Theatre Of Today - The Literary Forces: The Russians
( Originally Published 1914 )
WHEN, in 1825, the "Decembrist" plot to make Russia a republic was discovered and punished, native Russian literature was on the eve of its birth. Russia had long felt the influence of Western ideas, and even in the time of the Empress Catherine the name of Benjamin Franklin (apostle of republicanism to all Europe) was known and hated. For Franklin, to a large portion of the thinking aristocracy, was one of the great men of the time. The French Revolution slowly made its way in Russia, but the Napoleonic wars, which pressed so hard upon her national existence and called forth all the patriotic sentiments which could then be aroused, delayed the movement for internal reform. Republican sentiment came to a head in the Decembrist plot, organised among the leading officers of the army for the overthrow of the monarchy. This was the first of the long line of uprisings which have since distinguished Russian political and social life. It was followed, of course, by a policy of vigorous repression. And, as has always been the case, the repression of social ideas in out-ward life was followed by their expression in literature.
A few years after the Decembrist fiasco appeared Pushkin's narrative poem, "Eugene Onegin." This is commonly taken as marking the birth of Russian literature. Its connection with the Decembrist troubles is not obvious at the first glance, but a slight study reveals the underground meanings which thinking people drew from it. Pushkin himself was implicated in the Decembrist plot, and suffered several years' exile in the Caucasus because of it. In his later life in St. Petersburg he was suspect because of his radical opinions. It was as good as certain that his social beliefs would come out in his art work. The form and character of "Eugene Onegin" is Byronic, but the content is, for the first time in Slavic literature, truly Russian.
How can one's political opinions enter literature, and still escape the censor? By a simple translation of terms, the process being clear to all good radical spirits "on the inside." Before the Decembrist failure the proposition would have been: "We want a Re-public." After it, the proposition became a question: "Why didn't we get it?" And this, for Pushkin's purpose, was translated into this question : "What is wrong with our Russian character (that made us fail to get our republic) ?"—the clause in parentheses being that which was read between the lines. Pushkin's hero was offered as the typical "society man" of the time, without will-power, without purpose, without regard for the welfare of his fellow-beings. Therein, said Push-kin, was the trouble. And the poem, admired for its beauty by the thoughtless reader, was received by the elect as a political document.
The circumstance is worth recalling as a parable of all great Russian literature since. Each work of literary art which passed the censor and influenced Russia from that time on was a harmless analysis of character on the surface, and a political document underneath. Turgenieff's "Memoirs of a Sportsman," which prepared the abolition of serfdom, and is called "The Russian 'Uncle Tom's Cabin,' " contained not a word of politics, not a word of protest against social conditions. It was simply a series of character sketches drawn from the life of the serfs and their masters. But its political import was instantly recognised.
Each wave of reform and succeeding reaction in Russian social life has been paralleled by a similar wave in literature. Hopefulness is succeeded by pessimism. Pessimism generates a new and deeper analysis of Russian character, with the object of finding out "What's Wrong?" Pushkin was succeeded by Lermontoff, Lermontoff by Goncharoff, Goncharoff by Herzen, Herzen by Turgenieff, and so on, each contributing a deeper and deeper analysis of Russian character and the determinant social conditions, and each reflecting a more and more desperate radicalism of spirit. Turgenieff's "Fathers and Sons," which first gave currency to the word "Nihilist," corresponded to the anarchist wave of the seventies which resulted in the murder of Czar Alexander II.
Alongside of this creative literature there arose a critical and theoretical literature rarely equalled in vigour. A line of literary critics, writing in the Russian weeklies or monthlies, and exerting an influence which it is difficult for us to realise, interpreted each author as he appeared on the scene, pointing out what was distinctive in each and constructing from them a theory of criticism which for thoroughness has not been equalled in any Western nation. The theory which Dubroluboff and his coworkers impressed indelibly upon Russian readers was that which we know, for brevity, as the "art for life's sake" theory. Literature cannot exist for its own sake, they said; it has validity only when it exists to help or interpret men, and only then can it have any artistic existence. Along with this theory came an (aesthetic of form which is essential to our understanding of Russian literature. This aesthetic said that form in itself is nothing; that form has no values apart from the work of which it is a part, and cannot in any degree be a lawgiver to a work of art. In other words, there is no such thing as form; there are only forms, and each form, for any mature art work, is unique. Take care of the sense, and the sound will take care of itself. Have something to say, and say it; if you have said it well your work will have a beautiful form.
The theory, it will be seen, was a direct outgrowth of the nature of Russian literature and this in turn was the direct outgrowth of the political and social aspirations of the people. As the struggle tightened and became more desperate, the literature deepened and became more intense. As education spread and the middle class and (to a limited degree) the peasants became fired with revolutionary ideas, the literature became more human and more democratic. If this close connection of Russian literature with life displeases you or seems inartistic, you can throw the whole business overboard as unworthy a cultivated man's attention. But if you are to understand Russian literature at all you must understand it as an expression of the aspirations of men and women's lives. The connection is forever veiling itself, to escape the notice of the censor or to pierce to the essential beneath the superficial. Once you have understood it in one set of terms it is presently talking in another. Like Proteus, it becomes a fish when you are prepared to attack an old man, and a snake when you are prepared to catch a fish. But underneath all its disguises it re-mains one and the same thing, with a single soul and a single intention our old friend, the Revolutionary Spirit.
The beginning of Russian drama dates from almost the same year as the Russian novel. In the eighteenth century, when English literature was the fashion in Russia, excellent comedies were written in the style of Sheridan, the Empress Catherine herself doing a few of some merit. The characters were usually taken from the Russian upper classes, which, being busy imitating the manners of London or Paris, offered little truly Russian material to the playwrights. However, one or two of the motives of later Russian drama, such as the venality of the bureaucracy or the obsession of foreign fashions, crept into the plays of the time and gave them a native tinge. The venality of the bureaucracy and its underlings was the whole theme of Gogol's "Revizor," the first great native Russian play, which was suspect and about to be banned by the authorities until the Czar saw it one night and laughed so hard that suppression became impossible. Gogol's material was thoroughly Russian, and from that time on native drama continued to be in good standing with audiences, if not with the political powers.
In the fifties and sixties, when Russia was seething with liberal sentiment and the liberation of the serfs was the topic uppermost in people's minds, Ostrovsky wrote his folk tragedies. Ostrovsky was a real genius, one who, if he had written when Russia was less cut off from the rest of Europe, would have had a world wide reputation. The peasantry was then just beginning to have a place in Russian literature. Ostrovsky performed for Russia much the office that Hauptman has more recently performed for Germany demonstrating to people that poor folk had souls. He knew his types, and presented them with faithful realism, though of course with the technical conventionalities which were then in vogue. But his realism was more than photography. For he refused to give his plays an ending, just as the plots of real life always carry on into new ones. The endings of his last acts always show a vista of the story that continues beyond. The peasant heroine of "The Storm," after her faithlessness has been discovered and her lover drowned, sees the long, bitter life ahead of her, slavery and social disgrace. So Ostrovsky raises his action from an isolated event into a vision of life itself, as though to say: "I am showing you here not men but Man."
This tradition has been directly continued in the more modern Russian plays with which this chapter will chiefly deal. But while this realistic drama was developing, parallel with the novel, there was flourishing a poetical and historical drama of great power and beauty. This, too, took its origin from Pushkin, whose "Boris Godounoff," though not especially adapted to the stage, is a classic of Russian poetic drama. The chief continuers of this tradition, in the latter half of the century, were Alexander Tolstoy and Merezhkowski. The former drew his subjects from the barbarous and picturesque histories of the Russian kings, developing his plots with considerable historical fidelity and a wealth of local allusion. His plays have somewhat the place in Russian literature that those of Schiller have in German, though they are much more genuine in feeling and language. The Russian operas which have been seen in London and New York "Boris Godounoff," "Khovantschina," and "Pskovitienka" give a good idea of the spirit of these plays. They are a series of historical pictures, as free in point of plot tracing and act structure as the chronicle plays of Shakespeare, always willing to step aside to give a picture of the time, always anxious to obtain the greatest amount of colour and emotional vigour from the historical subject matter. "The Death of Ivan the Terrible" shows us the vehement senility of the man who by the brandishing of terror established the Kingdom of Moscow as the nucleus of modern Russia. We see his intrigues and assist at his overtures of marriage to Queen Elizabeth of England. We see the boyars sitting in council, attempting to manipulate the weakening will of the monarch each for his own benefit. We see the crafty Godounoff, Tartar upstart and adventurer, gaining Ivan's condence and lording it over the councillors. We see Ivan's wife, bullied but intermittently defiant, awaiting with anxiety the answer of her prospective successor, Queen Elizabeth. And then Ivan at the point of death, resentful against the fate of which he fancied himself the master.
The plays of Alexander Tolstoy have been a staple of the great Russian theatres. When the experimenters in modern scenery were ready to apply their knowledge, these plays were at hand to meet them in imagination. They did not have to be revived or "rediscovered," but were in the standard repertory. Thus blank verse drama has flourished in Russia, along with the most thorough-going realistic plays, as a natural part of theatrical art, and not, as in most Western countries, as a sort of incense burnt to the Muses. Exuberance in poetic drama has always been a sign of artistic youth in a nation, and these plays have something of the youthfulness of direct attack which we feel in Marlowe's dramas.
When we come to consider the plays of Count Leo Tolstoy we must leave a wide berth for our prejudices. Tolstoy has paid the penalty for being too much in earnest. His novels previous to his "conversion" in 1879 are admired everywhere : greater ones cannot be found in any literature in the world. But the Tolstoy of the later period is suspected hated almost by the world at large. His appeal to con-science is so terrible and direct that we try to escape by calling the man insane, a religious mystic, or (that final condemnation of the middle class mind) impractical. "The Kreutzer Sonata" has probably been as deeply hated as any book of the last half century. And because it is "impractical" (exactly as primitive Christianity was impractical and as all thorough-going religions are impractical) we feel justified in leaving it out of serious consideration. For many, this is merely a cheap and easy way of avoiding the man's moral challenge. It is so easy to point out the childlike qualities in this later Tolstoy, the places where he stops thinking and depends on faith. It requires manliness to stand up and face him, and then accept or reject. And because it is easier to sneer and despise we call him a fool and have done with it. And we are sup-ported in our sneers by many a "principle of art," to the effect that no work that preaches can be a real work of art. Now it is evident that the only interest Tolstoy had, in his later years, was in preaching; he had not the least intention of creating works of art. And so the whole matter seems simply solved, with the help of Tolstoy himself. Everything he wrote after 1879 we simply regard as the work of a crazy man, exactly as we regard all the compositions of Schumann's last five or six years as the product of his insanity.
Tolstoy's four plays, being all the work of this last period, easily fall into the classification. And any one nurtured in the prevailing science of the drama is inclined to toss them aside with. a smile of pity for the author's childishness. They are so naïve in their manner of writing, so utterly innocent of the precious "understanding of stage effects" which we have painfully collected these many years, that they seem to some the work of incompetent ignorance. Tolstoy despised the theatre of his time, which he felt was nothing but a pandering to sensuality. He had no interest in it unless it could serve him as a pulpit. It is evident that he wasted no single minute studying its esoteric lore. So it seems obvious to many that his plays are nothing but long-winded incompetence.
But it is the part of wisdom to hesitate before so grandly pronouncing judgment on a great man. Since it is evident that Tolstoy was not concerned with what fashionable dramatists are interested in, it behooves us to ask what it was that he was driving at. Without such an attitude of mind we shall be as incapable of appreciating his plays as Newton was of appreciating "Paradise Lost," when he asked, "What does it all prove?" It is senseless to judge him by accepted standards, for the reason that he rejected them utterly before he began to write. The only honest attitude is to listen to his plays, free to be interested or bored, as the event decides, and then render account whether we have felt something of what the writer felt was so terribly important to human souls. Personally we may or may not be interested in these moral problems of Tolstoy's. But thousands of people have been, in the theatres of Europe; and in the face of this plain fact it is arrant foolishness to say that Tolstoy didn't know what he was about.
Tolstoy's method, in plain words was : When you have something to say, say it. The recipe is at once so simple and so profound that no one can quite believe that he meant it. But it explains all his later writing, and explains, for our purpose, his dramatic technique. He had to show a certain character doing certain things. His method was exactly the method of children giving a "show" in the back yard: First show what they did first, then show what they did next and so on. No feeling about for "act unity," for "conservation of emotional effect," and the like. He is far too deeply concerned with his moral message to be obliged to hunt up any formal unity; there are far too many emotions wasting away human souls in the world, for him to be obliged to "conserve" them as they come, as the studious littérateurs do when they write by rule. There are as many scenes as the author needs, each as long or as short as the content justifies; as many characters as are needed to tell the story, each doing what he may or can, according to his lights. No concern for balance or proportion, or "stageworthiness." Only many very human people doing painfully human things, and all bound together by the fierce moral energy of their author. In short, Tolstoy's dramatic technique is all contained in the King's edict in "Alice in Wonder-land": "Begin at the beginning, go on until you get to the end, and then stop."
The pair of plays, "The Power of Darkness" and "The, Fruits of Enlightenment" dating from the late eighties, became rather well known in the course of the "free stage" movement of the next few years, and have particularly become known to readers of Tolstoy's collected works. The former, if it impresses you at all, impresses you as one of the most terrible tragedies ever written. In the peasant household which Tolstoy shows us lust has full sweep, and evil desire leads to crime after crime, until the whole group, saving only the old father, are involved in the most base and horrible crimes. The murder of Okulina's illegitimate child is described in detail by one of the characters who is observing it, while the act is being perpetrated in the cellar of the hut. Not a detail is spared that might make us feel the power of darkness. The spectator feels personally weighed down by this load of crime, even as Nikita, the centre of them all, who finally shouts them out to an assembly of merry-makers, and appeals to God above for mercy. Except for the stark human power of Tolstoy's treatment this play would appear an absurd extravagance. But we know from a glance at the daily papers that its events are not unusual but most ordinary. And we know, as we come to the inevitable accounting with ourselves, that some elements of the evil which produced this mass of crime is in our own hearts.
"The Fruits of Enlightenment" is perhaps the single comic effort of a man who is popularly supposed to be absolutely without a sense of humour. But it is bitter humour, with something of the bitterness of a starving man watching a grand opera. Swesdinseff, in his declining years of idleness, is much taken up with spiritualism, while his wife is equally concerned with microbes and the most approved discoveries of medical science. The one is the dupe of mediums, the other of doctors. These fruits of enlightenment are set over against the simplicity of soul of three peasants who come to conclude a business deal with the old man. The latter is stingy and suspicious. His daughter, in council with some of the servants, plans to procure for him the advice of an expert "medium," namely, his kitchen boy. Swesdinseff signs the contract with the peasants. The plot comes to light, but his daughter Betsy presents her case (and Tolstoy's) in such a convincing manner that all are forgiven, and the master of the house learns something of true enlightenment namely, simplicity of mind. The play is full of spirit and vigorous character drawing.
The other two of Tolstoy's plays "The Living Corpse," and "And the Light Shines in the Darkness" —are posthumous works found among his papers after his death. Both have been acted through the length and breadth of Germany, the former having been the great success of the season 1912-13 at Reinhardt's Deutsches Theater in Berlin. Both are even looser in structure than the earlier plays. "The Living Corpse" is perhaps the weakest of the four, but it is a story of absorbing interest. In pure picturesqueness of romantic imagination Tolstoy has here surpassed the fashionable poetic dramatists on their own ground. But romantic imagination, of course, was not what Tolstoy was driving at. He tried to show a man who had made a mess of his life, attempting to undo the evil as best he could and the stupidity of human law bringing everything back to its evil estate. Feodor Protassoff, weak and vicious, realises the tragedy he has been bringing into his wife's life, and resolves to free her to marry the man she really loves. He writes her a letter telling her he is about to commit suicide and wishes her happiness. He raises the revolver to his temple. Then human weakness steps in. Why not merely disappear? Lisa will believe him dead and. he will find some happiness and perhaps some good in his remaining years. So he runs away with a gypsy girl who is in love with him, and Lisa sensibly marries her lover. But one night in an inn a stranger recognizes Protassoff, and starts a scheme of blackmail. Protassoff has no money. The matter is reported. Protassoff is arrested. He expresses his (and Tolstoy's) hatred and contempt of the law and the courts before a judicial examiner. Lisa is tried on a charge of bigamy. Protassoff sees the misery he has caused and shoots himself. The scenes, as they follow one another, are fascinating, now a conversation at afternoon tea, now a revel in a low wine room. There is many a dramatic moment, recalling Tolstoy's earlier love of pure story-telling. But through it all rings the author's moral fervour. The title is more than a mere name to the story. It refers to the man whose soul has already received the wages of sin.
"And the Light Shines in the Darkness" is one of the most remarkable autobiographic documents in the world's literature. The reading public of all countries was thrilled a few years ago by the story of Tolstoy's death, how he left his home and family because he believed that there he was living contrary to the commands of the Scriptures, and wandered forth to get free of compromising ties, that he might be perfect, even as his Father in Heaven is perfect. He died of exhaustion in the railway station of a tiny Russian village. He was supposed to have been in-sane, but thoughtful people knew that the word had been hurled at plenty of great men before him and proved nothing. What had passed in his mind, through these latter years, that made him desert his wife and family, whom he dearly loved, to become a worthless tramp? The answer was found among his papers in the unfinished play, "And the Light Shines in the Darkness." It was a personal and dramatic version of his great essays on religion. It revealed the soul of a man who dared to take the Gospels seriously. It had evidently been worked at, from time to time, for years, and was in all probability a nearly exact transcript of what had been done and said in his own house. The play was Tolstoy himself, going through the most intense struggles of conscience. The last act alone was missing, being sketched in merely with a few lines of a scenario. This last act Tolstoy supplied in the flesh, in his wandering and final death.
The last act will probably never be written. It need not be. The tragedy stands without it. It is the tragedy of the man who tries to be consistently religious to be true to his God and to his neighbour at the same time. Nikolai Ivanovitch has taken the commands of Jesus literally. Basing himself on the Gospels and rejecting the authority of the Church, he wishes to give away his property, which he says was stolen from the peasants. It is wrong, he says, to live in comfort while our brothers are starving. His wife will not permit him to disinherit his children and leave them and her in poverty. He decides he ought not try to force his convictions on others. He will merely act for himself leave his house and get free of this entangled luxury. Desertion of wife and family! Then, he says he will merely keep a single room for himself, and will earn his living by manual labour, like the peasants. But his aged hand bungles the carpentry he undertakes. A young priest has been won over by his talk from the Church to his primitive Christianity, and Boris, son of a Princess, who is guest in the house, follows him heart and soul. The latter refuses to do military service and is imprisoned. Nikolai's daughter, Boris's fiancée, begins to hate her father. The family continues to lead the life that is in his eyes frivolous and criminal. They consider hint heart-less and unnatural. His attempts to follow the teachings of Jesus only bring unhappiness on others. "Ought I to become a wanderer?" he cries in his agony. "Is it a sin to believe in Thee, O Father? No, no Help me, O my God!"
Here the written play closes. Tolstoy's scenario relates that in the last act the Princess, having unsuccessfully made intervention to the Czar on behalf of her son, breaks into Nikolai's room and stabs him.
Of this play it is almost impossible to speak. No praise can add to its greatness, no sneer can detract. The simplicity of its dialogue, the loving justice with which Tolstoy draws all his characters (excepting only the bishop of the Church, whom he hates), the human genuineness of its motives, can be equalled only by the greatest works in the world's literature. It is possible, as we have said, to reject this play altogether. But if one has an ear for these characters in their mortal struggle with Conscience, one must admit that artistic canons are insignificant beside it and recognise in it one of the supreme works, of the modern stage.
Tolstoy's plays are lawless, but they always contain some elements of obvious dramatic conflict. Tchekoff's plays, on the other hand, are almost completely "static." The old formula for drama said that, character must be shown by means of action. Tchekoff's plays are written for the sake of character. For whole acts there may be no sign of plot-action. Action occurs only when the author needs it for the purpose of producing a change in character. These plays throw us off the scent at first reading or seeing. They have no movement, they seem not to be "getting anywhere." We have to discover for ourselves that all this dialogue is justified in the author's mind if it reveals to us his characters. Why shouldn't character-revealing talk be interesting? And if it is interesting why isn't it good drama? We must get something of Tchekoff's enthusiasm for pure character study before we can appreciate his tender and delicate plays.
Tchekoff, coming from a humble family of Little Russia, gained his fame as a short story writer for the magazines. His character sketches were vivid in the extreme and his sense of comedy as lively as that of any Russian author since Gogol. He took to writing plays in the natural course of events and in his own style. "Uncle Vanya" was dashed off in a few weeks as a sort of answer to a popular play advancing an analysis of Russian character with which he disagreed. At first his plays were unpopular. But when the Art Theatre of Moscow took them up, mounting and acting them with superb understanding of their subtle charm, he rapidly became one of the best known playwrights in Russia. He did quite as much for the Art Theatre as it had done for him, for his plays became immensely popular, and the theatre adopted as its symbol a seagull, in recognition of his best drama.
To appreciate Tchekoff's plays you must be content to sit back in your seat with a soul at rest, willing to let things happen when they will or never, glad to come gradually to know a few people's whose finely strung spirits react sensitively to the world about them. It is the mood in which one sits for hours before a wood fire, learning to know a friend from re arks dropped at long intervals in the silence. Tchekoff rarely has passages of strong emotion, never of the emotion that moves things. When his characters feel, they show it only by a twitch of the mouth. They go not rush from emotion into action; they suffer and stay silent.
The acting needed for these plays is of quite a special kind. It must be of great simplicity, without tricks and without set traditions. But it must be highly selective of significant details. Repressed passion, as our emotional actresses show it, is not for Tchekoff. "Do nothing unless there is some special reason" is Tchekoff's lesson to the actor, and a lesson which it is hard for our theatrical generation to learn.
"The Seagull" is made of gossamer, and one misses it at first seeing. It demands an audience always on the alert, yet always in repose. The character of the young poet, whose soul is being seared among the Selfish and callous people about him, is shown in a Multitude of the most delicate touches. "Uncle Vanya" is much the same tale, this time an old man and a Young girl, who find in each other the sympathy which has failed them in all their associates. In "The Cherry Orchard" the orchard, always seen at the back of the stage, serves as a symbol of Russia. Here is a chance for stylisation in the setting. Tchekoff's plays are full of such chances, but they must not be abused. None but a delicate artistic sympathy should attempt to stylise these plays.
One should not leave Tchekoff without mentioning his two delightful one act farces, "The Bear" and "A Proposal of Marriage." These are filled with the most engaging fun, which up to the last line never dulls for a minute. In them one feels the comic genius of "The Revizor" alive again.
Maxim Gorky, who is chiefly known by his wonderful tramp stories, is like Tchekoff, in that his plays too are "static," but like him in hardly another particular. "A Night's Lodging," generally known by its German title "Nachtasyl," made for him a reputation as a dramatist which he has since not been able to sustain. "Nachtasyl" is a wonderful collection of characters, gathered together in a cheap lodging-house, exchanging observations, swapping philosophies, and prying into one an-other's characters. Little happens in the course of the play, except when the old actor gets drunk or the police enter to suppress a fist fight. There seems to be nothing to hold the play together, and yet, as one reads it over, one feels resentful that any single line should be cut.
Gorky's later plays lack the wonderful picturesqueness of character which made "Nachtasyl" famous. Their chief virtue is their faith in the ability of ideas to interest an audience, but as the characters in "Children of the Sun" continue a conversation through many acts to no apparent purpose, or the arbitrary events of "Middle-Class Lives" fail to dispel the monotony which overhangs the play, we feel that we prefer Gorky in story form. The failure of these plays, however, is not the failure of the "static drama," which is successful just as often as it can present interesting material to an interested audience. It is merely the failure of a popular author without enough to say.
The end of the era dominated by Maxim Gorky which closed with the practical failure of the Revolution of 1905, left Russia in one of its periodic moods of pessimism. These moods of alternate hope and despair, resulting from the political atmosphere, are strangely intense in the Russian character, and strangely wide-spread over the nation. With an accuracy for which there is no parallel in any other country, they are promptly reflected in the current literature. But as always in Russian literature, pessimism does not mean utter loss of faith and interest, but an acknowledgment of outward defeat and a new stock taking of spiritual facts. In this new phase Andreieff has become the dominant literary figure. In his novels and sketches, notably "The Seven Who Were Hanged," he had shown himself master of the realistic manner that has become traditional in Russian prose. But a spiritual stock taking demands something besides realism. Andreieff supplied it in a metaphysic which is dynamic, and a mysticism which is humanitarian.
To the eternal Russian question, recurring to each generation: "What shall we do about it?" Andreieff replies : "We will continue to strive and suffer. Our effort may be counteracted, but in the truest sense it cannot be lost." In "Anathema" he pictures a (poor Jewish merchant, consumed with a desire to help his fellow-men. He receives word that he has been left an immense amount of money by a deceased brother in America. He decides to spend it in feeding the poor. The word is spread about and the poor come from all directions. But the more he gives the more there are to receive. Suffering is boundless; his large fortine is limited. When his resources are nearly at an end. the crowd of alms-beggars is larger than ever. Finally, when he has no more to give, their worship turns to resentment, then to enmity, then to a mob hatred Which kills him and his family. Andreieff has enframed this play with a prologue and epilogue at the gates of Heaven. Anathema, the Spirit who Denies, has bartered with the Keeper of the Gates for the soul of the Jew. To Anathema good is non-existent ; his laugh can destroy all that seems real; the world is only a night-mare. Has he not proved it? Has not the brotherly love of the Jew led only to hatred and death? But the Keeper of the Gates denies that the love of the Jew has come to naught. The results cannot be measured; nothing that can be measured is of much value ; the spirit which can apprehend only what can be measured is a spirit of death. He, the Keeper of the Gates, stands for eternal Assertion, which cannot die, and which has won the wager with Anathema, the Spirit who Denies, "ever alive in weights and measures, but yet unborn to life. . . ." Mysticism this, but one based on a solid human fact, the love of the poor Jew for his fellow-men "The Life of Man," perhaps the only one of Andreieff's plays which can be set down as flatly pessimistic, has a special interest in this book as probably the only play hitherto written by a great writer which has been planned, from inception on, for stylisation. We have seen, in the chapter on Stylisation, the difficulties attendant upon stylising plays not meant for it. Here, is a play that was meant for it, and the Moscow Art Theatre has achieved remarkable results in setting it. The play sets forth the life of Man, in five "pictures": "Birth of the Man and pain of the mother; Love and poverty ; Wealth, a ball at the house of the Man ; the Man in unhappiness; Death of the Man." In and out of the action stalks a mysterious figure, "Somebody in Gray," who holds a candle which burns to its end as the Man's death draws nigh. The scenes all commence and end in darkness. This or that significant detail comes first into view. Throughout, the endeavour is to emphasise the typical and symbolic. The author's car in the work of stylisation has extended to all sorts of practical details, as when he directs for the final scene in the wine room, that "the number of men appears greater because of their shadows, which flicker about on the walls and ceiling."
In "Ignis Sanat," again, human endeavour seems to come to nothing, but the author's conviction that evil is based on untruth brings its ray of hope. Sawa, a young anarchist, plots to destroy a certain holy picture, in a cloister near his home, in order to destroy the superstition which its reputation for miracle working has fostered. His sister Lipa is convinced that religion, whether true or not, is good because of the happiness and beauty it brings into men's lives. The monks of the cloister are quite corrupt, and one of them, in consideration of a little money, agrees to light the] explosive on the midnight of the day before the annual festival of the picture. The sister gets wind of the plot and spoils it. But the monks have got an idea. They will stage their explosion, with the picture taken away, and then immediately return the picture and make capital out of its miraculous preservation. And the bitterest fact is not that the crowd of worshippers, the next day, on being told of Sawa's intention, crush him to death in their fury, but that they, and even the monks who engineered the game, believed that the miracle had actually taken place as their story averred. The play is admirable in plot and in the lively characterisation of the brother and sister and of the debauched but good natured monks.
Andreieff's plays are inclined to the static structure of Gorky's. But they have, in addition, the most powerfully emotional prose that is being written in modern drama. No literary tendency can be more admirably modern than that which seeks to leave to past centuries rhymed verse, and to cultivate the far finer feeling for noble rhythmic prose. As an example of this, as well as of the humanitarian mysticism referred to, "To the Stars" is Andreieff's most distinctive play. It contains not an iota of action, except for the doings off-stage of a character who does not appear. Just across the Russian border a number of revolutionists are gathered together at the home of one Sergei Ternowski, an astronomer who has made it his work to study Life in its largest aspect. His son Nikolai, has led a revolutionary uprising in the streets of a Russian city, has been wounded, captured, and thrown into prison. The whole of the play, admirable in its characterization, consists of the opinions of the characters as to the fate of Nikolai and the philosophic questions it involves. One of Ternowski's assistants is disgusted by the revolutionists' discussion and returns to work. Another, a Jew, is moved by it to the resolution to go out and fight for men in the world of action. "I want no more to do with science !" he cries. "I am going away from here. I am going with you. I hear how they are crying out there. The stars do not hear it but I hear it. . . . Yes, I am a Jew and I call upon the God of the Jews : Lord God, to whom vengeance belongs, Lord God, to whom vengeance belongs, appear! Arise, thou Judge of the World, and give to those who have faith that which they have earned ! Lord God, to whom vengeance be-longs, Lord God, to whom vengeance belongs, appear!"
And finally comes Marushja, Nikolai's fiancée, with the news that her lover has lost his reason in the tortures of prison and will be an idiot for the rests of his life. Marushja is ready to quit her life or to send it in a romantic sacrifice at the side of her lover. Hopelessness hangs over all. Then Ternowski, who has studied Life and knows that all that is good flows from it, speaks:
"There is no death. Nikolai lives in you, and in Petya, and in me in all who remain true to the beauty of his spirit. Do you suppose that Giordano Bruno is dead? Only the animals, which have no countenance, die. Only he who kills dies ; he who is killed, burned, torn in pieces he lives to eternity. There is no death for men, there is no death for the son of eternity !
"In the temples of antiquity there was an 'eternal fire kept. The wood became ashes, the oil was burned up but the fire was kept alive eternally. Do you not feel it here and everywhere? Do you not feel in yourself his pure flame? Who gave you this gentle spirit, whose thought, escaped from the mortal body, lives on in you? Dare you say that your thought is yours? Your soul is only an altar on which the Son of Eternity lights his sacrificial fire! (Raising his arms to the stars.) I greet you, my unknown, my distant friend!"
And Marushja says simply: "I will go back into Life."
"Go," replies Ternowski. "Give back to Life what you have received from it ! Give the sun its warmth back again! You will perish, as Nikolai has perished, as all have perished whose part it is to nourish the eternal fire with their fair spirits. But through your destruction you will achieve immortality. Upward to the stars !"