"_It has a treble interest. It discusses sex-problems with unusual
candour ... it gives a vivid picture of Russian life ... and it
reflects the welter of thoughts and aspirations which are common to the
whole contemporary Western world_."
"_A book which deals with powerful human passions in no lethargic way.
It may horrify by its brutality and its assault on ordinary morality
may well be considered startling: yet it counts for something that M.
Artzibashef does not display the common fear of life_."
"_It is of the greatest interest psychologically as an outstanding
product of a despairing epoch in Russian history_."
"_The artistry of the novel brutal direct detached courageous
desperately poignant is not to be disputed_."
"_The strength of the book is undeniable_"
"_This is a strong and fascinating story depicting the unfettered life
of a young Russian ... the background of society and Russian scenery is
_"Sanine" is a thoroughly uncomfortable book but it has a fierce
energy which has carried it in a very short space of time into almost
every country in Europe and at last into this country where books
like everything else are expected to be comfortable. It has roused
fury both in Russia and in Germany but being rather a furious effort
itself it has thriven on that and reached an enormous success. That
is not necessarily testimony of a book's value or even of its power. On
the other hand no book becomes international merely by its capacity
for shocking moral prejudices or by its ability to titillate the
curiosity of the senses. Every nation has its own writers who can shock
and titillate. But not every nation has the torment of its existence
coming to such a crisis that books like "Sanine" can spring to life in
it. This book was written in the despair which seized the Intelligenzia
of Russia after the last abortive revolution when the Constitution
which was no constitution was wrung out of the grand dukes. Even
suppose the revolution had succeeded the intellectuals must have asked
themselves even suppose they had mastered the grand dukes and captured
the army would they have done more than altered the machinery of
government reduced the quantity of political injustice amended the
principles of taxation and possibly changed the colours of the postage
stamps? Could they have made society less oppressive to the life of the
individual? Like all intellectuals M. Artzibashef is fascinated by the
brutality of human life and filled with hatred of his own disgust at
it. As with all artists it is necessary for him to shake free of his
own disgust or there will be an end of his art. Intellectual and an
artist less artist for being intellectual responding to the
despairing mood of those around him it became clear to him that
political agitation had failed and must fail because it has a vision of
government and no vision of human life. Society is factitious. The
intellectual asks why. The artist never asks these absurd questions.
Art is free. If he can attain art that is enough for him. Life whether
or no it be the slow process of evolution it is generally supposed to
be can and does look after itself. Society is certainly a nuisance and
a heavy drag upon human energy but so long as that energy can express
itself in art society cannot be altogether obstructive. That says the
intellectual is well enough for the artist but what of the
individuals to whom art can only be at best a keen stimulus at worst a
drugging pleasure? Is the dead weight of society altogether to crush
their delight in life? What is society? What is it but the accumulated
emanations of the fear and timidity and shyness that beset human beings
whenever they are gathered together? And to this accumulation are those
who are not artists to bring nothing but fear and shyness and timidity
to make the shadow over life grow denser and darker? Is there to be no
reaction? How can there be individuals worthy of being alive except
through reaction? And how can there be good government unless there are
good individuals to be governed--individuals in fine worthy of being
_In the matters of being fed clothed and housed few men and women
feel the hindrance of society. Indeed it is for those purposes that
they are gathered together. Being so it is then that their fear and
shyness and timidity make them disguise their real natures and suppress
their other desires and aspirations. It is in the matter of love that
men and women feel society's oppression submit to it and; set up their
subjection as the rule which must be obeyed. Very rarely is it obeyed
except by a few virtuous women who go through life coldly and
destructively driving the men with whom they come in contact into the
arms of their more generous sisters. Women have fewer defences against
the tyranny of society which makes all but a very few either
prostitutes or prigs exploiting their womanhood in emotional and
physical excitement their motherhood to defend themselves and their
self-respect from the consequences of that indulgence. Men are of
harder stuff. Some of them can escape into the intellectual life; many
preserve only their practical cunning and for the rest are insensible
and stupid and fill their lives with small pleasures and trifling
discontents and feed their conceit with success or failure as they
_In Vladimir Saline Artzibashef has imagined postulated a man who has
escaped the tyranny of society is content to take his living where he
finds it and determined to accept whatever life has to offer of joy or
sorrow. Returning to his home he observes and amuses himself with all
that is going on in the little provincial garrison town where men and
women--except his mother who is frozen to the point of living
altogether by formula--are tormented by the exasperation of unsatisfied
desires. He sees Novikoff absurdly and hopelessly in love with his
sister Lida; he sees Lida caught up in an intrigue with an expert
soldier love-maker and bound both by her own weakness and by her
dependence upon society for any opinion of her own actions to continue
in that hateful excitement; he sees men and women all round him letting
their love and their desire trickle through their fingers; he sees
Semenoff die and death also in that atmosphere is blurred and
meaningless. Men and women plunge into horrible relationships and
constantly excuse themselves. They seek to propitiate society by
labouring to give permanence to fleeting pleasures the accidents of
passion and propinquity. Love is rare; physical necessity is common to
all men and women; it is absurd to expect the growth of the one and the
satisfaction of the other often to coincide. Nature is apparently
indifferent and does not demand love of human beings but only mutual
attraction and of that are most children born. They grow up to dwell
in the heated confusion which passes for life. Of that mutual
attraction and in that heated confusion two children are born in this
book Lida's and Sarudine's Sanine's and Karsavina's. Lida yields to
Society's view of such affairs and is near broken by it; Sanine
sustains Karsavina and brings her to the idea cherished by Thomas
Hardy among others as a way out of confusion of a woman's right to
have a child without suffering from impertinent curiosity as to who the
father may be if he be such that she thinks herself better rid of him.
This does not necessarily mean that women would at once become as loose
and casual as men. On the contrary it would probably make many of them
realize their responsibility and fewer of them would capture men as
Arabella captured Jude the Obscure. In any case there is no excuse for
the cruelty which regards a child born out of wedlock as nothing but
evidence of wickedness. A child born in wedlock may be as lustfully and
lovelessly begotten. Marriage does not necessarily provide relief from
physical necessity and often aggravates it; and when a child as often
happens is nothing to its father and mother but a sordid tie a
constant reminder of a connexion which both would be happier to forget
then for its sake they are better separate._
_It has been objected to M. Artzibashef's work that it deals so little
with love and so much with physical necessity. That arises I fancy
because his journalistic intention has overridden his artistic purpose.
He has been exasperated into frankness more than moved to truth. He has
desired to lay certain facts of modern existence before the world and
has done so in a form which could gain a hearing as a pure work of art
probably could not. He has attempted a re-valuation where it is most
needed where the unhappy Weininger failed. Weininger demanded
insanely that humanity should renounce sex and the brutality it
fosters; Artzibashef suggests that the brutishness should be accepted
frankly cleared of confusion with love and slowly mastered so that
out of passion love can grow. His book has the noble quality of being
full of the love of life however loveless. It cannot possibly give the
kind of pleasure sought by those to whom even the Bible is a dirty
book. It is too brutal for that. Books which pander to that mean desire
are of all books the most injurious. But this is not one of them.
That important period in his life when character is influenced and
formed by its first contact with the world and with men was not spent
by Vladimir Sanine at home with his parents. There had been none to
guard or guide him; and his soul developed in perfect freedom and
independence just as a tree in the field.
He had been away from home for many years and when he returned his
mother and his sister Lida scarcely recognized him. His features
voice and manner had changed but little yet something strange and
new and riper in his whole personality gave a light to his countenance
and endowed it with an altered expression. It was in the evening that
he came home entering the room as quietly as if he had only left it
five minutes before. As he stood there tall fair and broad-
shouldered his calm face with its slightly mocking expression at the
corners of the mouth showed not a sign of fatigue or of emotion and
the boisterous greeting of his mother and sister subsided of itself.
While he was eating and drinking tea his sister sitting opposite
gazed steadfastly at him. She was in love with him as most romantic
girls usually are with their absent brother. Lida had always imagined
Vladimir to be an extraordinary person as strange as any to be found
in books. She pictured his life as one of tragic conflict sad and
lonely as that of some great uncomprehended soul.
"Why do you look at me like that?" asked Sanine smiling.
This quiet smile and searching glance formed his usual expression but
strange to say they did not please Lida. To her they seemed self-
complacent revealing nought of spiritual suffering and strife. She
looked away and was silent. Then mechanically she kept turning over
the pages of a book.
When the meal was at an end Sanine's mother patted his head
affectionately and said:
"Now tell us all about your life and what you did there."
"What I did?" said Sanine laughing. "Well I ate and drank and
slept; and sometimes I worked; and sometimes I did nothing!"
It seemed at first as if he were unwilling to speak of himself but
when his mother questioned him about this or that he appeared pleased
to narrate his experiences. Yet for some reason or other one felt
that he was wholly indifferent as to the impression produced by his
tales. His manner kindly and courteous though it was in no way
suggested that intimacy which only exists among members of a family.
Such kindliness and courtesy seemed to come naturally from him as the
light from a lamp which shines with equal radiance on all objects.
They went out to the garden terrace and sat down on the steps. Lida sat
on a lower one listening in silence to her brother. At her heart she
felt an icy chill. Her subtle feminine instinct told her that her
brother was not what she had imagined him to be. In his presence she
felt shy and embarrassed as if he were a stranger. It was now evening;
faint shadows encircled them. Sanine lit a cigarette and the delicate
odour of tobacco mingled with the fragrance of the garden. He told them
how life had tossed him hither and thither; how he had often been
hungry and a vagrant; how he had taken part in political struggles and
how when weary he had renounced these.
Lida sat motionless listening attentively and looking as quaint and
pretty as any charming girl would look in summer twilight.
The more he told her the more she became convinced that this life
which she had painted for herself in such glowing colours was really
most simple and commonplace. There was something strange in it as well.
What was it? That she could not define. At any rate from her brother's
account it seemed to her very simple tedious and boring. Apparently
he had lived just anywhere and had done just anything; at work one
day and idle the next; it was also plain that he liked drinking and
knew a good deal about women. But life such as this had nothing dark or
sinister about it; in no way did it resemble the life she imagined her
brother had led. He had no ideas to live for; he hated no one; and for
no one had he suffered. At some of his disclosures she was positively
annoyed especially when he told her that once being very hard up he
was obliged to mend his torn trousers himself.
"Why do you know how to sew?" she asked involuntarily in a tone of
surprise and contempt. She thought it paltry; unmanly in fact.
"I did not know at first but I soon had to learn" replied Sanine who
smilingly guessed what his sister thought.
The girl carelessly shrugged her shoulders and remained silent gazing
at the garden. It seemed to her as if dreaming of sunshine she awoke
beneath a grey cold sky.
Her mother too felt depressed. It pained her to think that her son
did not occupy the position to which socially he was entitled. She
began by telling him that things could not go on like this and that he
must be more sensible in future. At first she spoke warily but when
she saw that he paid scarcely any attention to her remarks she grew
angry and obstinately insisted as stupid old women do thinking her
son was trying to tease her. Sanine was neither surprised nor annoyed:
he hardly seemed to understand what she said but looked amiably
indifferent and was silent.
Yet at the question "How do you propose to live?" he answered
smiling "Oh! somehow or other."
His calm firm voice and open glance made one feel that those words
which meant nothing to his mother had for him a deep and precise
Maria Ivanovna sighed and after a pause said anxiously:
"Well after all it's your affair. You're no longer a child. You ought
to walk round the garden. It's looking so pretty now."
"Yes of course! Come along Lida; come and show me the garden" said
Sanine to his sister "I have quite forgotten what it looks like."
Roused from her reverie Lida sighed and got up. Side by side they
walked down the path leading to the green depths of the dusky garden.
The Sanines' house was in the main street of the town and the town
being small their garden extended as far as the river beyond which
were fields. The house was an old mansion with rickety pillars on
either side and a broad terrace. The large gloomy garden had run to
waste; it looked like some dull green cloud that had descended to
earth. At night it seemed haunted. It was as if some sad spirit were
wandering through the tangled thicket or restlessly pacing the dusty
floors of the old edifice. On the first floor there was an entire suite
of empty rooms dismal with faded carpets and dingy curtains. Through
the garden there was but one narrow path or alley strewn with dead
branches and crushed frogs. What modest tranquil life there was
appeared to be centred in one corner. There close to the house yellow
sand and gravel gleamed and there beside neat flower-beds bright with
blossom stood the green table on which in summer-time tea or lunch was
set. This little corner touched by the breath of simple peaceful life
was in sharp contrast to the huge deserted mansion doomed to
When the house behind them had disappeared from view and the silent
motionless trees like thoughtful witnesses surrounded them Sanine
suddenly put his arm round Lida's waist and said in a strange tone
half fierce half tender:
"You've become quite a beauty! The first man you love will be a happy
The touch of his arm with its muscles like iron sent a fiery thrill
through Lida's soft supple frame. Bashful and trembling she drew away
from him as if at the approach of some unseen beast of prey.
They had now reached the river's edge. There was a moist damp odour
from the reeds that swayed pensively in the stream. On the other side
fields lay dim in twilight beneath the vast sky where shone the first
Stepping aside Sanine seized a withered branch broke it in two and
flung the pieces into the stream where swiftly circles appeared on its
surface and swiftly vanished. As if to hail Sanine as their comrade
the reeds bent their heads.
It was about six o'clock. The sun still shone brightly but in the
garden there were already faint green shadows. The air was full of
light and warmth and peace. Maria Ivanovna was making jam and under
the green linden-tree there was a strong smell of boiling sugar and
raspberries. Sanine had been busy at the flower-beds all the morning
trying to revive some of the flowers that suffered most from the dust
"You had better pull up the weeds first" suggested his mother as from
time to time she watched him through the blue quivering stream. "Tell
Grounjka and she'll do it for you."
Sanine looked up hot and smiling. "Why?" said he as he tossed back
his hair that clung to his brow. "Let them grow as much as they like. I
am fond of everything green."
"You're a funny fellow!" said his mother as she shrugged her
shoulders good-humouredly. For some reason or other his answer had
"It is you yourselves that are funny" said Sanine in a tone of
conviction. He then went into the house to wash his hands and coming
back sat down at his ease in a wicker arm-chair near the table. He
felt happy and in a good temper. The verdure the sunlight and the
blue sky filled him with a keener sense of the joy of life. Large towns
with their bustle and din were to him detestable. Around him were
sunlight and freedom; the future gave him no anxiety; for he was
disposed to accept from life whatever it could offer him. Sanine shut
his eyes tight and stretched himself; the tension of his sound strong
muscles gave him pleasurable thrills.
A gentle breeze was blowing. The whole garden seemed to sigh. Here and
there sparrows chattered noisily about their intensely important but
incomprehensible little lives and Mill the fox-terrier with ears
erect and red tongue lolling out lay in the long grass listening. The
leaves whispered softly; their round shadows quivered on the smooth
Maria Ivanovna was vexed at her son's calmness. She was fond of him
just as she was fond of all her children and for that very reason she
longed to rouse him to wound his self-respect if only to force him to
heed her words and accept her view of life. Like an ant in the sand
she had employed every moment of a long existence in building up the
frail structure of her domestic well-being. It was a long bare
monotonous edifice like a barrack or a hospital built with countless
little bricks that to her as an incompetent architect constituted the
graces of life though in fact they were petty worries that kept her in
a perpetual state of irritation or of anxiety.
"Do you suppose things will go on like this later on?" she said with
lips compressed and feigning intense interest in the boiling jam.
"What do you mean by 'later on'?" asked Sanine and then sneezed.
Maria Ivanovna thought that he had sneezed on purpose to annoy her
and absurd though such a notion was looked cross.
"How nice it is to be here with you!" said Sanine dreamily.
"Yes it's not so bad" she answered drily. She was secretly pleased
at her son's praise of the house and garden that to her were as
Sanine looked at her and then said thoughtfully:
"If you didn't bother me with all sorts of silly things it would be
The bland tone in which these words were spoken seemed at variance with
their meaning so that Maria Ivanovna did not know whether to be vexed
"To look at you and then to think that as a child you were always
rather odd" said she sadly "and now--"
"And now?" exclaimed Sanine gleefully as if he expected to hear
something specially pleasant and interesting.
"Now you are more crazy than ever!" said Maria Ivanovna sharply
shaking her spoon.
"Well all the better!" said Sanine laughing. After a pause he
added "Ah! here's Novikoff!"
Out of the house came a tall fair good-looking man. His red silk
shirt fitting tight to his well-proportioned frame looked brilliant
in the sun; his pale blue eyes had a lazy good-natured expression.
"There you go! Always quarrelling!" said he in a languid friendly