(Essentials of European Literature)

Christian Wahnschaffe was an unusual person, even as a child. In boyhood, he was without fear. He would harry an entire pack of mastiffs belonging to his father, ride the wildest horses, and take risks in huntings; but he always came away without harm, as if his life were charmed. As young Wahnschaffe grew older he lost none of his daring. Because his father was a very rich man, Christian lived in the best European society. One of his close friends and traveling companions was Bernard Crammon, a member of the Austrian aristocracy.

During a stay in Paris, Crammon saw a young dancer, Eva Sorel, in an obscure theater. The dancer so impressed Crammon that he introduced her into his circle of leisure-class intellectuals, where she met Christian Wahnschaffe. Orphaned at an early age, the first things that Eva could remember were connected with her training as a tightrope walker with a troupe of traveling players. One day a crippled Spaniard bought the little girl’s liberty from the gypsies in order to train her as a dancer, for he recognized the possibilities of her beauty and grace. When she was eighteen years old, the Spaniard sent her to Paris with his sister to make her debut. Shortly afterward she had met Bernard Crammon.

Christian Wahnschaffe fell desperately in love with Eva Sorel, but she refused him as a lover. Although she was charmed by his appearance and his personality, she remained aloof, for she saw in him a man who had not yet learned to appreciate the aesthetic and intellectual life of his time.

Christian had a rival for the love of Eva Sorel, a young English nobleman, Denis Lay. Lay was as handsome as Christian and more talented in the world of the intellect; he was also Christian’s equal in the world of physical accomplishments. Lay appealed far more to Eva than did the German. Nevertheless, there was something about Christian that mysteriously fascinated the girl.

Denis Lay’s rivalry lasted but a few months. One night while he entertained Eva Sorel, Crammon, Christian, and a large company aboard his yacht in the Thames, the passengers saw a crowd of striking dockworkers gathered on the banks of the river. Lay dared Christian to compete with him in a swimming race to the shore to investigate the crowd. When the Englishman leaped overboard and started for the shore, strong undercurrents soon dragged him under, despite Christian’s efforts to save him. The next morning his body was recovered. The tragic incident had a profound effect on Christian.

Sometime later, in Paris, Christian met a refugee Russian revolutionary, Ivan Becker. Becker tried to make Christian understand something of the widespread misery in Europe and the exploitation of the poor by the classes above them. When Christian finally asked Becker what he should do, the Russian replied that everyone in the upper classes asked the same question when confronted by problems of inequality and poverty....

(The entire section is 1199 words.)