RUSSIAN LITERATURE SINCE THE REVOLUTION
The Clock. By Alekeei Remizov. Translated by John Cournos. (Ghetto and Windus. 7s.) Saint Helena. By M. A. Aldanov. Translated by A. E. Chamot. (Jarrolds. The Jay Library. 6s. net.) MOST people possess a rare drop of the pure spirit of the critical faculty ; but, alas ! in most people, also, it is ruined by an obscuration due to the presence of political or religious zealotry. We will say nothing of those darker pollutions added by personal passions, such as avarice, love, or fear. Aware of these mortal taints, English publishers have doubt- less felt that any efforts made to introduce translations of modern Russian books would be foredoomed. Time flows on, however, and diisolves our prejudices ; and to-day we find ourselves sufficiently balanced in mind to be able to allow-divine curiosity to live again in our minds.
We are even anxious to peep round the Russian political bogyman, and to discover what is going on behind his back. We are still influenced by Russian music, and the Russian writers of the great epoch which ended at the death of Tchekov
in 1901; and some of us confess to a deep admiration, and even awe, for a people of such nervous sensibility as is symbolized
in the novels of Dostoievsky and the music of Borodin. These interests and sympathies had prepared our minds for the eruptions in the society of that unhappy people. History has its dark chapters—but their facts have to be faced,
and no amount of outraged Anglican morality can influence the progress or retrogress—whichever it may prove to be—
of this vast Slavonic folk, any more than the thundering rhetoric of Burke could affect the French upheaval a century ago. What we are eager for now is to see how those events --the agonies, the destruction, the emancipations and the rcbuildings—are affecting artists who have inherited so great a national tradition. The Phoenix is already rising from the ashes. Principally, I think, architecture is finding new life in the opportunities afforded by the Government. Demands for great open-air theatres, convalescent homes, rest houses, etc., have stimulated the souls of the Russian architects to great ambitions for a purely Slavonic architecture. Their temples, tributary to the God Demos, vie with those erected in Western Europe to the God Mammon. It is possible that more than any other art, architecture can best express the mysterious dignity of the masses—a dignity which disappears under minute scrutiny—just as the grandeur of the building is lost when we peer into the texture of stone, brick, and girder.
It appears, however, that the evasive power of the" masses, this crowd-personality, is forcing itself even into the art forms designed by and for the individual—modern poetry, drama, and fiction. It is possible, therefore, that these forms will be reverted to their classical shapes, the pre-Praxitelean
and pre-Euripidean, where the delineation of the unique is roughened out to that of the type—as we find in the work of Phidias and Aeschylus. We have so little opportunity to judge of these things, unless we are intimate with the Russian language. That is not likely to be taught in our schools, however, and we must hope our publishers will give us sufficient translations of this modern work to inform us of the latest activities in the mind of Russia. In the mean- time here arc three good books, one containing a preface by Prince Mirsky which is a fair-minded historical survey of Russian literature from the passing of the realist tradition at the death of Tchekov ; its supersession by the Symbolist school—no doubt an influence from the French school of Rimbaud, Laforgue, and others ; to the present day experi- ments. Of the last he does not tell us much, but our curiosity is whetted. How far has the Expressionist movement of Central Europe penetrated into Russia ? A is a powerful and essentially democratic method, with its flashlight effects, its sudden cries and poignancies here and there at indis- criminate points. It is a method that had its roots in European art long before the War, for I fancy it began with the music of Debussy. It has penetrated even into our insular art, as all will recognize who have seen the plays of C. K. Moitro, a dramatist who has yet only begun to collect his forces, so turbulent and powerful are they.
As far as we can judge from our meagre evidence, Remizov seems to be the carrying-note from pre-revolution fiction to that of to-day. Even English readers of Dostoievsky will find this man's work foreign. Chapters describing singular Slavonic hysteria and irresponsible demonism are comprehensible in Dostoievsky because they are so vividly
rekited to the saner moments of life. We are familiar with raider Saxon forms of it in our own literature—in Lear,
Wuthering Heights, John Inglesant and elsewhere. Remizov, however, with a poetic impatience, cuts away the laborious psychological scaffolding and gives us a 'whole book of symbolist situations moving too swiftly for sanity, told in prose that is half metrical. The result is a new form to us, unrelated even to James Joyce's lyrical prose rhapsodies. The translator, Mr. Cournos, must have met many obstacles, but he has succeeded in giving us a version that we might take for an original work rather than a translation.
Boris Pilniak is one of the younger generation, and a self- acknowledged disciple of Remizov. The stories here trans- lated show more evidence, however, of the influence of
Tchekov ; but they have a fierceness of their own, and a passionate picturing of nature that resembles the painting of the Hungarian artist Rudysuli, but without his senti- mentality. The animal stories in this book remind us how great is the vogue of Jack London in Russia.
Saint Helena is a book that cannot be placed. It is not a historical novel ; it is not a biography ; and it is not of the Lytton Strachey genre ; yet it is a little of all three. Certainly it is a most fascinating little work and quite succeeds in its daring attempt to run two themes. The more interesting —but possibly not the cleverer—of these, is the story of the last days and the death of Napoleon. The author's attitude of fine casual irony enables him to approach the colossal figure of Napoleon with reverence that does not grovel. We sec more of a man of genius and less of a destiny-haunted type than the " Dynasts " gives us.
I have not done justice to these three books, which are all very interesting. They make us demand other of the modern Russians from the translators, so that our conception of the Spirit of Europe in its latest phase may be more complete..