Page:The Russian Review Volume 1.djvu/27

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Literature, Music, Art.

Aspects of Russian Literature.

By Louis S. Friedland.


There is a peculiar restlessness that is expressed in Russian literature, as if the writers were men embarked upon a great search whose end is never in sight. And indeed, these men refuse to see final limits, for they know, as yet, little of attainment. You will not find in the literature of this country of the endless plain, a cheerful sense of accomplishment, a great joy in achievement. Theirs are not the doubts and the questionings of the English writers of the closing years of the last century. For they know that a goal exists, and that they must go on in their great spiritual search over the endless plain of Life. Things seen, are real to them, but those unseen have the true reality which they seek, and which they know exists. And in the effort to attain at the final meanings in life, they journey over its wide realm, beckoned on by the never-failing hope of some day apprehending what this life is.

But they are conscious, too, of the fact that they will never attain to the secret unless they can fathom the nature of man in his inmost self. For to them man is the enigma that must be solved,—man as he really is, not what he romantically pretends to be, or, in the spirit of renunciation, says he is. They wish to discover man as he actually is, in his true essence, not as he appears to be, shorn of power and true "selfness" by as yet unconquered forces, and hemmed in by laws and social structures that only partly reveal him.

Here, then, we are dealing with a literature that exists for social service,—with man, and not society, as the object to be served. So that Russian literature is social in a peculiar sense. It has been said that the Russian looks to literature for solutions to "the accursed problems of life."

To answer this urgent demand, a literature needs to be closely linked to life and reality. In the literature of Russia this union is close and indissoluble. We cannot attain a true understanding of the one, without knowing something of the other,