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"We lived at first in the country, then in the city, and, if the final
misfortune had not happened, I should have lived thus until my old age
and should then have believed that I had had a good life,--not too good,
but, on the other hand, not bad,--an existence such as other people
lead. I should not have understood the abyss of misfortune and ignoble
falsehood in which I floundered about, feeling that something was not
right. I felt, in the first place, that I, a man, who, according to my
ideas, ought to be the master, wore the petticoats, and that I could not
get rid of them. The principal cause of my subjection was the children.
I should have liked to free myself, but I could not. Bringing up the
children, and resting upon them, my wife ruled. I did not then realize
that she could not help ruling, especially because, in marrying, she was
morally superior to me, as every young girl is incomparably superior to
the man, since she is incomparably purer. Strange thing! The ordinary
wife in our society is a very commonplace person or worse, selfish,
gossiping, whimsical, whereas the ordinary young girl, until the age of
twenty, is a charming being, ready for everything that is beautiful
and lofty. Why is this so? Evidently because husbands pervert them, and
lower them to their own level.
"In truth, if boys and girls are born equal, the little girls find
themselves in a better situation. In the first place, the young girl is
not subjected to the perverting conditions to which we are subjected.
She has neither cigarettes, nor wine, nor cards, nor comrades, nor
public houses, nor public functions. And then the chief thing is that
she is physically pure, and that is why, in marrying, she is superior
to her husband. She is superior to man as a young girl, and when she
becomes a wife in our society, where there is no need to work in order
to live, she becomes superior, also, by the gravity of the acts of
generation, birth, and nursing.
"Woman, in bringing a child into the world, and giving it her bosom,
sees clearly that her affair is more serious than the affair of man, who
sits in the Zemstvo, in the court. She knows that in these functions the
main thing is money, and money can be made in different ways, and for
that very reason money is not inevitably necessary, like nursing a
child. Consequently woman is necessarily superior to man, and must rule.
But man, in our society, not only does not recognize this, but, on
the contrary, always looks upon her from the height of his grandeur,
despising what she does.
"Thus my wife despised me for my work at the Zemstvo, because she gave
birth to children and nursed them. I, in turn, thought that woman's
labor was most contemptible, which one might and should laugh at.
"Apart from the other motives, we were also separated by a mutual
contempt. Our relations grew ever more hostile, and we arrived at that
period when, not only did dissent provoke hostility, but hostility
provoked dissent. Whatever she might say, I was sure in advance to hold
a contrary opinion; and she the same. Toward the fourth year of
our marriage it was tacitly decided between us that no intellectual
community was possible, and we made no further attempts at it. As to
the simplest objects, we each held obstinately to our own opinions. With
strangers we talked upon the most varied and most intimate matters, but
not with each other. Sometimes, in listening to my wife talk with others
in my presence, I said to myself: 'What a woman! Everything that she
says is a lie!' And I was astonished that the person with whom she was
conversing did not see that she was lying. When we were together; we
were condemned to silence, or to conversations which, I am sure, might
have been carried on by animals.
"'What time is it? It is bed-time. What is there for dinner to-day?
Where shall we go? What is there in the newspaper? The doctor must be
sent for, Lise has a sore throat.'
"Unless we kept within the extremely narrow limits of such conversation,
irritation was sure to ensue. The presence of a third person relieved
us, for through an intermediary we could still communicate. She probably
believed that she was always right. As for me, in my own eyes, I was a
saint beside her.
"The periods of what we call love arrived as often as formerly. They
were more brutal, without refinement, without ornament; but they were
short, and generally followed by periods of irritation without cause,
irritation fed by the most trivial pretexts. We had spats about the
coffee, the table-cloth, the carriage, games of cards,--trifles, in
short, which could not be of the least importance to either of us. As
for me, a terrible execration was continually boiling up within me. I
watched her pour the tea, swing her foot, lift her spoon to her mouth,
and blow upon hot liquids or sip them, and I detested her as if these
had been so many crimes.
"I did not notice that these periods of irritation depended very
regularly upon the periods of love. Each of the latter was followed
by one of the former. A period of intense love was followed by a long
period of anger; a period of mild love induced a mild irritation. We did
not understand that this love and this hatred were two opposite faces
of the same animal feeling. To live thus would be terrible, if one
understood the philosophy of it. But we did not perceive this, we did
not analyze it. It is at once the torture and the relief of man that,
when he lives irregularly, he can cherish illusions as to the miseries
of his situation. So did we. She tried to forget herself in sudden and
absorbing occupations, in household duties, the care of the furniture,
her dress and that of her children, in the education of the latter, and
in looking after their health. These were occupations that did not arise
from any immediate necessity, but she accomplished them as if her life
and that of her children depended on whether the pastry was allowed
to burn, whether a curtain was hanging properly, whether a dress was a
success, whether a lesson was well learned, or whether a medicine was
"I saw clearly that to her all this was, more than anything else, a
means of forgetting, an intoxication, just as hunting, card-playing, and
my functions at the Zemstvo served the same purpose for me. It is true
that in addition I had an intoxication literally speaking,--tobacco,
which I smoked in large quantities, and wine, upon which I did not get
drunk, but of which I took too much. Vodka before meals, and during
meals two glasses of wine, so that a perpetual mist concealed the
turmoil of existence.
"These new theories of hypnotism, of mental maladies, of hysteria are
not simple stupidities, but dangerous or evil stupidities. Charcot, I
am sure, would have said that my wife was hysterical, and of me he would
have said that I was an abnormal being, and he would have wanted to
treat me. But in us there was nothing requiring treatment. All this
mental malady was the simple result of the fact that we were living
immorally. Thanks to this immoral life, we suffered, and, to stifle
our sufferings, we tried abnormal means, which the doctors call the
'symptoms' of a mental malady,--hysteria.
"There was no occasion in all this to apply for treatment to Charcot
or to anybody else. Neither suggestion nor bromide would have been
effective in working our cure. The needful thing was an examination of
the origin of the evil. It is as when one is sitting on a nail; if you
see the nail, you see that which is irregular in your life, and you
avoid it. Then the pain stops, without any necessity of stifling it. Our
pain arose from the irregularity of our life, and also my jealousy,
my irritability, and the necessity of keeping myself in a state of
perpetual semi-intoxication by hunting, card-playing, and, above all,
the use of wine and tobacco. It was because of this irregularity that my
wife so passionately pursued her occupations. The sudden changes of her
disposition, from extreme sadness to extreme gayety, and her babble,
arose from the need of forgetting herself, of forgetting her life, in
the continual intoxication of varied and very brief occupations.
"Thus we lived in a perpetual fog, in which we did not distinguish our
condition. We were like two galley-slaves fastened to the same ball,
cursing each other, poisoning each other's existence, and trying to
shake each other off. I was still unaware that ninety-nine families out
of every hundred live in the same hell, and that it cannot be otherwise.
I had not learned this fact from others or from myself. The coincidences
that are met in regular, and even in irregular life, are surprising. At
the very period when the life of parents becomes impossible, it becomes
indispensable that they go to the city to live, in order to educate
their children. That is what we did."
Posdnicheff became silent, and twice there escaped him, in the
half-darkness, sighs, which at that moment seemed to me like suppressed
sobs. Then he continued.
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