Boris Sukov's A History of Realism
Progress Publishers 1977
Chapter on Walter Scott & et cetera
Walter Scott went through the same stages in his creative evolution as many other romantic writers. From an early interest in gathering and studying folklore material, he went on to investigate the history of the periods in which it was produced. But unlike the other romanticists, he did not rest content with admiring the mysteries of the folk soul as revealed in ancient beliefs, songs and tales, but analysed the objective conditions, both social and spiritual, that influenced the life of the people. Child of a tempestuous and fierce age, Walter Scott combined analytic study of the past, great erudition and a vast knowledge of the life, manners and customs of the past with a keen sense of history, presenting man in his novels not simply as a member of society but as a participant in the historical process. This represented a tremendous step forward.
While in classicism there was a tendency to idealise the hero and stress his noble character to the extent even of ennobling his negative features, and while the romantic hero was an exceptional individual, in his own eyes too, his originality being the distinctive feature of romantic art, the heroes of Walter Scott’s numerous novels were ordinary people. The romantic hero’s spiritual world was fenced off from the outside world and presented as an independent sphere professedly uninfluenced by environment. The Walter Scott hero is above all an integrated character, his individual nature and spiritual world being organically linked to his environment, of which he is a part, so that he acts as historical man, that is, as the point of intersection of the various conflicting forces in society, as a representative of a particular social force.
This principle of character portrayal represented the triumph of realism. Walter Scott not only continued the realist tradition of the eighteenth century English novel where social environment was given considerable attention, but he enriched this tradition with the addition of 82 a new quality, by differentiating the social substance oi environment, portraying it as the theatre of clashes between conflicting c7ass interests and endowing his heroes with clearly defined class consciousness. Freeing the narrative of the subjectivist element that was so typical of romantic literature, Walter Scott and the other great realists of the nineteenth century imparted truly epic features to the novel, enabling it to become a mirror of life.
Walter Scott’s conclusion on the nature of social relations in bourgeois society was proved to be truly momentous and vital by the subsequent development of social thought. Three years after the publication of the Waverley novels, the French historian Augustin Thierry, broke away from the influence of the theories of Saint-Simon and embarked on a work on the English revolution, in which he also concluded that the class struggle is the motive force at the root of the historical process. The affirmation and development of this view in the works of Thierry and Guizot was to be greatly influenced by Walter Scott’s philosophy of history as embodied in his novels.
Thierry broke with the accepted canons of historiography, asserting that it was not heroes and rulers but the common people, participants in the movement of the masses, that were the real makers of history. This too betrays the influence of Walter Scott, whose best novels presented the story of ordinary individuals against the background of important historical events that have a direct impact on their destiny, events in which the masses play an important role.
Whether he is writing of the decline of the Scottish clans or Jacobite abortive uprisings, going far back into the past as in Rob Roy, or the Waverley novels, or writing of his own times as in St. Ronan’s Well, his manner of portraying his hero’s psychology and behaviour is always the same. Scott is not interested in describing his hero’s self-contained passions, thoughts and feelings and conveying the illusion of their free play. His novels present the struggle between various social interests, and class conflicts, the clash of socio-political forces at work in society, inevitably involving the main characters of the story, who become participants in the historical drama 83 whether they like it or not. It is these social forces that form the hero’s inner world, imparting to him unique individual qualities that are naturally and organically dependent upon the social environment that produced them. Walter Scott adopts an historical approach to the portrayal of character. The Knight Templar in Ivanhoe, the oppressed Saxon peasants and feudal lords, think and act in accordance with the historical conditions of their age. The psychology of the sons of rebellious Scottish clans depends directly on the ties of kinship which hold them in their tight grip and force them to subordinate their own interests to the interests of the clan. Both the stern rebel Rob Roy and his fierce wife are unthinkable outside the environment which bred and educated them. The noble villain Jean Sbogar of whom his creator Nodier is so fond acts in a perfectly artificial world, appearing now amid the inhabitants of some Balkan state, now in splendid salons, and everywhere remaining the embodiment of the author’s own views and not a living flesh-and-blood character. Rob Roy emanates the fresh breath of the Scottish mountains, his plaid is made by the calloused hands of women from poor Scottish crofts, his proud bearing, slyness and cunning in his dealings with strangers, his power over his fellow clansmen, indeed his whole nature and behaviour, are determined by the fact that he is a member of a mountain clan. One can only imagine Rob Roy, that bold, rough and ready Highlander, with his own personal code of honour, as he is—dressed in home-spun clothes that reek of sheepskin and night fires, and not in the cloak of the romantic hero.
The pure-hearted, quick-witted and prudent Jeanie Deans,—Scott’s best portrait of a character of the people— reveals great moral fortitude and will-power and a strong sense of justice, in saving her rather flighty sister who is accused of murdering her child after being seduced and abandoned by a dissolute laird’s son. Jeanie’s journey to London where she manages to get an audience at court and save her innocent sister is a kind of Odyssey, which enabled Scott to present a whole historical period in English life, by making an original historical cross-section. In The Heart of Mid-Lothian, as in Scott’s other novels, the 84 personal interest of the individual—in this case Jeanie— is shown to be interwoven with the social interests of many other people, and indeed to depend on them and form an integral part of the whole system of social relations. Such a view of the interdependency and interconditionality of heterogeneous social phenomena in a causal relationship was a feature of realism, and it is on this that the epic quality of realism is based.
Balzac criticised the romanticists for neglecting to analyse the ensemble of social phenomena observable in life. In his philosophical treatise la recherche de 1’absolu he launched a strong attack on “certain ignorant and avid people, who demand feelings without the principles that produced them, the flower without the seed that was sown and the baby without the mother’s pregnancy. But can art be stronger than nature?" [84•1 The author of La Comedie humaine insisted that the events of human life, both personal and public, form an organic whole. “Wherever you begin everything is connected, everything is interwoven. The cause enables us to divine the effect, and an effect enables us to trace the cause." [84•2
Causality never appears in realist literature as a mechanical succession of events, a chain with every link firmly joined to the next. This is the approach of naturalism, which attempts to present a photographic copy of reality, mixing indiscriminately essential and secondary features and often allowing the particular to obscure the general, and failing to bring to light the hidden processes of life that lie below the surface and determine its movement.
Causality in realism is expressed not only in the organic unity of the whole work and its parts, the unfortuitous nature of the details, the consistent development of the plot and the relationships between the characters, and a well-founded structure, but also, and indeed, above all, in a historicist approach.
Walter Scott evolved a historical approach as the result of his observation of and speculation on the development and intensification of the class struggle going on in 85 English society during the writer’s lifetime. Scott’s works covered the long period in English history between the Glorious Revolution and his own day and age. In presenting the antagonism between the two forces of feudalism and the bourgeoisie with their class hostility, the compromises they concluded in the course of the political struggle in which the masses were involved, and in portraying the religious dissentions, conflicting philosophies of life, the clash of material interests, the division of society, and hence of the characters in his novels, into supporters of the old feudal order and supporters of the new bourgeois society, Scott was able to perceive in the mass of facts and events the major trend in social development—the formation of capitalism in England. He was a sufficiently shrewd observer of life to grasp the inevitability of the process and to see it as an historically progressive one. He also realised that the formation of capitalism affected every aspect of English life, and that therefore the personal fortunes of his heroes were dependent on this process, realised, that is, that there was a causal relationship. Thus, in order to understand and present the personal fortunes of his hero, the realist writer had to study the social environment in which the character lived and acted in its entirety, taking note of the general trends in its development, in order to understand and show its influence. This approach put an end to the subjectivism of the romantics’ method of treating character, by which circumstances were regarded to be of slight importance, and characters were abstracted from the environment of which they were the product. When Byron ironically combined in Don Juan the character of the seducer sanctified by the old tradition of romantic exclusiveness with a realistic, authentic environment, he was producing far more than a remarkable aesthetic effect: by portraying both character, and environment, Byron created a truly realist work.
Scott’s historicism destroyed the romantic idea that only the exceptional individual could be the hero of a work of fiction, for he practically proved that realism could depict both the ordinary and the exceptional and not merely the ordinary and mundane as the romanticists 86 asserted. Scott’s heroes were ordinary people, who as a rule did not stand out in any way from the masses. But acting as they do in close connection with important historical events, in the magnetic field so to speak, of these events, in the conditions they produce, his heroes acquire substance for the events that affect their lives are substantial. Likewise, Scott portrayed important historical figures not as despotic demiurges of history but as children of their age, linked by numerous threads to the historical soil that grew them and whose minds reflected and refracted the ideas and prejundices of their day. For this reason they have a fulness and completeness which was lost by the twentieth century writers who portray historical figures as independent incisive characters determining the whole course of history.
In presenting an exceptional phenomenon or character, realism explains them, revealing the sources of the exceptional in life itself. Pushkin’s Captain’s Daughter is a fine example of this. There is no doubt that Pugachov is an exceptional, highly unusual individual. [86•1 Yet Pushkin explains the appearance of such an exceptional figure by the particular nature of the peasant war in which he plays such an important part. Since the whole psychology and class consciousness of Pugachov and his “generals” was inseparable from the social environment that produced them, from the violence and grandeur of the rebellion, the scale of the events which shook the Russian Empire to its foundations imparts scope to the character of the leader and his supporters, making them natural without reducing their significance. The perfectly ordinary squire Grinyov also acquires significance since he is bathed in the reflected glow of history and his life is drawn into the mainstream of the life of the nation.
p The idea that the practical activity of perfectly ordinary people is at the same time historical activity gave Scott’s novels an epic dimension and a democratic flavour. Although we find no direct depiction in his works of the life of the oppressed and exploited masses, and his social 87 views were certainly not revolutionary, his method of portraying history through the lives of ordinary people showed the way for literature to follow if it was to arrive at a broad presentation of the life of the masses, a way that it indeed followed.
But Scott’s democratic outlook is not only revealed in his destruction of the view of history as being purely the domain of rulers and heroes. The French historians who discovered the laws of the class struggle in society claimed that this struggle ends with the triumph of the third estate, after which an age of general welfare ensues. Walter Scott studied the actual results of the bourgeois revolution and came to a different conclusion. In St. Ronan’s Well, which dealt with contemporary life, he showed that bourgeois society resulting from the class struggle had a corrupting influence on human morals. The novel contains in a nutshell Scott’s views on England’s social development, and shows how, adopting a democratic standpoint, he changed his view of the nature of bourgeois progress, and came to regard it as relative progress since it had not only failed to bring people social welfare, but had revealed its essentially inhuman nature.
Scott came to understand the motive forces of social development through history, as it was history he was concerned with presenting. Pushkin solved a far more complicated aesthetic task, revealing the way these forces influenced contemporary society, observing the influence on society of the very same factors that conditioned historical development. Pushkin was thus concerned with portraying contemporary life, that is history in the making.
Scott’s historicism arose against the background of the class struggle which was gaining momentum with the development of the Industrial Revolution in England, bringing with it all the contradictions of capitalism. Pushkin grew to spiritual maturity and came to form his historicist approach at a time when a recent peasant war that had brought to the fore the antagonism between the peasantry and the gentry was still very much in people’s minds, at the time of a remarkable upsurge of the national and social consciousness of the Russian people due 88 to the war against Napoleon, in the atmosphere of the Decembrist struggle, when the spirit of Revolution was rising in Europe, and the injustice of the social order was becoming perfectly obvious, for despotism was depriving millions of Russian peasants—the bulk of the country’s working population—of the most elementary rights and freedoms.
The unbearable position of the peasantry was the most important social factor in Russian life, and just as radiation changes the structure of live tissues so this factor influenced the minds of Russian thinkers and writers, from Radishchev to Tolstoi, changing the structure of their consciousness, and compelling them to defend the interests of the downtrodden exploited peasant masses. The position of the peasantry attracted the attention of Russian social thought to the essential problems of the historical process, for the emancipation of the peasantry was ultimately associated with the establishment of Russian capitalism, and hence necessitated the adoption of attitude to capitalism as a whole and the clarifying of the prospects of social development in general.
Pushkin was not a peasant poet, but a truly national poet, yet the question of the position of the peasantry, in other words of the people, was at the centre of all his reflections on the principles of social organisation, and it was this that conditioned all those features of his work that go to make him a poet of the people. “Shall I ever see the people free" was practically the leitmotif of his work. For Pushkin the emancipation of the peasants betokened the emancipation of man and serfdom was a sign of wrongly organised society. Thus, the need to find a way of achieving the emancipation of the peasantry became for him the point of departure for studying the nature and sources of the power some men wield over others and man’s objective position in a society based on private ownership.
Pushkin did not only achieve an encyclopaedic portrayal of Russian society. His brilliant mind grasped the results of post-revolutionary development in Europe and was quick to realise the negative effect of capitalist progress on the consciousness and morals of man. Criticism of 89 capitalism became an important aspect of Pushkin’s manysided work.
The bourgeois ideologists inferred from the post– revolutionary development of Europe which so favoured the growth of capitalism that the main positive result of progress was that the individual was able to freely exercise his own will. The apologia for individualism was a reflection of the development of bourgeois society towards “free” capitalism and “free” competition, characteristic of pre-monopoly capitalism. It was this type of thinking that produced the apologia for bourgeois individualism in Max Stirner’s Der Einzige and sein Eigentum. Egoism as a constructive factor, and the individual as its bearer, indeed Stirner’s whole outlook fitted very easily into the general anti-revolutionary pattern of bourgeois consciousness, while retaining the semblance of criticism of life. Ideas such as these were blowing in the wind at that time and naturally caught the attention of writers. They became the subject of the half-serious conversations between the young people at Madame Voquet pension that had such serious consequences, hardening Rastignac’s heart and arming him with indifference for his fellow men. They turned Julien Sorel’s heart to stone and drove Raskolnikov to make his terrible test of the value of his own self, and they were the substance of the nihilism and seductive mixture of criticism and denial of revolution characteristic of Ivan Karamazov’s views. Pushkin strongly criticised ideas exalting individualism, and showed their hostility to goodness and humaneness. He began by debunking the selfish romantic hero. The Gypsies represented a turn towards realism, and with such works as Byron’s Don Juan and The Age ol Bronze and Stendhal’s essay Racine et Shakespeare ushered in a new period in the development of realism. The Gypsies contains a brilliant expose of the features bourgeois social development had introduced into the human consciousness, and reveals that eminently sober view of life and people typical of true realism. Aleko, the hero, is an extremely self-centered individual, who is isolated from others since he only pursues his own personal interests. His rejection of civilisation a la JeanJacques Rousseau turns out to be an illusion, a mistaken 90 and ineffectual way of overcoming life’s contradictions, for the civilised world has set its seal on Aleko’s soul forever. “For yet among you sons of nature, happiness I do not see...”. For no man can be happy and free who encroaches on the freedom of others and is unable to master and overcome his own selfishness. So it was that there emerged in Pushkin’s work and in world realist literature as a whole a new type of humanism involving a search for ways and means of freeing man from all forms oi social injustice.
Aleko was given the opportunity to overcome his selfishness; the Old Gypsy indicated it to him in his tale about his acceptance of his wife’s desertion. Yet Aleko answered the old man’s wise humanism with the classic formula of individualism, “I’ll not give up my rights”, and the close knot of relationship between the characters ended in tragedy and bloodshed, in the spiritual bankruptcy of the “lone wolf" who had sought freedom only for himself. With its striking generalisation and powerful, tragic climax—“There’s no escape from fateful passions and no defence from Fate"—Pushkin’s poem clearly points an accusing finger at the destructive nature of the dominant outlook of contemporary society.
Condemnation of selfishness and self-will as principles conditioning the relations between people in society based on private ownership is a recurrent theme in Pushkin’s works, where it gradually received more concrete historical and social expression as the poet matured spiritually, for Pushkin saw and presented social egoism not as an irrational force but as the direct product and result of a wrongly organised society. As well as studying character and passions, he at the same time investigated society, its manners and morals, its consciousness, the various ideas and moods that prevailed, its structure and social conflicts. He evaluated the development of life and history from a truly humanitarian standpoint. He showed that one of the causes of Boris Godunov’s tragic end was that in gaining absolute power and satisfying his own selfish interests, he neglected the welfare of the people and flouted the unwritten laws of true humanity. “Son by marriage ... of a hangman, himself in soul a hangman,” he played up 91 to the people, trying to placate them for a while in the pursuit of his own selfish interests and get them to forget the heinous crime he had committed in order to seize the throne. Boris is unable to bring the people true welfare, for his autocratic rule, despotic by its very nature, is based on violence and hostile to freedom.
The memory of the murdered child constantly haunts Boris, destroying all his undertakings and drawing him inexorably towards his doom. The murder of Dmitry was more than a trump in the hands of Boris’s political rivals intriguing against him: in the play the image of the dead child is raised to become a symbol accusing the power of man over man, and injustice and evil in life. The question of the effectiveness of this symbol is one that has been much discussed, but it is no accident that Ivan Karamazov’s powerful and shattering argument in his revolt against God and the unjust world he has created should be based on the symbol of a child’s suffering. The meek defencelessness of a child in the face of the cruelty and inhumanity of life and people, like the defencelessness of the weak in general, developed as a leitmotif in Russian realist literature, with its tradition of the “little man”, the underdog—from Pushkin’s Yevgeny in The Bronze Horseman, terrorised by the great statue symbolising the power of the state, and Vyrin, the hero of The Postmaster, to Akaky Akakievich in Gogol’s The Greatcoat and Makar Devushkin in Dostoyevsky’s Poor Folk, and a whole host of other tragic figures of “little men" in Russian literature. But unlike many of his successors—Dostoyevsky for example—Pushkin, the father of Russian realism, was never to ignore the possibility of his underdog rebelling against the social order. The pathetic St. Petersburg clerk in The Bronze Horseman amid the raging elements that crush his brittle happiness dares to raise his voice against the powerful lord and master whose autocratic will was the cause of his woe. It is no accident that Pushkin studied the possibility of the “injured and insulted" man joining a peasant rebellion in Dubrovsky, or that in The Captain’s Daughter, despite the many reservations, the hero’s contact with the element of a peasant rebellion filled him with “exalted awe”, for Pushkin had no doubts about the 92 lawfulness of a popular uprising. Thus, the main idea of Boris Godunov, the opposition of violence and humaneness, arose from the poet’s profound awareness of the antagonism that existed between the oppressors and the oppressed.
An historical approach to the present was what determined the historicism of the tragedy, in which the conflict between two states, the struggle between different political interests around the Muscovite throne, human destinies, and the relations between government and people were presented in accordance with the spirit and meaning of history. The tragedy in Bon’s Godunov springs from Pushkin’s understanding of the real underlying factors of the historical process, of the material interests which determine events. In the play Pushkin presented the characters and the circumstances that produced them, man’s environment and psychology in their unity and mutual iniluence, without which realism, and especially the realist novel, could not have developed as they did.
At the time when Pushkin’s contemporary Balzac was still writing amorphous works in an ultraromantic and melodramatic spirit, like Clotilde de Lusignan, ou le beau Juil, and Stendhal was writing travel notes and treatises on aesthetics, only just setting out to embody in the novel form the “iron laws of the real world" he had perceived (which he had not succeeded in doing in Armance), when E. Bulwer-Lytton was just laying the foundations of bourgeois realism, and in his novels Falkland and Pelham or the Adventures of a Gentleman—as in those of his elder contemporary Jane Austen, and later in the forties, in the works of the critical-realist Bronte sisters—realism was strongly spiced with romanticism, Pushkin had already produced Evgeni Onegin, a novel in a new realist manner, whose canons have preserved their validity down to the present day. Despite the fact that the lesson of Evgeni Onegin only became part of the general heritage of European and world realist literature not directly but through the Russian realist novel when it came to occupy a dominant position in the world literary scene in the mid-nineteenth century, the genetic ties 93 between it and the novels of other great realists are easily traced.
For a long time the European novel had preserved Lesage’s system of plot development, whereby the hero meets with numerous obstacles and overcomes them. The character of the hero or the narrator are little influenced by environment, and are presented as already formed. Events succeed one another in a chain which could be made quite endless at will. It was of no basic importance what form the writer chose to tell his story, whether epistolary as Richardson or narrative: the general pattern remained the same. We find it in Fielding and Smollett. It was convenient in that it enabled the writer to draw a broad background and cram the narrative with incidents, insert little self-contained novellas and make the work entertaining. The preromantics injected a strong subjective element, and while the early realists often concentrated on portraying environment to the neglect of the characters’ psychology, the pre– romantics, especially in the Gothic and romantic novel, subordinated environment to the subjective world of the feelings. But both preromantic and romantic novels are influenced by the traditional plot structure. Paradoxical though it may seem, Sterne, for example, who showed the most pronounced subjective approach, could have ended Tristram Shandy anywhere or added several further volumes, for the inner world of the heroes did not depend on the objective processes of the external world and the artist was little concerned with relating the events of the characteis’ inner lives with real external events. The same applies to the novels of Jean-Paul Richter and the early works of Victor Hugo. Walter Scott’s historical sense led him to give a synthetic portrayal of environment and psychology, yet even he did not completely abandon the traditional plot scheme, something that was first achieved by Pushkin.
In Evgeni Onegin the psychology of the characters and the environment which formed them are presented in organic unity and the action is subordinated to the task of revealing individual and unique features of the characters. For the romanticist Constant circumstances were 94 essehtially unimportant: for Pushkin analysis of character was unthinkable without investigation of environment, investigation from a historical angle and a clear understanding of the social features of society. Thus, Pushkin’s presentation of his characters’ natures and their relationships with one another, their various conflicts, expands to embrace a picture of the life of society with all its social contradictions. The personal life of the heroes, their clashes of opinion and emotional conflicts—everything that had hitherto appeared in novels as independent of environment, was in Pushkin determined by environment and typified, and reflected the main features of the social structure. The mental sufferings of the heroes also reflect their specific class psychology and the basic characteristic feature of the age—its hostility to the normal, healthy, natural development of the personality and the baneful influence of propertied social relations on man.
Evgeni Onegin, like Pushkin’s previous works, showed the spiritual bankruptcy of the self-centered, selfish hero. The poem condemned egoism as a typical feature of social relations and social consciousness, and in this sense Evgeni Onegin develops the humanitarian trend in Pushkin’s work a stage further.
Pushkin attributed the hero’s selfishness to social causes: his freedom was based on the unfreedom of others, who enabled him to lead his empty life of leisure, and since his spiritual world is immoral it follows that the social order which produced such a character is also immoral and abnormal. Pushkin’s criticism of his hero implied criticism of life’s order.
Onegin’s selfishness makes him defy the norms of moral behaviour: he coldly rejects Tatiana’s love, trampling her poor heart and ruining her life, dispassionately kills another man, and sails through life vainly searching for pleasure, perfectly indifferent to the fate of others, concerned only with his own self and his own selfish whims. And it was only when he fell hopelessly in love with the woman he had once spurned, when he felt the torture of repentance and was assailed with regrets in much the same way as Boris was by the “blood-stained ghost... appearing every day”, only then, when he realised the 95 baneful effects of egoism, that he began to feel his loneliness as a curse and his own self-will as a punishment. Onegin’s scepticism and selfishness are in sharp contrast to Tatiana’s moral integrity, her pure, firm faith in human dignity. Her conscious refusal to build her happiness on the misfortunes of others raises Tatiana above the hero and gives her self-denial the strength of a moral example. The humanitarian idea with which Pushkin imbues Tatiana makes her a perfectly enchanting and delightful character. This poor, modest provincial girl and society lady with tremendous pain locked away in her heart was the first in the gallery of fine women characters in Russian literature on which the People’s Will and Bolshevik women of the future were to be brought up.
Confining the conflict to the love relationship between the hero and heroine but analysing their feelings in the wider context of society, Pushkin imbued his heroes with a tremendously rich inner life. In this Evgeni Onegin was vastly different from the novel of the Enlightenment and early realism. This comprehensive approach to character portrayal was soon to become a distinctive feature of realism. Stendhal, comparing the novel in his time with that of the eighteenth century could write in Memoires dun tourists: “Have you read Fielding’s Tom Jones which has practically been forgotten nowadays? This novel occupies the same place among novels as The llliad does among epic poems, and yet Fielding’s characters, like Achilles or Agamemnon, now seem too primitive to us." [95•1 The realists freed their heroes from what Stendhal referred to as their primitiveness, and were to go on to improve the methods of psychological analysis. But it was Pushkin who laid the foundations of analytic study of the human heart in realist literature.
Pushkin studied the nature of human alienation and the causes of man’s preoccupation with himself with the thoroughness of the historian and the penetration of the sociologist. Analysis of an apparently purely moral problem inevitably led him to undertake an analytic study of life, for it was there, he knew, that he would find the 96 answer to the question of what was causing alienation and self-centeredness and social conflict. This fundamental problem for realism was brought into special relief in the Little Tragedies, and was in fact the basis of all the tragic conflicts in these plays which form a cycle by virtue of their common philosophical conception. Pushkin demonstrates exceptionally strong historical sense in the cycle. Only a writer aware that the manners and customs of society and people’s social and moral conduct depend on circumstances of place and time and perfectly concrete historical conditions could have created such a set of vivid characters from various periods. The characters of the Little Tragedies do not only wear the costume of their age: they are also endowed with many psychological features typical of their age. At the same time they are generalised and realistically typiiied to an extent that is only equalled in Shakespeare’s characters, and thereby go beyond the confining limits of historical fact. Pushkin managed to generalise in them the essential, more permanent features of human consciousness formed by the world of property relations. Following the main theme of his art, Pushkin brought his heroes—self-centered individuals—into direct conflict with humanitarian principles, with the unwritten laws of humaneness, condemning egoism as a basis for human relations. Each of the heroes of the Little Tragedies has his own individual type of conflict with other people and the world, and yet in a way all these conflicts have a common denominator. The gay seducer Don Juan, who regards life purely as a source of pleasure and satisfaction of his own desires, is finally crushed by his own inhuman intention to sacrifice another person’s virtue, honour and life to his own transient whim; Walsingham in The Feast During the Plague, is assailed by a most bitter moral torment for having turned a deaf ear to the sufferings and hardships of his fellow men in this terrible time of trial and joined with his reckless friends in godless revelry. Salieri suffers a crushing defeat in his moral duel with Mozart, driven as he is to crime by his own pitifully narrow and selfish view of art. Making of art a mystery whose secrets are only revealed to the initiated few, Saliefi dares to oppose his will to the great unifying and 97 educative power of art that freely gives joy to mankind. He extinguishes Mozart’s radiant genius, thereby doing a terrible violence to the creative element in man. He acts like all those who seek to extinguish reason and put a stop to its hard and utterly selfless work to free mankind from the power of prejudice, ignorance and evil. Pushkin’s humanitarian idea acquires tremendous power of generalisation and great critical force.
But what was the soil in which all these human tragedies arose, what is it that feeds misanthropy and breeds disharmony in human relations? The answer to this question was provided by The Covetous Knight, the key work in the cycle. Here we have the world where all ideas of what is right and wrong are turned upside down, where son is advised to murder his own father, where the lascivious murderer seduces the wife of his victim, where selfless kindness produces hatred and anger, where “bloody villainy" is always ready to be called to life, where tears and sorrows evoke scorn or indifference, youth and talent are forced to sell themselves and a man’s worth is judged by what he owns, where self-interest and personal gain are the guiding principles and conscience and morality go by the board—a world ruled over by an old knight-usurer, the master and slave of gold. His armour is rather too tight for him: with his understanding of the essential features of the new masters who were consolidating their position in the post-revolutionary world, Pushkin did not endow the baron with contemporary, early nineteenth century features, lest he should be at variance with the general pattern of the cycle. But despite his knightly attributes, the old baron had parallels in the realist literature of Pushkin’s day. He represents very much the same as Balzac’s Gobseck, in the understanding of the processes going on in life that he reflects. Gobseck serves his master gold with equally fanatical devotion, and in the same ways as the baron rejects the outward signs of wealth and power for the secret but very real power of wealth, likewise understanding that self-interest and gain are the prime movers in relations between people in the society in which he lives. Like the baron, Gobseck is a powerful, monumental character, despite his petty 98 avariciousness. They are still accumulating capital, not using it to run the world. They are typical of the early period of bourgeois accumulation, and represent the first portrayals of capitalist vultures in world realist literature.
For Pushkin, as for Balzac, Stendhal, Dickens and Thackeray, the main thing in judging the nature of historical development was the question of their attitude to capitalism. In studying the effect the new social system was having on the life of society, they all sought for social forces and principles of social organisation to counter capitalism. Balzac mistakenly supposed that the unruly development and anarchy of capitalist enterprise and the corrupting influence of selfish bourgeois morality could be curbed by the strict authority of the monarchy and the Church. Dickens held that the power of moral feelings— which must be aroused in people—would be able to counter the destructive influence of capitalism on social consciousness. Pushkin, however, like Stendhal, explored the possibility of union with the revolutionary people in such works as Dubiovsky and History of the Revolt of Pugachov, and also in Scenes from the Days of Chivalry, whose basic idea is similar to that of Merimee’s La Jacquerie. Like the other great realists of the past, Pushkin looked beyond life as it was in an attempt to guess the future course of social development. The search for a perspective arises from the very nature of realism and is its sine qua non. When a writer analyses reality he is bound to achieve an understanding of the direction in which the world he is investigating is moving. The great realist writers of the nineteenth century embarked on their search for a perspective due to their refusal to accept the bourgeois society they lived in. Pushkin rejected capitalist progress outright, both in its “pure” American form, and in the form characteristic of Europe. “They were amazed to see democracy in its disgusting cynicism, its cruel prejudices and its unbearable tyranny,” he wrote of American bourgeois democracy. “All that is noble, selfless, and elevating is crushed by egoism and a passion for contentment; the majority presumptuously oppressing society; Negro slavery amid education and freedom; genealogical persecution in a people that has no nobility; cupidity and 99 envy on the part of the electors; temerity and servility on the part of the rulers. . . ." [99•1 Stendhal criticised American democracy in almost exactly the same words in his account of the journey of a certain Captain Holly to North America. Of course, the freedom to which Pushkin and Stendhal were referring was the freedom of private enterprise proclaimed by the bourgeois revolution. These same features of American civilisation were also criticised by Dickens in his superb satire of bourgeois democracy Martin Chuzzlewit.
Pushkin also wrote as follows. “Read the complaints of the English factory workers, and it’s enough to make your hair stand on end. What dreadful tortures and incomprehensible torments! What cold barbarity, on the one hand, what terrible poverty! You might think it were a question of building the pyramids of the pharaohs, of the Jews labouring beneath Egyptian whips. Not at all; it’s merely Mr. Smith’s fabrics or Mr. Jackson’s needles. And note that this is not abuse, it is no crime, but is all performed strictly within the limits of the law. There seems to be no more unfortunate lot in the world than that of the English worker, but look what happens when a new machine is invented and five or six thousand people are immediately released from hard labour and deprived at the same time of their regular means of subsistence...." [99•2
Engels had the following to say on the position of the English working class. “Every improvement in machinery throws workers out of employment, and the greater the advance, the more numerous the unemployed; each great improvement produces, therefore, upon a number of workers the effect of a commercial crisis, creates want, wretchedness, and crime." [99•3 Such were the inherent contradictions of capitalist progress which did not remain hidden from the perceptive gaze of Pushkin and the other great realists of last century. Pushkin gave a great deal of thought to these contradictions and studied the effect they had on man’s moral world. Thus, in his Queen of 100 Emacs-File-stamp: "/home/ysverdlov/leninist.biz/en/1973/HR380/20070330/199.tx" Spades he was able to create a hero of the new age m whom typical features ol bourgeois consciousness found clear realistic expression and were generalised. Hermann, whose actions had a single motive in his passion for enrichment was, like Rastignac and de Rubempre, the perfect individualist. His obsession with his own self and his own interests poisoned and smothered all his natural human impulses, making him completely callous, cold and calculating. Blinded by the lure of wealth he will stop at nothing—even deception and crime—to attain his lifelong aim, which he pursues with maniacal devotion. Mercilessly crushing or sweeping aside everything and everyone that stands in his way, he follows the savage side of his nature, seeing society as a battlefield and other people as either enemies or tools for the achievement of his own ends. It was no accident that the tale was given its urban setting, and the haunting image of St. Petersburg that pops up throughout gives a foretaste of the atmosphere in Gogol’s Nevsky Prospect and of the intensely dramatic scenes of St. Petersburg life in Dostoyevsky’s works, for it was in St. Petersburg that all the social contradictions of Russia were concentrated and stood out in bold relief.
Describing the features of bourgeois society, Engels remarked that they made themselves felt most strongly in the life of the big towns, the centres and strongholds of bourgeois civilisation. “And, however much one may be aware that this isolation of the individual, this narrow self-seeking is the fundamental principle of our society everywhere, it is nowhere so shamelessly barefaced, so self-conscious as just here in the crowding of the great city. The dissolution of mankind into monads, of which each one has a separate principle and a separate purpose, the world of atoms, is here carried out to its utmost extreme.
“Hence it comes, too, that the social war, the war of each against all, is here openly declared. Just as in Stirner’s recent book, people regard each other only as useful objects; each exploits the other, and the end of it all is that the stronger treads the weaker under foot, and that the powerful few, the capitalists, seize everything for themselves, while to the weak many, the poor, scarcely a 101 bare existence remains." [101•1 These features of bourgeois consciousness and bourgeois relations remarked upon by Engels are reflected in The Queen ol Spades. Hermann should really have been struggling for wealth and power not in a gaming house but on the stock exchange, his whole character and outlook predisposing him for that. In both The Queen oi Spades and The Covetous Knight, where Pushkin demonstrates a perfect awareness of the processes going on in society, a deep understanding of the new social phenomena that had arisen since the revolution, and does so with consummate artistry, the emphasis is on analysis of the moral consequences of the growing influence of social egoism on man. This feature of Pushkin’s method of presenting bourgeois society was conditioned by the slower rate at which capitalism was developing in Russia. While fully aware of the main trend in social development and understanding perfectly well that the bourgeoisie was bound to come out on top and feudalism was doomed, Pushkin was unable to study and investigate the formation and establishment of the new social relations with the same breadth and fulness as were other realists who actually lived under capitalism. But it was he who laid the foundations of a new type of realism, critical in character, synthetic in the method of portraying the relationship between man and his environment, between man and society. Pushkin portrayed his contemporaries historically, that is, as the product of a particular social environment, and possessing a perfectly clear-cut class consciousness that was their own, and theirs alone. Pushkin’s typical method of portraying reality was characteristic of critical realism as a whole in the classical period of its development.
It was this method that enabled Balzac and Stendhal, Dickens and Thackeray, the Bronte sisters, Gogol, and the Russian writers of the “natural school" to reveal and analyse the contradictions inherent in the new capitalist relations that were growing up on the ruins of feudalism. As it happened, only critical realism proved capable of assimilating the new life, for bourgeois realism, which 102 regarded capitalist progress as the natural form of social development, made no effort at all to study life in its actual movement, but substituted portrayal of the spiritual life of man isolated from society for portrayal of the contradictions in society. This attitude was clearly stated by a leading exponent of bourgeois realism, that talented psychologist and portrayer of morals and manners BulwerLytton, who wrote in Pelham or the Adventures of a Gentleman: “Works which treat upon man in his relation to society, can only be strictly applicable so long as that relation to society treated upon continues. For instance, the play which satirises a particular class, however deep its reflections and accurate its knowledge upon the subject satirised, must necessarily be obsolete when the class itself has become so. ... The novel which exactly delineates the present age may seem strange and unfamiliar to the next; and thus works which treat of men relatively, and not man in se, must often confine their popularity to the age and even the country in which they were written. While on the other hand, the work which treats of man himself, which seizes, discovers, analyses the human mind, as it is, whether in the ancient or the modern, the savage or the European, must evidently be applicable, and consequently useful, to all times and all nations." [102•1 The portrayal of “man as such" became the chief characteristic feature of bourgeois literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Carried to its extreme, this principle of portraying man abstracted from the world of social ties lies at the roots of modern decadent literature.
Nor was romanticism able to reveal the real contradiction in the “free” capitalist system that was developing. The new features of life that lay bare the inhuman nature of bourgeois society needed to be investigated and understood. To the romanticists the process of bourgeois development seemed to be irrational, and extremely difficult if not impossible to understand. The conservative romanticists either adopted a position of stoical non-acceptance of life and the new society, like Alfred de Vigny, or 103 openly supported feudal reaction like Arnim, Southy and so on. Those romanticists who, like Lamartine, believed in the illusions of bourgeois liberalism while being opposed to the more unpleasant aspects of bourgeois progress, were of the opinion that the new social order merely required certain minor improvements. Only the revolutionary romanticists who were to a greater or lesser extent connected with the rise of the proletarian and democratic revolutionary movement which culminated in the revolutions of 1848—people like Heinrich Heine, Freiligrath, Moreau, Barbier, Lenau, the worker poets and Chartists— revealed the contradictions of capitalist progress, though without giving a complete, integrated picture of bourgeois society. The critical realists alone were able to see and comprehend the contradictions in social development as a whole and analyse the main distinctive features of the bourgeois consciousness and social order. Critical realism flourished at a time when bourgeois society had already turned its back on the heroic days of the Jacobins and the bloody epic of the Napoleonic wars, and was consolidating its own gains and entering the stage of free competition. The bourgeoisie were feting their freedom. The cancan replaced the Carmagnole, the bowlar hat replaced the Phrygian cap, the Hussar’s uniform with its colourful trimmings had given way to the practical frock-coat oi the new world conqueror, the knight of debit and credit. The orators of the Convention who had shaken the world with their fiery speeches had been superceeded by parliamentary windbags. The bourgeoisie were mercilessly enforcing their rule at bayonet-point. They ruthlessly quelled the masses on the barricades during the July revolution, shed the blood of the Lyons workers who had the audacity to demand human rights for themselves, crushed the uprising of the Silesian textile workers and mobilised their forces against the Chartists, who were naive enough to believe that the democratic freedoms declared by the bourgeoisie would permit the working class to free itself from capitalist enslavement.
[84•1] Honore de Balzac, CBuvres completes, V. 14, 2me p., p. 308.
[84•2] Ibid., p. 309.
[86•1] Yemelyan Pugachov, the leader of the peasant uprising in Russia in 1773–1775.—Ed.
[95•1] Stendhal, Nl6moiies d’un touriste, Tome I, Bruxelles, 1838, p. 27.
[99•1] A. S. Pushkin, Collected Works in ten volumes, Moscow, 1949, Vol. 7, p. 449 (in Russ.).
[99•2] Ibid., p. 290.
[99•3] K. Marx and F. Engels, On Britain, Moscow, 1962, p. 167.
[101•1] K. Marx and F. Engels, On Britain, p. 57.
[102•1] E. Bulwer-Lytton, Pelham or the Adventures o! a Gentleman, New York, p. 48.