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X. From Alexey Petrovitch To Marya Alexandrovna

  • ST. PETERSBURG,  _June_  16, 1840.
  • I hasten to answer your letter, dear Marya Alexandrovna. I will confess to you
  • that if it were not … I can't say for business, for I have none … if it were
  • not that I am stupidly accustomed to this place, I should have gone off to see
  • you again, and should have talked to my heart's content, but on paper it all
  • comes out cold and dead….
  • Marya Alexandrovna, I tell you again, women are better than men, and you ought
  • to prove this in practice. Let such as us fling away our convictions, like
  • cast-off clothes, or abandon them for a crust of bread, or lull them into an
  • untroubled sleep, and put over them—as over the dead, once dear to us—a
  • gravestone, at which to come at rare intervals to pray—let us do all this; but
  • you women must not be false to yourselves, you must not be false to your
  • ideal…. That word has become ridiculous…. To fear being ridiculous—is not to
  • love truth. It happens, indeed, that the senseless laughter of the fool drives
  • even good men into giving up a great deal … as, for instance, the defence of
  • an absent friend…. I have been guilty of that myself. But, I repeat, you women
  • are better than we…. In trifling matters you give in sooner than we; but you
  • know how to face fearful odds better than we. I don't want to give you either
  • advice or help—how should I? besides, you have no need of it. But I hold out
  • my hand to you; I say to you, Have patience, struggle on to the end; and let
  • me tell you, that, as a sentiment, the consciousness of an honestly sustained
  • struggle is almost higher than the triumph of victory…. Victory does not
  • depend on ourselves. Of course your uncle is right from a certain point of
  • view; family life is everything for a woman; for her there is no other life.
  • But what does that prove? None but Jesuits will maintain that any means are
  • good if only they attain the end. It's false! it's false! Feet sullied with
  • the mud of the road are unworthy to go into a holy temple. At the end of your
  • letter is a phrase I do not like; you want to get into the common groove; take
  • care, don't make a false step! Besides—do not forget,—there is no erasing the
  • past; and however much you try, whatever pressure you put on yourself, you
  • will not turn into your sister. You have reached a higher level than she; but
  • your soul has been scorched in the fire, hers is untouched. Descend to her
  • level, stoop to her, you can; but nature will not give up her rights, and the
  • burnt place will not grow again….
  • You are afraid—let us speak plainly—you are afraid of being left an old maid.
  • You are, I know, already twenty-six. Certainly the position of old maids is an
  • unenviable one; every one is so ready to laugh at them, every one comments
  • with such ungenerous amusement on their peculiarities and weaknesses. But if
  • you scrutinise with a little attention any old bachelor, one may just as well
  • point the finger of scorn at him; one will find plenty in him, too, to laugh
  • at. There's no help for it. There is no getting happiness by struggling for
  • it. But we must not forget that it's not happiness, but human dignity, that's
  • the chief aim in life.
  • You describe your position with great humour. I well understand all the
  • bitterness of it; your position one may really call tragic. But let me tell
  • you you are not alone in it; there is scarcely any quite modern person who
  • isn't placed in it. You will say that that makes it no better for you; but I
  • am of opinion that suffering in company with thousands is quite a different
  • matter from suffering alone. It is not a matter of egoism, but a sense of a
  • general inevitability which comes in.
  • All this is very fine, granted, you will say … but not practicable in reality.
  • Why not practicable? I have hitherto imagined, and I hope I shall never cease
  • to imagine, that in God's world everything honest, good, and true is
  • practicable, and will sooner or later come to pass, and not only will be
  • realised, but is already being realised. Let each man only hold firm in his
  • place, not lose patience, nor desire the impossible, but do all in his power.
  • But I fancy I have gone off too much into abstractions. I will defer the
  • continuation of my reflections till the next letter; but I cannot lay down my
  • pen without warmly, most warmly, pressing your hand, and wishing you from my
  • soul all that is good on earth.
  • Yours, A. S.
  • _P.S._ —By the way, you say it's useless for you to wait, that you have
  • nothing to hope for; how do you know that, let me ask?