Yama: the pit eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 474 pages of information about Yama.

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.  But, even if he may be said to have used too much of the oil of sentimentality in mixing his colours for the portraits, his portraits are subordinate to the background; and there his eye is true and keen, his hand steady and unflinching, his colours and brushwork unimpeachable.  Whether, like his own Platonov—­who may be called to some extent an autobiographical figure, and many of whose experiences are Kuprin’s own—­“came upon the brothel” and gathered his material unconsciously, “without any ulterior thoughts of writing, “we do not know, nor need we rummage in his dirty linen, as he puts it.  Suffice it to say here—­to cite but two instances—­that almost anyone acquainted with Russia will tell you the full name of the rich, gay, southern port city of K—­; that any Odessite will tell you that Treppel’s is merely transplanted, for fictional reasons, from his own city to K—...

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Yama: the pit from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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