Pestsov liked thrashing an argument out to the end, and was not satisfied with Sergey Ivanovitch’s words, especially as he felt the injustice of his view.
“I did not mean,” he said over the soup, addressing Alexey Alexandrovitch, “mere density of population alone, but in conjunction with fundamental ideas, and not by means of principles.”
“It seems to me,” Alexey Alexandrovitch said languidly, and with no haste, “that that’s the same thing. In my opinion, influence over another people is only possible to the people which has the higher development, which….”
“But that’s just the question,” Pestsov broke in in his bass. He was always in a hurry to speak, and seemed always to put his whole soul into what he was saying. “In what are we to make higher development consist? The English, the French, the Germans, which is at the highest stage of development? Which of them will nationalize the other? We see the Rhine provinces have been turned French, but the Germans are not at a lower stage!” he shouted. “There is another law at work there.”
“I fancy that the greater influence is always on the side of true civilization,” said Alexey Alexandrovitch, slightly lifting his eyebrows.
“But what are we to lay down as the outward signs of true civilization?” said Pestsov.
“I imagine such signs are generally very well known,” said Alexey Alexandrovitch.
“But are they fully known?” Sergey Ivanovitch put in with a subtle smile. “It is the accepted view now that real culture must be purely classical; but we see most intense disputes on each side of the question, and there is no denying that the opposite camp has strong points in its favor.”
“You are for classics, Sergey Ivanovitch. Will you take red wine?” said Stepan Arkadyevitch.
“I am not expressing my own opinion of either form of culture,” Sergey Ivanovitch said, holding out his glass with a smile of condescension, as to a child. “I only say that both sides have strong arguments to support them,” he went on, addressing Alexey Alexandrovitch. “My sympathies are classical from education, but in this discussion I am personally unable to arrive at a conclusion. I see no distinct grounds for classical studies being given a preeminence over scientific studies.”
“The natural sciences have just as great an educational value,” put in Pestsov. “Take astronomy, take botany, or zoology with its system of general principles.”
“I cannot quite agree with that,” responded Alexey Alexandrovitch “It seems to me that one must admit that the very process of studying the forms of language has a peculiarly favorable influence on intellectual development. Moreover, it cannot be denied that the influence of the classical authors is in the highest degree moral, while, unfortunately, with the study of the natural sciences are associated the false and noxious doctrines which are the curse of our day.”
Sergey Ivanovitch would have said something, but Pestsov interrupted him in his rich bass. He began warmly contesting the justice of this view. Sergey Ivanovitch waited serenely to speak, obviously with a convincing reply ready.
“But,” said Sergey Ivanovitch, smiling subtly, and addressing Karenin, “One must allow that to weigh all the advantages and disadvantages of classical and scientific studies is a difficult task, and the question which form of education was to be preferred would not have been so quickly and conclusively decided if there had not been in favor of classical education, as you expressed it just now, its moral—disons le mot—anti-nihilist influence.”
“If it had not been for the distinctive property of anti-nihilistic influence on the side of classical studies, we should have considered the subject more, have weighed the arguments on both sides,” said Sergey Ivanovitch with a subtle smile, “we should have given elbow-room to both tendencies. But now we know that these little pills of classical learning possess the medicinal property of anti-nihilism, and we boldly prescribe them to our patients…. But what if they had no such medicinal property?” he wound up humorously.
At Sergey Ivanovitch’s little pills, everyone laughed; Turovtsin in especial roared loudly and jovially, glad at last to have found something to laugh at, all he ever looked for in listening to conversation.
Stepan Arkadyevitch had not made a mistake in inviting Pestsov. With Pestsov intellectual conversation never flagged for an instant. Directly Sergey Ivanovitch had concluded the conversation with his jest, Pestsov promptly started a new one.
“I can’t agree even,” said he, “that the government had that aim. The government obviously is guided by abstract considerations, and remains indifferent to the influence its measures may exercise. The education of women, for instance, would naturally be regarded as likely to be harmful, but the government opens schools and universities for women.”
And the conversation at once passed to the new subject of the education of women.
Alexey Alexandrovitch expressed the idea that the education of women is apt to be confounded with the emancipation of women, and that it is only so that it can be considered dangerous.
“I consider, on the contrary, that the two questions are inseparably connected together,” said Pestsov; “it is a vicious circle. Woman is deprived of rights from lack of education, and the lack of education results from the absence of rights. We must not forget that the subjection of women is so complete, and dates from such ages back that we are often unwilling to recognize the gulf that separates them from us,” said he.
“You said rights,” said Sergey Ivanovitch, waiting till Pestsov had finished, “meaning the right of sitting on juries, of voting, of presiding at official meetings, the right of entering the civil service, of sitting in parliament….”
“But if women, as a rare exception, can occupy such positions, it seems to me you are wrong in using the expression ‘rights.’ It would be more correct to say duties. Every man will agree that in doing the duty of a juryman, a witness, a telegraph clerk, we feel we are performing duties. And therefore it would be correct to say that women are seeking duties, and quite legitimately. And one can but sympathize with this desire to assist in the general labor of man.”
“Quite so,” Alexey Alexandrovitch assented. “The question, I imagine, is simply whether they are fitted for such duties.”
“They will most likely be perfectly fitted,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, “when education has become general among them. We see this….”
“How about the proverb?” said the prince, who had a long while been intent on the conversation, his little comical eyes twinkling. “I can say it before my daughter: her hair is long, because her wit is….”
“Just what they thought of the negroes before their emancipation!” said Pestsov angrily.
“What seems strange to me is that women should seek fresh duties,” said Sergey Ivanovitch, “while we see, unhappily, that men usually try to avoid them.”
“Duties are bound up with rights—power, money, honor; those are what women are seeking,” said Pestsov.
“Just as though I should seek the right to be a wet-nurse and feel injured because women are paid for the work, while no one will take me,” said the old prince.
Turovtsin exploded in a loud roar of laughter and Sergey Ivanovitch regretted that he had not made this comparison. Even Alexey Alexandrovitch smiled.
“Yes, but a man can’t nurse a baby,” said Pestsov, “while a woman….”
“No, there was an Englishman who did suckle his baby on board ship,” said the old prince, feeling this freedom in conversation permissible before his own daughters.
“There are as many such Englishmen as there would be women officials,” said Sergey Ivanovitch.
“Yes, but what is a girl to do who has no family?” put in Stepan Arkadyevitch, thinking of Masha Tchibisova, whom he had had in his mind all along, in sympathizing with Pestsov and supporting him.
“If the story of such a girl were thoroughly sifted, you would find she had abandoned a family—her own or a sister’s, where she might have found a woman’s duties,” Darya Alexandrovna broke in unexpectedly in a tone of exasperation, probably suspecting what sort of girl Stepan Arkadyevitch was thinking of.
“But we take our stand on principle as the ideal,” replied Pestsov in his mellow bass. “Woman desires to have rights, to be independent, educated. She is oppressed, humiliated by the consciousness of her disabilities.”
“And I’m oppressed and humiliated that they won’t engage me at the Foundling,” the old prince said again, to the huge delight of Turovtsin, who in his mirth dropped his asparagus with the thick end in the sauce.