A Common Story
A Novel Excerpt
Alexandr considered it his duty to love his uncle, but he could never get used to his character and ways of thinking.
“My uncle seems a good-hearted man,” he wrote one morning to Pospyeloff, “very intelligent, only he is utterly prosaic, forever absorbed in business, in calculations. His soul seems chained to earth and is never lifted up into the pure ether far remote from earthly sordidness, and we shall never, I fancy, be altogether one in heart. When I came here, I imagined that as my uncle he would give me a place in his heart, that in the midst of the cold world here he would cherish me with all the warmth of affection and friendship; and friendship, you know, is a second providence. But he is nothing else than this world individualized. I expected to spend my time with him, never to be away from him for a minute, but what was my welcome?—cold advice, which he calls common sense; but I would rather it were not common sense but full of warm, heartfelt interest. He is not exactly proud, but he is averse to all sincere outbursts of feeling. We do not dine nor sup together, and go out nowhere together. On my arrival he never told me how he was or what he was doing and he never tells me even where he is going and why, who are his acquaintances, what are his likes and dislikes and how he spends his time. He is never specially angry, nor affectionate, nor sad, nor cheerful. His heart is a stranger to all transport of love and friendship, all yearnings after the sublime. . . . He does not believe in love, &c., says that there is no such thing as happiness, that nobody has guaranteed it to us, and that life is a simple matter, which is divided equally into good and bad, into pleasure, success, health and ease, and then into pain, failure, anxiety, disease and so on; that we ought to look at all this simply, and not to fill our heads with useless matters. And what do you suppose are useless matters? Why the problems of why we were created and to what we are striving—that that is not our business and that it hinders us from seeing what is before our noses and from minding our business. He is always talking about business! One sees no difference in him whether he is absorbed in some enjoyment or in prosaic business at his accounts, and at the theater he is exactly the same; he receives no powerful impression from anything and I think does not care for art; it is foreign to his nature; I fancy he has not even read Pushkin.”
Piotr Ivanitch unexpectedly appeared in his nephew’s apartment and came upon him writing a letter.