Max Nordau, like Shakespeare, absorbs humanity as a whole. Tolstoy considers the Bible the most dramatic work ever written, and turns this knowledge of the world’s demand for religion to theatrical account. Tolstoy is outwardly a Christian, Nordau outwardly a pagan. Tolstoy openly acknowledges God, but exemplifies the ideas of man, while Max Nordau’s private life embodies the noble teachings of the Christ whom he denies.
It was not until months afterward, we were back in London in fact, when Jimmie’s opinion of Tolstoy seemed to have crystallised. He came to me one morning and said:
“I’ve read everything, since we left Moscow, that Tolstoy has written. Now you know I don’t pretend to know anything about literary style and all that rot that you’re so keen about, but I do know something about human nature, and I do know a grand-stand play when I see one. Now Tolstoy is a genius, there’s no gainsaying that, but it’s all covered up and smothered in that religious rubbish that he has caught the ear of the world with. If you want to be admired while you are alive, write a religious novel and let the hoi polloi snivel over you and give you gold dollars while you can enjoy ’em and spend ’em. That’s where Tolstoy is a fox. So is Mrs. Humphrey Ward. She’s a fox, too. They are getting all the fun now. But it’s all gallery play with both of ’em.”
I said nothing, and he smoked in silence for a moment. Then he added:
“But I say, what a ripper Tolstoy could write if he’d just cut loose from religion for a minute and write a novel that didn’t have any damned purpose in it!”
Verily, Jimmie is no fool.
In going to Europe timid persons often cover their real design by claiming the intention of taking German baths, of “doing” Switzerland, or of learning languages. But everybody knows that the real reason why most women go abroad is to shop. What cathedral can bring such a look of rapture to a woman’s face as New Bond Street or what scenery such ecstasy as the Rue de la Paix?
Therefore, as I believe my lot in shopping to be the common lot of all, let me tell my tale, so that to all who have suffered the same agonies and delights this may come as a personal reminiscence of their own, while to you who have Europe yet to view for that blissful first time, which is the best of all, this is what you will go through.
When I first went to Europe I had all of the average American woman’s timidity about asserting herself in the face of a shopgirl or salesman. Many years of shopping in America had thoroughly broken a spirit which was once proud. I therefore suffered unnecessary annoyance during my first shopping in London, because I was overwhelmingly polite and affable to the man behind the counter. I said “please,” and “If you don’t mind,” and “I would like to see,” instead of using the martial command of the ordinary Englishwoman, who marches up to the show-case in flat-heeled boots and says in a tone of an officer ordering “Shoulder arms,” “Show me your gauze fans!” I used to listen to them standing next me at a counter, momentarily expecting to see them knocked down by the indignant salesman and carried to a hospital in an ambulance.