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YAMA [THE PIT]


Of this edition, intended for private circulation only, and printed
from type on Berkeley Antique laid paper, 950 copies have been printed
for America, and 550 for Great Britain. Also, 55 unnumbered copies, for
the press.

This copy is Number 223





YAMA [THE PIT]

A NOVEL IN THREE PARTS

BY ALEXANDRA KUPRIN

TRANSLATED FROM THE RUSSIAN

BY BERNARD GUILBERT GUERNEY

"All the horror is in just this, that there is no horror ..."





AUTHOR'S DEDICATION


I know that many will find this novel immoral and indecent;
nevertheless, I dedicate it with all my heart to MOTHERS AND YOUTHS - A.
K.





TRANSLATOR'S DEDICATION


I dedicate the labour of translation, in all humility and sincerity, to
K. ANDRAE. B. G. G.


JTABLE 2 2 1

JTABLE 6 12 1

JTABLE 6 17 1

JTABLE 6 9 1


INTRODUCTION


"With us, you see," Kuprin makes the reporter Platonov, his mouthpiece,
say in Yama, "they write about detectives, about lawyers, about
inspectors of the revenue, about pedagogues, about attorneys, about the
police, about officers, about sensual ladies, about engineers, about
baritones - and really, by God, altogether well - cleverly, with finesse
and talent. But, after all, all these people are rubbish, and their
life is not life, but some sort of conjured up, spectral, unnecessary
delirium of world culture. But there are two singular
realities - ancient as humanity itself: the prostitute and the moujik.
And about them we know nothing, save some tinsel, gingerbread,
debauched depictions in literature..."

Tinsel, gingerbread, debauched depictions... Let us consider some of
the ways in which this monstrous reality has been approached by various
writers. There is, first, the purely sentimental: Prevost's Manon Les
caut. Then there is the slobberingly sentimental: Dumas' Dame aux
Camelias. A third is the necrophilically romantic: Louys' Aphrodite.
The fertile Balzac has given us no less than two: the purely romantic,
in his fascinating portraits of the Fair Imperia; and the romantically
realistic, in his Splendeurs et Miseres des Courtisanes. Reade's Peg
Woffington may be called the literary parallel of the costume drama;
Defoe's Moll Flanders is honestly realistic; Zola's Nana is rabidly so.

There is one singular fact that must be noted in connection with the
vast majority of such depictions. Punk or bona roba, lorette or
drab - put her before an artist in letters, and, lo and behold ye! such
is the strange allure emanating from the hussy, that the resultant
portrait is either that of a martyred Magdalene, or, at the very least,
has all the enigmatic piquancy of a Monna Lisa... Not a slut, but what
is a hetaera; and not a hetaera, but what is well-nigh Kypris herself!
I know of but one depiction in all literature that possesses the
splendour of implacable veracity as well as undiminished artistry;
where the portrait is that of a prostitute, despite all her tirings and
trappings; a depiction truly deserving to be designated a portrait: the
portrait supreme of the harlot eternal - Shakespeare's Cleopatra.

Furthermore, it will be observed that such depictions, for the most
part, are primarily portraits of prostitutes, and not pictures of
prostitution. It is also a singular fact that war, another scourge has
met with similar treatment. We have the pretty, spotless grenadiers and
cuirassiers of Meissonier in plenty; Vereshchagin is still alone in the
grim starkness of his wind-swept, snow-covered battle-fields, with
black crows wheeling over the crumpled masses of gray...

And, curiously enough, it is another great Russian, Kuprin, who is
supreme - if not unique - as a painter of the universal scourge of
prostitution, per se; and not as an incidental background for
portraits. True, he may not have entirely escaped the strange allure,
aforementioned, of the femininity he paints; for femininity - even
though fallen, corrupt, abased, is still femininity, one of the
miracles of life, to Kuprin, the lover of life. But, even if he may be
said to have used too much of the oil of sentimentality in mixing his
colours for the portraits, his portraits are subordinate to the
background; and there his eye is true and keen, his hand steady and
unflinching, his colours and brushwork unimpeachable. Whether, like his
own Platonov - who may be called to some extent an autobiographical
figure, and many of whose experiences are Kuprin's own - "came upon the
brothel" and gathered his material unconsciously, "without any ulterior
thoughts of writing," we do not know, nor need we rummage in his dirty
linen, as he puts it. Suffice it to say here - to cite but two
instances - that almost anyone acquainted with Russia will tell you the
full name of the rich, gay, southern port city of K - ; that any
Odessite will tell you that Treppel's is merely transplanted, for
fictional reasons, from his own city to K - ...

Alexandre I. Kuprin was born in 1870; 1909 marked the twenty-fifth
anniversary of his literary activity. He attained his fame only upon
the publication of his amazing, epical novel, "The Duel" - which, just
like "YAMA," is an arraignment; an arraignment of militaristic
corruption. Russian criticism has styled him the poet of life. If
Chekhov was the Wunderkind of Russian letters, Kuprin is its enfant
terrible. His range of subjects is enormous; his power of observation
and his versatility extraordinary. Gambrinus alone would justify his
place among the literary giants of Europe. Some of his picaresques,
"THE INSULT," "HORSE-THIEVES," and "OFF THE STREET" - the last in the
form of a monologue - are sheer tours de force. "Olessiya" is possessed
of a weird, unearthly beauty; "The Shulamite" is a prose-poem of
antiquity. He deals with the life of the moujik in "Back-woods" and
"The Swamp"; of the Jews, in "The Jewess" and "The Coward"; of the
soldiers, in "The Cadets," "The Interrogation," "The Night Watch,"
"Delirium"; of the actors, in "How I Was an Actor" and "In Retirement."
We have circus life in "'Allez!'" "In The Circus," "Lolly," "The
Clown" - the last a one-act playlet; factory life, in "Moloch";
provincial life, in "Small Fry"; bohemian life, in "Captain Ribnicov"
and "The River of Life" - which no one but Kuprin could have written.
There are animal stories and flower stories; stories for children - and
for neuropaths; one story is dedicated to a jockey; another to a circus
clown; a third, if I remember rightly, to a race-horse... "Yama"
created an enormous sensation upon the publication of the first part in
volume three of the "Sbornik Zemliya" - "The Earth Anthology" - in 1909;
the second part appeared in volume fifteen, in 1914; the third, in
volume sixteen, in 1915. Both the original parts and the last revised
edition have been followed in this translation. The greater part of the
stories listed above are available in translations, under various
titles; the list, of course, is merely a handful from the vast bulk of
the fecund Kuprin's writings, nor is any group of titles exhaustive of
its kind. "The Star of Solomon," his latest collection of stories,
bears the imprint of Helsingfors, 1920.

It must not be thought, despite its locale, that Kuprin's "Yama" is a
picture of Russian prostitution solely; it is intrinsically universal.
All that is necessary is to change the kopecks into cents, pennies,
sous or pfennings; compute the versts into miles or metres; Jennka may
be Eugenie or Jeannette; and for Yama, simply read Whitechapel,
Montmartre, or the Barbary Coast. That is why "Yama" is a "tremendous,
staggering, and truthful book - a terrific book." It has been called
notorious, lurid - even oleographic. So are, perhaps, the picaresques of
Murillo, the pictorial satires of Hogarth, the bizarreries of Goya...

The best introduction to "Yama," however, can be given in Kuprin's own
words, as uttered by the reporter Platonov. "They do write," he says,
"... but it is all either a lie, or theatrical effects for children of
tender years, or else a cunning symbolism, comprehensible only to the
sages of the future. But the life itself no one as yet has touched...

"But the material here is in reality tremendous, downright crushing,
terrible... And not at all terrible are the loud phrases about the
traffic in women's flesh, about the white slaves, about prostitution
being a corroding fester of large cities, and so on, and so on... an
old hurdy-gurdy of which all have tired! No, horrible are the everyday,
accustomed trifles; these business-like, daily, commercial reckonings;
this thousand-year-old science of amatory practice; this prosaic usage,
determined by the ages. In these unnoticeable nothings are completely
dissolved such feelings as resentment, humiliation, shame. There
remains a dry profession, a contract, an agreement, a well-nigh honest
petty trade, no better, no worse than, say, the trade in groceries. Do
you understand, gentlemen, that all the horror is in just this - that
there is no horror! Bourgeois work days - and that is all...

"More awful than all awful words, a hundredfold more awful - is some
such little prosaic stroke or other as will suddenly knock you all in a
heap, like a blow on the forehead..."

It is in such little prosaic strokes; everyday, accustomed,
characteristic trifles; minute particles of life, that Kuprin excels.
The detailism which crowds his pages is like the stippling of Whistler;
or the enumerations of the Bible; or the chiselling of Rodin, that
endows the back of the Thinker with meaning.

"We all pass by these characteristic trifles indifferently, like the
blind, as though not seeing them scattered about under our feet. But an
artist will come, and he will look over them carefully, and he will
pick them up. And suddenly he will so skillfully turn in the sun a
minute particle of life, that we shall all cry out: 'Oh, my God! But I
myself - myself! - have seen this with my own eyes. Only it simply did
not enter my head to turn my close attention upon it.' But our Russian
artists of the word - the most conscientious and sincere artists in the
whole world - for some reason have up to this time passed over
prostitution and the brothel. Why? Really, it is difficult for me to
answer that. Perhaps because of squeamishness, perhaps out of
pusillanimity, out of fear of being signalized as a pornographic
writer; finally from the apprehension that our gossiping criticism will
identify the artistic work of the writer with his personal life and
will start rummaging in his dirty linen. Or perhaps they can find
neither the time, nor the self-denial, nor the self-possession to
plunge in head first into this life and to watch it right up close,
without prejudice, without sonorous phrases, without a sheepish pity,
in all its monstrous simplicity and everyday activity... That
material... is truly unencompassable in its significance and
weightiness... The words of others do not suffice - even though they be
the most exact - even observations, made with a little note-book and a
bit of pencil, do not suffice. One must grow accustomed to this life,
without being cunningly wise..."

"I believe, that not now, not soon - after fifty years or so - but there
will come a writer of genius, and precisely a Russian one, who will
absorb within himself all the burdens and all the abominations of this
life and will cast them forth to us in the form of simple, fine, and
deathlessly - caustic images. And we shall all say: 'Why, now, we
ourselves have seen and known all this, but we could not even suppose
that this is so horrible! In this coming artist I believe with all my
heart."

Kuprin is too sincere, too big, to have written this with himself in
mind; yet no reader of the scathing, searing arraignment called "Yama,"
will question that the great, the gigantic Kuprin has shown "the
burdens and abominations" of prostitution, in "simple, fine, and
deathlessly-caustic images"; has shown that "all the horror is in just
this - that there is no horror..." For it is as a pitiless reflection of
a "singular," sinister reality that "Yama" stands unsurpassed.

B. G. GUERNEY.

New York City, January, 1922.





TRANSLATOR'S NOTE.


A word must be said of Kuprin's style. He is by no means a purist; his
pages bristle with neologisms and foreign - or, rather,
outlandish - words; nor has he any hesitancy in adapting and
Russianizing such words. He coins words; he is, at times, actually
Borrowesque, and not only does he resort to colloquialisms and slang,
but to dialect, cant, and even actual argot. Therein is his glory - and,
perhaps, his weakness. Therefore, an attempt has been made, wherever
corruptions, slang, and so forth, appear in the original, to render
them through the nearest English equivalents. While this has its
obvious dubieties and disadvantages, any other course would have
smacked of prettification - a fate which such a book as "Yama" surely
does not deserve.





PART ONE




CHAPTER I.


A long, long time ago, long before the railroads, the
stage-drivers - both government and private - used to live, from
generation to generation, at the very farthest confine of a large
southern city. And that is why the entire region was called the
Yamskaya Sloboda - the Stage-drivers' Borough; or simply Yamskaya, or
Yamkas - Little Ditches, or, shorter still, Yama - The Pit. In the course
of time, when hauling by steam killed off transportation by horses, the
mettlesome tribe of the stage-drivers little by little lost its
boisterous ways and its brave customs, went over into other
occupations, fell apart and scattered. But for many years - even up to
this time - a shady renown has remained to Yama, as of a place
exceedingly gay, tipsy, brawling, and in the night-time not without
danger.

Somehow it came about of itself, that on the ruins of those ancient,
long-warmed nests, where of yore the rosy-cheeked, sprightly wives of
the soldiery and the plump widows of Yama, with their black eyebrows,
had secretly traded in vodka and free love, there began to spring up
wide-open brothels, permitted by the authorities, regulated by official
supervision and subject to express, strict rules. Towards the end of
the nineteenth century both streets of Yama - Great Yamskaya and Little
Yamskaya - proved to be entirely occupied, on one side of the street as
well as the other, exclusively with houses of ill-fame.[1] Of the
private houses no more than five or six were left, but even they were
taken up by public houses, beer halls, and general stores, catering to
the needs of Yama prostitution.


[1] "Houses of Suffrance" - i.e., Houses of the Necessary Evil. - Trans.


The course of life, the manners and customs, are almost identical in
all the thirty-odd establishments; the difference is only in the
charges exacted for the briefly-timed love, and consequently in certain
external minutiae as well: in the assortment of more or less handsome
women, in the comparative smartness of the costumes, in the
magnificence of the premises and the luxuriousness of the furnishings.

The most chic establishment is that of Treppel, the first house to the
left upon entering Great Yamskaya. This is an old firm. Its present
owner bears an entirely different name, and fills the post of an
elector in the city council and is even a member of the city board. The
house is of two stories, green and white, built in the debauched
pseudo-Russian style a la Ropetovsky, with little horses, carved
facings, roosters, and wooden towels bordered with lace-also of wood; a
carpet with a white runner on the stairs; in the front hall a stuffed
bear, holding a wooden platter for visiting cards in his out-stretched
paws; a parquet floor in the ballroom, heavy raspberry silk curtains
and tulle on the windows, along the walls white and gold chairs and
mirrors with gilt frames; there are two private cabinets with carpets,
divans, and soft satin puffs; in the bedrooms blue and rose lanterns,
blankets of raw silk stuff and clean pillows; the inmates are clad in
low-cut ball gowns, bordered with fur, or in expensive masquerade
costumes of hussars, pages, fisher lasses, school-girls; and the
majority of them are Germans from the Baltic provinces - large, handsome
women, white of body and with ample breasts. At Treppel's three roubles
are taken for a visit, and for the whole night, ten.

Three of the two-rouble establishments - Sophie Vassilievna's, The Old
Kiev, and Anna Markovna's - are somewhat worse, somewhat poorer. The
remaining houses on Great Yamskaya are rouble ones; they are furnished
still worse. While on Little Yamskaya, which is frequented by soldiers,
petty thieves, artisans, and drab folk In general, and where fifty
kopecks or less are taken for time, things are altogether filthy and
poor-the floor in the parlor is crooked, warped, and full of splinters,
the windows are hung with pieces of red fustian; the bedrooms, just
like stalls, are separated by thin partitions, which do not reach to
the ceiling, and on the beds, on top of the shaken down hay-mattresses,
are scattered torn, spotted bed-sheets and flannel blankets, dark from
time, crumpled any old way, full of holes; the air is sour and full of
fumes, with a mixture of alcohol vapours and the smell of human
emanations; the women, dressed in rags of coloured printed calico or in
sailor costumes, are for the greater part hoarse or snuffling, with
noses half fallen through, with faces preserving traces of yesterday's
blows and scratches and naively bepainted with the aid of a red
cigarette box moistened with spit.

All the year round, every evening - with the exception of the last three
days of Holy Week and the night before Annunciation, when no bird
builds its nest and a shorn wench does not plait her braid - when it
barely grows dark out of doors, hanging red lanterns are lit before
every house, above the tented, carved street doors. It is just like a
holiday out on the street - like Easter. All the windows are brightly
lit up, the gay music of violins and pianos floats out through the
panes, cabmen drive up and drive off without cease. In all the houses
the entrance doors are opened wide, and through them one may see from
the street a steep staircase with a narrow corridor on top, and the
white flashing of the many-facetted reflector of the lamp, and the
green walls of the front hall, painted over with Swiss landscapes. Till
the very morning hundreds and thousands of men ascend and descend these
staircases. Here everybody frequents: half-shattered, slavering
ancients, seeking artificial excitements, and boys-military cadets and
high-school lads - almost children; bearded paterfamiliases; honourable
pillars of society, in golden spectacles; and newly-weds, and enamoured
bridegrooms, and honourable professors with renowned names; and
thieves, and murderers, and liberal lawyers; and strict guardians of
morals - pedagogues, and foremost writers - the authors of fervent,
impassioned articles on the equal rights of women; and catchpoles, and
spies, and escaped convicts, and officers, and students, and Social
Democrats, and hired patriots; the timid and the brazen, the sick and
the well, those knowing woman for the first time, and old libertines
frayed by all species of vice; clear-eyed, handsome fellows and
monsters maliciously distorted by nature, deaf-mutes, blind men, men
without noses, with flabby, pendulous bodies, with malodorous breath,
bald, trembling, covered with parasites - pot-bellied, hemorrhoidal
apes. They come freely and simply, as to a restaurant or a depot; they
sit, smoke, drink, convulsively pretend to be merry; they dance,
executing abominable movements of the body imitative of the act of
sexual love. At times attentively and long, at times with gross haste,
they choose any woman they like and know beforehand that they will
never meet refusal. Impatiently they pay their money in advance, and on
the public bed, not yet grown cold after the body of their predecessor,
aimlessly commit the very greatest and most beautiful of all universal
mysteries - the mystery of the conception of new life. And the women
with indifferent readiness, with uniform words, with practiced
professional movements, satisfy their desires, like machines - only to
receive, right after them, during the same night, with the very same
words, smiles and gestures, the third, the fourth, the tenth man, not
infrequently already biding his turn in the waiting room.

So passes the entire night. Towards daybreak Yama little by little
grows quiet, and the bright morning finds it depopulated, spacious,
plunged into sleep, with doors shut tightly, with shutters fixed on the
windows. But toward evening the women awaken and get ready for the
following night.

And so without end, day after day, for months and years, they live a
strange, incredible life in their public harems, outcast by society,
accursed by the family, victims of the social temperament, cloacas for
the excess of the city's sensuality, the guardians of the honour of the
family - four hundred foolish, lazy, hysterical, barren women.




CHAPTER II.


Two in the afternoon. In the second-rate, two-rouble establishment of
Anna Markovna everything is plunged in sleep. The large square parlor
with mirrors in gilt frames, with a score of plush chairs placed
decorously along the walls, with oleograph pictures of Makovsky's Feast
of the Russian Noblemen, and Bathing, with a crystal lustre in the
middle, is also sleeping, and in the quiet and semi-darkness it seems
unwontedly pensive, austere, strangely sad. Yesterday here, as on every
evening, lights burned, the most rollicking of music rang out, blue
tobacco smoke swirled, men and women careered in couples, shaking their
hips and throwing their legs on high. And the entire street shone on
the outside with the red lanterns over the street doors and with the
light from the windows, and it seethed with people and carriages until
morning.

Now the street is empty. It is glowing triumphantly and joyously in the
glare of the summer sun. But in the parlor all the window curtains are
lowered, and for that reason it is dark within, cool, and as peculiarly
uninviting as the interiors of empty theatres, riding academies and
court buildings usually are in the middle of the day.

The pianoforte glimmers dully with its black, bent, glossy side; the
yellow, old, time-eaten, broken, gap-toothed keys glisten faintly. The
stagnant, motionless air still retains yesterday's odour; it smells of
perfumes, tobacco, the sour dampness of a large uninhabited room, the
perspiration of unclean and unhealthy feminine flesh, face-powder,
boracic-thymol soap, and the dust of the yellow mastic with which the
parquet floor had been polished yesterday. And with a strange charm the
smell of withering swamp grass is blended with these smells. To-day is
Trinity. In accordance with an olden custom, the chambermaids of the
establishment, while their ladies were still sleeping, had bought a
whole waggon of sedge on the market, and had strewn its long, thick
blades, that crunch underfoot, everywhere about - in the corridors, in
the private cabinets, in the drawing room. They, also, had lit the
lamps before all the images. The girls, by tradition, dare not do this
with their hands, which have been denied during the night.

And the house-porter has adorned the house-entrance, which is carved in
the Russian style, with two little felled birch-trees. And so with all
the houses - the thin white trunks with their scant dying verdure adorn
the exterior near the stoops, bannisters and doors.

The entire house is quiet, empty and drowsy. The chopping of cutlets
for dinner can be heard from the kitchen. Liubka, one of the girls,
barefooted, in her shift, with bare arms, not good-looking, freckled,
but strong and fresh of body, has come out into the inner court.
Yesterday she had had but six guests on time, but no one had remained
for the night with her, and because of that she had slept her
fill - splendidly, delightfully, all alone, upon a wide bed. She had
risen early, at ten o'clock, and had with pleasure helped the cook
scrub the floor and the tables in the kitchen. Now she is feeding the
chained dog Amour with the sinews and cuttings of the meat. The big,
rusty hound, with long glistening hair and black muzzle, jumps up on
the girl - with his front paws, stretching the chain tightly and
rattling in the throat from shortness of breath, then, with back and
tail undulating all over, bends his head down to the ground, wrinkles



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