rebecca west reviews The Barbarians (from 1915)


Yesterday I went into a bookshop in one of those streets which, though only a mile or so from the heart of London, have kept themselves inviolate from London. It has such dignified enjoyment of its own spaciousness that it might be the high street of a county town, or at least a part of London in the eighties. The shops are small and restrained, the pavements give hospitality to violet-sellers and their dispersed wares, the ladies walk, slow and unruffled and lovely like the ladies in Whistler’s pictures, the white stucco houses shine clean and their linden trees are dustless. Yet the first thing I saw in the bookshop of this delicate-spirited suburb was a pile of thick red books which I knew to be, at the first sight of their binding, Mrs. Constance Garnett’s translations of Dostoevsky’s novels. And as I turned over the pages of “The Brothers Karamazov” and looked on that wonderful story that works like a yeast, that struggles like a live thing to be born, it struck me that it is really art which governs the world. It was plainly due to the book in my hand that the Germans are floundering in the mud of Flanders instead of stealing our spoons in the interests of the Pan-Germanic ideal. That England, with her habit of judging other nations by their political institutions, should be the ally of Russia is almost a miracle. It is only to be explained by the fact that wherever people who write and think gather together, Russian literature is loved and praised.

more from TNR here.