Fiction > Harvard Classics > Ivan Turgenev > A House of Gentlefolk > Chapter XI
Ivan Turgenev (1818–1883).  A House of Gentlefolk.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction.  1917.
Chapter XI
UNTIL Ivan Petrovitch’s return from abroad, Fedya was, as already related, in the hands of Glafira Petrovna. He was not eight years old when his mother died; he did not see her every day, and loved her passionately; the memory of her, of her pale and gentle face, of her dejected looks and timid caresses, were imprinted on his heart for ever; but he vaguely understood her position in the house; he felt that between him and her there existed a barrier which she dared not and could not break down. He was shy of his father, and, indeed, Ivan Petrovitch on his side never caressed him; his grandfather sometimes patted him on the head and gave him his hand to kiss, but he thought him and called him a little fool. After the death of Malanya Sergyevna, his aunt finally got him under her control. Fedya was afraid of her: he was afraid of her bright sharp eyes and her harsh voice; he dared not utter a sound in her presence; often, when he only moved a little in his chair, she would hiss out at once: ‘What are you doing? sit still.’ On Sundays, after mass, he was allowed to play, that is to say, he was given a thick book, a mysterious book, the work of a certain Maximovitch-Ambodik, entitled ‘Symbols and Emblems.’ This book was a medley of about a thousand mostly very enigmatical pictures, and as many enigmatical interpretations of them in five languages. Cupid—naked and very puffy in the body—played a leading part in these illustrations. In one of them, under the heading, ‘Saffron and the Rainbow,’ the interpretation appended was: ‘Of this, the influence is vast;’ opposite another, entitled ‘A heron, flying with a violet in his beak,’ stood the inscription: ‘To thee they are all known.’ ‘Cupid and the bear licking his fur’ was inscribed, ‘Little by little.’ Fedya used to ponder over these pictures; he knew them all to the minutest details; some of them, always the same ones, used to set him dreaming, and afforded him food for meditation; he knew no other amusements. When the time came to teach him languages and music, Glafira Petrovna engaged, for next to nothing, an old maid, a Swede, with eyes like a hare’s, who spoke French and German with mistakes in every alternate word, played after a fashion on the piano, and above all, salted cucumbers to perfection. In the society of this governess, his aunt, and the old servant maid, Vassilyevna, Fedya spent four whole years. Often he would sit in the corner with his ‘Emblems’; he sat there endlessly; there was a scent of geranium in the low pitched room, the solitary candle burnt dim, the cricket chirped monotonously, as though it were weary, the little clock ticked away hurriedly on the wall, a mouse scratched stealthily and gnawed at the wall-paper, and the three old women, like the Fates, swiftly and silently plied their knitting-kneedles, the shadows raced after their hands and quivered strangely in the half darkness, and strange, half dark ideas swarmed in the child’s brain. No one would have called Fedya an interesting child; he was rather pale, but stout, clumsily built and awkward—a thorough peasant, as Glafira Petrovna said; the pallor would soon have vanished from his cheeks, if he had been allowed oftener to be in the open air. He learnt fairly quickly, though he was often lazy; he never cried, but at times he was overtaken by a fit of savage obstinacy; then no one could soften him. Fedya loved no one among those around him.… Woe to the heart that has not loved in youth!   1
  Thus Ivan Petrovitch found him, and without loss of time he set to work to apply his system to him.   2
  ‘I want above all to make a man, un homme, of him,’ he said to Glafira Petrovna, ‘and not only a man, but a Spartan.’ Ivan Petrovitch began carrying out his intentions by putting his son in a Scotch kilt; the twelve-year-old boy had to go about with bare knees and a plume stuck in his Scotch cap. The Swedish lady was replaced by a young Swiss tutor, who was versed in gymnastics to perfection. Music, as a pursuit unworthy of a man, was discarded. The natural sciences, international law, mathematics, carpentry, after Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s precept, and heraldry, to encourage chivalrous feelings, were what the future ‘man’ was to be occupied with. He was waked at four o’clock in the morning, splashed at once with cold water and set to running round a high pole with a cord; he had only one meal a day, consisting of a single dish; rode on horseback; shot with a cross-bow; at every convenient opportunity he was exercised in acquiring after his parent’s example firmness of will, and every evening he inscribed in a special book an account of the day and his impressions; and Ivan Petrovitch on his side wrote him instructions in French in which he called him mon fils, and addressed him as vous. In Russian Fedya called his father thou, but did not dare to sit down in his presence. The ‘system’ dazed the boy, confused and cramped his intellect, but his health on the other hand was benefited by the new manner of his life; at first he fell into a fever but soon recovered and began to grow stout and strong. His father was proud of him and called him in his strange jargon ‘a child of nature, my creation.’ When Fedya had reached his sixteenth year, Ivan Petrovitch thought it his duty in good time to instil into him a contempt for the female sex; and the young Spartan, with timidity in his heart and the first down on his lip, full of sap and strength and young blood, already tried to seem indifferent, cold, and rude.   3
  Meanwhile time was passing. Ivan Petrovitch spent the greater part of the year in Lavriky (that was the name of the principal estate inherited from his ancestors). But in the winter he used to go to Moscow alone; there he stayed at a tavern, diligently visited the club, made speeches and developed his plans in drawing-rooms, and in his behaviour was more than ever Anglomaniac, grumbling and political. But the year 1825 came and brought much sorrow. Intimate friends and acquaintances of Ivan Petrovitch underwent painful experiences. Ivan Petrovitch made haste to withdraw into the country and shut himself up in his house. Another year passed by, and suddenly Ivan Petrovitch grew feeble, and ailing; his health began to break up. He, the free-thinker, began to go to church and have prayers put up for him; he, the European, began to sit in steam-baths, to dine at two o’clock, to go to bed at nine, and to doze off to the sound of the chatter of the old steward; he, the man of political ideas, burnt all his schemes, all his correspondence, trembled before the governor, and was uneasy at the sight of the police-captain; he, the man of iron will, whimpered and complained, when he had a gumboil or when they gave him a plate of cold soup. Glafira Petrovna again took control of everything in the house; once more the overseers, bailiffs and simple peasants began to come to the back stairs to speak to the ‘old witch,’ as the servants called her. The change in Ivan Petrovitch produced a powerful impression on his son. He had now reached his nineteenth year, and had begun to reflect and to emancipate himself from the hand that pressed like a weight upon him. Even before this time he had observed a little discrepancy between his father’s words and deeds, between his wide liberal theories and his harsh petty despotism; but he had not expected such a complete breakdown. His confirmed egoism was patent now in everything. Young Lavretsky was getting ready to go to Moscow, to prepare for the university, when a new unexpected calamity overtook Ivan Petrovitch; he became blind, and hopelessly blind, in one day.   4
  Having no confidence in the skill of Russian doctors, he began to make efforts to obtain permission to go abroad. It was refused. Then he took his son with him and for three whole years was wandering about Russia, from one doctor to another, incessantly moving from one town to another, and driving his physicians, his son, and his servants to despair by his cowardice and impatience. He returned to Lavriky a perfect wreck, a tearful and capricious child. Bitter days followed, every one had much to put up with from him. Ivan Petrovitch was only quiet when he was dining; he had never been so greedy and eaten so much; all the rest of the time he gave himself and others no peace. He prayed, cursed his fate, abused himself, abused politics, his system, abused everything he had boasted of and prided himself upon, everything he had held up to his son as a model; he declared that he believed in nothing and then began to pray again; he could not put up with one instant of solitude, and expected his household to sit by his chair continually day and night, and entertain him with stories, which he constantly interrupted with exclamations, ‘You are for ever lying,… a pack of nonsense!’   5
  Glafira Petrovna was specially necessary to him; he absolutely could not get on without her—and to the end she always carried out every whim of the sick man, though sometimes she could not bring herself to answer at once, for fear the sound of her voice should betray her inward anger. Thus he lingered on for two years and died on the first day of May, when he had been brought out on to the balcony into the sun. ‘Glasha, Glashka! soup, soup, old foo’—— his halting tongue muttered and before he had articulated the last word, it was silent for ever. Glafira Petrovna, who had only just taken the cup of soup from the hands of the steward, stopped, looked at her brother’s face, slowly made a large sign of the cross and turned away in silence; and his son, who happened to be there, also said nothing; he leaned on the railing of the balcony and gazed a long while into the garden, all fragrant and green, and shining in the rays of the golden sunshine of spring. He was twenty-three years old; how terribly, how imperceptibly quickly those twenty-three years had passed by!… Life was opening before him.   6



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