Author’s Postscript

This book has had a circulation, throughout the world, of more than two million copies⁠—in Russian, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian, Bohemian, Hungarian, English,40 Polish, Lithuanian, and in other languages.41

The real psychological success of this book can not be attributed to an unwholesome curiosity on the part of its readers; I am deeply convinced of the fact that Yama has compelled many people to reflect, with sincere sympathy, about prostitution.

But the author has always been, and up to this time remains, dissatisfied with the book.

And truly: what a great number there exists of oppressive, insuperable, accursed problems, menacingly hanging over mankind, during the course of thousands of years, up to now, and at times bowing man down to the earth, bringing him down to the level of a low beast. War, prostitution, capital punishment, toil unendurable and poorly paid, the half-starved bondage of the greater majority in the service of the gluttonous minority.

Of these evils I have always found the most evil to be the traffic in the body of woman, the traffic in the love of woman⁠—this highest gift of God to mankind. But to me it seemed that mankind’s ancient malady⁠—prostitution⁠—is the one most amenable to a speedy and successful cure. “One has,” thought I, “but to say to man: ‘You, now, have a revered, grey-haired grandmother, from whom you first heard the splendid folk-songs; a grandmother who is the pride and the sovereign of the household. You have a mother, whose sweet breast you did on a time greedily and joyously suck, puckering up your blissful, sly little eyes. You have a wife, the mother of your babes, the maker of the family hearth. You have a sister⁠—a playful, merry, marvellous girl, whose voice is song. Why, your eyes suffuse with blood, and your jaws quiver from wrath at the mere thought that someone has dared, in the presence of your dear little sister, to permit himself a phrase of double meaning, or a gesture too free. And, when it comes to your adored little daughter⁠—I would not have the hardihood even to mention her.

“ ‘Yet you calmly go to professional women with your shillings, your dollars, your roubles, your francs, or your marks, for a surrogatum of love, for a convulsive imitation of passion⁠—passion the sole end of which is the great mystery of the conception of new life. The end⁠—and the justification.

“ ‘It is no justification at all for you that the woman has become stupid and has sunk low because of her⁠—oh! far from easy work. The gist of the matter is in this: that if her youth had been formed under conditions of kindness, care, and a minimum competence, she might be not only a happy mother, but a beloved sister, and a treasured daughter.

“ ‘Nor are you justified by the self-loving thought: “My house is one thing, while the family of another is altogether a different thing⁠—a family whose interests do not affect and do not engross me in the least⁠ ⁠… But⁠—this is the reflection of a cannibal! For we do, after all, deem ourselves people of some little culture, and⁠—just the least wee bit Christians?

“ ‘And when, having satisfied your bestial lust, you are departing from the prostitute, barely concealing your squeamish revulsion, know and remember that you, at that moment, are many times lower and baser than the prostitute. Having taken advantage of the preposterousness of the contemporaneous order of life, you have robbed a blind beggar, you have slapped the face of a man with his hands bound, you have deceived a child.⁠ ⁠…’ ”

Yes! I, as best I knew and as best I could, wrote against prostitution⁠—but I found no recipe against it. I know only that unfortunate women are driven into prostitution by: on the one side, poverty and poor schooling; on another, by temptations and promises; on the third, by ignorance of any trade, or inability to find any other work. But to write about all this, to shout, to preach⁠—is it not in vain? It is frightful to contemplate how insignificant is the effect upon men and women of the most vivid, most frightful, most truthful word!⁠ ⁠…

Once, on a train going from Peterburg to the Crimea, some young engineers recognised me and requested permission to talk a little with me about prostitution.

“There, now,” said they, “you’re exposing the sores of houses of ill-fame, but what is your plan to avert that sexual hunger which, with such force, possesses maturing men?”

I answered as best I could:

“Coarse bed-linen; a hard couch; a blanket neither thick nor overheating; a rigorously ventilated, cool bedchamber; a sleep sound, not too prolonged, and an early awakening; cold tubs or showers; food simple and unsophisticated with high seasonings; good literature⁠—with manly, heroic works for choice; a very great deal of work, and play in the open air; coeducation of boys and girls.⁠ ⁠… Finally, an early marriage, at twenty-five, say. For, after all, respectable girls do endure it until that age!”

The engineers retorted:

“We know all this. All these are palliatives. But they do not resolve the basic question: Wherewith would you replace sexual satisfaction?”

Thereupon I lost my temper. I told them of the harsh answer the great Liev Tolstoy once made:

“On one occasion, at a large gathering of Russian ‘intelligents,’ nonsensical and very loquacious, Tolstoy was, in irritation, criticising the Russian governmental regime of his time. A certain young man put the question to him:

“ ‘Very well, Liev Nikolaievich. Let’s say you’re right, our regime is ailing, and fit for nothing. If you so desire, we shall destroy it. But what will you give us in place of it?’

“Tolstoy answered cuttingly:

“ ‘Just imagine that you⁠—God forbid!⁠—have contracted lues. You come to me and ask me: “What is this misfortune that has come upon me? And what am I to do now?” I say: “You are sick with such-and-such a disease. And here’s what you are to do: go without delay to a doctor, and take the cure assiduously.” But you suddenly retort to me: “Well, yes⁠—I shall go to the doctor, and shall cure myself. But what will you give me in place of syphilis?” I confess, it would be hard for me to answer you.⁠ ⁠…’ ”

Just so in my case. I, as much as I could, have truthfully pointed out the horrors of prostitution. But my work saw the light of day in a far from perfect state. A supersensitive, captious, hypocritical Russian censorship mutilated it until it was unrecognisable. A touchy public became frightened at it. Thousands of abusive⁠—for the most part anonymous letters did I receive in Russia⁠—and still receive them, now and then. I was accused of shaking the foundations of society, of corrupting youth, of pornography, etc. Many refused to understand my sincerely well-meant intentions. The first friendly, encouraging letters I received from elderly, brainy, worldly-wise women; from honest youths who were horrified by their sexual longing; and even from young girls. I also treasure several letters from professional prostitutes; these latter epistles sin against grammar, but their contents are profound and touching.⁠ ⁠…

A strange thing: consolation, justification, and recognition I received in Paris, as an émigré. The Parisian press and the Parisian public responded very livelily to my sad novel when it came out in the French translation. The critics, with that finesse which is peculiar to French writers, pointed out the shortcomings, but their general opinion was unanimous: the work, despite certain coarse and bizarre features, was fully moral, and filled the readers’ needs, inasmuch as it was permeated with a warm, human compassion.

I breathed more freely.

And now I rejoice very much that I am to succeed, at last⁠—even though in another tongue⁠—in restoring Yama as it was originally conceived.

True, this is none too easy a matter. The deletions of censorship can be restored from memory. It is something else which presents difficulty. The novel was printed in Russia in a multitude of editions⁠—but printed without plates, from previous editions, and for that reason there were set up in it a multiplicity of typographical errors, which not only aroused vexation but at times distorted the text until it was perfectly incomprehensible. I have put all this in order, and am now tranquil. My work is in the hands of the very best American translator.

And there is one more reason for me to rejoice over the fact that Yama is to appear in America. There, on a time, appeared Uncle Tom’s Cabin.