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"Yes, so it is; and that went farther and farther with all sorts of variations. My God! when I remember all my cowardly acts and bad deeds, I am frightened. And I remember that 'me' who, during that period, was still the butt of his comrades' ridicule on account of his innocence.
"And when I hear people talk of the gilded youth, of the officers, of the Parisians, and all these gentlemen, and myself, living wild lives at the age of thirty, and who have on our consciences hundreds of crimes toward women, terrible and varied, when we enter a parlor or a ball-room, washed, shaven, and perfumed, with very white linen, in dress coats or in uniform, as emblems of purity, oh, the disgust! There will surely come a time, an epoch, when all these lives and all this cowardice will be unveiled!
"So, nevertheless, I lived, until the age of thirty, without abandoning for a minute my intention of marrying, and building an elevated conjugal life; and with this in view I watched all young girls who might suit me. I was buried in rottenness, and at the same time I looked for virgins, whose purity was worthy of me! Many of them were rejected: they did not seem to me pure enough!
"Finally I found one that I considered on a level with myself. She was one of two daughters of a landed proprietor of Penza, formerly very rich and since ruined. To tell the truth, without false modesty, they pursued me and finally captured me. The mother (the father was away) laid all sorts of traps, and one of these, a trip in a boat, decided my future.
"I made up my mind at the end of the aforesaid trip one night, by moonlight, on our way home, while I was sitting beside her. I admired her slender body, whose charming shape was moulded by a jersey, and her curling hair, and I suddenly concluded that THIS WAS SHE. It seemed to me on that beautiful evening that she understood all that I thought and felt, and I thought and felt the most elevating things.
"Really, it was only the jersey that was so becoming to her, and her curly hair, and also the fact that I had spent the day beside her, and that I desired a more intimate relation.
"I returned home enthusiastic, and I persuaded myself that she realized the highest perfection, and that for that reason she was worthy to be my wife, and the next day I made to her a proposal of marriage.
"No, say what you will, we live in such an abyss of falsehood, that, unless some event strikes us a blow on the head, as in my case, we cannot awaken. What confusion! Out of the thousands of men who marry, not only among us, but also among the people, scarcely will you find a single one who has not previously married at least ten times. (It is true that there now exist, at least so I have heard, pure young people who feel and know that this is not a joke, but a serious matter. May God come to their aid! But in my time there was not to be found one such in a thousand.)
"And all know it, and pretend not to know it. In all the novels are described down to the smallest details the feelings of the characters, the lakes and brambles around which they walk; but, when it comes to describing their GREAT love, not a word is breathed of what HE, the interesting character, has previously done, not a word about his frequenting of disreputable houses, or his association with nursery-maids, cooks, and the wives of others.
"And if anything is said of these things, such IMPROPER novels are not allowed in the hands of young girls. All men have the air of believing, in presence of maidens, that these corrupt pleasures, in which EVERYBODY takes part, do not exist, or exist only to a very small extent. They pretend it so carefully that they succeed in convincing themselves of it. As for the poor young girls, they believe it quite seriously, just as my poor wife believed it.
"I remember that, being already engaged, I showed her my 'memoirs,' from which she could learn more or less of my past, and especially my last liaison which she might perhaps have discovered through the gossip of some third party. It was for this last reason, for that matter, that I felt the necessity of communicating these memoirs to her. I can still see her fright, her despair, her bewilderment, when she had learned and understood it. She was on the point of breaking the engagement. What a lucky thing it would have been for both of us!"
Posdnicheff was silent for a moment, and then resumed: -
"After all, no! It is better that things happened as they did, better!" he cried. "It was a good thing for me. Besides, it makes no difference. I was saying that in these cases it is the poor young girls who are deceived. As for the mothers, the mothers especially, informed by their husbands, they know all, and, while pretending to believe in the purity of the young man, they act as if they did not believe in it.
"They know what bait must be held out to people for themselves and their daughters. We men sin through ignorance, and a determination not to learn. As for the women, they know very well that the noblest and most poetic love, as we call it, depends, not on moral qualities, but on the physical intimacy, and also on the manner of doing the hair, and the color and shape.
"Ask an experienced coquette, who has undertaken to seduce a man, which she would prefer, - to be convicted, in presence of the man whom she is engaged in conquering, of falsehood, perversity, cruelty, or to appear before him in an ill-fitting dress, or a dress of an unbecoming color. She will prefer the first alternative. She knows very well that we simply lie when we talk of our elevated sentiments, that we seek only the possession of her body, and that because of that we will forgive her every sort of baseness, but will not forgive her a costume of an ugly shade, without taste or fit.
"And these things she knows by reason, where as the maiden knows them only by instinct, like the animal. Hence these abominable jerseys, these artificial humps on the back, these bare shoulders, arms, and throats.
"Women, especially those who have passed through the school of marriage, know very well that conversations upon elevated subjects are only conversations, and that man seeks and desires the body and all that ornaments the body. Consequently, they act accordingly? If we reject conventional explanations, and view the life of our upper and lower classes as it is, with all its shamelessness, it is only a vast perversity. You do not share this opinion? Permit me, I am going to prove it to you (said he, interrupting me).
"You say that the women of our society live for a different interest from that which actuates fallen women. And I say no, and I am going to prove it to you. If beings differ from one another according to the purpose of their life, according to their INNER LIFE, this will necessarily be reflected also in their OUTER LIFE, and their exterior will be very different. Well, then, compare the wretched, the despised, with the women of the highest society: the same dresses, the same fashions, the same perfumeries, the same passion for jewelry, for brilliant and very expensive articles, the same amusements, dances, music, and songs. The former attract by all possible means; so do the latter. No difference, none whatever!
"Yes, and I, too, was captivated by jerseys, bustles, and curly hair.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER VII.