Issue 1/1984 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

An extract from the novel Mirdja (1908). Introduction by Marja-Liisa Nevala

Now they were in the city – their minds more alive than usual with wilfulness and daring.

For – quite unable to jettison their shared life – they had at least to get on top it… Had to … Every single person has to battle …

And Mirdja’s head was full of efficacious rules for balance, countless cool and wise thoughts – to meet all conflicts.

Lucidly and coldly she had clarified her present position for herself. She was married. Right. No particular joy in that. But no need for any particular disaster in it either. And if she had thrown herself into dependence through this banal arrangement, the sort that everyone has a little of in this life, she had only herself to blame. She had to be able to live by rising above the trivialities of existence. Besides, she had always known that in the final count it was immaterial whom one was married to. A marriage always had its own profile, its dreary distinguishing marks, but one was not compelled to absorb these dreary sides into one’s own being. How did they do it in France? Every year thousands of marriages occur, without an atom of personal liking entering into the game, and extremely seldom are the marriages unhappy. Why so? Mutual politesse: a little of the art of social intercourse, and the whole problem is solved. In the morning a tiny friendly greeting at the breakfast table: ‘Bonjour ma chère,’ –  ‘Bonjour, mon ami’; a courteous kiss on the hand, a pretty smile in response, and everything’s as it should be. Because those people know how to go about it. Marriage – one of society’s many empty regimentations! Only stupid people tried, within narrow limits like these, to find fullness of content or idealize. Stupid, Mirdja had been. Comically destructive in that heavy northern solemnity of hers – refusing to acknowledge any form without content, yet fearful of endowing content with any form except the conventional and time-tested. She had lived with a common-or-garden person’s longing for fullness, and then allowed, exactly like that sort of person, her disappointment and bitterness to flood over all her nearest and dearest. She had lived in indiscretion. She had been paltry and rotten and considered herself a slave …

Mindless! – as if a person’s slavery or freedom didn’t depend on whether she considered herself a slave or free.

From now on she was going to be free. As if there were no such things in the world as relationships or marriages or states of affairs or other people – just herself alone. It was only herself she had to realize – nothing else. Then she would be free. And the others could rejoice or suffer over her, love or hate her. What had it got to do with her! Never again would she soften up to protect feeble hearts at her own cost, as she had sometimes done. Those who couldn’t bear her could get out of the way or go under. Besides life in a world inhabited by horrible people was unbearable – and it affected everybody.

But there were other kinds of people in the world – with whom life was happy and beautiful. That was something Mirdja had almost forgotten. She’d been living, for so long, embalmed in their introverted togetherness. She had twisted and turned it in every possible direction. Even God couldn’t have come in one piece out of such purgatory.

The more fool her – so long to have been spinning out of herself and around herself an imaginary cocoon of barbed wire! It could never have been healthy.

But now she would go out again into the world – towards people – as she had done before.

They’d go off in their own directions, both of them, man and wife. And they’d return to each other richer than before, their souls brimming with the secrets of unfamiliar environments, with teasing odours and weird tremulous feeling … All the sensuous sweetness and charm of the unknown lay in that.

Their way of going about things up to now had been completely misguided. Sentimental, perpetually spelling things out to each other. Unendurably boring rote-learning!

It was the greatest misfortune of all – a tendency like that between two people who had to endure each other for ages.

Semi-insights, semi-recognitions, no more! Semi-understanding, semi­confidence, and a great deal of the eternal darkness between them, that no labour could enlighten, never-ending …

All this passed through Mirdja’s mind, coldly and clearly. And her soul pulsed with a tender and glad desire for life, more than she had felt for years. She lusted for change, for new encounters, new conflicts and the wide cosmos beyond.

Was it all out there as it was before? She longed to see. And all those many souls? Was there a woman who had been able to fill one of the places she had left empty? Wasn’t she still the most charming and astonishing of women and the vanquisher of all hearts?

Ah, after two years of inward abasement and ascetism she yearned to see herself again in her proper place, exalted, adored, pursued by a thousand vain wishes …

Ah, after two years of hidden despair she needed her self-confidence back again and her self-esteem. Then – then she might even become an artist …

But first she had to see souls falling again before her.

That would put everything right.

Translated by Mary Lomas

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