D. H. Lawrence (essay date 1936)
SOURCE: “On Dostoievsky and Rozanov,” in Russian Literature and Modern English Fiction: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Donald Davie, The University of Chicago Press, 1965, pp. 99-103.
[In the following review of Solitaria, originally published in 1936, Lawrence finds Rozanov's “Russianizing” tiresome, but admits the his work shows promise.]
We are told on the wrapper of this book [Solitaria] that Prince Mirsky considered Rozanov “one of the greatest Russians of modern times. … Rozanov is the greatest revelation of the Russian mind yet to be shown to the West.”
We become diffident, confronted with these superlatives. And when we have read E. Gollerbach's long “Critico-Biographical Study,” forty-three pages, we are more suspicious still, in spite of the occasionally profound and striking quotations from Solitaria and from the same author's Fallen Leaves. But there we are; we've got another of these morbidly introspective Russians, morbidly wallowing in adoration of Jesus, then getting up and spitting in His beard, or in His back hair, at least; characters such as Dostoievsky [have] familiarized us with, and of whom we are tired. Of these self-divided, gamin-religious Russians who are so absorbedly concerned with their own dirty linen and their own piebald souls we have had a little more than enough. The contradictions in them are not so very mysterious, or edifying, after all. They have a spurting, gamin hatred of civilization, of Europe, of Christianity, of governments, and of everything else, in their moments of energy; and in their inevitable relapses into weakness, they make the inevitable recantation; they whine, they humiliate themselves, they seek unspeakable humiliation for themselves, and call it Christ-like, and then with the left hand commit some dirty little crime or meanness, and call it the mysterious complexity of the human soul. It's all masturbation, half-baked, and one gets tired of it. One gets tired of being told that Dostoievsky's Legend of the Grand Inquisitor “is the most profound declaration which ever was made about man and life.” As far as I'm concerned, in proportion as a man gets more profoundly and personally interested in himself, so does my interest in him wane. The more Dostoievsky gets worked up about the tragic nature of the human soul, the more I lose interest. I have read the Grand Inquisitor three times, and never can remember what it's really about. This I make as a confession, not as a vaunt. It always seems to me, as the Germans say, mehr Schrei wie Wert.
And in Rozanov one fears one has got a pup out of the Dostoievsky kennel. Solitaria is a sort of philosophical work, about a hundred pages, of a kind not uncommon in Russia, consisting in fragmentary jottings of thoughts which occurred to the author, mostly during the years 1910 and 1911, apparently, and scribbled down where they came, in a cab, in the train, in the w.c., on the sole of a bathing-slipper. But the thought that came in a cab might just as well have come in the w.c. or “examining my coins,” so what's the odds? If Rozanov wanted to give the physical context to the thought, he'd have to create the scene. “In a cab,” or “examining my coins” means nothing.
Then we get a whole lot of bits, some of them interesting, some not; many of them to be classified under the heading of: To Jesus or not to Jesus! if we may profanely parody Hamlet's To be or not to be. But it is the Russian's own parody. Then you get a lot of self-conscious personal bits: “The only masculine thing about you—is your trousers”: which was said to Rozanov by a girl: though, as it isn't particularly true, there was no point in his repeating it. However, he has that “self-probing” nature we have become acquainted with. “Teaching is form, and I am formless. In teaching there must be order and a system, and I am systemless and even disorderly. There is duty—and to me any duty at the bottom of my heart always seemed comical, and on any duty, at the bottom of my heart, I always wanted to play a trick (except tragic duty). …”
Here we have the pup of the Dostoievsky kennel, a so-called nihilist: in reality, a Mary-Mary-quite-contrary. It is largely tiresome contrariness, even if it is spontaneous and not self-induced.
And, of course, in Mary-Mary-quite-contrary we have the ever-recurrent whimper: I want to be good! I am good: Oh, I am so good, I'm better than anybody! I...
(The entire section is 1890 words.)