We all live through the eyes of others; usually infinite sets of anonymous eyes, sometimes a multitude of known ones, or a limited beloved set. Regardless of their numbers or kind, they do not only spy on us, but also shape our character. We are inevitably and viscerally aware of their gaze, and from early childhood, learn to know ourselves as we are seen by others.
The story of the eighteenth and nineteenth century Russian intelligentsia, of the nobleman returning to his motherland after years of European education, only to discover a feudal country to which Western ideas cannot be applied is too familiar to readers of Russian literature. This odd paradox—an educated aristocrat who one hand studies French enlightenment texts but on the other hand owns serfs and lives a medieval feudal life—is perhaps the central motif for what gradually becomes the agonizing preoccupation and national obsession of arguably every writer of this country: when can Russia create a new idea, a movement so thoroughly Russian and original at heart that would even influence Western art and literature? When will Russia look inward for ideas instead of trying to implement Western ideas in its culture?
It was a rainy August morning, and a light mist had descended on a large crowd gathering around Dorchester Gaol. The usual levity and callousness of the public by the gallows was replaced by another form of pleasure—not unlike the kind the Elizabethan groundlings experienced while watching Juliet, Ophelia, or Desdemona die on stage. The woman who provoked such sentiments was Elizabeth Martha Browne, a shopkeeper who murdered her husband with an axe a little less than a month before. Dressed in black, and looking much younger than her age, she resembled a portrait of a martyr. She was extraordinarily calm, and her composure in meeting her death invoked even more pity and compassion.