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worth studying, but also one into which it is, as we have said, extremely difficult to obtain access. It is that world into which the plays of the popular Russian dramatists give us an insight. They are for us, as it were, windows through which we can see into the otherwise closed houses of our Russian neighbours, and which enable us to watch at our leisure the incidents of their daily life, and to listen to such of their soliloquies and conversations as may enable us to form an idea of what they think and what they feel.
We now propose to call attention to the works of the most popular living writer of this class, with the hope of being able to bring forward a sufficient number of the characters he has created, to enable our readers to judge for themselves what those Russian men and women whom he portrays are like. As far as possible we will allow his personages to speak for themselves, what they say being a literal and unornamented translation from the original. The dramatist with whom we are about to deal is one whose name figures in none of the biographical dictionaries to which we have bad recourse, and we have never seen or even heard of a translation having been made into English, French, or German, of any work of his. Ostrovsky began to write about twenty years ago, and soon after the appearance of his first piece he gained that hold upon the minds of his countrymen which he has never lost. He is an essentially national writer, devoting his entire energies to studying and illustrating the various phases of Russian life, seldom affected by foreign influences, never seduced by them from his conscientious studies at home. Spending almost all his time in Moscow, it is his wont to frequent the spots where those persons congregate whose manners he delights to depict. Every likeness he draws has been carefully elaborated feature by feature, every character he introduces is a study from the life; and the result is that, according to the universal testimony of his countrymen, his plays are thoroughly faithful transcripts of the Russian domestic life of the present day.
The scene is generally laid in the house of a merchant or government official, and it is with their families, their friends, and their servants that we become acquainted. They are not always placed in the most favourable light, for Ostrovsky is a satirist by nature. The leading national failings and vices are unsparingly attacked in his writings, and it is much to the credit of Russian audiences that they should take in such good part the uncompromising denunciations which he levels against their favourite weaknesses. They thoroughly enjoy his exposure of the Russian merchant's narrow-minded and short-sighted avarice, of his incorrigible tendency to cheat, of his utter disregard of the laws of God and man when business is concerned. They chuckle over his attacks on the propensity to drink which has such a debasing effect on Russian middle-class life, and they are charmed by his thundering tirades against the deceit and corruption which characterise the great majority of government officials. They like to see the vices and follies of their neighbours lashed, even when the thong of the satirist reaches themselves. A race by no means thin-skinned, in whom conscience has been but little developed, but who are endowed with a large sense of humour, they take their moral chastisement kindly, acknowledge its justice
frankly, and then going home straightway recommence the habits from which it was intended to deter them.
With one class only the dramatist is forbidden to meddle. He may laugh as much as he pleases at the army or at the civil service, at courtiers, lawyers, or merchants. But he must be careful about alluding to the Church; none of its ministers may be represented on the stage. It would be considered a sacrilege to admit an imitation of any of its sacred vestments into the wardrobe of a theatre. Even in a historical drama it is not allowable to introduce a clergyman of any description; a rule which involves the patriotic dramatist in considerable difficulties, the Church having played so important a part in many of those troublous times which he would naturally be most desirous to illustrate. On this point the censorship is inexorable; but upon most others, even where to our eyes the writer seems to be verging upon forbidden grounds, it allows an amount of latitude which may well astonish those who entertain the common notions about Russian restraints upon liberty of thought and speech.
Perhaps the best way of giving an idea of what it is that interests a Russian audience, will be to take a few of the dramas which have created most excitement at Moscow, and give a brief sketch of their leading characters and their principal incidents. For this purpose we will first of all select the "Storm' (Groza), as the most powerful of all Ostrovsky's plays, and as presenting the most elaborate picture he has drawn of a Russian woman in the spring-tide of her life.
The scene is laid in one of the towns situated on the banks of the Volga, in that part of the vast Russian Empire which is most of all the home of poetry
and of romance, and the time is that season of early summer which in Russia forms by far the most delightful period of the year. The evenings and nights are then so delicious that everyone passes the greater part of them out of doors. The sky is almost always clear and cloudless; the air is soft and balmy and redolent with the scent of flowers. Very pleasant it is then to wander along the walks laid out on the terraces which rise above the southern shore of the river, commanding an uninterrupted view of the vast plains upon the northern bank, flushed by the gorgeous splendours of sunset, faintly glimmering beneath the mellow radiance of the moon, or invested with the mysterious indistinctness of starlight. And still more pleasant do the younger members of the community find the gardens which stretch away behind the houses, in which little family groups sit enjoying the freshness of the night, even after the last loungers have disappeared from the public walks, and lingering there so late that the morning hours often arrive before the echoes of their voices and their songs have died away.
At all times the heart of a young Russian girl is very tender, very ready to respond to the voice of love, but it may well become even more than usually sensitive during that happy season of the year, when the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in the land.'
In this town, and exposed to these influences, Katerina, the young wife of the merchant Kabanof, has grown up to womanhood. A romantic, enthusiastic girl, with a strong tendency towards mysticism in religion, and a heart yearving for love, she has been married at a very early age to a weak, commonplace husband, whose character is in every way inferior to her own, and who is quite incapable of appreciating the difficulties of her position, or of comprehending her cravings for a different kind of life from that which his home affords. The old Kabanova, his mother, is a thorough domestic tyrant, cold-hearted, and ill-tempered in the extreme. Her one idea is to maintain her dignity in the house. She treats her son like a wayward boy who has to be continually scolded and punished, and she never loses an opportunity of rendering her daughterin-law miserable, and of trying to break her spirit, so as to reduce her to the position of an obedient drudge. Katerina finds her whole life becoming a burden to her, the days loiter tediously along, nothing interests her
She is surrounded by people who have no sympathy with her-hard, selfish natures, from which she recoils, and from whom her husband, although he is attached to her, is too timid to defend her. Hers is a life utterly devoid of light and colour and animation, with nothing in it to please her tastes or to satisfy her affections. It used to be very different before she married, she says to Varvara, her husband's sister, when complaining of the dull monotony of her present state of existence. Here is the sketch she gives of the manner in which her early days were spent:
I used to get up early, and if it was summer time I would go to the fountain to wash, and then bring water into the house and water all the flowers. We had many flowers, very many. Afterwards I used to go to church with my mother and the pilgrims--our house was always full of pilgrims and holy women. Then after church we used to sit down to needlework, generally embroidering velvet with gold thread, and the pilgrims would tell us stories about where they had been and what they had seen, or about lives of saints, or else they would sing hymes.