The Shadow of the Gloomy East/Chapter 16

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CHAPTER XVI
 

Woman and the Child

 

TURGENIEV, Nekrasoy, Pushkin, Gucharov, and Pezmantov enriched literature with wonderful types of Russian womanhood. But in the west of Europe people did not pay any attention to the fact that the women thus presented were of ancient noble families, of houses living the civilised life of the West, where French culture was supreme and even exclusive.

But now, other giants of Russian literature, Feodor Dostoyevski, and the painter of the petty bourgeosie, Antony Chehov, or the apologist of peasant morality, Leo Tolstoy, draw an entirely different picture.

The woman of the Russian middle class was a "typeless" individual. She had no place left in Russian humanity. From the point of view of civilised man she was dispossessed of wider human rights, while her spiritual needs were symbolised in the "drab fence" of Chehov's tale as a colourless, soulless life: a drunken, or mentally demented husband, a petty provincial official, proud of his rank and uniform, her narrow-minded and old-fashioned folks, little-town gossip, lazy, bourgeois flirtations, which ended in nothing but shame and disgust, without the shadow of a drama.

In such an atmosphere of discontent and bitterness, in vain search of adventure, which was to render that grey, soul-killing life endurable, the Russian woman had to bring up her children. What was to be their lot? We find the answer in the works of the Russian authors.

The boys will grow to become "heads of families" or revolutionaries.

The girls will become beings of the same "typeless" type, waiting and complaining of life—capable only of bearing beings after their own image, without will, at best women capable only of a passive protest, or martyrs whose martyrdom remains unknown to anybody, and therefore passes without leaving a trace.

When Dostoyevski painted this apocalyptic picture of Russia, finding in the Russian society so many "fiends" and "antichrists," he allotted to woman one role only, that of victim to man's passion, or victim to his perverted, unbalanced, and confused endeavours and strivings. Thus the mad whirl of life carried to fathomless moral depths or to death those impotent beings dispossessed of will, who were the mothers and wives of the Russian middle class.

Tolstoy, again, presents the peasant woman either as a semi-heathen enchanted with the mystery of nature's secrets which are unknown to her, or as a benighted criminal, or as one of a million of females of a still bestial species.

It may be that just this position of the Russian woman drove her so often into the bloodstained, fiery embrace of revolution, into Bolshevik madness and its abominably cruel revenge, or into those extreme associations or groups which are entirely outside even Soviet law.

It may be this position made the woman generally ant easy prey to man, a being not desirous of tenderness of feeling, but only of excitement, and the easiest way of self-forgetfulness.

The heroism, high courage, and magnanimity of the Russian woman are the instinctive protest against such enslavement, against such degradation to the position of a mere factor, an outlaw in the social and national life.

At present, under Soviet rule, having obtained the rights of a "human being and citizen," woman was torn from the family frame, compelled to hard work equal to that of man, carried away by the whirl which tossed her on the men, who more and more lose the sense of respect for the woman that becomes gradually "socialised."

"The decree on the Nationalisation of Women," never passed by the Soviet Government, was enforced by the life created by the Soviets. For, deprived of the moral support of a father, a husband, or a brother, compelled to send her children to the Communistic asylum—because having no time and no means to keep them, she hands them over to the "children's asylum of the Third International"—disillusioned in her old-fashioned ideals of morality, having lost the sense of womanly dignity, she subjects herself to the regulations of the non-issued decree, the news of which perturbed and revolted the whole world. And the world is still unaware that, although never passed, the decree is enforced in Russian life.

In the villages the life of the peasant woman is one long round of cruel treatment at the hands of a drunken or savage husband, who uses infamous and disgraceful language, and thrashes her almost to death.

The children lose their respect for their mother, they deny her all moral authority, and when they grow up they begin to insult and beat her, forgetting that all her life she was thrashed like a dog by the father, the head of the family, the lord and master.

It is sure that nowhere else is the gulf separating parents and children so impassable as in Russia. If in the educated classes this may be explained by the progress of learning and intellectual advancement, in the villages its cause is patent to every observer; it is the decay of morality amongst the younger generations.

Having lived in Tsarist and later on in Soviet Russia, I have had the opportunity of observing such a decline of morality among the workmen and peasant youth, that I could not, without offending the ethical sense of my readers, describe adequately the terribly filthy, abominably criminal life of the Russian youth, which will replace the present generation in the social and national life, and which constitutes a terrible menace, not only to the Russian nation, but to the whole world.

The Russian Government never cared to penetrate the depths of the national masses. Indeed, almost like fairy tales are the articles of the well-known Russian publicist, Kondurishkin, who in 1917 brought to light sensational revelations of the villages and settlements in European Russia and in Siberia which have never seen any representative of the Russian Government or Church.

Thus from such villages and settlements spring aboriginal prejudices, superstitions, and witchcraft, which, in the mass of people naturally inclined to dark and gloomy mysticism, quickly spread and became fixed, casting a shadow of mediæval, elemental romanticism, which took crude, primitive, unchristian, and anti-civilised forms.

How else can we explain happenings like those which I remember well from the experience of my younger years?

In the little town of Borovicha, in the province of Novgorod, lived the notorious Pieta, an elderly man imbecile from childhood, but obsessed by a peculiar religious mania, who used to go about summer and winter barefooted and bareheaded, in a thin and dirty linen garment. He used to go about praying hours on end in front of every church or holy ikon, chanting merry tunes and playing with a few splinters which he kept thrusting into his long, dishevelled hair and beard.

Crowds of boys and girls would chase him, pulling his beard or shirt, throwing stones and sneering at him. Then Pieta would run away, making his pursuers laugh by his strange leaps, exciting them to new, often malicious, and cruel jokes.

During one of these retreats he led his youthful tormentors out of the town, and, hidden in a big haystack, he began to bark like a dog. The children, unable to get him to come out, crawled one after the other into the passage which Pieta had made in the haystack. The madman had only waited for this, for then in a moment the stack blazed forth in a huge flame, in which the children perished together with Pieta.

The Government, instead of taking care of such dangerous lunatics, allowed them to go about free. They were considered to be "God's people," respected by the pious peasants and townsmen, jeered at and persecuted by the young.

People suffering from epilepsy and hysteria are also greatly respected amongst the half-educated classes. Hysterical woman, or the so-called "klikushas," are regarded as particularly godly beings. During their attacks, when the unfortunate women were raving in convulsions, shouting, laughing, cursing, and weeping alternatively, the "initiated" were making auguries and forebodings on the incoherent words uttered by the irresponsible wretches. The "klikushas" sometimes played a political part even during the ancient regime. Several of these sick women, brought from various parts of the Empire, played such a part even at Tsarskoye Selo in the apartments of the mystically minded Empress Alexandra. Under the Soviets everything remained as it was. The epileptics, hysterics, and "klikushas" received the right of revenge, not only against children, but also against the bourgeoisie, and often they were put in charge of the "workshops of revenge" run by the Chekas.

Those epileptics and hysterio-maniacs were the children of women who had been daily thrashed by their drunken husbands, or who complained all their lives of their "forlorn fate," bewailing their sad lot. Incapable of, and unwilling to work, they could not find any escape out of the impossible conditions of a life which they hated with all the might of their pitiful souls.

The well-known Russian pathologists and psychologists, Bechtierev, Miezeyevski, Karpinski, and Wedenski, maintained that the terrifying number of abnormal people In Russia was the result of the abnormal life of the wives and mothers of Russia.

And in Soviet Russia, under the influence of the horror of terrorism and the impossible, inhuman conditions of life in that "freest of all countries," the number of pathological cases reached 4.8 millions in 1919, exactly as much as the total population of some of the smaller European States.