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WHICH SHORT STORY WAS THE SECOND ONE?

CHAPTER 17

1924. Soviet Russia. It was a cold and snowy January. The warm atmosphere of the houses of Gorky contrasted with the cold outside the windows. Through the opening in the frosty designs on the window, one could see the houses of Gorky. Vladimir Lenin, lost in his thoughts, raised his eyes from the newspaper and looked at the houses standing on the hill, among the trees. He became tired easily. A serious illness had been torturing him for many months now. Doctors allowed him a little bit of reading, but warned him not to overextend himself. Sometimes, in the evenings, Nadezhda Constantinovna read aloud to him.

It was getting dark. After looking through the newspapers, Lenin asked his wife to read him some fiction. Just the day before, they had received a package with new books. Lenin picked out just a few of them for reading. Nadezhda Constantinovna took one of them — a slim paperback of Love of Life, a collection of short stories by Jack London. The title, she thought, was very appropriate to their situation; she thought of her husband who was struggling with the disease. She looked through the table of contents: the stories were mostly short, so listening to them would not exhaust him. She showed the book to her husband, asking for consent. He agreed to listen. He knew about Jack London by reading his articles. In his library, in the Kremlin, he had a collection of London's sociological essays, War of the Classes, together with a clipping of London's anti-war article.

Vladimir Ilyich positioned himself comfortably in his chair, while Nadezhda Constantinovna started reading with her calm, even voice. From time to time, she looked at her patient to see his reaction to the story. The story slowly unfolded in front of them. Jack London wrote in a rather reserved style, without flashy, flowery language. The tension in the story grew, and Lenin became more and more involved in the plot. By the time they had finished the story it was dark outside.

"Did you like it?" asked Nadezhda Constaninova.

Lenin's answer was monosyllabic but did not leave any room for doubt; he definitely enjoyed the story. Lenin wanted his wife to read him another story from the book. The next tale happened to be saturated with bourgeois morals. Some captain promises a ship owner to sell his shipload of bread at a profit, and then sacrifices his life to keep the promise. Lenin "smiled and dismissed it with a wave of the hand," said his wife, N.C. Krupskaya, in her Memories of Lenin, remembering that moment. "That was the last time I read to him," she said. This was two days before his death.

What story caused such sarcastic reaction from Lenin? Nadezhda Constantinovna did not mention the title of the story, nor did literary scholars. However, after the October Revolution, different collections of stories by London were published in Russia. Almost all of the books contained "Love of Life." Judging by the summary of the plot, I could almost guess which story it had been. My guess still needed some proof. I decided I would go to Gorky.

There it was—under a glass cover—a small book that his wife had read to Lenin before his death. In response to my request, the guide got the valuable relic out of its cover and handed it to me for a minute. I read: "Jack London. Love of Life. Moskva-Petrograd. 924." I had been right! The second story was the tale, "The Seed of McCoy." It really was not one of London's strongest works. It had been written in times of crisis in his literary career, many years after "Love of Life" was written. The moral of "The Seed of McCoy" is somewhat false; the story lacks the noble idea and vigorous tension that are true characteristics of London's work.

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