COMING to my office one morning I found, among the pile of private and business letters on my desk, a thick envelope that immediately arrested my attention. Thinking it might contain a newspaper article, I opened it. It was a letter, an extraordinarily long letter. The signature....Olga Wasselowskaya. I looked at it thoughtfully.
I knew Comrade Olga Sergejewna Wasselowskaya as an organizer holding a responsible position in the Soviet Republic. I also knew that she was not even remotely interested in the work among women in which I happened to be engaged at the time. What had prompted her to write this endless letter? Glancing at the envelope once more I noticed the words "Strictly Personal" written in large letters across the corner.
"Personal?" Personal letters from women usually mean family tragedies, with a plea for advice and understanding. Was it possible that Olga Sergejewna, this quiet, self-contained woman...? It was unthinkable!
I could not read the latter at the moment; urgent matters clamored for immediate attention, and the letter was obviously too long and too serious for hasty perusal. But as I worked, my thoughts returned involuntarily to the letter and its writer.
I recalled the few occasions on which I had met her – always in some official capacity. I remembered her dry, impersonal, rather reticent attitude toward others, and her remarkable efficiency – for a Russian woman – in business matters. On one of these occasions I had also made the acquaintance of her husband, a former workingman, whose frank, pleasing appearance made him beloved and popular wherever he went, although she was probably more widely known and respected than he. She was his superior in the organization in which they were both employed. He was somewhat younger than she. Perhaps this marriage ... but they had always seemed to be in such perfect accord with one another that one was impressed with a sense of harmony and perfect comradeship whenever one saw the two together. He admired her unreservedly.
I recalled one occasion when he had said, in my hearing: "But you heard what Olga Sergejewna thinks about it. Why do you continue to argue the matter?" To him she was the supreme authority.
She, too, was extremely fond of him, though in a more maternal way. I recalled another time – it was during a Congress at which we were both delegates – how her face had softened and lost its haughty reserve and severity when they brought her the news that he was ill. He was often ill. Perhaps this physical weakness that kept her in constant fear for his life had worn down her reserve. But why should she write to me? For sympathy? She was not the woman to write a letter like this without a more serious reason.
I had no opportunity to take up this letter that had taken such hold on my thoughts until I returned to my room that evening.
"I am writing to you privately, as one comrade to another. I am writing to you because you are a woman, and because I know that you are often confronted with problems of this kind. Perhaps you will be able to help me find a way out of the terrible depression that has taken hold of me.
"In the forty-three years of my life I have never been so ridiculously at a loss.
"You know me as an efficient worker. I know that I am generally regarded as severe and pedantic. Can you imagine me as the heroine of a love tragedy – a common, trivia', vaudeville sort of tragedy, that, because of its very triviality, is so much the harder to bear? Only the thought that its triviality is superficial, that there is a greater and deeper significance behind the situation under which I am suffering, makes it possible for me to come to you. Were it merely a personal affair, I should bear it as best I can, but I am sure that, in the last analysis, my experience is the immediate result of that overturning of every accepted conception of life and social relationship that is taking place in Russia at the present time. Side by side with greatness and creative genius, vice and darkness still work their evil ways.
"I believe that my experience is not uncommon, and I shudder at the thought. It fills me with physical nausea. Am I wrong? Is my outlook on life still controlled by old, outlived conceptions? Do the prejudices of an overthrown bourgeoisie still control my feelings, so that I take a distorted view of a perfectly natural situation? So my daughter insists, and Comrade Rjabkov, my husband, agrees with her. Who is right? They? Or I? Help me to find the way, tell me if I am wrong, if it is true that only bourgeois prejudice is at the root of my horror."
Here the letter stopped. On a new page, in a steadier, obviously more controlled hand, Olga Sergejewna continued:
"I should like to tell you at once of this tragedy that is tearing my soul, but you would get only a distorted picture of what is going on within me if I were to tell you of these recent occurrences without giving you an insight into the past. You would be inclined to over-emphasize superficial incidents, while failing to recognize that they play no part in my unhappiness. This is not the commonplace tragedy of a woman who is losing the man she loves. It is all so much more complicated and poignant. Nor is it that I fail to understand what has happened. Only the motives...the motives....I plead with you to be patient. Read my letter to the end. Remember, it is a comrade in deepest distress who writes to you, asking for comradely advice and assistance."
There were frequent erasures. Here an entire paragraph had been crossed out. The letter continued on the next page:
"You remember my mother, do you not? She is still alive, and has charge of the traveling library in the Province N., where she is an important member of the committee for public education."
I remembered her mother well, Marja Stepanowna, a typical propagandist of the '90's, publisher of popular scientific books, translator of socialist pamphlets, and indefatigable worker in the field of public education. She was universally respected and honored among the liberal political workers of her time, while underground revolutionists held her in high esteem for more than one great service she had rendered their cause. The circle of her friends and admirers was large and varied.
In her political views she approached the Narodniki, without, however, becoming politically active. Books, schools and libraries for the poor and for the peasantry were her passion. She died shortly after I received her daughter's letter, and local labor organizations as well as representatives of the Soviets and of the Party stood at her coffin although she had never joined either a political party or a labor organization.
She had been a tall, slender woman with a handsome, imperious head, intelligent eyes and expressive features. Her personality commanded reverence – indeed, she inspired timidity in those who knew her less well than we. She spoke in brief, concise sentences, with a firm, clear voice. Usually there was a cigarette between her lips. She was always simply dressed in a style of her own that cared nothing about current fashions. Her hands, particularly, had always impressed me, they were so beautiful, so carefully groomed – the hands of a "lady." On her ring finger she always wore a heavy gold ring with a dark ruby.
"You may not know" – I turned from my thoughts to Olga Sergejewna's letter – "that my mother, too, in her younger days, lived through a tragic love affair, and that she came out of it – or rather – went into it – with a very definite moral code of her own in the question of sexual relationships. She condemned without mercy those who failed to live up to this code of hers; in her heart of hearts she despised them, though she was always a good-hearted, superior personality in the broadest sense of that word. In this question, however, she was intolerant to the point of pedantry.
"It has been the general assumption that we became strangers to one another because of political differences. This is not true. Our opinions of what is right and permissible in relations between men and women clashed when my drama first unfolded itself.
"My mother married an officer much against the will of her parents. As the happy wife of the commander of a regiment she gave birth to two sons, and was generally considered a model housewife.
"But presently the stagnant life that is found everywhere in military circles, a life of which the only outstanding characteristic is it extravagant style of living, became oppressive to one of her active temperament. You know what an inexhaustible fountain of energy my mother has always been. She had been educated far beyond the level usually achieved by girls of her class and time, had read most widely, had been abroad several times, and had carried on a lively correspondence with Tolstoi. You will understand that soon the commander of a small regiment in the provinces failed to fill her life. Fate threw the district physician, Sergei Iwanowitsch, into her path.
"Sergei Iwanowitsch, my father, might have been the materialization of a character out of one of Tchekhoff's books, with the confused idealism and restless striving into vague distances that characterized the Russian intellectual of that period. He had the Russian love for rich food and good living, and the Russian incompetence in the face of the trials and vicissitudes of practical life. He was a handsome, strongly built man; he liked the books that mother admired. He spoke with a great deal of sentimentality of the sufferings of the poor peasantry, yearned to go to the masses who were condemned to live in darkness, and dreamed platonic dreams of establishing libraries and schools and of conducting educational work on a large scale.
"The inevitable happened. One hot summer evening – the commander was absent on maneuvers – my mother found herself in my father's arms, the book on circulating libraries in New Zealand unread in the grass at their feet.
"It seems that my father was hardly prepared to see in this casual 'poetic dream' of a hot summer's evening an episode that was to change the even tenor of his highly satisfactory existence. He desired absolute freedom in his personal relations. Besides, he had a good-looking, robust young peasant widow for a housekeeper.
"Mother, as I have already told you, had very definite opinions in such matters, however. It did not occur to her to fight against this love of hers, nor to keep it a secret from the world and her husband, since she had always believed and maintained that the rights of love were superior to those of marriage. To her, love was holy. She would have considered it beneath her honor to trifle with it.
"In Sergei mother believed that she had found the personification of the ideal that her heart, mind and soul were seeking – the man she passionately loved, the human being she respected, the friend with whom she would work hand in hand for the education of her people.
"She knew only one way out of the situation – an immediate break with the commander. She would build up her own life according to her own wishes, disdainful of the talk and vicious gossip of her neighbors. On the following morning, therefore, mother sent for Sergei Iwanowitsch and took him out to the path under the linden trees to read to him the brief, determined letter she had written to her husband, informing him of what had happened with characteristic frankness, and asking for a divorce.
"Sergei Iwanowitsch was dumfounded. He had not expected such precipitation. He stammered something about protecting mother's good name and reminded her of her sons. Mother was astonished but obdurate. And since she was enchantingly beautiful, and my father in the honeymoon of his infatuation, the conversation ended in new embraces that strengthened my mother in her resolution to straighten out this – to her – impossible situation at once.
"This was not as simple as it appeared. The poor commander, who loved her to distraction, came home in desperate indignation, and bruskly refused to consider a divorce. He overwhelmed his wife with useless recriminations, threatened to kill, now himself, now the doctor, only to plead with her, a moment
later, to return to his home, if only as housekeeper and mother. "Mother was deeply sorry for him, but her love for the man whose soul she believed attuned to hers was stronger than pity. Convinced at last that no amount of explanation would bring her husband to reason, she packed her belongings, her money and her books, kissed her boys, and departed without taking leave of the commander.
"The affair scandalized the government for a long time. The Liberals supported my mother and looked on her desertion of the commander for a district physician as a protest against the existing regime. The local paper printed a poem in her honor. At a local dinner someone proposed a toast to 'the heroic women who dare loosen the traditional fetters of marriage to throw their lot with that of the wage-slaves, to work for the people.'...
"As soon as she was established in the home of Sergei Iwanowitsch mother at once set about the realization of her old dream of establishing public libraries, enthusiastically supported by my father, the Tchechowian hero. At that time Russia was suffering a period of blackest reaction, but mother battled for her idea with her usual persistence, taking it from district magistrate to governor, traveling to Petersburg, using her personal influence wherever she could, stubbornly refusing to accept defeat.
"And then, just as their plan approached realization, my mother and her muddle-headed, terror-stricken husband were arrested and exiled to a far-distant region. There I was born.
"Even in exile mother continued her energetic activity. She called into being an organization for self-culture, laid the foundation for a system of libraries, taught, instructed...
"My father was unhappy, became stout, and deteriorated mentally as well as physically.
"Nevertheless, when he returned from his exile at last, the reputation as a staunch revolutionist had preceded him, and he took up his activity in the provinces. Mother applied herself to her work for popular education with renewed enthusiasm. It seemed that the life of my parents had assumed a fixed and permanent form at last ... until one day mother discovered her almost bald but still handsome husband in an unmistakably compromising situation with the milk-maid, Arischa.
"My father tried to defend himself. But the situation was more complicated than he assumed. Arischa became pregnant.
"Without further ado mother packed her belongings and left with me for the capital city of the province, leaving my father a letter in which she insisted on adequate provision for Arische's child and warned him against alcohol, which was taking an increasingly strong hold on his tastes. She carefully avoided complaints or recriminations. All this I learned, years later, from mother herself, when she told me the story of her own life in the hope of influencing my decision, to bring me back to what she considered the only honorable path.
"I remember that mother bore her fate with admirable strength. I never saw her shed a tear, although she never ceased loving Sergei Iwanowitsch, and remained faithful to him the rest of her life.
"In the capital my mother set to work to organize the publication of a series of books on popular science, a work that has given her lasting fame throughout the country.
"I lived with her. From my earliest youth I was familiar with the thought and activity of revolutionary circles; 'forbidden literature' was the reading matter of my early 'teens. I was at home with illegality and with those who lived illegally.
"We lived frugally, almost ascetically, in a home always permeated with an atmosphere of industry and hard work, among ideals and 'new beginnings.' At the age of sixteen I was arrested for the first time and my mother was inordinately proud of me.
"Such were my early surroundings. But even at this early age, my opinions began to diverge from those of my mother. I inclined strongly toward Marxism, she remained with the Narodniki. In my work among the revolutionists I had made the acquaintance of a prominent member of the fighting organization. He was considerably my senior and had a 'past.' Mother shook her head disapprovingly, considered me entirely too young to know my own mind, thought I might have waited, feared that I had inherited my father's lightness in love affairs, and finally acquiesced. We lived with mother and each of us continued his work. We did not marry, however, because we were fundamentally opposed to marriage as an institution.
"My husband was 'illegal,' and it was not long before we were placed under arrest. Influential friends managed to obtain mother's liberation. I went into exile with my husband.
"I fear this long introduction will bore you, but you will not understand what I am suffering without it. I want you to understand and not to forget this one fact – that I am the daughter and pupil of Marja Stepanowna! The ideas one absorbs in childhood cannot be driven out by mere logic.
"Be patient, therefore, I beg you, and continue to read this long letter. I am coming, now, 20 the tragedy of the second generation.
"I managed to escape from exile. My husband remained. I came to Petersburg where, in order to cover up my tracks, I was installed by friends as private instructress in the home of the wealthy engineer M., who had been in more or less close touch with the Marxist movement since his student days.
"In this luxurious home every member of the family lived according to his own desires and inclinations. On the whole, they were no more interested in political issues than in the current production at the Art Theater, or in the latest exhibition of Wrubel's pictures. Politics, to them, was an interesting subject for drawing-room discussion – nothing more.
"I had never come in contact with this atmosphere before. It was strange and inwardly repulsive to me. On the first evening of my stay there I was plunged into a heated argument with my employer. The tone I used, I discovered later, was far from conforming with the accepted standards of polite salon conversation. I believe we spoke of Bernstein. Anger and shame at my lack of self-control kept me awake the better part of the night. For some reason I particularly resented the flatteringly mocking look the Engineer M. turned upon me when I raged at him. There was something about this man that was strangely exciting. Superficial and uncongenial as his nature undoubtedly was, there was a fascination about him that drove me to seek his nearness again and again; I tried desperately to force him to admit the correctness of my point of view, to persuade him to adopt our principles.
"His wife, a fragile doll in laces and furs, the mother of five strong, healthy children, looked up to her husband in frank idolatry. Against all the rules of the game of marriage, she would often laughingly assure us, she was falling more and more deeply in love with her husband the longer she lived with him.
"This smugness, this – it seemed to me – pompously displayed family felicity, infuriated me. The husband's unwavering devotion to his attractive wife, his eternal solicitude for her health, irritated me to the verge of malice. I would purposely say humiliating, insulting things about the superficiality of liberalism. I scoffed at the sated happiness of the bourgeoisie and the triviality of its existence. More than once I reduced the charming, impressionable little Lydia Andrejevna to hysterical tears by a recital of episodes I had seen and experienced.
"'Why do you do that?' the engineer would ask me, reproachfully, but the look in his eyes was admiring.
"My hatred for them both tempted me strongly to commit indiscretions, if only to jolt them out of their placid acceptance of life by bringing down the police upon their unsuspecting heads.
"I wanted to leave them, but that was out of the question. Their home was not only a refuge for me, it offered a convenient meeting place in which I could keep in close touch with the work of my comrades. These protested indignantly at the suggestion that I seek some other hiding-place and demanded reasons.
"Why do you associate with them?' my friends wanted to know when I tried to explain. 'Stay away from them.' But that was out of the question. I seemed to be under the spell of a consuming hatred for the smug, handsome figure of my employer, with his rasping voice and his careless walk. I fell into agonies of nervousness when for several days I did not see him. The slightest inattention on his part caused me indescribable anguish.
"Yet we quarreled whenever we met, argued until we were hoarse, and descended to harsh, unkind remarks. To the outsider our ineradicable hatred for one another must have been apparent.
"But in the midst of these quarrels our eyes would meet in a language of their own, a language that neither of us dared to interpret or understand.
"On one occasion Party matters detained me in the suburbs longer than I had expected; when I returned late that night it was M. himself who opened the door for me.
"'Ah, so you have come back. I had already given up all hope.'
"And before I knew what had happened I lay in his arms under a torrent of wild kisses. "Strangely, I was not surprised at the turn our relations had taken. It was as if I had been expecting this to happen long ago....
"When the morning dawned I crept into my room while he remained in the study that often served him as a bedroom when work detained him downstairs later than usual.
"On the following evening, in the presence of others, we argued as vehemently as only implacable antagonists can argue for their deep-rooted convictions. After the guests had left M. invited me to drive with him to the 'Islands,' a popular Petersburg amusement resort. It was in the spring – the season of the white nights. His wife insisted in my going – the idea seemed to amuse her. It never occurred to her to look on me as a possible rival in his affections.
"So the knot of my life was tied.
"It was a time of greatest difficulty for the Party, and I was deeply engrossed in work and responsibilities. I lived blindly from day to day, putting off the final decision as to my future course again and again, exonerating myself in my own eyes by pleading lack of time. Mrs. M. was preparing to leave for the South with her children.
"Perhaps you will find it hard to believe that I thought of my husband with the deepest tenderness and longing during these feverish weeks, and that I was moving heaven and earth to effect his release?
"Had I been asked at that time whom I loved, I would have answered without a moment's hesitation: my husband, my friend. But had I been asked to leave M., I should have preferred to die. He was a stranger to me, and yet so inexpressibly close. I detested his glances, his habits, his mode of life, and yet I loved him with all his weaknesses and follies, in spite of the fact that he lacked every quality that I loved and venerated in man.
"Neither he nor I were happy in our love, yet neither of us could entertain the idea of separation without pain. I could not understand, I still do not understand, what it was that attracted him to me. At that time I had little charm, I did not know how to dress, I was not even interested in clothes. My behavior was harsh and unwomanly. Still, M. loved me, loved me as he had never loved his idolized wife.
"During that entire summer we remained in that deserted house together – a distressing summer, full of contradictions in our feelings for one another. Neither of us found happiness, nor did we attempt to hide our dissatisfaction. Can you understand when I tell you that this very unhappiness brought us nearer to each other than anything else in our peculiar relationship?
"In the early fall I became pregnant. ... An abortion? Neither he nor I could bear the thought.
"I went to my mother.."
Here Olga Sergejewn's letter came to an abrupt stop. It had evidently been written under extreme nervous tension, with frequent interruptions. On official paper she continued with hastily pencilled lines:
"I told my mother everything. I tried to make her see the discord within me, the conflicts between us, tried to make her understand something of what I was suffering – that I loved my husband and that M., too, loved us both – his wife and me.
"My mother listened to me in silence and sat in her bedroom long afterward, thoughtfully studying her cigarette.
"The next morning she came to my room, sat down on the edge of my bed and declared categorically:
"'It is quite plain that you love this M. You must write to Constantin at once.'
" 'But what shall I write?'
"'That you love another, of course. You must leave him no illusions on that score. Believe me, my daughter, pity is misplaced in a situation of this kind. It only means added anguish.'
" 'But I do not pity Constantin. I love him. I have never ceased loving him.'
" 'If that is so, how could you have fallen in love with another,' my mother demanded. 'You are talking utter nonsense.'
" ' It is not nonsense, mother.... That is the tragedy of it...'
"The more I tried to make my mother understand that it was possible for two such passions to exist side by side – deep tenderness, affection and a consciousness of absolute spiritual accord with Constantin on the one hand, and, on the other, the stormy desire for M., whom, as a human being, I neither loved nor respected – the less I succeeded.
"She could not grasp it.
"'If it is only physical desire that you feel for M., you should control yourself. Surely you love Constantin enough to leave this man if that is the case.'
"'Mother, you don't understand! It is more than desire. It is love, a different sort of love from that which I feel for Constantin.... If I knew that M. were in danger I would give my life to save him. If I were asked to give my life for Constantin, I could not do it. Still, I love Constantin. I need him. My soul needs him. Life is cold and empty without him. In that sense I neither love nor respect M.'
"'This is sheer madness,' my mother protested, irritably. But she was at a loss to proceed. She, too, had become confused and uncertain, demanding that I write to Constantin at once, that I leave him and go to the father of my child, only to insist, a few hours later, that I break off this unholy relationship with M.
"For the first time in my life mother and I did not understand each other. It had been a mistake to seek help from her. She insisted on a decision – I must go to one or the other of the men I loved. But I wanted them both – M. as well as Constantin. To me this seemed more human, more correct and more in harmony with the spiritual value of the situation as I saw it.
"In the end I wrote to Constantin and told him of what had happened. Not only the facts, of course, but of the conflicts that were raging in my heart and the doubts that were wracking my soul. At first I received only a brief reply – he would think it over and would try to adjust himself to the new situation. He would write soon. But the few lines were so full of warm affection that I told myself at once: Constantin is not like mother. He will understand.
"He did understand. Far out there in his banishment he shared my feelings and my tortuous doubts. He submitted to the inevitable and in his submission bound my soul that longed for him, that could not live without him, more firmly than before.
"My way was clear. Mother still insisted on a decision and was abjectly unhappy because I continued to receive letters from both M. and Constantin in her name. It was then that she told me of her own tragic experience, hoping, no doubt, that her own example would help me. She suffered keenly from what she called my lack of will-power.
"'It is not like you to show such weakness of character,' she remarked on one of these occasions. 'You are usually so firm that I am at a loss to understand you now. Is it your father's heritage of weakness, I wonder.. .?'
"She steadfastly refused to see that I had already made up my mind, that the fact that I had brought clearness into my relationship with the two men I loved and was determined to take human nature as I found it, was in itself a decision.
"'What of Mrs. M.?' she would ask.' Will you tell her? Do you expect her to understand your point of view?'
" 'No,' I admitted.'I regret to say that she would probably fail to understand. She must not be told. But there has never been that spiritual bond between her and her husband that unites me with Constantin. He loves her as one loves a fragile, enchanting toy. She will lose nothing through his love for me.'
"This made my mother thoroughly angry. She compared my ideas of marital relationship to the frivolous lightness of a Parisian boheme.
"That spring I gave birth to a daughter. M. was with us during the weeks of my confinement and these weeks with him in the home of my mother were the happiest weeks of my life.
"Between mother and M. there sprang up a friendly understanding at once. She became fonder of him than she had ever been of Constantin, and was consequently more than ever determined that I should leave the latter to go to the father of my child.
"Somehow, however, mother's insistence defeated its own purpose. It was as if mother and M. were standing in one camp while Constantin and I were arrayed against them in the other. Possibly it was the cultured woman in mother, the Narodniki, that was so irresistibly attracted to this representative of the liberal bourgeoisie. Spiritually she certainly was closer to him than I could ever hope to be, and this very alliance drove me precipitously to defend my side, the side of the revolutionary proletariat. Life without Constantin – I felt it with increased clearness at this time – would be unbearably lonely.
"Arrest and banishment decided my course for the time. I was torn from my mother's home; my daughter remained in her grandmother's care. I continued to correspond with both M. and Constantin, until at last I succeeded in meeting Constantin once more.
"To my mother's horror we lived together – lived together without dramatic scenes of reconciliation, without forgiveness – naturally, joyously as only two human beings perfectly attuned spiritually can live. My mother rushed to M.'s defense. I was ruining his life and my own, she insisted, because of some quixotic conception of marital duty, out of a mistaken sense of pity for a man whom I had ceased to love. M. wrote letter after letter, insisting that I return to him. The last of these epistles was in the nature of an ultimatum. After that he stopped writing altogether. I remained with Constantin.
"Spring came, and with it the spring-time of Liberalism and banquets under the patronizing eye of Swiatopolk-Mirski. We were permitted to return to Russia, and fate led me once more to Petersburg. A meeting with M. was inevitable. Shall I deny it? I wanted to meet him, and sought an opportunity to cross his path.
"We met and it seemed as if the three years of separation had never been. The same delirious joy, the same agony, the same strangeness, the same doubts, the same consuming flame of passionate love. I was aghast at the power with which this infatuation held us in its grip, particularly when M., in the reckless madness of a newly inflamed passion, determined to break with his wife to clear the way for a legal union between us. I still resisted, for he had never ceased to be, spiritually, an alien to me. The political struggle that had become the breath of life to me was entering upon a new phase, that each day deepened the abyss that separated the two Parties. Three years ago our heated discussions had not gone beyond theoretical dispute. Now they had become the very essence of Party activity – to me the very root of existence.
"M., on the other hand, had drifted so far away from the daily struggle of the masses that he was loath to cast his lot with the 'Liberators.' When I spoke of the things that were nearest to my heart I spoke in a language he no longer understood. After each meeting I despised myself for my weakness and ate out my heart for him when I had not seen him for a few days ... M. frankly hated my activity. He despised the Bolsheviki and tried everything in his power to win me over to his point of view. I, on the other hand, despised the bourgeoisie and hated the bourgeois liberal in him, but I could not tear myself away from him. There was something maternal in my feeling for him. It always seemed to me that he was making himself appear worse than he actually was, that I must help him find himself, that I must not desert him at this critical period of political reorientation.
"So I suffered for months until Constantin's arrival put an end to my irresolution. This time my confession hurt him cruelly, and bitter jealousy threatened to batter down his carefully reared defenses. But we continued to live together – as friends. M., however, was implacable. He raged. He implored me to leave Constantin and refused to believe me when I assured him that our relations were purely friendly. It took all my influence to prevent an open rupture with his wife. ... There was not a day that did not bring new recriminations and new suffering. Then came that awful day when M., insane with jealousy, forced his entrance into our home and demanded that I leave the city with him at once, threatening to leave me forever if I did not consent. I refused, and we parted in bitter enmity. I suffered unspeakably, and Constantin saw how I suffered ~but was unable to help me. How could he, who was so frankly jubilant over the turn matters had taken, be expected to share my sorrow?
"For the first time in my life I was incapable of work. In my distraught state of mind serious application was out of the question.
"A tragic letter from M. brought my mother to the scene, accompanied by my little daughter. She insisted that I put an end to this wretched affair once and for all by coming to some definite decision.
"'I have decided, long ago,' I told her.
"'In that case,' she answered angrily, 'you have no right to live with Constantin. I believe you when you tell me that you are not living as man and wife. But if that is the case, why keep up appearances? Why should M. be made to suffer so?'
"'You won't understand that, mother. I must stay with Constantin.'
"In vain she protested. M.'s letters had informed her of what had transpired during the last ten months and I had also told her something of my sufferings.
"'Your love for M. has its rights,' she insisted. 'You rob it of its sanctity by your quibbling and analyzing. Why do you persist in torturing yourself? One must have the courage to overcome hindrances when love calls – even this hindrance of political convictions. You will make a Marxist of M. His love for you is so strong that he will do anything for you. You are by far stronger than he.'
"Mother's attempts at conversion usually produced the opposite effect. They made it clear to me that I could not possibly tie my life to that of M. For me such a union would have meant spiritual bankruptcy; M.'s convictions and mine were irreconcilable.
"To please mother I consented to meet him once more. She even tried to use the child to influence my decision. But the meeting resulted only in renewed bitterness and misunderstanding.
"Then came the year 1905, the historic year of the first Russian revolution. Events crowded each other with elemental force, tearing us along with them in their rushing torrent, forcing all personal problems and feelings into the background. Our own little insignificant misfortunes sank in the ocean of a nation's upheaval. The Revolution tossed us hither and thither. I traveled to the South, Constantin left the country, mother hastened back to her own province.
"We worked, we hoped, we trembled, we battled, we fought.
"Then came the period of reaction, and we had even less time than before to think of personal matters.
"The fall of 1908 had come before fate once more led my path across that of M., on this occasion in a little factory town. Reaction was flaunting its victory; the Revolution was choked in its own blood. I was again 'illegal.' After a brief flare of radicalism under the engulfing experience of the tremendous uplift of 1905, M. had abandoned his connection with the revolutionary movement completely and was embarked on a meteoric career in the world of finance and industry. He had become an important personage – so important that the government papers announced his coming and going. I knew that he was in the city and the mere awareness of his presence sufficed to throw me into a state of excitement that made work almost impossible. I avoided him nevertheless, dreading the suffering that would be the inevitable outcome of a new encounter. Then the police discovered my whereabouts, and only the timely warning of my comrades saved me from arrest.
"I fled for safety at once, not so much for myself as to protect the papers that had been entrusted to my care. At my wit's end, a possible refuge occurred to me: the home of M. I went to him. He came at once when the servant took in my name, and greeted me with every evidence of glad welcome. But when we were alone, and I told him of the purpose of my coming, he lost his head in terror. There was neither love nor friendship in the eyes that looked at me then. We stood face to face – two strangers. Perhaps he, too, was asking himself at that moment: is it possible that I once loved this woman? To me this seemed not M., but some distant relative who bore his features. There was merely a trace of the face I had loved – that was all.
"I regretted having come, but decided to persist in my original intention, to safeguard the papers I carried. Let this bourgeois rage at me! It would do him good to lose a bit of his fat.
"He tried politely to indicate that my presence would inconvenience him, but I pretended not to understand the cause of his embarrassment and appealed to him in the name of old friendship.
"There was no way out of it; he had to put me up for the night. I can only imagine how badly he must have slept that night. I myself rested famously.
"It hardly occurred to me that the man who was sleeping (or, what was more likely, trying to sleep) two doors away was the one whose footsteps, whose laughter, whose mere glance had sufficed to send my blood in riotous surges through my heart, whose presence I had once felt in the remotest corners of the house. In this night I knew: our love was dead. Only a vague feeling of emptiness – and my little daughter – remained. He had not even asked about her.
"We parted coolly. Neither spoke of meeting again. The past was buried and forgotten.
"But the sequel was stranger and more incomprehensible still. Soon afterward I met Constantin, after a long absence during which he had been working in another part of the country. And toward him, too, I experienced the same feeling of awkward strangeness. I looked at him as if through different eyes. Had these years of stormy upheaval left an impress on each and every one of us that erased the old, familiar countenances? We looked at the events that had transpired from different points of view; we approached the problems of the present from new angles; we looked into the future from varying backgrounds of experience.
"Constantin had gone through a series of bitter disappointments. Grave differences with the party, fought out in some cases in a spirit of acrimonious personal animosity, had dampened his old enthusiasm. His faith in the future of the Revolution had broken down under the weight of the mistakes that had been made and the injustice that had been meted out to him. He saw only stagnation for years to come, and counseled prudence and circumspection. In his speech and in his moods I recognized a man weary of struggle. He was drifting, unconsciously as yet, but none the less surely, out of the movement into some quiet haven of refuge.
"I, on the other hand, was at the zenith of my powers. The Revolution, far from discouraging, had uplifted and inspired me. I was growing in strength and felt capable of doing the impossible in those difficult years. I met Constantin with the warmth of friendly affection that I had always felt for him. We would work together as we had always done. But it was impossible. We had drifted too far apart.
"Taking advantage of an opportunity to leave the country – illegally of course – I went abroad to take up the study of chemistry where I had left it to obey the call of the Revolution. By that time Constantin and I had drifted so far apart that I made no attempt to see him before I left. After that he lost all touch with the movement. During the war he taught in a boys' school as a reserve officer. He actively sabotaged the Soviets. Later, I heard, he met his death during a White Guard uprising.
"M., too, joined the counter-revolutionists, and managed to get out of the country only just in ti~ne to flee from the avenging hand of the proletariat. For me both of them had long ceased to exist, and their fate left me unmoved.
"'Is this her tragedy?' you ask, as you read this endlessly long biography? Old stories, these...old and forgotten.
"But you must know the woman I am and have been to judge me now. I preceded my story with this confession of my past that you may know that I am a woman like others, if I may state it thus baldly, and that I am well able to comprehend the complications that may arise in the human soul.
"But this that I am living through now, with my daughter ... with all the patience and the faith that I can muster, I cannot understand.
"I repeat, I sometimes console myself with the thought that I do not understand Genia, just as my mother, Marja Stepanowna, could not understand me. But more often it seems to me simply a disgusting lack of self-respect and discipline, and I shudder in horror. Help me to find my way....scold me, if I deserve a scolding, tell me if I am a reactionary, if it is true that this new life has created a new philosophy of love and existence.
"I can write no more to-day. Allow me to come to you. Now that you know the past it will be easier and less embarrassing to speak to you of this new difficulty that fate has thrust upon me, for which, I can find no solution. Please call No. 20751, Party 3, and tell me when I can see you alone. The evening is most convenient for me, as late as you care to arrange it. I am confidently expecting to hear from you.
"With fraternal greetings,
A few days later, at the hour we had decided upon when I telephoned to her, Olga Sergejewna came to see me. She seemed paler and thinner than when I had seen her last and her eyes were unsteady.
There was something infinitely attractive, in spite of her reserve and her quiet taciturnity, about this simply dressed, plainly coiffed woman – the charm of a finished personality. We briefly discussed current political problems as she visibly struggled for poise; I tried in vain to fit this woman, who occupied so important a position in the industrial organization of the country, into the picture her letter had presented.
"But, let us, please, come at once to the personal matter that brings me here to-day," Olga Sergejewna interrupted me with that clear impersonal note in her voice that reminded one so strongly of Marja Stepanowna. "I want to speak to you concerning my daughter. I want you to tell me what you think of her. Perhaps I really do not understand. Perhaps this is another of the inevitable tragedies between parent and child, perhaps something else – perversity, the product of abnormal conditions under which Genia was born and raised. The child was pushed from pillar to post during all of her early childhood years. First her grandmother, then I, and later friends took care of her. During the first years of the Revolution she lived in the factory, went to the front, nursed the wounded, and, of course, heard and saw many things that girls of her age in my time knew nothing about. Perhaps it is better so ... one should know life as it is. On the other hand...
"These last weeks have robbed me of my self-assurance, so that I no longer know what is right and what is wrong. I used to rejoice in the fact that Genia was growing up unhampered by prejudices, that she looked at life with open eyes, that she was able to cope with any situation she might be called upon to meet, that she was not stricken with that spinelessness that so often infests the intellectuals of our country. There is no deceit in her, she is of a'naive truthfulness. But now....
"Let me tell you....
"You know that I met Comrade Rjabkow in Davos and nursed him back to health. Since then we have been living as man and wife although I am considerably older than he. In a way, he is my pupil. But during the seven years of our life together there has been only harmony and friendliness between us. We returned together in 1917, and together we threw ourselves, with everything we had to give, into the fight for the Soviets.
"You know Comrade Rjabkow. An uncompromising proletarian – he could not be otherwise. I need not speak of the services he has rendered. There can be only one opinion.
"He suffers from tuberculosis and I have lavished upon him all the care I could give. It has always seemed to me that there was not the tiniest cloud to dim our friendship. Everything was so bright, so peaceful, so clear...
"When we settled in Moscow last year I took Genia to live with me. She was only twenty years old, but had been actively engaged in party work for some time, firm and untiring, as passionately devoted to her work as her grandmother was. In her district she is regarded, in spite of her youth, as a valuable asset to the movement.
"You know what living conditions are in Moscow – one room for three of us. It is inconvenient, of course, but just now one must put up with these discomforts as best one can. After all, we are seldom at home. I am often away for weeks at a time on extended inspection tours through our factories.
"At first I was somewhat uncertain as to the effect our long separation might have had on our relations to each other. We became close friends almost at once. Yes, friends, for there is nothing maternal in my feelings toward her. In her I found my youth again, in her fervor and in her laughter. Her very self-confidence was wholesome and infectious.
"To my great delight Comrade Rjabkow and she were on good terms immediately. I had feared that they might not like one another. He went with her to the theater, to meetings and to Congress openings. Our life together was easy, friendly. Andrei's health, too, was improving; his disease was making itself less noticeably felt.
"That is how we lived, until this happened....
Olga Sergejewna hesitated, as if it were difficult for her to continue. She looked past my shoulder out of the window and was silent.
"I can guess what happened, Olga Sergejewna. It was inevitable. Genia and Comrade Rjabkow lost their heads. But what is there in that which is so unbearable and so degrading? I should think that you would understand."
"But it is not that. Of course I should understand that," Olga Sergejewna interrupted me. "It is what I saw afterward in their souls, in his and in Genia's.. ."
"What was this you saw?"
"This heartlessness, this self-assurance, this conviction of their right to act as they did ... this this cynicism...do you understand? There was no love, no passion. When I remembered how I suffered, how I struggled to rid myself of the entanglement in which my unfortunate love had enmeshed me! To them it was all a matter of course. If I cannot understand, it is because I am a reactionary. To me it seems that the whole world has fallen into ways of debauch and unrestraint, and incomprehensible licentiousness. Then, again, there are limes when I hesitate. Perhaps, after all perhaps I am reactionary. I recall that my mother could not understand me when I lived through my tragic love. I need your guidance. Help me to find my way."
Olga Sergejewna told me that her daughter had come to her office to beg her mother for ten minutes of her time.
"'Mother, I must speak to you at once. This is the only place I can get hold of you alone.' "
And then, very calmly, without mincing words, she told her mother that she was pregnant. Olga Sergejewna was horrified.
"'But who?' she demanded.
(" 'I don't know,' " the daughter had answered. Believing that her daughter hesitated to tell her the name of the man involved, the mother questioned no further, but there was something in the answer, the nonchalance with which it was given, that struck her to the heart.
Genia had come to her mother for advice. She intended to undergo an abortion...the law legalizing the interruption of pregnancies had just been passed. "With whom would she have to make the necessary arrangements? Would her mother give her letters of introduction? She did not want a child."
"'I have no time for a child now.' "
Olga Sergejewna did not mention Genia's predicament to her husband. She considered that her daughter's personal affair. If she herself chose to tell him ... but a vague discomfort oppressed her. There was a subconscious unrest that robbed her of her peace of mind. Doubts began to take form, little episodes out of their life together presented themselves from a point of view she had never visualized before.
She heartily despised herself for her suspicions and tried to put them out of her mind. But they persisted and disturbed her work. She must know – she must know, if only to assure herself of their groundlessness. Pretending illness, she left a meeting one evening when she knew that her daughter and her husband were alone at home together, and hastened home to find her daughter in his arms.
"You understand, I am sure. It was not the fact that they were together, but what followed that outraged me so. Andrei took his cap and left the house without a word. Genia waited for me to speak.
"'Why did you not tell me that Andrei was the cause of your pregnancy?'
"Genia answered quietly: 'I can only repeat what I told you then – that I did not know. It may have been Andrei, it may have been another comrade. You do not know him.'
"Can you understand that I was dumbfounded? Genia told me then that she had had sexual relations years ago, while she was at the front. That was a blow for me. I had regarded her as a child. But I could understand. But when Genia told me that she had loved none of these men! That she had never loved!
"'But then, why, Genia?' I asked her.'Is the physical desire so strong in you that you cannot resist. You are so young. Surely that is not normal.'
"'How can I make you understand, mother? I have never had what you call physical desire, or, at least, not until I met the other man with whom I have been these last months. But that is over. I did like him, though, and I felt that he was very fond of me. So it was all simple enough. It put neither of us under any obligations. I can't understand, mother, why you should let all this excite you so. If I had sold myself, or if someone had taken me against my will.... But I was ready to give myself. We were together as long as we cared for one another. When our friendship ceased to gratify us, we parted. Neither of us lost anything. Of course, this pregnancy is unfortunate – I shall have to stop work for two or three weeks. But that was my own fault. I shall have to be more prudent in the future.' "
She had taken two men at the same time, although she loved neither of them. The affair with Andrei had come about quite accidentally. As a matter of fact, the other man had attracted her much more strongly than Andrei, but he was often irritating. He insisted on treating her as if she were a child, and refused to take her seriously, so that she often came home angry and unhappy. Andrei, on these occasions, had been so kind and sympathetic. He belonged to her, he was her comrade. With Andrei one was always cheerful and happy.
"'And each of the two knew about the other?'
"'Of course. Why should I make a secret of it? Andrei doesn't mind in the least. The other, I'11 admit, was furious, and presented me with an ultimatum. But he soon got over that attitude. I left him, finally, because he was becoming such a bore. He is brutal, and I despise brutality.'
" Olga Sergejewna tried to make her understand the dangers of so superficial an attitude toward life and love and marriage. But Genia refused to see her point of view.
"'Mother, you say that my actions have been vulgar, that one should not give one's self without love. You tell me that my cynicism makes you desperately unhappy. But tell me frankly, mother. If I were your twenty-year-old son who had been at the front, who was living independently, would you be equally indignant if you should hear that he had had relations with women whom he liked? I am not speaking, mind you, of prostitutes and paid love, and of course, not of girls one deceives and betrays. That is dastardly. But women who liked him, and of whom he, too, was fond? Would you be so indignant? Why are you so unhappy, then, over my "immorality?" I assure you I am as human as he would be. I am fully conscious of my duties. I know my responsibility toward the Party. But what have these things, the Party, the Revolution, the White Guard and the collapse of things that you have been speaking of, to do with the fact -that I gave myself to Andrei? You see, mother, to have a child at this time when every one of us is so sorely needed, that would be wrong. I understand that, and I would not become a mother now under any circumstances. But the other. .. ."
"But did you never think of me?" Olga Sergejewna had asked her. "You never thought of what I might think of your relations with Andrei?"
"'But why should that make any difference? You wanted us to be friends. You were happy when you saw that I liked him and he liked me. Where is the border-line of friendship? Why should we be allowed to live together, to have good times together, and not to kiss one another? We have taken nothing that belongs to you. Andrei worships you as he always worshiped you. I have not taken a single spark of the feeling he has for you. That I kissed him .. .? Have you time for him,? Mother, surely you do not want to chain Andrei so firmly to yourself that he may not enjoy life while you are away! That is not love. That is a selfish desire for possession. Grandmother's bourgeois training speaks in you there. That is unjust. You lived as you pleased when you were younger. Why not Andrei?' "
Olga Sergejewna was pained and indignant because neither her daughter nor Andrei showed a spark of regret over what had happened. They regarded it all as perfectly commonplace and matter of course – she had the feeling that Genia and Andrei considered themselves extremely forbearing and tolerant as they tried to enlighten her with a few superficial phrases. They evidently regretted what had happened, if regret it they did, only because it displeased Olga Sergejewna, of whom they were both exceedingly fond; in their heart of hearts there was not the slightest consciousness of wrongdoing. They assured her again and again, separately and together, that nothing had changed their love for her, that neither of them would dream of intentionally hurting her. If this was the way she felt about it, they assured her, they would, of course, abstain from all further relations. In this crisis Olga Sergejewna decided to come to me, to ask for advice and assistance.
We discussed the matter long and earnestly. How was one to take this new generation? Was this unrestrained licentiousness that knew no law but its own desires, or honest conviction born out of a new life, the product of the problems that a new, growing state represented? New morals....
"What grieves me most of all," said Olga Sergejewna, supporting her head on the graceful hand that reminded me so much of Marja Stepanowna, "is that it is all so passionless and unfeeling. This cold, calculating weighing of right and wrong, as if they were old men and women ... this complete lack of sentiment. If Genia loved Andrei, or if he loved her, I would have understood. I would have suffered cruelly, for I love Andrei with all my heart, but without this nausea and agony. How can I tell you what I feel, the resentment I bear against both of them for betraying me when I trusted them so absolutely? How could they who profess to love me with all their hearts, have had so little consideration for what they must have known I would suffer? Don't misunderstand me. I feel that persons capable of disregarding every human consideration as they have done are, in the very nature of things, incapable of love. Both assure me that they love me, but is that love which wounds the deepest and holiest feelings of the object of its tenderness so lightly, so without pity and without regret? I can see nothing but unfeeling dullness and hardness of heart. ... I cannot understand them....
"When I reproached Genia, she answered, 'But mother, you kept your relations with my father from his wife. Was not that, too, a living lie?'
"But there is a great difference that Genia either cannot or will not understand. I never loved M.'s wife. She was a stranger to me. I had nothing in common with her, and I spared her feelings because it was the humane thing to do. And then I loved M. How I loved him! Not less than his wife – ah, no, much, much more. These feelings gave me the right to take him, the strength of my love and the greatness of my suffering were my justification. But here there is nothing – neither love, nor suffering, neither joy nor regret ... nothing but the cold conviction of their right to pluck pleasure, pow here, now there, like flowers in the garden of life, wherever and whenever one finds them. That is what terrifies me. Without warmth, without even the most elementary feeling for one another, without the goodness of heart that places the feelings of those one loves above everything else ... is that Communism?"
Involuntarily I laughed at her illogical conclusion, and Olga Sergejewna admitted, a little shamefacedly, that her conclusions were, here at least, hardly justified by the situation under discussion.
We parted after having decided that I should speak to Genia herself on the following day.
Genia came to me the next morning, the only part of the day, she explained, that belonged to her. The afternoon and evening were taken up by her work in the district.
She was tall and slender with an intense little face and a way of carrying her head that recalled her grandmother's self-assured posture. A little pale, with dark rings under her eyes. Her hands cold and moist. Evidently she had not yet entirely recovered from the effects of her operation.
Her manner was pleasing, simple and comradely.
"I suppose you disapprove, like mother, because I give myself without falling in love. But one must have time to fall in love. I have read novels and I know how love takes possession of one's faculties to the exclusion of everything else. But I have no time. Our activity in the district has taken hold of us all so completely that none of us has had time to think of anything else, of personal matters. We run from one task to another. There are times when there is a little less to do ... time enough to notice that this one or that is a little more attractive t~an the rest. But before it can become more than a passing fancy, we are off again, to new work. We never get beyond the first stages of comradely affection. This one is called to the front, that one is sent away. New excitement, new impressions, and we forget. So we simply take advantage of the few short hours of release that are granted us there is nothing binding, no responsibility....Of course, there is always the danger of contracting disease. But no man will lie to you about that – no comrade, that is – if you look straight into his eyes and ask for the truth. I have had two such experiences. One was very fond of me – sometimes I think he really loved me. I could see that it was hard for him to confess. But we never came together. He knew that I would never have forgiven that."
Genia's attractive, wide-open eyes fairly radiated honesty and frankness.
"But, tell me, Comrade Genia," I interrupted her, "why didn't you tell your mother at once. Why did you enter into clandestine relations with Andrei behind her back, and continue them for months until she accidentally discovered the truth?" "Simply because I felt that they did not concern her.... If Andrei and I had loved one another I would have told mother about it at once, of course, or, what is more likely, I would simply have disappeared out of her life. I did not want her to be unhappy. But there was nothing in our relations with one another that changed Andrei's feelings for her in the least. What she refuses to see is this that if it had not been I, it would have been another. Does she believe that she can chain Andrei so firmly to herself that he will see no other human being, that he will enter upon no other human relationship? I, for one, cannot understand that sort of love. That I am on friendly terms with Andrei, that he confides in me more than he does in her, that he is inwardly closer, nearer to me than he is to her – all that does not disturb mother in the least. But that he has kissed me means that I have taken him from her. Yet mother herself has no time for him. Believe me, she has no time. In age, too, Andrei is much closer to my generation than he is to hers. Our tastes are alike. It is so natural that we two should come together."
"Perhaps you are not clear as to your feelings for him," I suggested. "Are you sure that you do not love Andrei?"
Genia shook her head vigorously.
"I have never felt what you call love, but I am sure that what I feel for Andrei is not love. Those who love want to he together, they burn to fulfill each other's slightest wish, they think of each other, they worry about each other's well-being. ... If Andrei were to propose that I should live with him forever, I would decline with thanks. I enjoy his company, and I feel happy and cheerful when I am with him. He is a splendid comrade, and I feel sorry for him – he is so delicate, so fine and ethereal, as mother always says. But he becomes uninteresting ... on the whole I prefer Abrascha. But love? No, I don't love him, either, although for a time he had a certain power over me. There was a time when I simply had to do as he asked, because I couldn't bear to see him unhappy. He was irresistible."
Genia drew up her eyebrows and became thoughtful.
"Mother is angry when I say that I feel no love for either of them. She says it is immoral for one of my age to give herself without love. But I believe she is wrong. I mean, it is simpler and better so. I remember my childhood very well, those years when mother vascillated between Constantin and my father, how desperate she was, how she tortured herself and the others as well. How they all suffered! Constantin! Grandmother! I can still hear grandmother's voice demanding that mother come to some decision.'Don't be cowardly,' she used to say.'Choose and make up your mind!' But mother could not decide because she loved them both, and they both loved her. And so they loved and tortured one another until they parted as enemies. I will not part from my friends in enmity. It is all over and I no longer care, and that is all there is to it. When a friend begins to show signs of jealousy I always remember the misery that mother went through, Constantin's jealousy and father's... and then I tell myself...'You won't go through anything like that. They will have to understand at the outset that I belong to no one but myself.' "
"And you have really never loved anyone? I can't believe that. You describe love so well. One doesn't get understanding like this from books alone."
"What makes you think that I have never loved anyone?" Genia asked in honest astonishment. "I merely said that I never loved any of the men with whom I have been intimate."
"Whom do you love, then? Is it impertinent to ask?"
"Whom? Well, above all, and more than anyone else in the world – my mother. There is no one like her. In a sense, she is more to me than Lenin. There is something about her ... I don't believe I could live without her. Her happiness means more to me than anything else in the world."
"Yet you sacrificed her happiness and hurt her unspeakably. How do you reconcile that with what you have just said?"
"You see," Genia answered thoughtfully, "if I had thought, if I had known that mother would take it like this, that it would pain her so, I believe, in fact I am sure, that I would not have done it. But I always regarded mother as far above such things. Now I see that I was mistaken, and I am more sorry than I can tell you, more unhappy than she will ever understand."
There were tears in Genia's eyes, the first since our interview began. She wiped them from her eyes with her finger-tips, stealthily, so I might not see.
"I would give my life for my mother. That is no mere phrase. Mother could tell you about the time when we thought she was stricken with typhus.... Do you know what hurt me more than anything else? I am so sorry to have hurt her, and so angry at myself for not having realized how she would feel about it. I would give – I don't know what – if I could undo what I have done, but in my heart of hearts I can't help but feel that there was nothing wrong in what happened between Andrei and myself. One must look at it from a different point of view, and if mother would only try to see it as I do, without prejudice, she would understand, I am sure. I love mother as much as ever, but I can't help feeling that she is wrong, and that is what hurts most of all. I always looked upon her as infallible, and now that faith in her wisdom has been shaken. How can I believe, after this, that mother stands above us all, that she knows everything and understands everything? Do you know how that hurts? I must not stop loving my mother. I mustn't lose my faith in her, or how shall I keep my faith in others? You can't conceive how this thought upsets me.., not the regret that mother insists I must feel, but the doubts and questions that all this has brought to my mind. .. ."
Great tears were flowing down Genia's cheeks now, unashamed, and were leaving wet traces on her worn black waist. Then she grew calmer and we discussed the situation in all its phases. What, above all, was to be done?
Genia was determined to leave her mother's quarters for a "home" in which most of her colleagues had taken quarters. She would move there in a few days. But how were her mother and Andrei to get along without her? They were so used to having her attend to their wants.
"Mother will never get enough to eat," she lamented. "Unless there is someone to look after her, to place her meals before her, she will go about all day without eating. And Andrei is no better. Honestly, I don't know how they are to get along without me. They are like children, both of them. Of course, I will go there every day and do what I can for them. But at best that will be a makeshift arrangement, for I am busy. It is all so much more simple when we live together."
She sighed. Her voice had a maternal sound. Her mother and Andrei were children, younger sisters and brothers who needed her protection.
"I am so glad," I assured her when she rose to leave," that I can comfort your mother, that I shall be able to tell her how much you love her. She felt so deeply that you were incapable of real affection, of the deeper, stronger and healthier feelings that move men and women to true greatness, that you were all principles and convictions."
"You may reassure mother on that score.... I am sure the time will come when I, too, will do foolish things because I love someone too deeply to be reasonable. I am her daughter, after all, and grandmother's grandchild. And there are those I love – oh, how I love them. ... Not only mother... Lenin, for instance. Please, don't smile. I love him more deeply than any one of those whom I have liked for a passing moment. When I know that I am to see him, that I am to hear his voice, I am absolutely beside myself for days. I could die for him. Then there is Comrade Gerassim, the secretary of our district. Do you know him? What a man! I love him ... honestly. I would submit to his will even if I knew he was wrong, because I know that his intentions are so fine and so good.... A year ago ... perhaps you remember that infamous intrigue they launched against him?... I couldn't sleep at night. Oh, but we fought for him. We set the entire district in motion. Yes, I love him," Genia finished with conviction, as if she had, tested her own capacity for feeling to her own satisfaction.
"But I must run. There is so much to do. I have been made secretary of our nucleus," she said with visible pride. "That means more work than ever. Oh, life could be so beautiful, if only mother would try to understand."
Another deep, childish sigh.
"You will convince mother, won't you, that Andrei belongs to her as much as ever. He belongs entirely to her. I don't need him. ... Not in the least. Do you think she will understand? Will she go on loving me? I am so afraid. ... I can't live without mother and her love. When I think of how her wonderful energy and her glorious work have suffered from the excitement she has undergone, because of her love ... no, I will never love as mother loved.... How can one work, if one loses one's self like that?"
With this question Genia disappeared behind the door. I remained standing where I had taken leave of her, trying to find an answer to the question she and her mother had put before me. Who is right? Will the future show that the new class, the new youth with its new experiences and its new conceptions and feelings, is on the road to true happiness?
Outside the door I heard Genia's young laugh, and her happy voice. "This evening, Comrades. I can't stay, now. I am late already. There is so much, so much to do."
Source: A Great Love, The Vanguard Press, New York, 1929.
Translated: Lily Lore
First Published: 1923
Online Version: marxists.org 2001
Transcription/Markup: Sally Ryan