PAVEL PETROVICH KIRSANOV WAS EDUCATED FIRST AT HOME, LIKE his younger brother, and afterwards in the Corps of Pages. From childhood he was distinguished by his remarkable beauty; he was self-confident, rather ironical, and had a biting sense of humor; he could not fail to please people. He began to be received everywhere directly he had obtained his commission as an officer. He was pampered by society, and indulged in every kind of whim and folly, but that did not make him any less attractive. Women went crazy about him, men called him a fop and secretly envied him. He shared a flat with his brother, whom he loved sincerely although he was most unlike him. Nikolai Petrovich was rather lame, had small, agreeable but somewhat melancholy features, little black eyes and soft thin hair; he enjoyed being lazy, but he also liked reading and was shy in society. Pavel Petrovich did not spend a single evening at home, prided himself on his boldness and agility (he was just bringing gymnastics into fashion among the young men of his set), and had read in all five or six French books. At twenty-eight he was already a captain; a brilliant career lay before him. Suddenly all that was changed.
In those days there used to appear occasionally in Petersburg society a woman who has even now not been forgotten--Princess R. She had a well-educated and respectable, but rather stupid husband, and no children. She used suddenly to travel abroad and equally suddenly return to Russia, and in general she led an eccentric life. She was reputed to be a frivolous coquette, abandoned herself keenly to every kind of pleasure, danced to exhaustion, laughed and joked with young men whom she used to receive before dinner in a dimly lit drawing room, but at night she wept and said prayers, finding no peace anywhere, and often paced her room till morning, wringing her hands in anguish, or sat, pale and cold, reading a psalter. Day came and she turned again into a lady of fashion, she went about again, laughed, chatted and literally flung herself into any activity which could afford her the slightest distraction. She had a wonderful figure; her hair, golden in color and heavy like gold, fell below her knees, yet no one would have called her a beauty; the only striking feature in her whole face was her eyes--and even her eyes were grey and not large--but their glance was swift and deeply penetrating, carefree to the point of audacity and thoughtful to the verge of melancholy--an enigmatic glance. Something extraordinary shone in those eyes even when her tongue was chattering the emptiest gossip. She dressed equisitely. Pavel Petrovich met her at a ball, danced a mazurka with her, in the course of which she did not utter a single sensible word, and fell passionately in love with her. Accustomed to making conquests, he succeeded with her also, but his easy triumph did not damp his enthusiasm. On the contrary, he found himself in a still closer and more tormenting bondage to this woman, in whom, even when she surrendered herself without reserve, there seemed always to remain something mysterious and unattainable, to which no one could penetrate. What was hidden in that soul--God alone knows! It seemed as if she were in the grip of some strange powers, unknown even to herself; they seemed to play with her at will and her limited mind was not strong enough to master their caprices. Her whole behavior was a maze of inconsistencies; the only letters which could have aroused her husband's just suspicions she wrote to a man who was almost a stranger to her, and her love had always an element of sadness; she no longer laughed and joked with the man whom she had chosen, but listened to him and looked at him in bewilderment. Sometimes this bewilderment would change suddenly into a cold horror; her face would take on a wild, deathlike expression and she would lock herself up in her bedroom; her maid, putting her ear to the keyhole, could hear her smothered sobs. More than once, as he returned home after a tender meeting, Kirsanov felt within him that heart-rending, bitter gloom which follows the consciousness of total failure. "What more do I want?" he asked himself, but his heart was heavy. He once gave her a ring which had a sphinx engraved in the stone.
"What is this?" she asked. "A sphinx?"
"Yes," he answered, "and that sphinx is--you."
"Me?" she asked, and slowly looked at him with her enigmatic eyes. "Do you know, that is very flattering," she added with a meaningless smile, while her eyes still looked as strangely as before.
Pavel Petrovich suffered even while Princess R. loved him, but when she became cold to him, and that happened quite soon, he almost went out of his mind. He tortured himself, he was jealous, he gave her no rest but followed her everywhere. She grew sick of his persistent pursuit of her and went abroad. He resigned from his regiment in spite of the entreaties of his friends and the advice of his superior officers, and he followed the princess abroad; four years he spent in foreign countries, at one time pursuing her, at other times trying to lose sight of her; he was ashamed of himself, he was indignant at his own lack of resolution--but nothing helped. Her image--that incomprehensible, almost meaningless, but fascinating image--was too deeply rooted in his heart. In Baden he once more revived his former relationship with her; it seemed as though she had never before loved him so passionately . . . but in a month it was all over; the flame flared up for the last time and then died out forever. Foreseeing the inevitable separation, he wanted at least to remain her friend, as if lasting friendship with such a woman were possible . . . She left Baden secretly and from that time permanently avoided meeting Kirsanov. He returned to Russia and tried to live as before, but he could not adapt himself to his old routine. He wandered from place to place like one possessed; he still went out to parties and retained the habits of a man of the world; he could boast of two or three more conquests; but he no longer expected anything from himself or from others, and he undertook nothing new. He grew old and grey, spending all his evenings at the club, embittered and bored--arguing indifferently in bachelor society became a necessity for him, and that was a bad sign. Of course the thought of marriage never even occurred to him. Ten years passed in this way, grey and fruitless years, but they sped by terribly quickly. Nowhere does time fly as it does in Russia; in prison, they say, it flies even faster. One day when he was dining at his club, Pavel Petrovich heard that Princess R. was dead. She had died in Paris in a state bordering on insanity. He rose from the table and paced about the rooms for a long time, occasionally standing motionless behind the cardplayers, but he returned home no earlier than usual. A few weeks later he received a packet on which his name had been written; it contained the ring which he had given to the princess. She had drawn lines in the shape of a cross over the sphinx and sent him a message to say that the solution of the enigma was the cross.
This happened at the beginning of the year 1848, at the same time as Nikolai Petrovich came to Petersburg after the death of his wife. Pavel Petrovich had hardly seen his brother since the latter had settled in the country; Nikolai Petrovich's marriage had coincided with the very first days of Pavel Petrovich's acquaintance with the princess. When he returned from abroad, he went to the country, intending to stay two months with his brother and to take pleasure in his happiness, but he could stand it for only a week. The difference between them was too great. In 1848 this difference had diminished; Nikolai Petrovich had lost his wife, Pavel Petrovich had abandoned his memories; after the death of the princess he tried not to think about her. But for Nikolai there remained the feeling of a well-spent life, and his son was growing up under his eyes; Pavel, on the contrary, a lonely bachelor, was entering into that indefinite twilight period of regrets which resemble hopes and of hopes which are akin to regrets, when youth is over and old age has not yet started.
This time was harder for Pavel Petrovich than for other people, for in losing his past he lost everything he had.
"I won't ask you to come to Maryino now," Nikolai Petrovich said to him one day (he had called his property by that name in honor of his wife); "you found it dull there even when my dear wife was alive, and now, I fear, you would be bored to death."
"I was stupid and fidgety then," answered Pavel Petrovich. "Since then I have calmed down, if not grown wiser. Now, on the contrary, if you will let me, I am ready to settle down with you for good."
Instead of answering, Nikolai Petrovich embraced him; but a year and a half elapsed after this conversation before Pavel Petrovich finally decided to carry out his intention. Once he was settled in the country, however, he would not leave it, even during those three winters which Nikolai spent in Petersburg with his son. He began to read, chiefly in English; indeed he organized his whole life in an English manner, rarely met his neighbors and went only out to the local elections, and then he was usually silent, though he occasionally teased and alarmed landowners of the old school by his liberal sallies, and he held himself aloof from members of the younger generation. Both generations regarded him as "stuck up," and both respected him for his excellent aristocratic manners, for his reputation as a lady killer, for the fact that he was always perfectly dressed and always stayed in the best room in the best hotel; for the fact that he knew about good food and had once even dined with the Duke of Wellington at Louis Philippe's table; for the fact that he took with him everywhere a real silver dressing case and a portable bath; for the fact that he smelt of some unusual and strikingly "distinguished" perfume; for the fact that he played whist superbly and always lost; lastly they respected him for his incorruptible honesty. Ladies found him enchantingly romantic, but he did not cultivate the society of ladies . . .
"So you see, Evgeny," remarked Arkady, as he finished his story, "how unjustly you judge my uncle. Not to mention that he has more than once helped my father out of financial troubles, given him all his money--perhaps you don't know, the property was never divided up--he's happy to help anyone; incidentally he is always doing something for the peasants; it is true, when he talks to them, he screws up his face and sniffs eau de Cologne. . . "
"Nerves, obviously," interrupted Bazarov.
"Perhaps, but his heart is in the right place. And he's far from stupid. What a lot of useful advice he has given me . . . especially . . . especially about relations with women."
"Aha! If you burn your mouth with hot milk, you'll even blow on water--we know that!"
"Well," continued Arkady, "in a word, he's profoundly unhappy--it's a crime to despise him."
"And who is despising him?" retorted Bazarov. "Still, I must say that a man who has staked his whole life on the one card of a woman's love, and when that card fails, turns sour and lets himself drift till he's fit for nothing, is not really a man. You say he's unhappy; you know better than I do; but he certainly hasn't got rid of all his foibles. I'm sure that he imagines he is busy and useful because he reads Galignani and once a month saves a peasant from being flogged."
"But remember his education, the age in which he grew up," said Arkady.
"Education?" ejaculated Bazarov. "Everyone should educate himself, as I've done, for instance . . . And as for the age, why should I depend upon it? Let it rather depend on me. No, my dear fellow, that's all emptiness and loose living. And what are these mysterious relations between a man and a woman? We physiologists know what they are. You study the anatomy of the eye; and where does it come in, that enigmatic look you talk about? That's all romanticism, rubbish, and moldy æsthetics. We had much better go and examine the beetle."
And the two friends went off to Bazarov's room, which was already pervaded by a kind of medical surgical smell, mixed with the reek of cheap tobacco.
"Education?": Bazarov is evidently parroting pretty exactly the writings of the liberal critic N. A. Dobrolyubov (1836-1861), who valued literature only insofar as it expressed progressive political ideas.