“But the material here is in reality tremendous, downright crushing, terrible... And not at all terrible are the loud phrases about the traffic in women’s flesh, about the white slaves, about prostitution being a corroding fester of large cities, and so on, and so on... an old hurdy-gurdy of which all have tired! No, horrible are the everyday, accustomed trifles; these business-like, daily, commercial reckonings; this thousand-year-old science of amatory practice; this prosaic usage, determined by the ages. In these unnoticeable nothings are completely dissolved such feelings as resentment, humiliation, shame. There remains a dry profession, a contract, an agreement, a well-nigh honest petty trade, no better, no worse than, say, the trade in groceries. Do you understand, gentlemen, that all the horror is in just this— that there is no horror! Bourgeois work days—and that is all...
“More awful than all awful words, a hundredfold more awful—is some such little prosaic stroke or other as will suddenly knock you all in a heap, like a blow on the forehead...”
It is in such little prosaic strokes; everyday, accustomed, characteristic trifles; minute particles of life, that Kuprin excels. The detailism which crowds his pages is like the stippling of Whistler; or the enumerations of the Bible; or the chiselling of Rodin, that endows the back of the Thinker with meaning.
“We all pass by these characteristic trifles indifferently, like the blind, as though not seeing them scattered about under our feet. But an artist will come, and he will look over them carefully, and he will pick them up. And suddenly he will so skillfully turn in the sun a minute particle of life, that we shall all cry out: ’Oh, my God! But I myself—myself!—have seen this with my own eyes. Only it simply did not enter my head to turn my close attention upon it.’ But our Russian artists of the word—the most conscientious and sincere artists in the whole world—for some reason have up to this time passed over prostitution and the brothel. Why? Really, it is difficult for me to answer that. Perhaps because of squeamishness, perhaps out of pusillanimity, out of fear of being signalized as a pornographic writer; finally from the apprehension that our gossiping criticism will identify the artistic work of the writer with his personal life and will start rummaging in his dirty linen. Or perhaps they can find neither the time, nor the self-denial, nor the self-possession to plunge in head first into this life and to watch it right up close, without prejudice, without sonorous phrases, without a sheepish pity, in all its monstrous simplicity and everyday activity... That material... is truly unencompassable in its significance and weightiness... The words of others do not suffice—even though they be the most exact—even observations, made with a little note-book and a bit of pencil, do not suffice. One must grow accustomed to this life, without being cunningly wise...”