into one nation, under one tsar. How was this structure to be kept from disintegrating, from falling back into its component parts? For the purpose of outward adhesion, Peter the Great devised the complex structure of the bureaucratic machine. Until the recent Revolution, Russia was divided politically into two parts: the bureaucracy and the people. It was only with the promulgation of the Constitutional Manifesto of 1905 that the people were given a very modest share in the government. Before that date the masses had submitted to the iron rule of the bureaucracy with a fatalism almost Oriental. Russia was not ruled by its aristocracy or by its nobility. As a matter of fact, the bureaucracy was no respecter of rank or ancient blood and never hesitated to deal severely with those of the nobility who went counter to its wishes. Russia was tightly held by the rivets of a complicated and extremely elaborate organization, highly efficient on paper, but completely incapable of coping with great national crises. It is against this bureaucracy that the great writers of Russia have waged unending combat. For a long time the inspiring motive of their literature was antagonism toward the official institutions. The writers had a definite reality to grapple with. For them, as for men everywhere, the fullest liberty was to be found only in the unreal realm of hidden thoughts and dreams and aspirations. But when the hour struck for giving these thoughts reality, there was ushered in a time of tremendous struggle that absorbed the energies of the nation. Here and there arose voices counseling submission to the bureaucracy as the inevitable and natural solidifying power of the country. But the greater number beat their heads in vain against that iron wall. That the people submitted as long as they did to the rule of an autocracy which left everywhere its deadening, repressive influence, can be explained only by their character. But to understand the Russian character we must first deal with the forces that determine it.

    The Russian Plain. Russia is the broadest of land empires. It is stretched out in one tremendous, almost unbroken plain from its western frontiers across Eastern Europe and Western Asia. The plain is not absolutely level, but no point in the seemingly endless sweep has an altitude of more than 1400 feet. Compare this vast stretch of plain with England, “a right little, tight little island,” and you have the fundamental reason for the differences between the two countries in character, and in social and political structure.

    It is impossible to overestimate the influence that the Russian plain has exercised on the literature and the people. The spirit of the plain,—with its suggestion of vast spaces, its poignant melancholy, its sober monotony, its strong and subtle mastery,—is the spirit of Russian literature. In one of his stories Chekhov gives us a glimpse of this expanse: “To the right stretched a cold, dark plain, so boundless and vast, that if you crossed it, no doubt you would come to the Other End of Nowhere. The cold, autumn sunset burnt out slowly where the edge of it melted into the sky.” There is something of elemental power in these vast reaches, a suggestion of far horizons that beckon the traveler to go on and on toward a goal which he cannot see. In the same way, the great writers of Russia travel over the illimitable plain of Life, called by a spiritual ideal which they can discern but dimly, but which they know exists. They are not content to linger idly by the wayside. No provisional explanations will satisfy them. Their search is for Truth in its unalloyed essence. As Tolstoy wrote in his ‘Sebastopol Sketches’: “Who is the hero, and who the villain? All are good and all are bad. But the hero of my story whom I love with all my soul, and whom I have striven to reproduce in all his beauty, and who has always been, is, and will be beautiful, is Truth.”

    In spite of its level monotony, the Russian plain has sharp contrasts: the contrasts between the bitter, relentless winters, and the hot, exuberant summers. It is the paradox of nature that has become the paradox of the Russian character. In winter everything is tied up; it is a period of relaxation, of mental and physical hibernation. With summer comes the great release, the sudden liberation, life, and movement, and the busy hum of men. These recurrent contrasts leave their marked effects both on the occupations of the people and on their character. On the Russian steppes there are the steady and rhythmic alternations between relaxation and effort, between repose and movement. One sometimes feels that the whole of Russian life and literature expresses these same rotations, alternating times of gray hopelessness, of nerveless surrender, with times of high upleapings of the spirit, of feverish plannings; following periods of doubt and denial with periods of faith and affirmation.

    Oriental Influence. In addition to the contrasts in climate and character, there is in Russia the further difference between the oriental and the occidental—in customs, religion, arts, and in all phases of life. Russia is a land of many races, each with its own traditions and its own habits. The contrasts that we find there seem to disprove the words of Kipling.

  • “East is East and West is West
  • And never the twain shall meet”.
  • In Russia, the near-oriental and the western elements exist in close proximity and will, in time, be completely merged. But there can be no doubt that these complicating elements, which are reflected in the body politic, have been a factor in retarding the progress of Russian civilization.

    The Language. In a consideration of the social background of Russian literature, something must be said about the language. The Russian tongue is one of the richest and most malleable in the world. Highly inflected, it is able to express with nice accuracy all the possible shades and “nuances” of meaning, as well as all the gradations of an action. Its range is unparalleled and extends from homely terms for the universal emotions of love and fear, tenderness and hate, to the highest reaches of philosophic thought. Turgenev, a cosmopolitan and a linguist, pays this noble tribute to his mother tongue: “In days of doubt, in days of burdensome musing over the fate of my country,—thou alone art my support and my mainstay, O great, mighty, truthful and unfettered Russian language! Were it not for thee, how should I not fall into despair at the sight of all that is being done at home? But how can I believe that such a tongue was given to any but a great people?”

    National Character. There is nothing that gives greater illumination to an alien literature than an understanding of the national traits of character. The validity of national traits becomes apparent when they are reflected in the nation’s arts. The Russian character accounts for much that is distinctive in Russian literature. First of all, Russians are extremists in their sudden transitions from joy to tears, from tears to joy. In one of his poems, Pushkin says,

  • “Something kindred, dear, is sounded,
  • In my coachman’s songs unending,
  • Now ’tis merriment unbounded,
  • Then again, ’tis grief heartrending.”
  • And Gogol tells us that he “surveyed all this hugely rushing life through laughter seen by the world, and tears invisible and unknown to it.” Study the life of Tolstoy, read Gorky’s ‘Foma Gordeyev’ or his autobiographic work, ‘My Childhood,’ and you will be struck again and again by this paradox of the constant interchange of joy, hope, energy, with despair, dark melancholy, nerveless lassitude. But the paradox in the Russian nature goes deeper than this. I have spoken of the oriental and occidental elements in the country. In the Russian character there is on the one hand, something of oriental fatalism and a sluggishness of the will that becomes, at times, complete atrophy; on the other hand there is something unrestrained, a spirit of uncontrol that knows no bounds or inhibitions; and if there is a prevailing melancholy, a depressing sadness throughout Russian literature, it is due, in part, to this temperament forever at war within itself, restless, lacking in wholesome balance and healing sanity.

    Such transitions as have been described are possible only in an emotional people, and the Russians are high-strung and emotional. Theirs is a reckless responsiveness to the feelings, an emotional expansiveness. Russian literature is characterized by the same unbridled outpouring of the heart now tense, now tender. Most of the Russian writers know little of reticence. They think aloud. This makes the true Russian refreshingly candid and gives his a certain simplicity and directness of character. As Professor Miliukov says, “The Russian lacks the cement of hypocrisy.” He never assumes the moral pose that seems to say to the whole world, “I am the righteous one.” In Russian fairy-tales the favorite hero is Ivan Durak, Ivan the Fool, or the Little Fool, a person artlessly simple, and disarmingly guileless. This trait of simple, artless realism is the distinguishing feature of the best Russian poetry. In English it is equaled only in some of the poems of Blake, Burns, or Wordsworth (‘Lucy Gray,’ ‘We are Seven’). Because of his frank straightforwardness, the Russian is the most plastic and sympathetic of human beings. Comprehension of all things, a great pity for all suffering and sorrow, for all the downtrodden and humiliated, an all-pervading humanity—this is the spirit of Russian literature.

    Literary Characteristics. After this discussion of the determining conditions of Russian literature, it may be well to sum up its chief characteristics:

    1. The literature of Russia is linked to Russian life and reality. It is social in a peculiar sense.

    2. The literature has been molded by the political conditions of the country.

    3. The bitterness and the hopelessness of the struggle against the attempt of the bureaucracy to fit life to the iron mold account somewhat for the dark despair of so many of the Russian writers. There is no doubt, however, that a deep melancholy is one of the ingredients of the Russian character.

    4. Russian literature is, to a marked extent, didactic in intention. Tolstoy, for instance, is moved to renounce art for the “higher” work of teaching the people. Most of the writers deal with social problems. This pre-occupation accounts for the tremendous earnestness of Russian literature, and also for a certain disregard of form and artistic embellishments.

    5. The great Russian writers view life as a moral problem; they see it as a perpetual conflict between the forces of good and evil. Their sustaining faith is that the former will be victorious. They wish to fathom the nature of man in his inmost self, of man as he really is, shorn of the accidental and the external in which he is disguised. They hope to reach the ideal by a pitiless searching and an uncompromising analysis of the real.

    Nineteenth-Century Literature. The reader who does not desire to specialize in Russian literature should devote his attention to the work of the great writers of the nineteenth century. Russian literature of the nineteenth century falls into fairly definite periods. The first phase of nineteenth-century literature may be called the period of Romanticism. During these early years, and for some decades after, literature was produced by the members of the nobility. Such were the great poets Pushkin and Lermontov. These two felt only imperfectly the social forces that determined the course of later Russian literature, but already they give expression to some consciousness of national unity. They are, above all, romanticists: both depict, at least in their earlier works, characters of the Byronic type, brooding, disenchanted men who have compressed all their life into a decade of years. Having failed to find happiness in life, they seek it vainly in solitude. These romantic heroes, in their aristocratic aloofness, are foreign to the social spirit of Russian literature.

    The later heroes of Pushkin and Lermontov are endowed with a trait that has been considered distinctively Russian, with an over-development of the sensibilities and the mental powers at the expense of the will. To realize their ideas was impossible; to give themselves to some practical task was hopeless, in view of the political situation. Not being able to have what they longed for, they talked their ideals to death. This mixture of culture and deficient will-power was characteristic of the Russian “intellectual,” so that, in the literature of the nineteenth century, we find many variants of this individual devoid of voluntary power. Later, the two novelists, Goncharov and Turgenev, attempted to find the hero whose soul would be a balanced harmony between intellect and will, but the Russian society of that day did not enable them to discover the necessary prototypes.

    The 1830s and 1840s. In the literature of the Thirties and Forties, authorship was still limited to the nobility; but now, new ideas enter, and the literature of Russia is animated by a great, purposeful force. Before taking up the writings of this era we must consider how this change came about. A Russian critic has described the psychology of his people as an agricultural one, that of “the man who walks behind the plow.” The exclusive social structure of the first half of the century was that of the landowner and the peasant: on the one hand there was a great, leisured, patriarchal class, and on the other, there were the serfs, the masses, “the mysterious strangers in literature toward whom all were striving and whom none understood.” Many Russians who sought to isolate what was distinctively national in the social system found, in the agrarian community, the real unit of the social structure. These men felt that the true germ of Russian civilization was the agricultural or rural commune, and that the hope of Russia lay, not in the ideas and arts of the West, but in a purification and strengthening of the rural communities. To accomplish this, it was first of all necessary to abolish serfdom; and so there was unfurled the banner of the “Peasant,” not by the peasant, but in his name by members of the nobility. Thus a period of vicarious salvation of the masses set in.

    This movement for the reforming of the rural communities had far-reaching effects. To begin with, it divided the thinking men of Russia into two opposing factions which, like all opposing forces, merged into each other at many points. The two rival camps were the Slavophiles and the Westernizers. The latter believed in the desirability of impregnating Russia with the civilization and culture of the West. Slavophilism, on the other hand, was an expression of race consciousness and of a growing sense of national unity. The Slavophiles felt that the Russian people, and hence the Slavic race, was predestined to play an important rôle in the history of the world.

    The Passing of Serfdom. The influence of such an idea in Russian thought was tremendous: on the one hand it found expression in “official” aspirations for Slavic ascendency; on the other, it influenced revolutionary thought, and sought to liberate Russia from officialdom. The Slavophiles wished to conserve the distinctively Russian and the truly indigenous, and to purge the social system of those conditions that prevented a return to the communal mode of life. But both Westernizers and ardent Slavs realized that the saddest condition in Russia was serfdom. The abolition of serfdom meant the emancipation of an enslaved people. Liberate the serfs, re-establish a free people under the old, simple form of Russian communal life, and the problems of the country, said the Slavophiles, would be settled for all time. And so the watchword of the literature of the Thirties and the Forties became “Abolition,” “The People,” “Simplification,”—words that threatened the end of the land-owning nobility, of the master-class. “The Tragedy of the Master-class” is the fitting title for the literature of this period, because the very men who were preaching these new duties and sacrifices were themselves of the master-class. This fact makes the literature of the time the record of a people who are conscious that their day is over, that for them social dissolution is at hand, that a new era is about to dawn. It is the swan-song of the master-class. As a Russian critic puts it, “The gentry had had their day, and now the clear-seeing spirits among them were bidding a graceful and melancholy farewell to a moribund social order.” In keeping with this premonition of social death, the literature of the time is, in a sense, an orchid growth. It is melancholy and dispirited. For these writers the glory of life has departed, and the spirit of their works is one of sad heroism. They write beautifully, earnestly, sincerely, but their mood is that of hopelessness and gentle resignation.

    The Simplification of Life. There was one other far-reaching effect of the Slavophile movement. The desire for a return to the communal mode of life led to a close scrutiny of the existing order of things. In the name of Slavophilism, men challenged the non-Russian in the social order, and, together with the populist appeal of “Back to the people,” there was heard the cry, “Back to the soil and the simple life.” They realized the urgent necessity of fewer demands, of a simplification of life, and a great unloading of the burden of Western culture and non-Russian customs. To the reader of Russian literature the ideas involved in this tendency toward simplification will at once suggest themselves. They form the chief problems of Goncharov, Turgenev, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy,—of all the masters of Russia’s golden age. In time, the trend toward simplification takes the concrete form of a desire to become unified with the people. But always it presupposes a return to Nature and a vindication of the ethics of equality and fraternity. Its model is the original Christian brotherhood; its program is the writings of the Apostles; its hope is the agrarian community, and its guiding principle is love among men. One is tempted to add that its apostle is Tolstoy.

    There can be no doubt that, though the Simplifiers affirm the inner, spiritual life, their position is tantamount to a denial of material progress and of art and culture. They felt that their ideals could be realized on any plane of civilization. But the Westernizers rallied to the defense of these things, and of what they called reality. Just as the extreme Simplifiers annihilated knowledge and culture by refusing to give them a place in their conception of the full life, so the Early Nihilists did away with everything that, to them, was not real. And what was their test of reality? The real, said men like Herzen, is whatever frees the individual and, in the end, humanity from the bonds that fetter them. This means that everything is judged, suspected, tested from their standpoint of reality; so that the attitude of the Early Nihilists is one of skepticism: they accept nothing on its socially stamped valuation. They are rationalists and skeptics “par excellence.”

    Among the writers of this time it was Turgenev who watched most closely the birth of these contending ideas and their gradual development. From one point of view, his works are a study, by an acute and sensitive observer, of the opposing forces in the intellectual life of his contemporaries. He belongs, first of all, to the early period when the abolition of serfdom was the burning issue of the day; and he lived through the next three decades, and studied the new forces at work and the new eddies in the current of thought.

    The Literature of the 1850s. With the beginning of the Fifties a new force enters into Russian literature. The old conditions of life were falling to pieces under the attack of industrial and commercial changes. The rejection of western civilization was in vain. With the development of the industrial system there came the realization that there were, as a Russian critic puts it, “larger communities than the commune.” The literature of this period is marked by the spirit of realism. The idealized peasant of Turgenev gives way to the real peasant of a literature whose aim is largely objective. Then, too, the writers are no longer drawn exclusively from the gentry. The new literature is the product of men of different ranks (“raznochintzy”), and among them are many who spring from the people—Gogol, Dostoyevsky, Nekrasov. The milieu is no longer that of an agricultural commune. In his stories, ‘Nevsky Prospect,’ and ‘The Portrait,’ Gogol writes about the poverty-stricken “chinovniks” or petty government officials of the town. Nekrasov, the poet, sings the woes of the city proletarian, and his songs are a bitter protest against misfortunes and evils without end. Dostoyevsky depicts the poor in the city; and his grief is the knowledge of what man had made of man. With the detachment of an alienist he seeks to know how men are able to bear it all, and what it is that consoles them. Thus it was that suffering and misery entered into artistic consciousness.

    The Literature of the 1860s. The opening year of this decade saw the fulfilment of that great hope of the Thirties, the liberation of the serfs. A few years later came the establishment of the “Zemstvos,” or local assemblies in the provinces. Here were certain very tangible and highly significant reforms. But in the realm of philosophic and artistic speculation, the Sixties brought the development of the theories of Nihilism. We have seen that Nihilistic thinking begins with a denial of the past, and specifically, of the outworn patriarchal and master institutions. The Nihilists, as we have found, set out on the search for reality. But how was man to attain to a sense of reality and a power over it? Only by the royal road of freedom. So that the cardinal doctrine of the Nihilists may be summed up in the words, “It is freedom that liberates, for freedom is creative power. It is only to be able to create that we learn. The creative power is the panacea for our suffering, the relief for our burden.” Hence they felt the great necessity of liberating the individual, in order to release the energy of each for the benefit of all.

    The notion of art that prevailed in the Sixties is only the recurrent attempt to wed art to ethics and morality. The great critic of the time, Pisarev, expresses this view with all the impatient dogmatism of earnestness: “A poet must be either a Titan who shakes to the very foundations mountains of evil, or else a worm crawling in the dust. There is nothing between, except clowns to amuse fools.”

    The Literature of the 1870s. During this decade literature was in the hands of a number of writers who have been called the “Narodnichestvo,” or the Populists (for “narod” means the people or the masses). In the most important dogma of the Populists we return to the basic idea of the Slavophile movement that Russian socialism should be agricultural. In many others of their ideas the “Narodnichestvo” hark back to the theories of the Thirties and of the Forties. In their writings we hear much of the public good; the People are again idealized; and an effort is made toward simplification in all things and toward a vigorous re-assertion of the absolute truths of life and morality. As a matter of fact, it may be said that the chief concern of the writers of the day is ethical and religious.

    The Great Writers. In the whole of this rapid survey of the chief aspects of nineteenth-century Russian literature, the attempt has been to determine the underlying principles, to set forth the basic ideas as found in social, political, and ethical theories. The purpose has not been merely to treat the literature as such. This is not the place to enter upon an extended review of the great writers of Russia in order to note the influence which the theories and doctrines we have summarized had upon them. But a few words on several of the most important writers will not be out of place. And first, Turgenev. This great novelist has depicted for us a large number of Russian intellectuals, and has presented their ideas with an artistic insight and a fullness of philosophic and humanitarian understanding which are not easily surpassed. His studies of the Russian character, and especially of the will-less Hamlet type, “sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,” are masterly portrayals. Turgenev was an ardent Westernizer, a great, free spirit who had rid himself of those things that narrow and confine the mind of man. Another writer who must be mentioned here is Gogol, who served primarily to introduce the social element into Russian literature. He was a realist, and his realism is characterized by a truly Russian quality; it is forever subservient to an idealistic aim. With Gogol, humor is not intended as an end in itself; his attempt is to arouse corrective laughter, social laughter in its higher sense. Dostoyevsky is concerned with religious questions. He gives us a picture of the sufferings of non-belief, of the desire for faith, and of the impossibility of believing. Dostoyevsky watched the uprising and assertion of the power of individuality, and he was at the same time drawn to it and terrified by it. He was like Milton, who rejected Satan, and yet was unaccountably attracted to the arch-rebel whose spirit meant diabolonian revolt. In the dread consciousness of the evil in this denial of faith and humility, Dostoyevsky called upon man to withdraw into himself, to develop spiritual power, to attain inner mastery. Tolstoy carries still further Dostoyevsky’s idea “Look within thy soul.” His book, ‘Confession,’ is the “Everlasting Nay” of Russian literature. In it he sounds the depths of despair, and the thought of death as a release comes to him. But later, the road to salvation offers itself; he hears the cry, “Back to the People” and the great moralist calls upon us to abandon culture as a lie and a deception, and to renounce violence and all other things that breed corruption. But his greatest renunciation came when he abandoned art or wished to reduce it to the position of a handmaid to ethics and religion, and to place it at the service of the masses. Here was a social conscience that bade fair to slay in its youth the growing consciousness of individuality.

    The Literature of the 1880s. The last of the Seventies saw the end of the Golden Age of Russian literature. The decline, if it may be so called, came with the political reaction that followed the assassination of Alexander II., a little more than a month after the death of Dostoyevsky. Many an intellectual of the time saw the significance, for literature, of this event, and one of them, Katkov, a noted publicist, expressed the situation allegorically when he said, “Gentlemen, rise, the Government is coming back.” And indeed, in the years that followed, such was the severity of the Government that attention was turned from literature to purely political and social questions. Of course, the new teaching and example of Tolstoy may have helped to bring on the decline. ‘Anna Karénina,’ issued in 1876–1877, was for many years the last of his artistic works. His new views of art, which were practically tantamount to a negation of the artistic consciousness, helped to discourage for a time the renewal of literary labors.

    Consequently, with the exhaustion that comes after several years of intense literary effort, and the absorption of the nation’s energies in the political struggle, the outlook for literature at the beginning of the Eighties was bleak indeed. The time is one of gray, unrelieved hopelessness, and seems like a great fallow field, strewn with dead hopes. The trust in the people had proved a dream and a failure, and the intellectuals took refuge from somber reality in empty ideas tinged with the Buddhistic doctrine of Nirvana. The great writer of this age and the one who best reflects the melancholy spirit of the time is Chekhov. His works form, as a Russian critic says, “one great poem,—the poem of rainy weather.” To Chekhov it seemed vain to try to solve the riddle of life. He is an inconclusive, who presents, with wondrous artistic reverence and finesse, the bare facts of life—but if you wish to have conclusions, you must draw them for yourself.

    Latest Phases. On the latest phases of Russian literature a few words will have to suffice. The great problems that underlie the literature of Russia to-day are those of Freedom and Necessity. Before the successful fulfilment of revolutionary strivings in the recent establishment of democratic rule, man strove for liberty and for the liberation of all his powers. Many thinkers and writers of the time swear allegiance to the doctrine of economic determinism, and are visibly influenced by Marxian socialism, on the one hand, and by Nietzschean individualism on the other. It is perhaps the last of these views that the moderns emphasize, in the spirit that is so well expressed in the words of Gorky,—“The whole of a man’s life may be consumed in the doing of one deed, but that deed must be beautiful, splendid, free.” Gorky sees life as a bitter struggle between the fit and the unfit, and between the classes of society. Andreyev, with his facile pessimism, presents it allegorically as a candle that burns fitfully and is soon extinguished. For him, life is a ceaseless conflict between the forces that make for good, and those that are evil. To Kuprin, the world appears a sad, distorted, but never zestless actuality of the perfect ideal for which man strives.

    The spirits and hopes of the Russian “intelligentsia” rose high with the promulgation of the Constitutional Manifesto of 1905. It seemed to them that the fulfilment of all their best wishes was in sight. But dark despair followed the first elation when the bureaucracy resumed its stifling grip on the life of the nation, and the forces of reaction came back, unchastened and relentless. As a result there followed in literature a period of despair, when writers seemed to take a strange delight in the discussion of fleshly things. A relish for the pornographic and a loss of the sense of measure and balance, never strongly developed in the Russian intellectual, distinguish the works of the time. It is said that the Government was not averse to this politically harmless form of solace for blighted hopes. At any rate, it lifted the moral bans of the censorship. For the non-Russian reader, Artsybashev and Sologub best exemplify these traits of gloomy naturalism, but it would be unfair to deny that these men possess fine artistic qualities or to hold that they are innocent of all moral intention.

    As may be expected of a people so receptive as the Russians, all the modern literary currents are found in the stream of contemporary Russian literature; futurism, mysticism, symbolism, acmeism, impressionism. The writers who respond to these new tendencies, which some critics desire to stigmatize as decadent, have no fixed body of doctrine. Their viewpoint, however, is the reverse of the one so long accepted without question in Russia; they insist that art should be the expression of beauty, and that it need not concern itself with morality. They claim that its chief function is its appeal to the imagination.

    What changes the war will bring to Russian literature, how its spirit will be transformed by the attainment of national freedom, it is too early to predict. Every indication points to the coming of a wholesome realism and of a saner, more buoyant idealism. But Dostoyevsky expressed for all time the spirit of Russian literature when he adopted as the motto for his ‘Brothers Karamazov’ the words, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”

    Chronology of Russian History

  • 9th centuryThe Norsemen founded Novgorod. They are called the “Rus” by the Slavs; hence “Rusland.”
  • 10th–11th centuriesThe Norse conquer the surrounding territory, and establish themselves at Kiev.
  • 1054–1224After the death of Yaroslav the Great, the kingdom founded by the Norse breaks up and the period of Independent Principalities begins.
  • 1238–1462The Mongol, or Tartar Dominion.
  • 1380Dmitri Donskoi formed a coalition of Russian princes to overthrow the Tartar yoke.
  • 1462–1505Ivan III. begins the work of conquering the surrounding states, which continued throughout the next three centuries.
  • 1503Part of Poland and Lithunia conquered.
  • 1505–1533Reign of Basil III. Last of the independent principalities annexed.
  • 1533–1584Ivan IV., the Terrible: a reign of despotic cruelty. The Tartar states of Kazan and Astrakhan conquered.
  • 1584–1598Theodore I. (Feodor), a weak king. The boyars or noblemen become turbulent, but are kept in check by Feodor’s brother-in-law, Boris Godunov.
  • 1598Boris elected successor of Feodor.
  • 1603Dmitri, an impostor, claims the throne as Feodor’s younger brother.
  • 1605Dmitri becomes Tsar.
  • 1605–1613The Troublous Times. Dmitri assassinated (1606), Shuishki, the leader against him, made Tsar. A second Dmitri appears and is proclaimed Tsar. International dissensions and popular uprisings.
  • 1613–1645In a Grand General Assembly Michael Romanov is elected Tsar. The first of the Romanov dynasty.
  • 1645–1676Reign of Alexis. Further conquests, and annexation of The Ukraine.
  • 1689–1725Reign of Peter the Great. The Westernization of Russia.
  • 1711Peter leaves Moscow, and builds a new capital, St. Petersburg.
  • 1725–1762A number of weak, indolent Tsars. The male line becomes extinct.
  • 1762–1796Catherine II. makes Russia one of the great powers and encourages ideas and civilization.
  • 1795The final partition of Poland among Prussia, Austria, and Russia.
  • 1796–1801Reign of Tsar Paul.
  • 1801–1825Reign of Alexander I. At first a time of liberal reforms.
  • 1812Napoleon’s invasion, and retreat from Moscow.
  • 1815The Holy Alliance (Russia, Austria, Prussia) formed ostensibly to promote love, righteousness, and peace, but really to suppress the tendencies toward civil liberty. Alexander I. becomes reactionary in his policies under the influence of Metternich.
  • 1825Death of Alexander I. A short interregnum. In December, a mutiny in Petrograd is quelled and the leaders (later called the Decembrists) are punished.
  • 1825–1855Reign of Nicholas I. A period of political reaction. Wars with Turkey. The Crimean War, in which Tolstoy fought.
  • 1855Capture of Sevastopol.
  • 1855–1881Reign of Alexander II. The first ten years, a period of great reforms.
  • 1861The Liberation of the Serfs.
  • 1864The Zemstvos established.
  • 1877–1878The Russo-Turkish War. Growth of revolutionary sentiment and propaganda. Secret societies. Nihilism. Terrorism.
  • 1881Assassination of Alexander II.
  • 1881–1894Reign of Alexander III. A time of reaction. Restrictions everywhere. The bureaucracy all-powerful. Alliance with France.
  • 1894–1917Reign of Nicholas II.
  • 1904The Russo-Japanese War. Growth of the revolutionary movement. Labor strikes.
  • 1905 (Oct.)The Constitutional Manifesto. The Octobrist Party derives its name from the date of this event.
  • 1906 (May)The First Duma, with radicals in majority, dissolved.
  • 1907 (March)The Second Duma, similarly constituted, dissolved.
  • 1907 (Nov.)The Third Duma: some reforms.
  • 1912The Fourth Duma.
  • 1914 (Aug.)The European War begins.
  • 1917 (March)The Russian Revolution. Tsar Nicholas dethroned and a Provisional Government established.
  • Reading Recommended

    Russian Literature in English Translation

  • Pushkin‘Tale of the Armament of Igor’
    ‘Boris Godunov’
    ‘Eugene Oneguine’
    ‘Prose Tales’
    ‘The Captain’s Daughter’Lond., 1915
    N.Y., 1907
    N.Y., 1881
    Lond., 1894 and 1914
    Lond., 1859
  • Lermontov‘Poems’ (translated by E. L. Voynich)
    ‘The Demon’
    ‘The Circassian Boy’
    ‘The Ballad of Ivan’
    ‘A Hero of Our Time’
    ‘Heart of a Russian’Lond., 1911
    Lond., 1884
    Lond., 1911
    Lond., 1911
    N.Y., 1915
    Lond., 1912
  • Gogol‘The Inspector-General’ (Revizor)
    ‘Dead Souls’
    ‘Taras Bulba’
    ‘Cossack Tales’
    ‘St. John’s Eve and Other Tales’
    ‘The Mantle and Other Stories’N.Y., 1916
    N.Y., 1915
    N.Y., 1915
    Lond., 1860
    N.Y., 1886
    N.Y., 1916
  • Shevchenko‘Translations from Shevchenko and Lermontov’Lond., 1911
  • Griboyedov‘The Misfortunes of Being Clever’Lond., 1914
  • Ostrovsky‘The Storm’Lond., 1899, Bost., 1907, Chicago, 1911
  • Aksakov‘Years of Childhood’
    ‘A Russian Gentleman’N.Y., 1916
    N.Y., 1917
  • Turgenev‘Novels and Stories’ (translated by I. F. Hapgood)
    ‘Novels’ (translated by Constance Garnett)
    ‘Fathers and Children’
    ‘A Nobleman’s Nest’ (Liza)
    ‘On the Eve’
    ‘Virgin Soil’
    ‘Smoke’N.Y., 1903–1904 (16 v.)
    N.Y., 1906 (15 v.)
  • Tolstoy‘Complete Works’ (translated by L. and A. Maude)
    ‘Complete Works’ (translated by Leo Wiener)
    ‘Novels and Other Works’ (translated by N. H. Dole, etc.)
    ‘War and Peace’
    ‘Anna Karénina’
    ‘Kreutzer Sonata’
    ‘Childhood, Boyhood, Youth’
    ‘Master and Man’
    ‘What is Art?’
    ‘Plays and Letters’
    ‘The Journal’N.Y. (26 v.)
    N.Y. (14 or 24 v.)
    N.Y. (24 v.)

    Lond., 1911
    N.Y., 1914
    N.Y., 1917
  • Dostoyevsky‘Novels’ (translated by Constance Garnett)
    ‘Crime and Punishment’
    ‘Brothers Karamazov’
    ‘The House of the Dead’
    ‘The Insulted and Injured’
    ‘The Idiot’
    ‘A Raw Youth’
    ‘The Eternal Husband’
    ‘Poor Folk’
    ‘The Journal of an Author’
    ‘Letters from the Underworld’
    ‘Letters of Dostoyevsky to His Family and Friends’N.Y.

    N.Y., 1914, 1917
    Bost., 1916
    N.Y., 1915
    Lond., 1914
  • Garshin‘Red Flower’
    ‘The Signal and Other Stories’Phil., 1911
    Lond., 1893
    N.Y., 1915
  • Nekrasov‘Who Can be Happy and Free in Russia?’N.Y., 1917
  • Nemirovitch-Dantchenko‘Personal Reminiscences of General Skobelev’
    ‘Without a Diploma, and the Whirlwind’
    ‘The Princes of the Stock Exchange’Lond.
    Bost., 1915
    Lond., n.d.
  • Veressayev‘Memoirs of a Physician’
    ‘In the War’N.Y., 1916
    N.Y., 1917
  • Chernuishevsky‘What is to be Done?’N.Y., 1909
  • Merezhkovsky‘Death of the Gods’
    ‘Peter and Alexis’
    ‘Romance of Leonardo da Vinci’N.Y., 1901
    N.Y., 1906
    N.Y., 1902
  • Apukhtin‘From Death to Life’N.Y., 1917
  • Stepniak‘The New Convert’
    ‘Career of a Nihilist’Bost., 1917
  • Herzen‘My Exile in Siberia’Lond., 1855
  • Potapenko‘A Russian Priest’N.Y., 1916
  • Kropotkin‘Memoirs of a Revolutionist’N.Y., 1899
  • Goncharov‘A Common Story’
    ‘The Precipice’Lond., 1894
    N.Y., 1915
    N.Y., 1915
  • Korolenko‘The Blind Musician’
    ‘Makar’s Dream’
    ‘The Vagrant and Other Tales’
    ‘The Saghalien Convict’Lond., Bost., 1890
    N.Y., 1916
    N.Y., 1887
    Lond., 1892
  • Kuprin‘The Duel’
    ‘A Slav Soul and Other Stories’
    ‘The River of Life and Other Stories’
    ‘The Bracelet of Garnets and Other Stories’N.Y., 1916
    N.Y., 1916
    N.Y., 1916
    N.Y., 1917
  • Schedrin (Saltykov)‘The Gollovlev Family’Lond., n.d.
  • Sologub‘The Old House and Other Tales’
    ‘The Little Demon’
    ‘The Sweet-Scented Name’
    ‘The Created Legend’
    ‘The Triumph of Death’N.Y., 1916
    N.Y., 1916
    N.Y., 1917
    Chic., 1916
  • Arsybashev‘The Breaking Point’
    ‘The Millionaire’
    ‘Tales of the Revolution’N.Y., 1915
    N.Y., 1915
    N.Y., 1915
    N.Y., 1916
    N.Y., 1917
  • L. F. Dostoyevskaya‘The Emigrant’N.Y., 1916
  • Kryshanovskaya‘Torch-Bearers of Bohemia’N.Y., 1917
  • Ilya Tolstoy‘Visions’N.Y., 1917
  • Chekhov‘Plays’
    ‘The Tales of Chekhov’’
    ‘The Darling and Other Stories’
    ‘The Duel and Other Stories’
    ‘The Lady with the Dog and Other Stories’
    ‘The Party and Other Stories’
    ‘Stories of Russian Life’
    ‘Russian Silhouettes’
    ‘The Black Monk and Other Stories’
    ‘The Kiss and Other Stories’
    ‘Steppe and Other Stories’
    ‘The Bet and Other Tales’
    ‘The House with the Mezzanine and Other Stories’N.Y., 1912, 1916 (2 v.)

    N.Y., 1914
    N.Y., 1915
    N.Y., 1915
    N.Y., 1915
    N.Y., 1915
    Bost., 1916
    N.Y., 1917
  • Gorky‘Orloff and his Wife’
    ‘Twenty-six Men and a Girl’
    ‘The Individualists’
    ‘Creatures that Once Were Men’
    ‘Foma Gordeyev’
    ‘The Lower Depths’
    ‘A Confession’
    ‘The Spy’
    ‘My Childhood’
    ‘Tales from Gorky’
    ‘Chelkash and Other Stories’
    ‘Tales of Two Countries’
    ‘The Outcasts and Other Stories’
    ‘Three of Them’
    ‘In the World’N.Y., 1902
    N.Y., 1916
    Lond., 1906
    N.Y., 1906
    N.Y., 1901
    Bost., 1915
    Lond., 1912
    N.Y., 1907
    N.Y., 1916
    N.Y., 1908
    N.Y., 1915
    N.Y., 1902
    N.Y., 1915
    N.Y., 1914
    Lond., 1905
    Lond., 1910
    N.Y., 1917
  • Andreyev‘Savva; Life of Man’
    ‘The Pretty Sabine Woman’
    ‘Sorrows of Belgium’
    ‘Life of Man’
    ‘Love of One’s Neighbor’
    ‘The Seven Who were Hanged’
    ‘Silence and Other Stories’
    ‘The Little Angel and Other Stories’
    ‘The Crushed Flower and Other Stories’
    ‘The Red Laugh’
    ‘The Diary of a Little Man in Great Times’N.Y., 1914
    N.Y., 1915
    N.Y., 1910
    Chicago., 1914
    N.Y., 1915
    N.Y., 1914
    N.Y., 1914
    N.Y., 1909
    Lond., 1910
    N.Y., 1915
    N.Y., 1916
    N.Y., 1915
    N.Y., 1917
  • Shestov‘Penultimate Words’Bost., 1917