Nicholas J. L. Luker
I Kiev Papers and Kiev Types
KUPRIN arrived in Kiev without friends or acquaintances, and with only four roubles in his pocket. Even worse, he realized with dismay he had no knowledge that would equip Mm for civilian life. It was now that the narrowness of military training made itself felt: "I realized... no talent is worth a thing without systematic education."1 His own lack of systematic education was to dog him all his life, and he believed it the greatest disadvantage a writer could suffer.
A "free bird" in a city full of promise, Kuprin had set his heart on a literary career. By September 1894, he had begun work on the papers Kievskoe slovo (Kiev Word) and Zhizn' i iskusstvo (Life and Art), and the following February he joined Kievlianin (The Kievan), the first two papers being liberal in their sympathies and the latter monarchist. Kuprin's choice of these and other papers during his years as a journalist hardly ever reflected his political views. Never very definite in his political attitudes anyway, in Kiev he was often penniless, and had to turn his hand to whatever newspaper work presented itself.
This is not to say that Kuprin regarded his years as a journalist as a time of drudgery, or a reporter's work as insignificant. Acknowledging later the incalculable experience he had gained from his Kiev years, he maintained that journalism was the finest apprenticeship for a writer. He had especially high regard for the work of reporters in the field, the "newspaper infantry," as he called them: "The reporter weaves the pattern of life... this pattern is precious, and that is why a reporter's work is precious too." (*30) The qualities necessary in a good journalist, he believed, were "mad courage, audacity, breadth of view, and an amazing memory,"2 gifts he himself possessed in full measure.
Kuprin's work as a reporter was very varied; he wrote leading articles, reviews, anecdotes, sketches, short stories, poems, and accounts of city events, court proceedings, and theater and circus performances. Paid in his first months only two kopecks a line, he was often compelled to be less than honest, for example contributing pieces on European events and signing himself the paper's "foreign correspondent." He wrote an enormous number of articles, the majority of them difficult to trace since they bear no signature. Especially interesting are those showing his concern with agrarian problems, such as the difficulties of land shortage, the resettlement of peasants, and the drainage of marshland. Nor were the Kiev papers the only ones to which he contributed. On his frequent journeys to southwest Russia he wrote for papers in provincial towns he visited - Zhitomir. Novocherkassk, Rostov-on-Don, and Odessa. Few works of this time bore his full signature. If he signed them at all, he used either a pseudonym or cryptonym. Among his more important contributions to the Kiev papers were Kuprin's accounts of contemporary city life. He wrote a Sunday feuillelon for Life and An entitled "Kaleidoscope" and signed "Zarathustra," a weekly chronicle of Kievan events, full of topical issues and often humorously critical of the city authorities. Many features of the feuilleton appear in the unfinished satirical comedy Gran' stoletiia (The Edge of the Century), written by Kuprin and a journalist friend.4 Similar to "Kaleidoscope" was his series of "Malen'kie khroniki" ("Little Chronicles"), which appeared in The Kiev Word throughout 1895. Topicality is the keynote of these frequently satirical miniatures of Kiev life, which touch on everything from the plight of the city's poor and the inadequacies of the local opera to the inefficiency of urban administration and the risks to health from unheated railway carriages. Particularly interesting is "Zagadochnyi smekh" ("Mysterious Laughter"), in which Kuprin shows his anger at the audience during a performance of Tolstoy's drama The Power of Darkness in December of 1895. Many members of the audience, he writes, laughed aloud during the most tragic scenes, a reaction he sees as proof of the indifference of Kievans to true dramatic art.5
More significant than either his feuilletons or chronicles were Kuprin's sketches (ocherki), his favorite genre during his Kiev (*31) years. The distinction between sketch and tale (rasskaz) is difficult to draw; Gorky attempted to solve the problem by describing the ocherk as "somewhere between investigation (issledovanie) and story."6 To this one might add that Kuprin's sketches are investigations of particular environments, such as a factory or mine, or portraits of people typical of specific social classes, occupations, or circumstances. Description and documentation are paramount, and there is no hint of a story line. Sketches were written by many nineteenth century Russian writers, notably Vladimir Korolenko and Gleb Uspensky. Moreover, the genre was familiar to readers of both metropolitan and provincial newspapers in the 1890s. Kuprin's contributions to the genre fall into two distinct groups. The first consists of four industrial sketches that serve as preliminary drafts for the setting of Moloch. The second group - collectively entitled Kievskie lipy (Kiev Types) - are sixteen in number, and are descriptive portraits of types of people observed by Kuprin in the city. Almost all appeared in one of two papers, The Kiev Word and Volyn ' (Volhynia), eleven between October and December of 1895, the remaining five between 1896 and 1898. March of 1896 saw the publication of eight of the sketches in a small edition entitled Kiev Types, Kuprin's first book.
In his foreword to the collection Kuprin wrote that his intention was to portray "the collective traits of those groups of individuals on whom certain occupations and local conditions have had one effect or another." To stress the fact that his characters were representative types rather than specific individuals, he added: "I... warn the reader that in the sketches offered he will not find a single photograph, despite the fact that every trait is carefully drawn from life."8 For all his assertions that his Types are based on actual people, Kuprin injects more of his creative self into them than he does into his documentary industrial sketches, and that brings his Kiev pieces closer to the rasskaz genre proper.
Kiev Types presents an entire gallery of people though with emphasis on people of the lower classes whom Kuprin came to know through his work as a reporter. He identifies his characters, not by name, but by the social or occupational group to which they belong: Dnieper Sailor, False Witness, Chorister, Fireman, Landlady, Down-and-Out, Thief. Doctor, Religious Hypocrite, and Dealer in Dirty Pictures.
The first to appear was the highly successful "Student-Dragun" ("The Student-Dragoon." 1895), a satirical portrait of the rich (*32) young men studying in Kiev. In brief but withering strokes Kuprin sketches the type. Devoid of initiative and thoroughly debauched, the student is a mental and spiritual cripple, indifferent to art, science, and social issues. He is good at billiards, frequently in debt, shows off in fashionable restaurants, and avoids his mother on the street because he is ashamed of her. In order to acquire a smart pair of trotters and a permanently bulging wallet, he is even prepared to play gigolo to some aging woman who refuses to submit to the ravages of time. "Doktor" ("The Doctor"), of the same year, describes the gradual erosion of a young physician's idealism as he grows richer and older. Perceptively and humorously. Kuprin divides Kiev doctors into four broad types: the cheerful, the pessimistic, the women's doctor, and the "speculator." He employs the same technique of classification of types within a type in several other sketches. "Lzhesvidetel " ("The False Witness") divides that type into three: those used by notaries and by advocates, and those used in divorce cases. "Pevchii" ("The Chorister") distinguishes four kinds of singer in Kiev's churches: the novice descant, the experienced descant, the tenor, and the bass; while "Khanzhushka" ("The Religious Hypocrite") manifests herself in two forms, the faster and the gourmande.
Several sketches - like "Bosiak" ("The Down-and-Out") and "Vor" ("The Thief) - explore the twilight world of back street Kiev, with its taverns and cheap lodgings, its beggars and whores. "The Thief reveals Kuprin's astonishingly detailed knowledge of the city's multifarious pickpockets and petty criminals, as he describes their training, specializations, and techniques. Linguistically, the sketch is highly original, brimming with thieves' jargon and spiced with local ditties.
One of the most interesting items in the collection is the satirical sketch "Khudozhnik" ("The Artist," 1896), which displays Kuprin's scorn for Decadent art of the time. Landscape painters to a man and mediocre at best, Kiev artists of this category proclaim themselves innovators and reject all art of the past, from Michelangelo to Van Dyck. "We are Impressionists!" they cry, and for this reason, Kuprin explains mockingly, they paint "the snow violet, a dog pink, beehives in the apiary... lilac, and the sky green... "(1,411). In Types Kuprin focuses primarily on the intriguing, an emphasis not essentially different from that of works like "Psyche" and "On (*33) a Moonlit Night." Still, however revealing his treatment, it is broad rather than deep, and involves no exploration of individual psychology. Nevertheless, valuable in the documentary sense as firsthand pictures of figures central to Kiev life, the sketches are remarkable for their color, clarity, and scrupulous attention to detail. Moreover, they claimed a place in Kuprin's mental treasure house of vivid impressions. Thus several Types served as preliminary sketches for later fictional works: the landlady of "Kvartirnaia khoziaika" reappears in Anna Fridrichovna of "The River of Life"; elements of "The Student-Dragoon" emerge in Sobashnikov of The Pit: and features of "The Down-and-Out" and "The Thief find their way into such tales as "S ulitsy" ("Off the Street," 1904), and "Obida" ("An Insult," 1906).
October of 1897 saw the appearance in Kiev of Kuprin's second collection, Miniatiuty (Miniatures), twenty-five short stories published in Kiev papers over the previous three years.
Thematically very varied, the tales are of uneven quality and devoid of unifying ideas. Several of them resemble earlier works like "Psyche" in their exploration of exceptional states of mind. "A Slav Soul" tells of Yas, a faithful servant who hangs himself after seeing a suicide. The reason for this, the narrator concludes, lay in his "strange soul... loyal, pure, contradictory, cantankerous, and sick... a real Slav soul" (I, 167). "Natalya Davydovna" develops the psychopathic sexual element already glimpsed in "Psyche." The heroine of the title leads a double life: a respected teacher in a school for daughters of the nobility, once every two or three months she becomes a nymphomaniac, picking up men on the street and taking them to a cheap hotel on the outskirts of town. After a night of monstrous debauchery she returns demurely to school. When a soldier dies in her arms and she is exposed, she tells the investigator of the incomparable pleasure she has derived from playing the roles of prim paragon by day and insatiable Messalina by night. The same contrast between appearance and reality occurs in other tales in which sex plays a part, such as "Strashnaia minuta" ("A Terrible Moment"), "Skazka" ("A Fairy Tale"), and "Bez zaglaviia" ("Without a Title"). "A Terrible Moment" is remarkable for its subtle analysis of the feelings of an attractive young woman torn between her desire for sexual experience with an (*34) irresistible stranger and her duty as a mother and wife. None of these tales, however, even remotely approaches the pathological sexual excess of "Natalya Davydovna."
Linked with them are other tales such as "Strannyi sluchai" ("A Strange Occurrence"), the melodramatic "Kapriz" ("Caprice"), and the Eastern legend "Аl'-Issa," which tell of the inconstancy of women and the suffering they inflict on those who love them. While the cynical widow of "A Strange Occurrence" drives a young writer to suicide by mocking his love for her, the chivalrous hero of "Аl-Issa" finds himself committed to love not the beautiful goddess whom he has sought, but a toothless hag.
Other Miniatures reveal Kuprin's sympathetic interest in people of specific occupations. Such are the circus tales "Lolli" and "Allez!" and the analogous story of lions "V zverintse" ("At the Menagerie"), all of which exhibit his close knowledge of circus life. One of his best known circus stories, "Allez!" lays bare the hypocrisy of circus life and the cruel amorality behind its tinsel facade. Neat, economical, and skillfully built round its triggering leitmotif of the circus command "allez!", the work earned high praise from Tolstoy.9 One of Kuprin's most successful circus tales, it belongs with such other works as "V tsirke" ("At the Circus," 1902), and the one act play Kloun (The Clown) of 1897. staged in St. Petersburg in 1907.
The moving autobiographical tale "Kliacha" ("The Jade") investigates an occupation with which Kuprin was even more familiar, that of the provincial journalist. Its hero, Pashkevich, is a literary thoroughbred forced to become a hack to survive. "He had to live," the narrator explains, "nobody would have given him his dinner ... just because of his talent" (II, 52). Grinding poverty and the grueling labor of a provincial reporter destroy both his literary gift and his health. Stricken with blindness and consumption, he dies in four years, the victim of social and economic circumstance.
Surprisingly, only a handful of Miniatures continue the portrayal of army life begun in "The Enquiry." "Nochleg" ("A Night's Lodging") conveys the fatigue of soldiers tramping the Russian countryside, but shows their martial pride when they are billeted in a village for the night. Its plot, like that of the anecdotal "Breget" ("Breguet"), relies heavily on coincidence. Hearing a woman's voice in the house where he is quartered, Lieutenant Avilov recognizes it as that of a girl he raped six years before in Tula Province. (*35) "Marianna," a tale within a tale like several of the miniatures, is a light, humorous piece resembling love stories of Maupassant or Turgenev. Its narrator reminisces with regret about his youth in the army, when he missed an opportunity for an affair with the regimental commander's wife because he was too hesitant in his advances. Perhaps the most interesting tale in the collection is the allegorical "Sobach'e schast'e" ("Dogs' Happiness"), in which Kuprin uses a "conversation" between stray dogs in a cage en route to the pound to illustrate the inequality and oppression prevalent in Russia. The inmates of the cage are a canine cross-section in breed and attitude, from the "aristocratic" old Dane, through the "liberally inclined" poodle, down to the "violet mongrel" lying sullenly in a corner. The animals agree with the eloquent poodle that men are evil creatures, greedier than any dog in the world: "one tenth of them have seized all the vital supplies for themselves ... and make the other nine-tenths starve." Referring to such things as prison and censorship, the poodle asks: "Would one dog ... forbid another to breathe the fresh air and express his thoughts freely on the organization of dogs' happiness?" Moreover, he adds, though dogs sometimes bite, unlike men they never destroy one another out of love, envy, or spite. Though he concludes that men are "hypocritical, envious, deceitful, inhospitable, and cruel" (I, 47), the poodle declares that the situation cannot be corrected, because man is in command and always will be. It is impossible for dogs to be free, for a dog's life is firmly in man's hands, and so a dog can only hope to get a good master. But when the cart reaches the pound, the hitherto silent mongrel demonstrates his contempt for the poodle's philosophy of passive resignation by escaping over the fence, though not without leaving some of his flesh on the nails behind him. We should not exaggerate the revolutionary significance of the tale, as some Soviet critics are inclined to do,10 but the sense of the allegory is clear: it lies in man's own power to achieve and preserve happiness. The highly individual nature of the mongrel's revolt detracts from any collective revolutionary message the tale may be thought to convey.
Kuprin later became dissatisfied with many of his Miniatures, commenting that they contained "a lot of ballast."11 In 1905 he described them as his "first childish steps along the road of literature." adding that he should hardly be judged by them.12 Nevertheless, like his Kiev Types, the Miniatures were all part of his Kiev (*37) experience, and marked a further stage in his maturing as a writer.
III Industrial Sketches
In the spring and summer of 1896, as a correspondent for the Kiev papers. Kuprin visited the steel works and coal mines of the Donbass region north of Rostov-on-Don, now Donetsk Province. His visit gave rise to four industrial sketches, two published in 1896 - "Rel'soprokatnyi zavod" ("The Rail-Rolling Mill") and "Yuzovskii zavod" ("The Yuzovsky Works") - and two in 1899, "V glavnoi shakhte" ("In the Main Shaft") and "V ogne" ("In the Fire"). He wished to acquaint readers with the processes of heavy industry and the area in South Russia where it was concentrated, believing most people ignorant of such things. "One must do justice to us Russians," he wrote, "we know very little of the interesting places in our native land.13
"The Rail-Rolling Mill" reflects his visit to the rail works in Druzhkovka. north of Donetsk. His technique here is common to all his industrial sketches: a gradual transition from the general appearance of the industrial site to the details of its operation. Beginning with a panoramic view of the works from a distance, a steam-shrouded vista dominated by tall chimneys belching black smoke, he takes us nearer, into the smell of coke and the cacophony of clanking chains, whistling engines, and pounding steam hammers. Then we are led step by step through the rail-making process in a documentary description that makes almost no mention of the workers involved. Kuprin's repeated likening of the works and its machinery to animate creatures points the way to Moloch. Written in the autumn of 1896, "The Yuzovsky Works" is more ambitious than its predecessor. It describes a visit made by the author and a companion to a giant steel works and the coal mine associated with it. Here, in addition to the sounding board of his companion, Kuprin as narrator uses the device of a loquacious fellow traveler to provide a wealth of information about the works before the visitors actually reach it. From the traveler we learn the important facts: the works cover some forty-three thousand acres and employ about twenty thousand men; the twelve hour working shifts run from six to six, day and night, all week; the men earn from sixty kopecks to two roubles a day, and the monthly wage bill is three hundred thousand roubles. After providing such information and giving a brief account of the development of Yuzovka it-(*38)self, the fellow traveler obligingly alights from the carriage and departs.
A hint of Yuzovka's size is given in the first paragraph, when the travelers see its flickering glow in the night sky twenty versts away. As they draw near, the sight is staggering, "so extraordinary, so immense, so fantastic a panorama that we cried out involuntarily with amazement" (II, 9). The picture is one of incredible confusion and ceaseless activity: mounds of red-hot limestone, dense white and yellow smoke, jets of burning gas, blazing electric lights, clangorous machinery, and huge blast furnaces rearing into the sky "like the turrets of a legendary castle." The murky darkness makes the spectacle appear more awesome still: "It seemed as if a gigantic, apocalyptic wild beast were growling there in the darkness of night, shaking its steel limbs and belching fire" (II. 10).
The narrator visits all sections of the works, describing every stage of production and explaining technical terms either in the text or in footnotes. Their mouths full of sulphurous smoke, their feet burning from the heat of the floor, the visitors comprehend the physical torment of work in such a place. "And we marveled." Kuprin adds, "at the endurance of the men who went on calmly working with their faces almost touching the burning hot metal" (II, 17).
Upon visiting the coal face they find that the miners must work under even worse conditions. Stripped to the waist, crouching in the narrow gallery, they hack coal for twelve hours for a pittance. After only half an hour in the damp darkness of the pit, the visitors are desperate to see the sunlight again. The horrors of the mine, Kuprin infers, would serve as a salutary lesson for all human beings morbidly preoccupied with themselves: "I advise doctors to send absolutely all hypochondriacs, melancholies, neurasthenics, and sick children of the nineteenth century down into the deep mines for half an hour. When they come up, these poor wretches will certainly rejoice at a little piece of green grass lit up by the sun" (II, 22-23).
The later sketches "In the Main Shaft" and "In the Fire," written for the papers Kiev Word and Donskaia rech' (Don Speech) in 1899, are reworked versions of the two earlier pieces (largely the second of them) with additions from Kuprin's notebooks of 1896. The earlier sketches had pointed to the exploitation of Russian resources by foreign capital and to the presence of Belgians, French, and English in important positions in the Donbass. Linked (*38) with this was the neglect of indigenous technical skill by administrators unable to recognize talent. In the later sketches, published three years after Moloch, such motifs are developed, and elements of grotesque caricature are employed in the portrayal of foreign engineers. More emphasis is laid too on the exploitation of labor and the appalling conditions in the mines. But, like the first two, these later sketches are still documentary studies of foundry and mine, and Kuprin does not mention active protest by workers, as he does in Moloch. Only "In the Fire" contains a hint of unrest in its reference to the use of Circassians as guards because of their reputation for loyalty.
Though very different in emphasis from his sketches of Kiev people, Kuprin's Donbass pieces are not dry industrial guides to steel mills and mines. Like Kiev Types, they bear the imprint of the author's personality. Though sometimes involved, his technical descriptions are not tedious because they are so vivid, and Kuprin is careful to vary his pace and tone by easy dialogue, remarks to the reader, and occasional humorous asides. While his visit to the rail mill provokes the thought that, if they have not seen a furnace, the lady pilgrims of Kiev must have a feeble notion of hell, his experiences at Yuzovka lead him to warn the reader amusingly about erratic train services in the area. All his sketches, whether of city people or industrial plants, reveal Kuprin's burning curiosity about life around him. At the same time, many of them show concern for the plight of the poor or exploited in a hierarchical society, a fact that gives the lie to the opinion, current early in his career, that he was indifferent to social issues. That concern emerged in more elaborate form in Moloch, which exposes the injustice inherent in a society where the rouble is king.
Written during the summer and autumn of 1896, Moloch appeared in the December issue of Russian Wealth for that year. Subtitled a povest', like "In the Dark," and comparable in length with that work, its structure and cast of characters are more involved and its preoccupations very different. The tale tells of its hero's disquiet at his work for a capitalist industrial enterprise that exploits its employees. After losing the woman he loves to the amoral millionaire who owns that enterprise, the hero suffers a nervous breakdown and is left a broken man.
(*39) Thematically Moloch belongs firmly in the 1890s, and reflects many of the social and economic issues of that decade. The second half of the 1800s saw the rapid development of Russian capitalism, with its concomitant industrial expansion. As her rail network was enlarged and her textile, metallurgical, and mining industries expanded, Russia's output rose steadily. The All-Russian Industrial Exhibition of 1896 in Nizhny Novgorod, to which Kuprin refers in "The Yuzovsky Works," was designed to demonstrate the impressive achievements of Russian industry.
But with the industrial boom came growing unrest among the new working class, its ranks swelled by poor peasants driven off the land by such agrarian crises as the famine of 1891-1892. The mid-1890s saw the first serious disturbances by industrial workers, while the summer of 1896 witnessed a strike by thirty thousand Petersburg textile operatives. The Donbass had its troubles too, not long before Kuprin visited the area. While 1887 saw a strike by steel-workers in Yuzovka (now Donetsk), August 1892 brought a strike by miners in the region's coalfields. Though not described in Kuprin's industrial sketches, such disturbances are reflected in the workers' revolt at the end of Moloch.
Moloch deals with the damaging aspects of Russian capitalism as seen by a sensitive individual caught in the industrial maelstrom of the late 1800s. At the same time it raises other topical issues, such as the social effects of technological progress, the underprivileged position of the working class, the relations between bourgeoisie and intelligentsia, and the latter's role in shaping social change. Through the experience of his hero as a reluctant servant of capitalism in the Donbass, Kuprin points to the social injustice and economic tyranny endemic to newly industrialized Russia. Though his tale offered rich possibilities for social comment, Kuprin chose instead to focus on the feelings of an individual locked in a personal struggle with an industrial Leviathan that he sees as destructive of human life. It is on the contrast between these forces, one pitifully weak in its isolation, the other boundlessly strong in its power, that the dramatic effect of Moloch relies.
Its hero, Audrey Ilich Bobrov, is to some extent an autobiographical character. A progressive intelligent of the 1890s, he is shackled by the introspection that occasionally beset Kuprin himself. Though honorable and socially aware, he suffers from the morbid self-scrutiny of Alarin ("In the Dark") and the crippling incapacity for decisive action of Kozlovsky ("The Enquiry"). His (*40) sensitive nature makes him acutely aware of the evils of industrialism, and he can no longer condone a system of which he, as an engineer, is part. Yet his lack of will renders him incapable of fighting those evils with anything but outbursts of noble indignation. Though he sympathizes with his fellow men. he is no more than a "reservoir of social suffering'14 temperamentally incapable of irri- gating the parched fields of protest with active help. A late nineteenth century type trapped hopelessly between the hammer of his convictions and the anvil of his weakness of will, Bobrov traces his literary ancestry to the pages of Chekhov, whose characters often find contact with reality too painful an experience to bear. Kuprin devotes considerable space to portraying his hero's states of mind, a concern underlined, as the Soviet scholar Pavel Berkov shows, by his frequent use of the verb "to feel" (chuvstvovat') and verbs akin to it.15 Subject to insomnia and nervous exhaustion, Bobrov is prone to depression, while his "gentle, almost feminine nature" suffers cruelly from the buffeting of everyday life. He is so acutely sensitive that he likens himself to "a man who has been skinned alive." Kuprin's description of his face emphasizes his gentleness and innate goodness, but also reveals his intense thoughtful ness and nervous instability: "His large, white, beautiful forehead ... attracted one's attention most of all. His dilated pupils ... were so large that his eyes seemed black, not grey. His thick, uneven eyebrows met at the bridge of his nose, lending his eyes a severe, intent, seemingly ascetic expression. [His] lips were nervous and thin ... the right corner of his mouth was a little higher than the left; his moustache and beard were small, sparse, whitish, and quite boyish.... When Bobrov laughed, his eyes became gentle and gay and his whole face became attractive" (11,72).
Details of his biography, provided only in the first (journal) version of Moloch, helped explain Bobrov's instability. He was brought up with abundant tenderness by his mother, who later became deranged and fell victim to religious mania. Kuprin deleted this section, with its clear hint of predisposition to psychological disorder, so that Bobrov's neurasthenia should appear purely the result of his traumatic involvement with industrialism. The preoccupation with abnormal states of mind that Kuprin had shown in his earliest works had revealed itself once more, as he himself was quick to see. In a letter to Mikhailovsky he wrote: "I've still not managed to avoid morbid psychology. Perhaps this unhappy genre is inseparable from me?"16
(*41) Bobrov's personality is sketched in Chapter I. but not until the industrialist Kvashnin arrives at Ivankovo in Chapter VI and touches off the plot does the story acquire dramatic force. The first five chapters paint the industrial backcloth of the work, present its secondary characters, and heighten the atmosphere of expectation before Kvashnin appears. Much of Chapter I is devoted to a panoramic view of the works as Bobrov walks toward them, a picture to be complemented in Chapter V by the description of the site from a distance (drawn from "The Yuzovsky Works"), and in Chapter VII by the detailed account of production processes. Sprawling over fifty square versts, the plant is a city of buildings, furnaces, and railways, ringing with a chaos of sound and draped with a pall of white lime dust. But what distinguishes this vista from those already seen in Kuprin's industrial sketches is the detailed attention he gives to the myriad workers Bobrov sees on the site: "Human toil seethed here like a huge, complex, precise machine. Thousands of men - engineers, bricklayers, mechanics, carpenters, metal workers, excavators, joiners, and blacksmiths - had gathered ... to give up ... their strength, health, mind, and energy so industrial progress could take one step forward" (II, 74). As he walks through the rail-rolling shop, Bobrov notices the workers' "pale faces dirty with coal and parched by fire," and feels part of their physical suffering. "Then," Kuprin adds. "he felt ashamed of his well-cared for appearance, his fine linen and his salary of three thousand a year..."
Chapters II and III show some of Bobrov's colleagues, people of his own class who willingly serve the industrial colossus for gain. In brief strokes through his conversation with Bobrov, Kuprin depicts the loathsome careerist Svezhevsky. With his ingratiating stoop, his insinuating gossip, and his obsequious language full of cloying diminutives, Svezhevsky is a latter-day Uriah Heep, constantly giggling and rubbing his damp, cold hands. He it is who first mentions Kvashnin. In servile adulation, he tells Bobrov of the great man's power and influence, giving us a glimpse of Kvashnin before he arrives and arousing Bobrov's antipathy for this repugnant demigod, who receives two hundred thousand roubles for attending seven meetings a year.
Next we encounter Zinenko, in charge of stores at the works. For all his easy geniality, this pushing character fawns on his superiors, gossips about his colleagues, and tyrannizes his subordinates. Of his five daughters, only Nina is beautiful, a curious fact that, (*42) Kuprin hints darkly, only Mme Zinenko could explain. With her aristocratic hands and fluffy hair, Nina is the hope of her philistine family, who think only of money. Believing himself in love with her, Bobrov cannot see through her beguiling charm to her spiritually atrophied soul. Though attracted to her physically, he cannot bring himself to propose because he is growing increasingly aware of the differences in attitude between them. His disquiet is intensified by the contrast between the longing he feels when he is away from her and the frustration she and her family arouse in him when he is among them. His feelings for Nina reach a crisis at the end of Chapter IV. Repelled by her rapture at the mention of Kvashnin's wealth, he angrily takes his leave, convinced that in a world where all serve Mammon even Nina has her price.
Apart from Bobrov, the only character sympathetically portrayed in these early chapters is the Jewish doctor Goldberg, the works physician and the hero's only close friend. More of a silhouette than a flesh and blood creation, he is a sounding board for Bobrov's views. Though close to Bobrov in his humane attitudes, Goldberg is less pessimistic. In Chapter V. through these two men, Kuprin offers opposite responses to the topical issue of technological progress. Convinced of the harmfulness of his work, Bobrov attacks scientific progress, whereas Goldberg believes that on balance it is both desirable and beneficial.
In publicistic tones hitherto uncharacteristic of Kuprin, Bobrov calculates the cost of such progress in human lives - the most telling part of his argument. It is generally agreed, he says, that work in the mines and steel industry shortens a man's life by approximately a quarter. This means the worker gives his employer three months of his life a year, a week a month, or six hours a day. The thirty thousand men at this plant alone, he goes on, give one hundred and eighty thousand hours of their lives every twenty-four hours, a figure roughly equivalent to twenty years every twenty-four hours. In view of the fact that few workers live beyond forty, Bobrov concludes, the industrial giant consumes a whole man every two days. Horrified by his own figures, he sees an analogy between voracious industry and the dread gods of biblical times who devoured human beings offered in sacrifice. The frenzied industrial expansion of Russia has resurrected Moloch, the brazen god of the Ammonites for whom children were made "to pass through the fire" in ritual sacrifice (2 Kings 23:10). Flinging open the window to view the awesome spectacle of the works ablaze in the night, (*43) Bobrov cries: "Here he is - Moloch, who demands warm human blood! Remember how they cast women, children and slaves into his fiery belly when the god demanded food!.. Bring him your sacrifice and worship him, you benefactors of the human race..."18 This is the cost of progress as Bobrov sees it, the ceaseless sacrifice of lives to the insatiable idol of capitalism, who corrupts or destroys all who serve him.
The arrival of Kvashnin in Chapter VI acts as a catalyst on the various characters, making them openly adopt the attitudes already suggested in them by Kuprin. While Kvashnin's presence reveals his minions in all their sycophancy, his person becomes for Bobrov the very embodiment of industrial amorality. If Bobrov is revealed from within, his antipode Kvashnin is shown only from without, a loathsome but flat representation of capitalist excess. Gluttonous, debauched, monstrously fat, he will pay any price to satisfy his merest whim. His insatiable appetites and his limitless power over all who serve him make him in Bobrov's eyes the incarnation of ruthless greed - Moloch himself. But the identification of the two is not immediate, and Kuprin uses the process whereby Bobrov gradually arrives at it to convey his increasingly tortured state of mind. We first see Kvashnin in his railway carriage as it pulls into Ivankovo station. A grotesque, eyeless monster, he sits "with his colossal legs apart and his belly bulging out." Beneath his round hat "gleamed his fiery hair." while his "clean-shaven face with its flabby cheeks and triple chin ... looked sleepy and displeased" (II, 103). As he lowers his vast bulk onto the platform, he looks to Bobrov like "a coarsely made Japanese idol" (II, 104). The idea of Kvashnin as a god who demands human sacrifice is reinforced in Chapter IX, where the weeping wives of workers hold out their infants to him in supplication. But not until the end, in Chapter XI, is the identification of Kvashnin and Moloch complete. Here Kvashnin becomes both the personification and (through his biblical likeness) the dehumanized symbol of capitalism itself. When, during the picnic, news arrives of a revolt by workers at the factory, the guests panic. As Kvashnin's troika, illumined by its flickering lantern, whirls away into the darkness, it seems to Bobrov that it is not Kvashnin driving by, but "some blood-stained, ugly, terrible deity like those idols of eastern cults under whose chariots fanatics ... hurl themselves during religious processions" (II, 137).
At the elaborate picnic for his Ivankovo colleagues, Kvashnin is exposed as the proud ideologist of capitalist progress and the un-(*44)ashamed manipulator of human lives. Addressing the guests, he praises those, like himself, who engineer the industrial development of Russia and the world: "Hold our banner high. Don't forget we are the salt of the earth, that the future belongs to us.... Have we not enmeshed the globe with a network of railways? Do we not open wide the bowels of the earth and transform her treasures into guns, bridges, locomotives, rails and colossal machines? Do we not, by the strength of our genius, bring movement to thousands of millions of capital?" (II, 134). Shortly afterward. Kvashnin announces the marriage of Nina and Svezhevsky, an arrangement that enables him to have Nina as his mistress under a cloak of respectability. Like all the rest, Nina has been suborned by the rouble.
Bobrov's fundamental weakness of will emerges with painful clarity in the closing chapter, during the verbal struggle between himself and his "double." The hitherto latent split in his personality now manifests itself as the result of the crisis within him. His emotions are a conflicting mixture: jealousy at losing the girl he loves, anger at what Kvashnin has done to get her, disgust at her readiness to become Kvashnin's mistress for gain, and despair at the loneliness he anticipates. Two different voices now speak in him. While his own voice demands decisive action against Kvashnin, the voice of "the other" jeeringly resists it. As Bobrov wanders alone through the works at dawn, the two voices vie for supremacy. When his own voice suggests suicide as a way of escape from his torment, ".. .the other, the stranger, retorted...: "No, you won't kill yourself.... You're too faint-hearted to do it...." "What am I to do then?" whispered Andrey Ilich.... "If you hate Kvashnin so much, then go and kill him." "I will kill him!" cried Bobrov, stopping and raising his fists in fury....
But the other remarked with venomous mockery: "But you won't kill him.... You haven't the determination or the strength to do it...." "(11,142).
Bobrov's own voice prevails temporarily, and feeling the need for decisive action, he decides to blow Lip the factory boilers by stoking them over the limit. But as the boiler pressure rises dangerously, he is exhausted by the unaccustomed work of shoveling coal, and his burst of feverish energy subsides. Now his other inner voice speaks mockingly for the last time, and finally triumphs: " "Well, go on then, you've only got to make one more movement! But you (*46) won't ... and tomorrow you won't even dare admit you wanted to blow up the boilers last night" " (11. 143). Like Kozlovsky's outburst at the end of "The Enquiry," Bobrov's frenzy ends in emotional prostration. In the closing lines of the tale, he begs Goldberg for the morphia that will enable him to escape himself. For all that Moloch deals with the damaging effects of industrial progress, Kuprin devotes very little space to the factory's workers. Though their plight is revealed convincingly enough in statistical terms during the argument between Goldberg and Bobrov, nowhere in the work are they more than a faceless mass drifting uncertainly on the periphery of the action. In the rare instances when they are shown in any detail, it is in crowd scenes witnessed through the hero's eyes. While there are hints of the workers' strength and skill, these qualities are not developed; instead, their dominant characteristics are submissiveness and resignation. Nowhere is this more obvious than during the service of dedication for the new blast furnace, attended by three thousand workers. Dividing the crowd up with his eye into its different groups of workmen (masons, casters, smiths and laborers), Bobrov perceives "something elemental and mighty, and at the same time touching and childlike" in the praying of this "vast grey mass." "And in whom." he reflects, "if not in Our Lady alone are these big children with their steadfast, simple hearts to trust, these meek warriors who every day leave their dank, chill mud huts for their customary feat of endurance and courage?" (II, 107).
But the workers' revolt in the finale shows that, contrary to Bobrov's belief, their endurance has its limits. Though for the moment disorganized and uncontrolled, they are an immense force that one day will smash the tyranny of Moloch-Kvashnin forever. Though it subsides as rapidly as it flares up, the revolt is the first sign of the terrible nemesis to come.
It is interesting that the manuscript of Moloch submitted to Russian Wealth contained more explicit description of the revolt than the final version. But at Mikhailovsky's request reference to the revolt was toned down, a measure dictated perhaps by his fear of censorship or his dislike, as a Neo-Populist, of the idea of a violent workers' uprising. Whatever the reasons for them, Mikhailovsky's changes weakened the denouement of
Moloch severely. Relegated to the background again, the workers become the faceless mass they were earlier in the tale, a dimly threatening bulk stalking the fringes of the plot. Without leaders or individualized (*46) participants, their revolt is reduced to nothing more than an atmosphere of vague tension pervading the closing pages. As Kuprin wrote to Mikhailovsky upon altering his manuscript: "About the revolt - not a word. One will only be able to feel it."19
The defects of Moloch are several. The melodrama of works like "In the Dark" emerges again, especially in the Bobrov-Nina-Kvashnin triangle, which bears some resemblance to the earlier Alarin-Zinaida-Kashperov pattern. Two sections of Moloch are unashamedly sensational: the fevered verbal exchanges between Bobrov and Mme Zinenko at the picnic, and the arrival of the hero, blood-stained and tattered, at the hospital to beg Goldberg for morphia. While the identification of Kvashnin with Moloch is a powerful unifying device lending splendid impetus to the plot, Kuprin's use of grotesque hyperbole in the portrayal of Kvashnin verges on caricature. As if aware of this, he carefully stresses Kvashnin's grace and agility as he dances with Nina at the picnic, a glimpse of a hitherto unsuspected facet that lightens the otherwise unrelieved portrayal of him as a gargantuan monster. A similar effect is achieved in the scene where Kvashnin pacifies the workers' womenfolk clamoring around him, a scene Berkov describes as "tragi-comic."20 Of the handful of individualized characters in the work, two in particular suffer from underdevelopment - the cardboardlike Goldberg and the episodic Belgian engineer Andrea. Well-educated and highly intelligent, the latter is a promising figure intriguingly introduced but then left in limbo. Skeptical and disillu- sioned, this outwardly imperturbable man hides his despair at the fruitlessness of his existence under a mask of sarcastic cynicism. Finding solace in drink as the hero does in morphia, Andrea is just as much a victim of Moloch as Bobrov. Perhaps the major defi- ciency of the tale, however, is its lack of consistent pace and polish. An excess of technical detail in the sketch-like sections (especially in Chapter VII) retards the narrative and diverts attention from the work's primary concern. Probably because of the damage Mikhailovsky did to the initial text, the conclusion lacks power. In his attempt to convey the rapid sequence of events after the revolt is announced, Kuprin creates an impressionistic series of swiftly flitting scenes that culminate in an unsatisfying and hurried ending.
Kuprin was not the first writer of his time to take up the theme of capitalist progress. While authors before him - Ivan Goncharov, for example - had praised the drive and resourcefulness of the rising capitalist class, others - Nikolay Nekrasov, Mikhail
Saltykov-(*47)Shchedrin, Alexey Pisemsky - had shown capitalism as a destructive social force, and depicted the moral disintegration of people attacked by the bacillus of money. Nor was Kuprin the first to depict capitalism as a voracious idol devouring human lives, though perhaps only Zola had equaled the horrendous image-symbol of Moloch. Only two years after Kuprin, Chekhov would use a similar parallel, when in his tale "A Case History" (1898) he described capitalist industry as "that monster with the blood-red eyes, that devil who ruled everyone - bosses and workers alike - deceiving one and all."21
Moloch's originality lies in the clarity with which its central image reveals the price of industrial progress. The argument between Goldberg and Bobrov that gives rise to that image is pivotal to the work, and examines problems that concerned Kuprin himself. While it is hard to see how Kuprin could agree altogether with his hero's rejection of technological progress, Bobrov's view would seem to be one the author broadly shares. As the denouement shows, Kuprin appears at this stage to condone the use of force by workers to resist exploitation, a point stressed by Soviet critics. The value he set at the time on positive opposition to oppression is underlined by the mongrel's philosophy of active resistance in "Dogs' Happiness," published in September 1896, when Moloch was nearing completion.
Nevertheless, the prime aim of Moloch is not to advocate revolutionary industrial agitation of the kind shown later in Gorky's novel The Mother (1907). Concerned primarily with the feelings vis-a-vis capitalist industry of an intellectual who takes no active steps to improve the workers' lot, Moloch is, as Berkov neatly puts it, a "socio- psychological" rather than a "socio-political" work. Since some Soviet critics tend to exaggerate the revolutionary tendency of Moloch, it is instructive to note that in no work after it did Kuprin ever portray the industrial working class in any detail. Indeed, only two later works are at all reminiscent of Moloch in theme or situation. The tale "Putanitsa" ("A Muddle." 1897) has in its hero, Pchelovodov. a figure akin to Bobrov. Once a technician at a foundry, he is committed to an asylum by the machinations of his employer after arguing with him over fines imposed on workers. Situationally closer to Moloch is the story "V nedrakh zemli" ("In the Bowels of the Earth," 1899), which describes the appalling conditions in the mines and the heroism of its boy hero in saving a fellow miner's life. But neither work displays the degree of social (*49) commitment evident in Moloch, and in both Kuprin is more interested in the behavior of his hero than in the social problems of an industrial society. On this basis one is tempted to conclude that his concern for the industrial worker in Moloch was little more than a passing phase.
V The Polesye Cycle
The later 1890s saw Kuprin engaged in many of the temporary occupations that make his biography so fascinating. The year 1897 took him first to Volhynia Province in the northwest Ukraine, where he worked as an estate manager, and then to the Polesye area in southern Belorussia. where he helped to grow makhorka, an inferior tobacco. The winter of 1897-1898 took him to Ryazan Province, where he hunted and worked on the tale Olesya. By 1898 he was in Odessa again, while 1899 and 1900 took him through southern Russia - Rostov, Novocherkassk, Taganrog, Tsaritsyn, and Novorossiisk. Throughout these years he continued to contribute tales and sketches to papers in Kiev and elsewhere.
Unlike his months in the Donbass, the rich experience of these years was reflected time and again in his writing. As an antidote to the poison of industrial civilization that he had found so repugnant in Moloch, the timeless Russian countryside imprinted itself on his memory and remained a wellspring of inspiration for the rest of his life. In the 1920s he wrote that his months in the forests of Polesye and Ryazan had been the most beneficial of his life: "There I absorbed my most vigorous, noble, extensive, and fruitful impres- sions. And ... 1 came to know the Russian language and landscape."" His impressions of his stay in Polesye are the basis of his unfinished "Polesye cycle," published between 1898 and 1901. Consisting of three tales - "Lesnaia glush'" ("The Backwoods"), Olesya, and "Oboroten' " ("The Werewolf) - the cycle is linked thematically with the later forest sketch "Na glukharei" ("Hunting Wood Grouse," 1899) and the story "Boloto" ("The Swamp." 1902). Published in Russian Wealth in September 1898. "The Backwoods" was intended as the first work in the cycle, to be followed by Olesya. But neither Olesya nor "The Werewolf was accepted by the journal, and Kuprin was obliged to place them elsewhere. While the first was serialized in The Kievan in 1898, the second was published in Odesskie Novosti (Odessa News) in 1901, a delay that (*49) may explain why the cycle was then left incomplete.
The Polesye tales depend on the contrast between town and country. The hypocrisy and corruption of the urban environment stand out in ugly relief against the natural beauty of the countryside and the spiritual purity of its people. Intended as the opening tale of the cycle, "The Backwoods" is a sketchlike ethnographical piece designed to depict the human beings who inhabit this pristine environment. In its distanced, rather documentary revelation of peasant types, it recalls Turgenev's Sketches from a Hunter's Album of half a century before. The physical and temperamental contrast drawn here between the characters of Kirila and Talimon echoes that between Khor and Kalinych in Turgenev's first sketch. Kirila, the efficient but obsequious village police assistant, is a luckless hunter portrayed with undisguised irony. Talimon, on the other hand, enjoys the author's full sympathy. Though lazy and disorganized, this shy man is an excellent shot and thoroughly at home in the forest, where he has spent most of his life. Kuprin extends the contrast even to his characters' dogs: whereas Kirila's hound is noisy, impulsive, and ingratiating, Talimon's is silent, cautious, and indifferent to all gestures of affection. The ending of the tale brings an abrupt change of mood. After an evocative scene of grouse hunting in the stillness of early dawn, news comes that the peasant Alexander has killed his unfaithful wife with an axe. While this occurrence confirms the narrator and his friends in their belief that the town where the woman became debauched is a place of corruption, it also shows that not even the primordial vastnesses of rural Russia are free from violence. Nor are their inhabitants always models of spiritual purity. Seeing the noisy villagers gathered round the murderer, the narrator walks quickly by, "away from this hateful crowd that always flocks with such loathsome eagerness to blood, filth, and carrion" (11,310).
Folk tales and legends are as much a part of life in Polesye as the all-encompassing forest. Some of them are so fantastic that they seem to spring, not from the superstitious folk of this remote region, but from the age-old forest itself. It is Talimon. the agile spirit of the woods with his black eyes and black beard, who tells the author the story of the buzzard condemned by God to drink only raindrops from leaves, and of the young Cossack, Opanas. destroyed by the greed of a cruel miller's daughter. The much shorter "Werewolf." subtitled "A Polesye Legend," tells of young Stetsko, who returns from war transformed into a werewolf who (*50) leads his pack against travelers in the forest at night. In an effort to convey the original flavor of the legends as he heard them, Kuprin carefully preserves the local speech peculiarities of his characters. Linguistically, "The Backwoods" is the richest tale of the cycle; when it first appeared, Kuprin supplied translations for local words in footnotes.25 Yet despite Kuprin's restraint. Talimon's speech - a colorful blend of Russian, Belorussian, and Ukrainian - becomes tiresome in places.
Olesya is the most charming of Kuprin's rural tales. Though meant at first to be only part of the Polesye cycle, this poetic story of the love between an urban intellectual and a beautiful country girl expanded into a full novelette of a significance far surpassing that of the other regional tales. It is also autobiographical: "All this happened to me,"26 Kuprin wrote mysteriously toward the end of his life. The story was always one of his favorites. Referring once to both Olesya and his later work "The River of Life," he said: "Here there is life, freshness ... more of my soul... than in my other tales."27
The first (newspaper) version of the work, subtitled "From Memories of Volhynia," appeared with an introduction claiming that the story was told by the now elderly Ivan Timofeevich Poroshin, as he recalled his youthful love for the "real Polesye sorceress" Olesya many years ago. Kuprin removed the introduction in later versions, and so heightened the dramatic impact of his tale by increasing its immediacy and preventing the reader from learning the outcome in advance.
Olesya's introductory chapter reveals little about the people and customs of Polesye. Instead, Kuprin contents himself with a humorous account of the narrator's futile attempts to doctor the peasants and of the disastrous writing lessons he gives to Yarmola, his servant and hunting companion. In the second chapter, the conversation between Yarmola and the narrator turns to witches and witchcraft. Relying on the information provided by its predecessor, "The Backwoods," Olesya assumes the reader is familiar with Polesye and its people, and thus focuses on the relationship between hero and heroine. The narrator, Ivan Timofeevich, is a shadowy but attractive figure whose ready irony at his own expense endears him to us. Instead of restorative peace, Polesye brings him only intolerable boredom, from which the prospect of meeting a real witch offers a welcome diversion. Akin to Kozlovsky and Bobrov before him. (*51) Timofeevich is a noble- hearted but weak-willed urban animal whose hesitant nature contrasts sharply with the bold decisiveness of Olesya's rural temperament. His relations with Olesya teach both him and us more about him. With the uncanny accuracy of the fortuneteller she is. Olesya characterizes him neatly: "...though you're a good man, you're weak ... not a man of your word" (II, 332). And indeed, irresolution remains the dominant trait of his character. Vacillating between his desire to marry Olesya and his feeling that their relationship must end, by default he leaves the decision to her. She takes it, and leaves forever. If Kuprin describes Timofeevich in some detail in his first few pages, he surrounds Olesya with an aura of fascinating mystery. All we learn before we meet her in Chapter III is that she came as a child from the north with her grandmother, old Manuilikha, later driven from the village as a witch. Brought up in the remote forests, she is untouched by civilization. While Manuilikha is almost a Baba Yaga figure - the traditional witch of Russian fairy tales - Olesya is an idealized, romantic creation, the archetypal daughter of nature, as beautiful and free as the virgin forests to which she belongs. Exquisitely charming in love, she becomes proudly resolute at moments of crisis, exhibiting a native wisdom that dismays the flabby Timofeevich. Designed to suggest her soul rather than reveal her outward form, Olesya's appearance is only lightly sketched, sufficiently detailed for us to picture her yet insubstantial enough for us to form our own subjective image of her. The beauty of her face, Kuprin writes, lay "in those big, dark, shining eyes to which the slender eyebrows lent an elusive hint of slyness, imperiousness, and naivete. ... and in the willful curve of her lips, of which the lower one ... pushed forward with a determined, obstinate look" (II, 325). Delightfully attractive as she is, Olesya is a mysterious creature acutely sensitive to the ever-changing moods of the forest around her. Her oneness with the wild beauty of nature lends her supernatural powers that Timofeevich finds disturbing and sinister. In thrall to the dark forces deep in her soul. possessed of "that instinctive, obscure, strange knowledge mingled with wild superstition and passed down from generation to generation like the closest secret" (II. 343), she possesses the gifts of prophecy and hypnosis, and can unerringly foretell death. All this she combines with an engagingly practical common sense that makes her reject without hesitation Timofeevich's talk of marriage: "Well what sort of wife would I be to you? ... 1 can't even read and I don't know (*53) how to behave.... You'd have nothing but boundless shame because of me... "(II, 363).
Nature is at the center of Olesya just as it is the lifeblood of the heroine herself. A living part of this world where she knows only the stillness of forest, marsh and immense, embracing sky, she is inconceivable anywhere else. In his heart of hearts Timofeevich knows this too. When he imagines her as his wife, he recognizes the absurdity of Olesya in a fashionable dress talking to the wives of his colleagues in an urban drawing room, torn forever from "this ancient forest full of mysterious powers and legends" (II, 361). Summoning up her image, he sees his beloved as an integral part of the natural kingdom in which she has her being, "her young body grown as shapely and strong as young fir trees in the freedom of the old pine forest" (II, 329). But never is nature a mere static back-cloth in Olesya, an inert prop to the story's action. Instead, it is an independent actor in the drama played out by hero and heroine, a force that, as the early Soviet critic Vorovsky puts it, "lives its own life and pays no need to man."28 Polesye's quietly insistent beauty is the inspiration for the love of hero and heroine, and it is with nature's festive though silent approval that they declare that love:
"And all that night merged into some magic, enchanting fairytale. The moon rose and with its radiance illumined the forest with fantastic, mysterious light of many hues, casting amidst the darkness uneven, pale bluish patches on the gnarled tree trunks, the curved branches, and the moss soft as a plush carpet. The slender trunks of birches showed up white and distinct, while on their sparse foliage were flung translucent, silver cloaks of gauze. Here and there the light did not penetrate at all beneath the dense canopy of pine branches. Complete, impenetrable darkness was there, and only in its very center did a ray of light, slipping in from who knows where, suddenly brightly illumine a long row of trees and fling onto the ground a straight, narrow path so bright, elegant, and charming that it looked like an avenue decorated by elves for a ceremonial procession by Oberon and Titania. And embracing one another we walked on without a word amidst this smiling, living legend, overwhelmed by our happiness and the awesome silence of the forest" (П, 359).
The concordance between the moods of man and events in the natural world lends dramatic force to Olesya. Tlmofeevich's feelings run in close parallel to changes of season throughout the work, a device that not only enables Kuprin to vary the narrative tension (*53) of his story but also underlines the tragic inevitability of its outcome. The beginning finds Timofeevich lonely and bored amid the lifeless winter landscape of Polesye. Then early spring, with its jubilant birds and abundant water, fills him with premonitions of love. A month in high summer brings his relationship with Olesya to passionate fullness, a month when "like a pagan god or a strong, young animal, he reveled in light, warmth, conscious joie de vivre and calm, healthy, sensual love" (II, 360). But the lowering skies of autumn bring the destructive hailstorm of the closing chapter, a grim presage that his love is doomed.
Despite Kuprin's removal of the introduction from the first version of Olesya, we are left in no doubt that the story is a memoir. Several references by Timofeevich to the memories left by his Polesye experience remind us that these are the recollections of an old man looking back with nostalgia to the love of his youth. The episode in which the villagers attempt to tar Olesya makes the point again, and more forcefully. Timofeevich describes it, not through his own eyes (for he was not there), but through those of two episodic characters who witnessed it, a clerk from a nearby estate and a forester's wife, who gives her account two months later. This double distancing device heightens the aura of perspective that surrounds Timofeevich's remembrance of things past. The closing lines of Olesya clearly reaffirm its memoir quality. In the forest hut now deserted forever by Manuilikha and Olesya, Timofeevich's eye falls upon a string of cheap red beads hanging at the window - "the only thing I had left as a keepsake of Olesya and her tender, generous love" (II, 381).
Though there is some truth in Chekhov's unflattering view of Olesya as mere "naive romanticism,"29 the story remains one of Kuprin's best. Framed by the quietly evocative beauty of Polesye, his miraculous heroine stands out in brilliant relief against the somber hostility around her. The narrator's memory of her "tender, generous love" became an abiding motif in Kuprin's later work, rising to its crescendo in the gorgeously lyrical Sulamif (Sulamith, 1908), then fading softly through the sadly elegiac "Granatovyi braslet" ("The Bracelet of Garnets," 1911) into the poignant resignation of Koleso vremeni (The Wheel of Time, 1929).
Moloch and Olesya set the seal on Kuprin's reputation, and in late 1901 he joined the Journal for All in Petersburg. Like his resignation from the army, the move to Petersburg was a climacteric in his career. His years as a journalist had brought him vast experience (*54) of permanent value for his work. Now those years were over, and armed with what they had taught him, Kuprin joined the literary circles of the capital.
© Copyright HTML Gatchina3000, 2004.