A review from "The National Review," Volume 45: IN "Foma Gordyeeff" Gorky gives us a psychological study of two generations of the prosperous Russian tradesman type. The inner life of strong, self-willed characters, as it thrives under an inheritance of brutality and selfishness, is here unrolled before us. An obstinate feeling of independence ...
A review from "The National Review," Volume 45: IN "Foma Gordyeeff" Gorky gives us a psychological study of two generations of the prosperous Russian tradesman type. The inner life of strong, self-willed characters, as it thrives under an inheritance of brutality and selfishness, is here unrolled before us. An obstinate feeling of independence is the elementary quality upon which something beautiful and great might have been built up. But the self-will and imprudence of the principal character is his ruin. He ends as a lunatic drunkard. Spirits occupy in Gorki's novels the same place as they do in Russian life. We see how, in the lower classes, every upward flight is drowned in them. A sea of spirits sweeps over all Russian crops. "Foma Gordyeeff" contains the figure of one man and those of two or three women that one does not forget. The man is the very worldly-wise and withered old tradesman Mayikin, who with his biting philosophy is an almost Dickensian figure. The women are his daughter, a young girl whose passionate love of learning and craving for education remain unsatisfied because her father's hardness crushes her, and her cousin does not return her love, and two courtesans from the banks of the Volga, one who is all submissive devotion, and one who is beautiful in her audacity and pride. But no female character that Gorki has created can be compared with Varenka Olessov, nor is there another drawn in anything like such detail. Opposed to her we have a future University professor, a young man with normal opinions, intelligent, liberal, and neither conservative nor enthusiastic, who is inordinately afraid of binding himself to a woman whose opinions he will not be able to bring into, conformity with his own, but is nevertheless compelled to struggle perpetually against the sensual attraction he feels-in sum, a prig who is worsted by Gorky's quiet irony. Varenka cannot see the use of botanising. What good is there in knowing how a bur grows?-" The same as in knowing how the process of life goes on in a human being." "Then does one human being live like another?" she exclaims. "Do I eat and drink like a peasant? And are there likely to be many who live as I live?" To the question as to how she lives, she replies by telling how she spends her summer day, namely, what a happiness it is to her to see the sun shine, to jump out into the cold water, to inhale the fragrance of the woods, to order the household, to see the moon and stars come out in the evening, and all with a fresh, youthful eloquence that shows abstractions do not exist for her; she is a being with too great a love of reality. And just as all abstractions are foreign to her nature, so likewise is all humanity. She tells without the least shame that she has given her man-servant a sound thrashing, and will not admit that there is anything wrong in it. Whipping was necessary, and the swine had been drunk; but he was not going to presume to drink when there was work to be done....
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