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The Storm

By Ostrovsky, Aleksandr Nicolaevich

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Book Id: WPLBN0000619572
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Title: The Storm  
Author: Ostrovsky, Aleksandr Nicolaevich
Language: English
Subject: Literature & thought, Literature and history, Literature & philosophy
Collections: Project Gutenberg Consortia Center
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Publisher: Project Gutenberg Consortia Center


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Ostrovsky, A. N. (n.d.). The Storm. Retrieved from

Up to the years of the Crimean War Russia was always a strange, uncouth riddle to the European consciousness. It would be an interesting study to trace back through the last three centuries the evidence of the historical documents that our forefathers have left us when they were brought face to face, through missions, embassies, travel, and commerce, with the fantastic life, as it seemed to them, led by the Muscovite. But in any chance record we may pick up, from the reports of a seventeenth century embassy down to the narrative of an early nineteenth century traveler, the note always insisted on is that of all the outlandish civilizations, queer manners and customs of Europeans, the Russian?s were the queerest and those standing furthest removed from the other nations? and this sentiment has prevailed to-day, side by side with the better understanding we have gained of Russia. Nor can this conception, generally held among us, which is a half truth, be removed by personal contact or mere objective study; for example, of the innumerable memoirs published on the Crimean war, it is rare to find one that gives us any real insight into the nature of the Russian. And the conception itself can only be amended and enlarged by the study of the Russian mind as it expresses itself in its own literature. The mind of the great artist, of whatever race he springs, cannot lie. From the works of Thackeray and George Eliot in England and Turgenev and Tolstoi in Russia, a critic penetrates into the secret places of the national life, where all the clever objective pictures of foreign critics must lead him astray. Ostrovsky?s drama, ?The Storm,? here translated for the English reader, is a good instance of this truth. It is a revelation of the old-fashioned Muscovite life from the inside, and Ostrovsky thereby brings us in closer relation to that primitive life than was in the power of Tolstoi or Goncharov, or even Gogol to bring us. These great writers have given us admirable pictures of the people?s life as it appeared to them at the angle of the educated Westernised Russian mind; but here in ?The Storm? is the atmosphere of the little Russian town, with its primitive inhabitants, merchants, and workpeople, an atmosphere untouched, unadulterated by the ideas of any outside European influence. It is the Russia of Peter the Great and Catherine?s time, the Russian patriarchal family life that has existed for hundreds of years through all the towns and villages of Great Russia, that lingers indeed to-day in out-of-the-way corners of the Empire, though now invaded and much broken up by modern influences. It is, in fact, the very Muscovite life that so puzzled our forefathers, and that no doubt will seem strange to many English readers. But the special triumph of ?The Storm? is that although it is a realistic picture of old-fashioned Russian patriarchal life, it is one of the deepest and simplest psychological analyses of the Russian soul ever made. It is a very deep though a very narrow analysis. Katerina, the heroine, to the English will seem weak, and crushed through her weakness; but to a Russian she typifies revolt, freedom, a refusal to be bound by the cruelty of life. And her attitude, despairing though it seems to us, is indeed the revolt of the spirit in a land where Tolstoi?s doctrine of non-resistance is the logical outcome of centuries of serfdom in a people?s history. The merchant Dikoy, the bully, the soft characterless lover Boris, the idealistic religious Katerina, Kuligin the artisan, and Madame Kabanova, the tyrannical mother, all these are true national types, true Russians of the changing ages, and the counterparts of these people may be met to-day, if the reader takes up Tehehov?s tales. English people no doubt will find it difficult to believe that Madame Kabanova could so have crushed Katerina?s life, as Ostrovsky depicts. Nothing indeed is so antagonistic to English individualism and independence as is the passivity of some of the characters in ?The Storm.? But the English reader?s very difficulty in this respect should give him a clue to much that has puzzled Europeans, should help him to penetrate into the strangeness of Russian political life, the strangeness of her love of despotism. Only in the country that produces such types of weakness and tyranny is possible the fettering of freedom of thought and act that we have in Russia to-day. Ostrovsky?s striking analysis of this fatalism in the Russian soul will help the reader to understand the unending struggle in Russia between the enlightened Europeanised intelligence of the few, and the apathy of the vast majority of Russians who are disinclined to rebel against the crystallised conditions of their lives. Whatever may be strange and puzzling in ?The Storm? to the English mind, there is no doubt that the Russians hail the picture as essentially true. The violence of such characters as Madame Kabanova and Dikoy may be weakened to-day everywhere by the gradual undermining of the patriarchal family system now in progress throughout Russia, but the picture is in essentials a criticism of the national life. On this point the Russian critic Dobroliubov, criticising ?The Storm,? says: ?The need for justice, for respect for personal rights, this is the cry ... that rises up to the ear of every attentive reader. Well, can we deny the wide application of this need in Russia? Can we fail to recognize that such a dramatic background corresponds with the true condition of Russian society? Take history, think of our life, look about you, everywhere you will find justification of our words. This is not the place to launch out into historical investigation; it is enough to point out that our history up to the most recent times has not fostered among us the development of a respect for equity, has not created any solid guarantees for personal rights, and has left a wide field to arbitrary tyranny and caprice.? This criticism of Dobroliubov?s was written in 1860, the date of the play; but we have only to look back at the internal history of Russia for the last thirty years to see that it too ?has not created any solid guarantees for personal rights, and has left a wide field to arbitrary tyranny and caprice.? and here is Ostrovsky?s peculiar merit, that he has in his various dramas penetrated deeper than any other of the great Russian authors into one of the most fundamental qualities of the Russian nature?its innate tendency to arbitrary power, oppression, despotism. Nobody has drawn so powerfully, so truly, so incisively as he, the type of the ?samodor? or ?bully,? a type that plays a leading part in every strata of Russian life. From Turgenev we learn more of the reverse side of the Russian character, its lack of will, tendency to weakness, dreaminess and passivity: and it is this aspect that the English find it so hard to understand, when they 4 compare the characters in the great Russian novels with their own idea of Russia?s formidable power. The people and the nation do not seem to correspond. But the riddle may be read in the coexistence of Russia?s internal weakness and misery along with her huge force, and the immense role she fills as a civilising power. In ?The Storm? we have all the contradictory elements: a life strongly organised, yet weak within; strength and passivity, despotism and fatalism side by side. The author of ?The Storm,? Alexander Ostrovsky (born in Moscow 1823, died 1886), is acknowledged to be the greatest of the Russian dramatists. He has been called ?a specialist in the natural history of the Russian merchant,? and his birth, upbringing, family connections and vocations gave him exceptional facilities for penetrating into the life of that class which he was the first to put into Russian literature. His best period was from 1850 to 1860, but all his work received prompt and universal recognition from his countrymen. In 1859 Dobroliubov?s famous article, ?The Realm of Darkness,? appeared, analysing the contents of all Ostrovsky?s dramas, and on the publication of ?The Storm? in 1860, it was followed by another article from the same critic, ?A Ray of Light in the Realm of Darkness.? These articles were practically a brief for the case of the Liberals, or party of Progress, against the official and Slavophil party. Ostrovsky?s dramas in general are marked by intense sombreness, biting humor and merciless realism. ?The Storm? is the most poetical of his works, but all his leading plays still hold the stage.


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