Maslova in Prison - Chapter 1
Though hundreds of thousands had done their very best to disfigure the small piece of land on which they were crowded together, by paving the ground with stones, scraping away every vestige of vegetation, cutting down the trees, turning away birds and beasts, and filling the air with the smoke of naphtha and coal, still spring was spring, even in the town.
The sun shone warm, the air was balmy; everywhere, where it did not get scraped away, the grass revived and sprang up between the paving-stones as well as on the narrow strips of lawn on the boulevards. The birches, the poplars, and the wild cherry unfolded their gummy and fragrant leaves, the limes were expanding their opening buds; crows, sparrows, and pigeons, filled with the joy of spring, were getting their nests ready; the flies were buzzing along the walls, warmed by the sunshine. All were glad, the plants, the birds, the insects, and the children. But men, grown-up men and women, did not leave off cheating and tormenting themselves and each other. It was not this spring morning men thought sacred and worthy of consideration not the beauty of God's world, given for a joy to all creatures, this beauty which inclines the heart to peace, to harmony, and to love, but only their own devices for enslaving one another.
Thus, in the prison office of the Government town, it was not the fact that men and animals had received the grace and gladness of spring that was considered sacred and important, but that a notice, numbered and with a superscription, had come the day before, ordering that on this 28th day of April, at 9 a.m., three prisoners at present detained in the prison, a man and two women (one of these women, as the chief criminal, to be conducted separately), had to appear at Court. So now, on the 28th of April, at 8 o'clock, a jailer and soon after him a woman warder with curly grey hair, dressed in a jacket with sleeves trimmed with gold, with a blue-edged belt round her waist, and having a look of suffering on her face, came into the corridor.
"You want Maslova?" she asked, coming up to the cell with the jailer who was on duty.
The jailer, rattling the iron padlock, opened the door of the cell, from which there came a whiff of air fouler even than that in the corridor, and called out, "Maslova! to the Court," and closed the door again.
Even into the prison yard the breeze had brought the fresh vivifying air from the fields. But in the corridor the air was laden with the germs of typhoid, the smell of sewage, putrefaction, and tar; every newcomer felt sad and dejected in it. The woman warder felt this, though she was used to bad air. She had just come in from outside, and entering the corridor, she at once became sleepy.
From inside the cell came the sound of bustle and women's voices, and the patter of bare feet on the floor.
"Now, then, hurry up, Maslova, I say!" called out the jailer, and in a minute or two a small young woman with a very full bust came briskly out of the door and went up to the jailer. She had on a grey cloak over a white jacket and petticoat. On her feet she wore linen stockings and prison shoes, and round her head was tied a white kerchief, from under which a few locks of black hair were brushed over the forehead with evident intent. The face of the woman was of that whiteness peculiar to people who have lived long in confinement, and which puts one in mind of shoots of potatoes that spring up in a cellar. Her small broad hands and full neck, which showed from under the broad collar of her cloak, were of the same hue. Her black, sparkling eyes, one with a slight squint, appeared in striking contrast to the dull pallor of her face.
She carried herself very straight, expanding her full bosom.
With her head slightly thrown back, she stood in the corridor, looking straight into the eyes of the jailer, ready to comply with any order.
The jailer was about to lock the door when a wrinkled and severe-looking old woman put out her grey head and began speaking to Maslova. But the jailer closed the door, pushing the old woman's head with it. A woman's laughter was heard from the cell, and Maslova smiled, turning to the little grated opening in the cell door. The old woman pressed her face to the grating from the other side, and said, in a hoarse voice:
"Now mind, and when they begin questioning you, just repeat over the same thing, and stick to it; tell nothing that is not wanted."
"Well, it could not be worse than it is now, anyhow; I only wish it was settled one way or another."
"Of course, it will be settled one way or another," said the jailer, with a superior's self-assured witticism. "Now, then, get along! Take your places!"
The old woman's eyes vanished from the grating, and Maslova stepped out into the middle of the corridor. The warder in front, they descended the stone stairs, past the still fouler, noisy cells of the men's ward, where they were followed by eyes looking out of every one of the gratings in the doors, and entered the office, where two soldiers were waiting to escort her. A clerk who was sitting there gave one of the soldiers a paper reeking of tobacco, and pointing to the prisoner, remarked, "Take her."
The soldier, a peasant from Nijni Novgorod, with a red, pock-marked face, put the paper into the sleeve of his coat, winked to his companion, a broad-shouldered Tchouvash, and then the prisoner and the soldiers went to the front entrance, out of the prison yard, and through the town up the middle of the roughly-paved street.
Isvostchiks [cabmen], tradespeople, cooks, workmen, and government clerks, stopped and looked curiously at the prisoner; some shook their heads and thought, "This is what evil conduct, conduct unlike ours, leads to." The children stopped and gazed at the robber with frightened looks; but the thought that the soldiers were preventing her from doing more harm quieted their fears. A peasant, who had sold his charcoal, and had had some tea in the town, came up, and, after crossing himself, gave her a copeck. The prisoner blushed and muttered something; she noticed that she was attracting everybody's attention, and that pleased her. The comparatively fresh air also gladdened her, but it was painful to step on the rough stones with the ill-made prison shoes on her feet, which had become unused to walking. Passing by a corn-dealer's shop, in front of which a few pigeons were strutting about, unmolested by any one, the prisoner almost touched a grey-blue bird with her foot; it fluttered up and flew close to her ear, fanning her with its wings. She smiled, then sighed deeply as she remembered her present position.
It is a shame I cannot speak Russian so that I may listen to the words of this story in its mother tongue. It is a shame that not enough people have desired to read his works. There is every reason to regard Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy as one of the greatest political philosophers, writers, dissenters and warriors of the human condition. There is no good reason to not read what he penned. As I write, I am reading Resurrection. I also have just garnered copies of <i>Anna Karenina, War and Peace</i>, and all other essays or letters I could find.
He made no mistake condemning the act of revolution or war. He critiqued anything that practiced coercion or force, from the state to private property, marriage, and the organized church’s continued beneficence to the state.
It seems as if Tolstoy’s rationale sought satiation by accepting the irrational existence. It is clear that there is a marked emotional difference, an evolution, of the Tolstoy before War and Peace – and the prophetically disquieted writer of post-Anna Karenina. Indeed it seems there was a transition from the realist to the modernist.
In War and Peace it is obvious where Tolstoy surrenders the rationality of man to the irrational existence. He captures the people in aggregate, as a force, as events that shape themselves. It seems here that he doesn’t find the individual force to be powerful at all. Somehow this changes. Anna Karenina is to the eye just another romance. However; it is blatant with criticisms of custom and excess of the aristocrats. In short; it was a story of accepting the self within and holding onto that despite societies abundant falsehood and pageantry. The tragedy with Anna was her inability to choose between the two forces; yet another vision of human weakness and the bitter struggle for integrity, but moreso love.
I cannot provide enough analysis of this ‘love’ on my own – this letter speaks for itself. I find that the more I read of his collaborative efforts with anarchists – the more I am left in silence. I can only ruminate that it was emotion that drove Tolstoy’s powerful plea.
To Gandhi, Johannesburg, Transvaal, South Africa.
KOCHETY. 7th September 1910.
I received your journal, Indian Opinion, and was glad to see what it says of those who renounce all resistance by force, and I immediately felt a wish to let you know what thoughts its perusal aroused in me.
The longer I live-especially now when I clearly feel the approach of death-the more I feel moved to express what I feel more strongly than anything else, and what in my opinion is of immense importance, namely, what we call the renunciation of all opposition by force, which really simply means the doctrine of the law of love unperverted by sophistries. Love, or in other words the striving of men's souls towards unity and the submissive behaviour to one another that results therefrom, represents the highest and indeed the only law of life, as every man knows and feels in the depths of his heart (and as we see most clearly in children), and knows until he becomes involved in the lying net of worldly thoughts. This law was announced by all the philosophies- Indian as well as Chinese, and Jewish, Greek and Roman. Most clearly, I think, was it announced by Christ, who said explicitly that on it hang all the Law and the Prophets. More than that, foreseeing the distortion that has hindered its recognition and may always hinder it, he specially indicated the danger of a misrepresentation that presents itself to men living by worldly interests- namely, that they may claim a right to defend their interests by force or, as he expressed it, to repay blow by blow and recover stolen property by force, etc., etc. He knew, as all reasonable men must do, that any employment of force is incompatible with love as the highest law of life, and that as soon as the use of force appears permissible even in a single case, the law itself is immediately negatived. The whole of Christian civilization, outwardly so splendid, has grown up on this strange and flagrant- partly intentional but chiefly unconscious-misunderstanding and contradiction. At bottom, however, the law of love is, and can be, no longer valid if defence by force is set up beside it. And if once the law of love is not valid, then there remains no law except the right of might. In that state Christendom has lived for 1,900 years. Certainly men have always let themselves be guided by force as the main principle of their social order. The difference between the Christian and all other nations is only this: that in Christianity the law of love had been more clearly and definitely given than in any other religion, and that its adherents solemnly recognized it. Yet despite this they deemed the use of force to be permissible, and based their lives on violence - so that the life of the Christian nations presents a greater contradiction between what they believe and the principle on which their lives are built: a contradiction between love which should pre scribe the law of conduct, and the employment of force, recognized under various forms-such as governments, courts of justice, and armies, which are accepted as necessary and esteemed. This contradiction increased with the development of the spiritual life of Christianity and in recent years has reached the utmost tension.
The question now is, that we must choose one of two things-either to admit that we recognize no religious ethics at all but let our conduct of life be decided by the right of might; or to demand that all compulsory levying of taxes be discontinued, and all our legal and police institutions, and above all, military institutions, be abolished.
This spring, at a scripture examination in a Moscow girls' school, first their religious teacher and then an archbishop who was also present, questioned the girls on the ten commandments, especially on the sixth. After the commandments had been correctly recited the archbishop sometimes put a question, usually: 'Is it always and in every case forbidden by the law of God to kill?' And the unfortunate girls, misled by their instructor, had to answer and did answer: 'Not always, for it is permissible in war and at executions.' When, however, this customary additional question-whether it is always a sin to kill-was put to one of these unfortunate creatures (what I am telling you is not an anecdote, but actually happened and was told me by an eyewitness) the girl colored up and answered decidedly and with emotion - 'Always!' And despite all the customary sophistries of the archbishop, she held steadfastly to it-that to kill is under all circumstances forbidden even in the Old Testament, and that Christ has not only forbidden us to kill, but in general to do any harm to our neighbor. The archbishop, for all his majesty and verbal dexterity, was silenced, and victory remained with the girl.
Yes, we may write in the papers of our progress in mastery of the air, of complicated diplomatic relation, of various clubs, of discoveries, of all sorts of alliances, and of so-called works of art, and we can pass lightly over what that girl said. But we cannot completely silence her, for every Christian feels the same, however vaguely he may do so. Socialism, Communism, Anarchism' Salvation Armies, the growth of crime, freedom from toil, the increasingly absurd luxury of the rich and increased misery of the poor, the fearfully rising number of suicides-are all indications of that inner contradiction which must and will be resolved. And, of course, resolved in such a manner that the law of love will be recognized and all reliance on force abandoned. Your work in the Transvaal, which to us seems to be at the end of the earth, is yet in the centre of our interest and supplies the most weighty practical proof, in which the world can now share, and not only the Christian but all the peoples of the world can participate.
I think it will please you to hear that here in Russia, too, a similar movement is rapidly attracting attention, and refusals of military service increase year by year. However small as yet is with you the number of those who renounce all resistance by force, and with us the number of men who refuse any military service-both the one and the other can say: God is with us, and God is mightier than man.
In the confession of Christianity-even a Christianity deformed as is that taught among us-and a simultaneous belief in the necessity of armies and preparations to slaughter on an ever-increasing scale, there is an obvious contradiction that cries to heaven, and that sooner or later, but probably quite soon, must appear in the light of day in its complete nakedness. That, however, will either annihilate the Christian religion, which is indispensable for the maintenance of the State, or it will sweep away the military and all the use of force bound up with it-which the State needs no less. All governments are aware of this contradiction, your British as much as our Russian, and therefore its recognition will be more energetically opposed by the governments than any other activity inimical to the State, as we in Russia have experienced and as is shown by the articles in your magazine. The governments know from what direction the greatest danger threatens them, and are on guard with watchful eyes not merely to preserve their interests but actually to fight for their very existence.
Yours etc., LEO TOLSTOY.
Oct 12 2008, 11:23 PM