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Yama: the pit   By: (1870-1938)

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Of this edition, intended for private circulation only, and printed from type on Berkeley Antique laid paper, 950 copies have been printed for America, and 550 for Great Britain. Also, 55 unnumbered copies, for the press.

This copy is Number 223






"All the horror is in just this, that there is no horror ..."


I know that many will find this novel immoral and indecent; nevertheless, I dedicate it with all my heart to MOTHERS AND YOUTHS A. K.


I dedicate the labour of translation, in all humility and sincerity, to K. ANDRAE. B. G. G.

JTABLE 2 2 1

JTABLE 6 12 1

JTABLE 6 17 1

JTABLE 6 9 1


"With us, you see," Kuprin makes the reporter Platonov, his mouthpiece, say in Yama, "they write about detectives, about lawyers, about inspectors of the revenue, about pedagogues, about attorneys, about the police, about officers, about sensual ladies, about engineers, about baritones and really, by God, altogether well cleverly, with finesse and talent. But, after all, all these people are rubbish, and their life is not life, but some sort of conjured up, spectral, unnecessary delirium of world culture. But there are two singular realities ancient as humanity itself: the prostitute and the moujik. And about them we know nothing, save some tinsel, gingerbread, debauched depictions in literature..."

Tinsel, gingerbread, debauched depictions... Let us consider some of the ways in which this monstrous reality has been approached by various writers. There is, first, the purely sentimental: Prevost's Manon Les caut. Then there is the slobberingly sentimental: Dumas' Dame aux Camelias. A third is the necrophilically romantic: Louys' Aphrodite. The fertile Balzac has given us no less than two: the purely romantic, in his fascinating portraits of the Fair Imperia; and the romantically realistic, in his Splendeurs et Miseres des Courtisanes. Reade's Peg Woffington may be called the literary parallel of the costume drama; Defoe's Moll Flanders is honestly realistic; Zola's Nana is rabidly so.

There is one singular fact that must be noted in connection with the vast majority of such depictions. Punk or bona roba, lorette or drab put her before an artist in letters, and, lo and behold ye! such is the strange allure emanating from the hussy, that the resultant portrait is either that of a martyred Magdalene, or, at the very least, has all the enigmatic piquancy of a Monna Lisa... Not a slut, but what is a hetaera; and not a hetaera, but what is well nigh Kypris herself! I know of but one depiction in all literature that possesses the splendour of implacable veracity as well as undiminished artistry; where the portrait is that of a prostitute, despite all her tirings and trappings; a depiction truly deserving to be designated a portrait: the portrait supreme of the harlot eternal Shakespeare's Cleopatra.

Furthermore, it will be observed that such depictions, for the most part, are primarily portraits of prostitutes, and not pictures of prostitution. It is also a singular fact that war, another scourge has met with similar treatment. We have the pretty, spotless grenadiers and cuirassiers of Meissonier in plenty; Vereshchagin is still alone in the grim starkness of his wind swept, snow covered battle fields, with black crows wheeling over the crumpled masses of gray...

And, curiously enough, it is another great Russian, Kuprin, who is supreme if not unique as a painter of the universal scourge of prostitution, per se; and not as an incidental background for portraits. True, he may not have entirely escaped the strange allure, aforementioned, of the femininity he paints; for femininity even though fallen, corrupt, abased, is still femininity, one of the miracles of life, to Kuprin, the lover of life... Continue reading book >>

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