author of the diary and the diary itself are, of course, imaginary.
Nevertheless it is clear that such persons as the writer of these
notes not only may, but positively must, exist in our society, when
we consider the circumstances in the midst of which our society
is formed. I have tried to expose to the view of the public more
distinctly than is commonly done, one of the characters of the recent
past. He is one of the representatives of a generation still living.
In this fragment, entitled "Underground," this person
introduces himself and his views, and, as it were, tries to explain
the causes owing to which he has made his appearance and was bound
to make his appearance in our midst. In the second fragment there
are added the actual notes of this person concerning certain events
in his life. Fyodor Dostoevsky
I | Chap
I | Chap II | Chap
III | Chap IV |
Chap V | Chap
VI | Chap VII |
Chap VIII | Chap
IX | Chap X | Chap
II | Chap I |
Chap II | Chap
III | Chap IV |
Chap V | Chap
VI | Chap VII |
Chap VIII | Chap
IX | Chap X
I AM A SICK MAN.... I am a spiteful man.
I am an unattractive man. I believe my liver is diseased. However,
I know nothing at all about my disease, and do not know for certain
what ails me. I don't consult a doctor for it, and never have, though
I have a respect for medicine and doctors. Besides, I am extremely
superstitious, sufficiently so to respect medicine, anyway (I am well-educated
enough not to be superstitious, but I am superstitious). No, I refuse
to consult a doctor from spite. That you probably will not understand.
Well, I understand it, though. Of course, I can't explain who it is
precisely that I am mortifying in this case by my spite: I am perfectly
well aware that I cannot "pay out" the doctors by not consulting
them; I know better than anyone that by all this I am only injuring
myself and no one else. But still, if I don't consult a doctor it
is from spite. My liver is bad, well -- let it get worse!
I have been going on like that for a long time
-- twenty years. Now I am forty. I used to be in the government service,
but am no longer. I was a spiteful official. I was rude and took pleasure
in being so. I did not take bribes, you see, so I was bound to find
a recompense in that, at least. (A poor jest, but I will not scratch
it out. I wrote it thinking it would sound very witty; but now that
I have seen myself that I only wanted to show off in a despicable
way, I will not scratch it out on purpose!) When
petitioners used to come for information to the table at which I sat,
I used to grind my teeth at them, and felt intense enjoyment when
I succeeded in making anybody unhappy. I almost did succeed. For the
most part they were all timid people -- of course, they were petitioners.
But of the uppish ones there was one officer in particular I could
not endure. He simply would not be humble, and clanked his sword in
a disgusting way. I carried on a feud with him for eighteen months
over that sword. At last I got the better of him. He left off clanking
it. That happened in my youth, though.
But do you know, gentlemen, what was the chief point
about my spite? Why, the whole point, the real sting of it lay in
the fact that continually, even in the moment of the acutest spleen,
I was inwardly conscious with shame that I was not only not a spiteful
but not even an embittered man, that I was simply scaring sparrows
at random and amusing myself by it. I might foam at the mouth, but
bring me a doll to play with, give me a cup of tea with sugar in it,
and maybe I should be appeased. I might even be genuinely touched,
though probably I should grind my teeth at myself after-wards and
lie awake at night with shame for months after. That was my way.
I was lying when I said just now that I was a spiteful
official. I was lying from spite. I was simply amusing myself with
the petitioners and with the officer, and in reality I never could
become spiteful. I was conscious every moment in myself of many, very
many elements absolutely opposite to that. I felt them positively
swarming in me, these opposite elements. I knew that they had been
swarming in me all my life and craving some outlet from me, but I
would not let them, would not let them, purposely would not let them
come out. They tormented me till I was ashamed: they drove me to convulsions
and sickened me, at last, how they sickened me! Now, are not you fancying,
gentlemen, that I am expressing remorse for something now, that I
am asking your forgiveness for something? I am sure you are fancying
that ... However, I assure you I do not care if you are.... It
was not only that I could not become spiteful, I did not know how
to become anything; neither spiteful nor kind, neither a rascal nor
an honest man, neither a hero nor an insect. Now, I am living out
my life in my corner, taunting myself with the spiteful and useless
consolation that an intelligent man cannot become anything seriously,
and it is only the fool who becomes anything. Yes, a man in the nineteenth
century must and morally ought to be pre-eminently a characterless
creature; a man of character, an active man is pre-eminently a limited
creature. That is my conviction of forty years. I am forty years old
now, and you know forty years is a whole lifetime; you know it is
extreme old age. To live longer than forty years is bad manners, is
vulgar, immoral. Who does live beyond forty? Answer that, sincerely
and honestly I will tell you who do: fools and worthless fellows.
I tell all old men that to their face, all these venerable old men,
all these silver-haired and reverend seniors! I tell the whole world
that to its face! I have a right to say so, for I shall go on living
to sixty myself. To seventy! To eighty! ... Stay, let me take breath
You imagine no doubt, gentlemen, that I want to
amuse you. You are mistaken in that, too. I am by no means such a
mirthful person as you imagine, or as you may imagine; however, irritated
by all this babble (and I feel that you are irritated) you think fit
to ask me who I am -- then my answer is, I am a collegiate assessor.
I was in the service that I might have something to eat (and solely
for that reason), and when last year a distant relation left me six
thousand roubles in his will I immediately retired from the service
and settled down in my corner. I used to live in this corner before,
but now I have settled down in it. My room is a wretched, horrid one
in the outskirts of the town. My servant is an old country-woman,
ill-natured from stupidity, and, moreover, there is always a nasty
smell about her. I am told that the Petersburg climate is bad for
me, and that with my small means it is very expensive to live in Petersburg.
I know all that better than all these sage and experienced
counsellors and monitors.... But I am remaining in Petersburg; I am
not going away from Petersburg! I am not going away because ... ech!
Why, it is absolutely no matter whether I am going away or not going
away But what can a decent man speak of with most
Answer: Of himself.
Well, so I will talk about myself.
I want now to tell you, gentlemen, whether
you care to hear it or not, why I could not even become an insect.
I tell you solemnly, that I have many times tried to become an insect.
But I was not equal even to that. I swear, gentlemen, that to be too
conscious is an illness -- a real thorough-going illness. For man's
everyday needs, it would have been quite enough to have the ordinary
human consciousness, that is, half or a quarter of the amount which
falls to the lot of a cultivated man of our unhappy nineteenth century,
especially one who has the fatal ill-luck to inhabit Petersburg, the
most theoretical and intentional town on the whole terrestrial globe.
(There are intentional and unintentional towns.) It would have been
quite enough, for instance, to have the consciousness by which all
so-called direct persons and men of action live. I bet you think I
am writing all this from affectation, to be witty at the expense of
men of action; and what is more, that from ill-bred affectation, I
am clanking a sword like my officer. But, gentlemen, whoever can pride
himself on his diseases and even swagger over them?
Though, after all, everyone does do that; people
do pride themselves on their diseases, and I do, may be, more than
anyone. We will not dispute it; my contention was absurd. But yet
I am firmly persuaded that a great deal of consciousness, every sort
of consciousness, in fact, is a disease. I stick to that. Let us leave
that, too, for a minute. Tell me this: why does it happen that at
the very, yes, at the very moments when I am most capable of feeling
every refinement of all that is "sublime and beautiful,"
as they used to say at one time, it would, as though of design, happen
to me not only to feel but to do such ugly things, such that ... Well,
in short, actions that all, perhaps, commit; but which, as though
purposely, occurred to me at the very time when I was most conscious
that they ought not to be committed. The more conscious I was of goodness
and of all that was "sublime and beautiful," the more deeply
I sank into my mire and the more ready I was to sink in it altogether.
But the chief point was that all this was, as it were, not accidental
in me, but as though it were bound to be so. It was as though it were
my most normal condition, and not in the least disease or depravity,
so that at last all desire in me to struggle against this depravity
passed. It ended by my almost believing (perhaps actually believing)
that this was perhaps my normal condition. But at first, in the beginning,
what agonies I endured in that struggle! I did not believe it was
the same with other people, and all my life I hid this fact about
myself as a secret. I was ashamed (even now, perhaps, I am ashamed):
I got to the point of feeling a sort of secret abnormal, despicable
enjoyment in returning home to my corner on some disgusting Petersburg
night, acutely conscious that that day I had committed a loathsome
action again, that what was done could never be undone, and secretly,
inwardly gnawing, gnawing at myself for it, tearing and consuming
myself till at last the bitterness turned into a sort of shameful
accursed sweetness, and at last -- into positive real enjoyment! Yes,
into enjoyment, into enjoyment! I insist upon that. I have spoken
of this because I keep wanting to know for a fact whether other people
feel such enjoyment? I will explain; the enjoyment was just from the
too intense consciousness of one's own degradation; it was from feeling
oneself that one had reached the last barrier, that it was horrible,
but that it could not be otherwise; that there was no escape for you;
that you never could become a different man; that even if time and
faith were still left you to change into something different you would
most likely not wish to change; or if you did wish to, even then you
would do nothing; because perhaps in reality there was nothing for
you to change into. And the worst of it was, and
the root of it all, that it was all in accord with the normal fundamental
laws of over-acute consciousness, and with the inertia that was the
direct result of those laws, and that consequently one was not only
unable to change but could do absolutely nothing. Thus it would follow,
as the result of acute consciousness, that one is not to blame in
being a scoundrel; as though that were any consolation to the scoundrel
once he has come to realise that he actually is a scoundrel. But enough....
Ech, I have talked a lot of nonsense, but what have I explained? How
is enjoyment in this to be explained? But I will explain it. I will
get to the bottom of it! That is why I have taken up my pen.... I,
for instance, have a great deal of amour propre. I am as suspicious
and prone to take offence as a humpback or a dwarf. But upon my word
I sometimes have had moments when if I had happened to be slapped
in the face I should, perhaps, have been positively glad of it. I
say, in earnest, that I should probably have been able to discover
even in that a peculiar sort of enjoyment -- the enjoyment, of course,
of despair; but in despair there are the most intense enjoyments,
especially when one is very acutely conscious of the hopelessness
of one's position. And when one is slapped in the face -- why then
the consciousness of being rubbed into a pulp would positively overwhelm
one. The worst of it is, look at it which way one will, it still turns
out that I was always the most to blame in everything. And what is
most humiliating of all, to blame for no fault of my own but, so to
say, through the laws of nature. In the first place, to blame because
I am cleverer than any of the people surrounding me. (I have always
considered myself cleverer than any of the people surrounding me,
and sometimes, would you believe it, have been positively ashamed
of it. At any rate, I have all my life, as it were, turned my eyes
away and never could look people straight in the face.) To blame,
finally, because even if I had had magnanimity, I should only have
had more suffering from the sense of its uselessness. I should certainly
have never been able to do anything from being magnanimous -- neither
to forgive, for my assailant would perhaps have slapped me from the
laws of nature, and one cannot forgive the laws of nature; nor to
forget, for even if it were owing to the laws of nature, it is insulting
all the same. Finally, even if I had wanted to be anything but magnanimous,
had desired on the contrary to revenge myself on my assailant, I could
not have revenged myself on any one for anything because I should
certainly never have made up my mind to do anything, even if I had
been able to. Why should I not have made up my mind? About that in
particular I want to say a few words.
With people who know how to revenge themselves
and to stand up for themselves in general, how is it done? Why,
when they are possessed, let us suppose, by the feeling of revenge,
then for the time there is nothing else but that feeling left in their
whole being. Such a gentleman simply dashes straight for his object
like an infuriated bull with its horns down, and nothing but a wall
will stop him. (By the way: facing the wall, such gentlemen -- that
is, the "direct" persons and men of action -- are genuinely
nonplussed. For them a wall is not an evasion, as for us people who
think and consequently do nothing; it is not an excuse for turning
aside, an excuse for which we are always very glad, though we scarcely
believe in it ourselves, as a rule. No, they are nonplussed in all
sincerity. The wall has for them something tranquillising, morally
soothing, final-maybe even something mysterious ... but of the wall
Well, such a direct person I regard as the real
normal man, as his tender mother nature wished to see him when she
graciously brought him into being on the earth. I envy such a man
till I am green in the face. He is stupid. I am not disputing that,
but perhaps the normal man should be stupid, how do you know? Perhaps
it is very beautiful, in fact. And I am the more persuaded of that
suspicion, if one can call it so, by the fact that if you take, for
instance, the antithesis of the normal man, that is, the man of acute
consciousness, who has come, of course, not out of the lap of nature
but out of a retort (this is almost mysticism, gentlemen, but I suspect
this, too), this retort-made man is sometimes so nonplussed in the
presence of his antithesis that with all his exaggerated consciousness
he genuinely thinks of himself as a mouse and not a man. It may be
an acutely conscious mouse, yet it is a mouse, while the other is
a man, and therefore, et caetera, et caetera. And the worst of it
is, he himself, his very own self, looks on himself as a mouse; no
one asks him to do so; and that is an important point. Now let us
look at this mouse in action. Let us suppose, for instance, that it
feels insulted, too (and it almost always does feel insulted), and
wants to revenge itself, too. There may even be a greater accumulation
of spite in it than in l'homme de la nature et de la vérité.
The base and nasty desire to vent that spite on its assailant rankles
perhaps even more nastily in it than in l'homme de la nature et de
la vérité . For through his innate stupidity the latter
looks upon his revenge as justice pure and simple; while in consequence
of his acute consciousness the mouse does not believe in the justice
of it. To come at last to the deed itself, to the very act of revenge.
Apart from the one fundamental nastiness the luckless mouse succeeds
in creating around it so many other nastinesses in the form of doubts
and questions, adds to the one question so many unsettled questions
that there inevitably works up around it a sort of fatal brew, a stinking
mess, made up of its doubts, emotions, and of the contempt spat upon
it by the direct men of action who stand solemnly about it as judges
and arbitrators, laughing at it till their healthy sides ache. Of
course the only thing left for it is to dismiss all that with a wave
of its paw, and, with a smile of assumed contempt in which it does
not even itself believe, creep ignominiously into its mouse-hole.
There in its nasty, stinking, underground home our insulted, crushed
and ridiculed mouse promptly becomes absorbed in cold, malignant and,
above all, everlasting spite. For forty years together it will remember
its injury down to the smallest, most ignominious details, and every
time will add, of itself, details still more ignominious, spitefully
teasing and tormenting itself with its own imagination. It will itself
be ashamed of its imaginings, but yet it will recall it all, it will
go over and over every detail, it will invent unheard of things against
itself, pretending that those things might happen, and will forgive
nothing. Maybe it will begin to revenge itself, too, but, as it were,
piecemeal, in trivial ways, from behind the stove, incognito, without
believing either in its own right to vengeance, or in the success
of its revenge, knowing that from all its efforts at revenge it will
suffer a hundred times more than he on whom it revenges itself, while
he, I daresay, will not even scratch himself. On its deathbed it will
recall it all over again, with interest accumulated over all the years
But it is just in that cold, abominable half despair,
half belief, in that conscious burying oneself alive for grief in
the underworld for forty years, in that acutely recognised and yet
partly doubtful hopelessness of one's position, in that hell of unsatisfied
desires turned inward, in that fever of oscillations, of resolutions
determined for ever and repented of again a minute later -- that the
savour of that strange enjoyment of which I have spoken lies. It is
so subtle, so difficult of analysis, that persons who are a little
limited, or even simply persons of strong nerves, will not understand
a single atom of it. "Possibly," you will add on your own
account with a grin, "people will not understand it either who
have never received a slap in the face," and in that way you
will politely hint to me that I, too, perhaps, have had the experience
of a slap in the face in my life, and so I speak as one who knows.
I bet that you are thinking that. But set your minds at rest, gentlemen,
I have not received a slap in the face, though it is absolutely a
matter of indifference to me what you may think about it. Possibly,
I even regret, myself, that I have given so few slaps in the face
during my life. But enough ... not another word on that subject of
such extreme interest to you. I will continue calmly
concerning persons with strong nerves who do not understand a certain
refinement of enjoyment. Though in certain circumstances these gentlemen
bellow their loudest like bulls, though this, let us suppose, does
them the greatest credit, yet, as I have said already, confronted
with the impossible they subside at once. The impossible means the
stone wall! What stone wall? Why, of course, the laws of nature, the
deductions of natural science, mathematics. As soon as they prove
to you, for instance, that you are descended from a monkey, then it
is no use scowling, accept it for a fact. When they prove to you that
in reality one drop of your own fat must be dearer to you than a hundred
thousand of your fellow-creatures, and that this conclusion is the
final solution of all so-called virtues and duties and all such prejudices
and fancies, then you have just to accept it, there is no help for
it, for twice two is a law of mathematics. Just try refuting it.
"Upon my word, they will shout at you, it is
no use protesting: it is a case of twice two makes four! Nature does
not ask your permission, she has nothing to do with your wishes, and
whether you like her laws or dislike them, you are bound to accept
her as she is, and consequently all her conclusions. A wall, you see,
is a wall ... and so on, and so on."
Merciful Heavens! but what do I care for the laws
of nature and arithmetic, when, for some reason I dislike those laws
and the fact that twice two makes four? Of course I cannot break through
the wall by battering my head against it if I really have not the
strength to knock it down, but I am not going to be reconciled to
it simply because it is a stone wall and I have not the strength.
As though such a stone wall really were a consolation,
and really did contain some word of conciliation, simply because it
is as true as twice two makes four. Oh, absurdity of absurdities!
How much better it is to understand it all, to recognise it all, all
the impossibilities and the stone wall; not to be reconciled to one
of those impossibilities and stone walls if it disgusts you to be
reconciled to it; by the way of the most inevitable, logical combinations
to reach the most revolting conclusions on the everlasting theme,
that even for the stone wall you are yourself somehow to blame, though
again it is as clear as day you are not to blame in the least, and
therefore grinding your teeth in silent impotence to sink into luxurious
inertia, brooding on the fact that there is no one even for you to
feel vindictive against, that you have not, and perhaps never will
have, an object for your spite, that it is a sleight of hand, a bit
of juggling, a card-sharper's trick, that it is simply a mess, no
knowing what and no knowing who, but in spite of all these uncertainties
and jugglings, still there is an ache in you, and the more you do
not know, the worse the ache.
ha, ha! You will be finding enjoyment in toothache next," you
cry, with a laugh.
"Well, even in toothache there is enjoyment,"
I answer. I had tooth-ache for a whole month and I know there is.
In that case, of course, people are not spiteful in silence, but moan;
but they are not candid moans, they are malignant moans, and the malignancy
is the whole point. The enjoyment of the sufferer finds expression
in those moans; if he did not feel enjoyment in them he would not
moan. It is a good example, gentlemen, and I will develop it. Those
moans express in the first place all the aimlessness of your pain,
which is so humiliating to your consciousness; the whole legal system
of nature on which you spit disdainfully, of course, but from which
you suffer all the same while she does not. They express the consciousness
that you have no enemy to punish, but that you have pain; the consciousness
that in spite of all possible Wagenheims you are in complete slavery
to your teeth; that if someone wishes it, your teeth will leave off
aching, and if he does not, they will go on aching another three months;
and that finally if you are still contumacious and still protest,
all that is left you for your own gratification is to thrash yourself
or beat your wall with your fist as hard as you can, and absolutely
nothing more. Well, these mortal insults, these jeers on the part
of someone unknown, end at last in an enjoyment which sometimes reaches
the highest degree of voluptuousness. I ask you, gentlemen, listen
sometimes to the moans of an educated man of the nineteenth century
suffering from toothache, on the second or third day of the attack,
when he is beginning to moan, not as he moaned on the first day, that
is, not simply because he has toothache, not just as any coarse peasant,
but as a man affected by progress and European civilisation, a man
who is "divorced from the soil and the national elements,"
as they express it now-a-days. His moans become nasty, disgustingly
malignant, and go on for whole days and nights. And of course he knows
himself that he is doing himself no sort of good with his moans; he
knows better than anyone that he is only lacerating and harassing
himself and others for nothing; he knows that even the audience before
whom he is making his efforts, and his whole family, listen to him
with loathing, do not put a ha'porth of faith in him, and inwardly
understand that he might moan differently, more simply, without trills
and flourishes, and that he is only amusing himself like that from
ill-humour, from malignancy. Well, in all these recognitions and disgraces
it is that there lies a voluptuous pleasure. As though he would say:
"I am worrying you, I am lacerating your hearts, I am keeping
everyone in the house awake. Well, stay awake then, you, too, feel
every minute that I have toothache. I am not a hero to you now, as
I tried to seem before, but simply a nasty person, an impostor. Well,
so be it, then! I am very glad that you see through me. It is nasty
for you to hear my despicable moans: well, let it be nasty; here I
will let you have a nastier flourish in a minute...." You do
not understand even now, gentlemen? No, it seems our development and
our consciousness must go further to understand all the intricacies
of this pleasure. You laugh? Delighted. My jests, gentlemen, are of
course in bad taste, jerky, involved, lacking self-confidence. But
of course that is because I do not respect myself. Can a man of perception
respect himself at all?
Come, can a man who attempts to find enjoyment
in the very feeling of his own degradation possibly have a spark of
respect for himself? I am not saying this now from any mawkish
kind of remorse. And, indeed, I could never endure saying, "Forgive
me, Papa, I won't do it again," not because I am incapable of
saying that -- on the contrary, perhaps just because I have been too
capable of it, and in what a way, too. As though of design I used
to get into trouble in cases when I was not to blame in any way. That
was the nastiest part of it. At the same time I was genuinely touched
and penitent, I used to shed tears and, of course, deceived myself,
though I was not acting in the least and there was a sick feeling
in my heart at the time.... For that one could not blame even the
laws of nature, though the laws of nature have continually all my
life offended me more than anything. It is loathsome to remember it
all, but it was loathsome even then. Of course, a minute or so later
I would realise wrathfully that it was all a lie, a revolting lie,
an affected lie, that is, all this penitence, this emotion, these
vows of reform. You will ask why did I worry myself with such antics:
answer, because it was very dull to sit with one's hands folded, and
so one began cutting capers. That is really it. Observe yourselves
more carefully, gentlemen, then you will understand that it is so.
I invented adventures for myself and made up a life, so as at least
to live in some way. How many times it has happened to me -- well,
for instance, to take offence simply on purpose, for nothing; and
one knows oneself, of course, that one is offended at nothing; that
one is putting it on, but yet one brings oneself at last to the point
of being really offended. All my life I have had an impulse to play
such pranks, so that in the end I could not control it in myself.
Another time, twice, in fact, I tried hard to be in love. I suffered,
too, gentlemen, I assure you. In the depth of my heart there was no
faith in my suffering, only a faint stir of mockery, but yet I did
suffer, and in the real, orthodox way; I was jealous, beside myself...
and it was all from ennui, gentlemen, all from ennui ; inertia overcame
me. You know the direct, legitimate fruit of consciousness is inertia,
that is, conscious sitting-with-the-hands-folded. I have referred
to this already. I repeat, I repeat with emphasis: all "direct"
persons and men of action are active just because they are stupid
and limited. How explain that? I will tell you: in consequence of
their limitation they take immediate and secondary causes for primary
ones, and in that way persuade themselves more quickly and easily
than other people do that they have found an infallible foundation
for their activity, and their minds are at ease and you know that
is the chief thing. To begin to act, you know, you must first have
your mind completely at ease and no trace of doubt left in it. Why,
how am I, for example to set my mind at rest? Where are the primary
causes on which I am to build? Where are my foundations? Where am
I to get them from? I exercise myself in reflection, and consequently
with me every primary cause at once draws after itself another still
more primary, and so on to infinity. That is just the essence of every
sort of consciousness and reflection. It must be a case of the laws
of nature again. What is the result of it in the end? Why, just the
same. Remember I spoke just now of vengeance. (I am sure you did not
take it in.) I said that a man revenges himself because he sees justice
in it. Therefore he has found a primary cause, that is, justice. And
so he is at rest on all sides, and consequently he carries out his
revenge calmly and successfully, being persuaded that he is doing
a just and honest thing. But I see no justice in it, I find no sort
of virtue in it either, and consequently if I attempt to revenge myself,
it is only out of spite. Spite, of course, might overcome everything,
all my doubts, and so might serve quite successfully in place of a
primary cause, precisely because it is not a cause. But what is to
be done if I have not even spite (I began with that just now, you
know). In consequence again of those accursed laws of consciousness,
anger in me is subject to chemical disintegration. You look into it,
the object flies off into air, your reasons evaporate, the criminal
is not to be found, the wrong becomes not a wrong but a phantom, something
like the toothache, for which no one is to blame, and consequently
there is only the same outlet left again -- that is, to beat the wall
as hard as you can. So you give it up with a wave of the hand because
you have not found a fundamental cause. And try letting yourself be
carried away by your feelings, blindly, without reflection, without
a primary cause, repelling consciousness at least for a time; hate
or love, if only not to sit with your hands folded. The day after
tomorrow, at the latest, you will begin despising yourself for having
knowingly deceived yourself. Result: a soap-bubble and inertia. Oh,
gentlemen, do you know, perhaps I consider myself an intelligent man,
only because all my life I have been able neither to begin nor to
finish anything. Granted I am a babbler, a harmless vexatious babbler,
like all of us. But what is to be done if the direct and sole vocation
of every intelligent man is babble, that is, the intentional pouring
of water through a sieve?
if I had done nothing simply from laziness! Heavens, how I should
have respected myself, then. I should have respected myself because
I should at least have been capable of being lazy; there would at
least have been one quality, as it were, positive in me, in which
I could have believed myself. Question: What is he? Answer: A sluggard;
how very pleasant it would have been to hear that of oneself! It would
mean that I was positively defined, it would mean that there was something
to say about me. "Sluggard" -- why, it is a calling and
vocation, it is a career. Do not jest, it is so. I should then be
a member of the best club by right, and should find my occupation
in continually respecting myself. I knew a gentleman who prided himself
all his life on being a connoisseur of Lafitte. He considered this
as his positive virtue, and never doubted himself. He died, not simply
with a tranquil, but with a triumphant conscience, and he was quite
right, too. Then I should have chosen a career for myself, I should
have been a sluggard and a glutton, not a simple one, but, for instance,
one with sympathies for everything sublime and beautiful. How do you
like that? I have long had visions of it. That "sublime and beautiful"
weighs heavily on my mind at forty But that is at forty; then -- oh,
then it would have been different! I should have found for myself
a form of activity in keeping with it, to be precise, drinking to
the health of everything "sublime andbeautiful." I should
have snatched at every opportunity to drop a tear into my glass and
then to drain it to all that is "sublime and beautiful."
I should then have turned everything into the sublime and the beautiful;
in the nastiest, unquestionable trash, I should have sought out the
sublime and the beautiful. I should have exuded tears like a wet sponge.
An artist, for instance, paints a picture worthy of Gay. At once I
drink to the health of the artist who painted the picture worthy of
Gay, because I love all that is "sublime and beautiful."
An author has written As you will: at once I drink to the health of
"anyone you will" because I love all that is "sublime
I should claim respect for doing so. I should persecute
anyone who would not show me respect. I should live at ease, I should
die with dignity, why, it is charming, perfectly charming! And what
a good round belly I should have grown, what a treble chin I should
have established, what a ruby nose I should have coloured for myself,
so that everyone would have said, looking at me: "Here is an
asset! Here is something real and solid!" And, say what you like,
it is very agreeable to hear such remarks about oneself in this negative
But these are all golden dreams. Oh, tell
me, who was it first announced, who was it first proclaimed, that
man only does nasty things because he does not know his own interests;
and that if he were enlightened, if his eyes were opened to his real
normal interests, man would at once cease to do nasty things, would
at once become good and noble because, being enlightened and understanding
his real advantage, he would see his own advantage in the good and
nothing else, and we all know that not one man can, consciously, act
against his own interests, consequently, so to say, through necessity,
he would begin doing good? Oh, the babe! Oh, the pure, innocent child!
Why, in the first place, when in all these thousands of years has
there been a time when man has acted only from his own interest? What
is to be done with the millions of facts that bear witness that men,
consciously, that is fully understanding their real interests, have
left them in the background and have rushed headlong on another path,
to meet peril and danger, compelled to this course by nobody and by
nothing, but, as it were, simply disliking the beaten track, and have
obstinately, wilfully, struck out another difficult, absurd way, seeking
it almost in the darkness. So, I suppose, this obstinacy and perversity
were pleasanter to them than any advantage.... Advantage! What is
advantage? And will you take it upon yourself to define with perfect
accuracy in what the advantage of man consists? And what if it so
happens that a man's advantage, sometimes, not only may, but even
must, consist in his desiring in certain cases what is harmful to
himself and not advantageous. And if so, if there can be such a case,
the whole principle falls into dust. What do you think -- are there
such cases? You laugh; laugh away, gentlemen, but only answer me:
have man's advantages been reckoned up with perfect certainty? Are
there not some which not only have not been included but cannot possibly
be included under any classification? You see, you gentlemen have,
to the best of my knowledge, taken your whole register of human advantages
from the averages of statistical figures and politico-economical formulas.
Your advantages are prosperity, wealth, freedom, peace -- and so on,
and so on. So that the man who should, for instance, go openly and
knowingly in opposition to all that list would to your thinking, and
indeed mine, too, of course, be an obscurantist or an absolute madman:
would not he? But, you know, this is what is surprising: why does
it so happen that all these statisticians, sages and lovers of humanity,
when they reckon up human advantages invariably leave out one? They
don't even take it into their reckoning in the form in which it should
be taken, and the whole reckoning depends upon that. It would be no
greater matter, they would simply have to take it, this advantage,
and add it to the list. But the trouble is, that this strange advantage
does not fall under any classification and is not in place in any
list. I have a friend for instance ... Ech! gentlemen, but of course
he is your friend, too; and indeed there is no one, no one to whom
he is not a friend! When he prepares for any undertaking this gentleman
immediately explains to you, elegantly and clearly, exactly how he
must act in accordance with the laws of reason and truth. What is
more, he will talk to you with excitement and passion of the true
normal interests of man; with irony he will upbraid the short-sighted
fools who do not understand their own interests, nor the true significance
of virtue; and, within a quarter of an hour, without any sudden outside
provocation, but simply through something inside him which is stronger
than all his interests, he will go off on quite a different tack --
that is, act in direct opposition to what he has just been saying
about himself, in opposition to the laws of reason, in opposition
to his own advantage, in fact in opposition to everything ... I warn
you that my friend is a compound personality and therefore it is difficult
to blame him as an individual. The fact is, gentlemen, it seems there
must really exist something that is dearer to almost every man than
his greatest advantages, or (not to be illogical) there is a most
advantageous advantage (the very one omitted of which we spoke just
now) which is more important and more advantageous than all other
advantages, for the sake of which a man if necessary is ready to act
in opposition to all laws; that is, in opposition to reason, honour,
peace, prosperity -- in fact, in opposition to all those excellent
and useful things if only he can attain that fundamental, most advantageous
advantage which is dearer to him than all. "Yes, but it's advantage
all the same," you will retort. But excuse me, I'll make the
point clear, and it is not a case of playing upon words. What matters
is, that this advantage is remarkable from the very fact that it breaks
down all our classifications, and continually shatters every system
constructed by lovers of mankind for the benefit of mankind. In fact,
it upsets everything. But before I mention this advantage to you,
I want to compromise myself personally, and therefore I boldly declare
that all these fine systems, all these theories for explaining to
mankind their real normal interests, in order that inevitably striving
to pursue these interests they may at once become good and noble --
are, in my opinion, so far, mere logical exercises! Yes, logical exercises.
Why, to maintain this theory of the regeneration of mankind by means
of the pursuit of his own advantage is to my mind almost the same
thing ... as to affirm, for instance, following Buckle, that through
civilisation mankind becomes softer, and consequently less bloodthirsty
and less fitted for warfare. Logically it does seem to follow from
his arguments. But man has such a predilection for systems and abstract
deductions that he is ready to distort the truth intentionally, he
is ready to deny the evidence of his senses only to justify his logic.
I take this example because it is the most glaring instance of it.
Only look about you: blood is being spilt in streams, and in the merriest
way, as though it were champagne. Take the whole of the nineteenth
century in which Buckle lived. Take Napoleon -- the Great and also
the present one. Take North America -- the eternal union. Take the
farce of Schleswig-Holstein... . And what is it that civilisation
softens in us? The only gain of civilisation for mankind is the greater
capacity for variety of sensations -- and absolutely nothing more.
And through the development of this many-sidedness man may come to
finding enjoyment in bloodshed. In fact, this has already happened
to him. Have you noticed that it is the most civilised gentlemen who
have been the subtlest slaughterers, to whom the Attilas and Stenka
Razins could not hold a candle, and if they are not so conspicuous
as the Attilas and Stenka Razins it is simply because they are so
often met with, are so ordinary and have become so familiar to us.
In any case civilisation has made mankind if not more blood-thirsty,
at least more vilely, more loathsomely bloodthirsty. In old days he
saw justice in bloodshed and with his conscience at peace exterminated
those he thought proper. Now we do think bloodshed abominable and
yet we engage in this abomination, and with more energy than ever.
Which is worse? Decide that for yourselves. They say that Cleopatra
(excuse an instance from Roman history) was fond of sticking gold
pins into her slave-girls' breasts and derived gratification from
their screams and writhings. You will say that that was in the comparatively
barbarous times; that these are barbarous times too, because also,
comparatively speaking, pins are stuck in even now; that though man
has now learned to see more clearly than in barbarous ages, he is
still far from having learnt to act as reason and science would dictate.
But yet you are fully convinced that he will be sure to learn when
he gets rid of certain old bad habits, and when common sense and science
have completely re-educated human nature and turned it in a normal
direction. You are confident that then man will cease from intentional
error and will, so to say, be compelled not to want to set his will
against his normal interests. That is not all; then, you say, science
itself will teach man (though to my mind it's a superfluous luxury)
that he never has really had any caprice or will of his own, and that
he himself is something of the nature of a piano-key or the stop of
an organ, and that there are, besides, things called the laws of nature;
so that everything he does is not done by his willing it, but is done
of itself, by the laws of nature. Consequently we have only to discover
these laws of nature, and man will no longer have to answer for his
actions and life will become exceedingly easy for him. All human actions
will then, of course, be tabulated according to these laws, mathematically,
like tables of logarithms up to 108,000, and entered in an index;
or, better still, there would be published certain edifying works
of the nature of encyclopaedic lexicons, in which everything will
be so clearly calculated and explained that there will be no more
incidents or adventures in the world.
Then -- this is all what you say -- new economic
relations will be established, all ready-made and worked out with
mathematical exactitude, so that every possible question will vanish
in the twinkling of an eye, simply because every possible answer to
it will be provided. Then the "Palace of Crystal" will be
built. Then ... In fact, those will be halcyon days. Of course there
is no guaranteeing (this is my comment) that it will not be, for instance,
frightfully dull then (for what will one have to do when everything
will be calculated and tabulated), but on the other hand everything
will be extraordinarily rational. Of course boredom may lead you to
anything. It is boredom sets one sticking golden pins into people,
but all that would not matter. What is bad (this is my comment again)
is that I dare say people will be thankful for the gold pins then.
Man is stupid, you know, phenomenally stupid; or rather he is not
at all stupid, but he is so ungrateful that you could not find another
like him in all creation. I, for instance, would not be in the least
surprised if all of a sudden, àpropos of nothing, in the midst
of general prosperity a gentleman with an ignoble, or rather with
a reactionary and ironical, countenance were to arise and, putting
his arms akimbo, say to us all: "I say, gentleman, hadn't we
better kick over the whole show and scatter rationalism to the winds,
simply to send these logarithms to the devil, and to enable us to
live once more at our own sweet foolish will!" That again would
not matter, but what is annoying is that he would be sure to find
followers -- such is the nature of man. And all that for the most
foolish reason, which, one would think, was hardly worth mentioning:
that is, that man everywhere and at all times, whoever he may be,
has preferred to act as he chose and not in the least as his reason
and advantage dictated. And one may choose what is contrary to one's
own interests, and sometimes one positively ought (that is my idea).
One's own free unfettered choice, one's own caprice, however wild
it may be, one's own fancy worked up at times to frenzy -- is that
very "most advantageous advantage" which we have overlooked,
which comes under no classification and against which all systems
and theories are continually being shattered to atoms. And how do
these wiseacres know that man wants a normal, a virtuous choice? What
has made them conceive that man must want a rationally advantageous
choice? What man wants is simply independent choice, whatever that
independence may cost and wherever it may lead. And choice, of course,
the devil only knows what choice.
"Ha! ha! ha! But you know there is no such
thing as choice in reality, say what you like," you will interpose
with a chuckle. "Science has succeeded in so far analysing man
that we know already that choice and what is called freedom of will
is nothing else than -- "
Stay, gentlemen, I meant to begin with that myself
I confess, I was rather frightened. I was just going to say that the
devil only knows what choice depends on, and that perhaps that was
a very good thing, but I remembered the teaching of science ... and
pulled myself up. And here you have begun upon it. Indeed, if there
really is some day discovered a formula for all our desires and caprices
-- that is, an explanation of what they depend upon, by what laws
they arise, how they develop, what they are aiming at in one case
and in another and so on, that is a real mathematical formula -- then,
most likely, man will at once cease to feel desire, indeed, he will
be certain to. For who would want to choose by rule? Besides, he will
at once be transformed from a human being into an organ-stop or something
of the sort; for what is a man without desires, without free will
and without choice, if not a stop in an organ? What do you think?
Let us reckon the chances -- can such a thing happen or not? "H'm!"
you decide. "Our choice is usually mistaken from a false view
of our advantage. We sometimes choose absolute nonsense because in
our foolishness we see in that nonsense the easiest means for attaining
a supposed advantage. But when all that is explained and worked out
on paper (which is perfectly possible, for it is contemptible and
senseless to suppose that some laws of nature man will never understand),
then certainly so-called desires will no longer exist. For if a desire
should come into conflict with reason we shall then reason and not
desire, because it will be impossible retaining our reason to be senseless
in our desires, and in that way knowingly act against reason and desire
to injure ourselves. And as all choice and reasoning can be really
calculated -- because there will some day be discovered the laws of
our so-called free will -- so, joking apart, there may one day be
something like a table constructed of them, so that we really shall
choose in accordance with it. If, for instance, some day they calculate
and prove to me that I made a long nose at someone because I could
not help making a long nose at him and that I had to do it in that
particular way, what freedom is left me, especially if I am a learned
man and have taken my degree somewhere? Then I should be able to calculate
my whole life for thirty years beforehand. In short, if this could
be arranged there would be nothing left for us to do; anyway, we should
have to understand that. And, in fact, we ought unwearyingly to repeat
to ourselves that at such and such a time and in such and such circumstances
nature does not ask our leave; that we have got to take her as she
is and not fashion her to suit our fancy, and if we really aspire
to formulas and tables of rules, and well, even ... to the chemical
retort, there's no help for it, we must accept the retort too, or
else it will be accepted without our consent ...."
Yes, but here I come to a stop! Gentlemen, you must excuse me for
being over-philosophical; it's the result of forty years underground!
Allow me to indulge my fancy. You see, gentlemen, reason is an excellent
thing, there's no disputing that, but reason is nothing but reason
and satisfies only the rational side of man's nature, while will is
a manifestation of the whole life, that is, of the whole human life
including reason and all the impulses. And although our life, in this
manifestation of it, is often worthless, yet it is life and not simply
extracting square roots. Here I, for instance, quite naturally want
to live, in order to satisfy all my capacities for life, and not simply
my capacity for reasoning, that is, not simply one twentieth of my
capacity for life. What does reason know? Reason only knows what it
has succeeded in learning (some things, perhaps, it will never learn;
this is a poor comfort, but why not say so frankly?) and human nature
acts as a whole, with everything that is in it, consciously or unconsciously,
and, even it if goes wrong, it lives. I suspect, gentlemen, that you
are looking at me with compassion; you tell me again that an enlightened
and developed man, such, in short, as the future man will be, cannot
consciously desire anything disadvantageous to himself, that that
can be proved mathematically. I thoroughly agree, it can -- by mathematics.
But I repeat for the hundredth time, there is one case, one only,
when man may consciously, purposely, desire what is injurious to himself,
what is stupid, very stupid -- simply in order to have the right to
desire for himself even what is very stupid and not to be bound by
an obligation to desire only what is sensible. Of course, this very
stupid thing, this caprice of ours, may be in reality, gentlemen,
more advantageous for us than anything else on earth, especially in
certain cases. And in particular it may be more advantageous than
any advantage even when it does us obvious harm, and contradicts the
soundest conclusions of our reason concerning our advantage -- for
in any circumstances it preserves for us what is most precious and
most important -- that is, our personality, our individuality. Some,
you see, maintain that this really is the most precious thing for
mankind; choice can, of course, if it chooses, be in agreement with
reason; and especially if this be not abused but kept within bounds.
It is profitable and sometimes even praiseworthy. But very often,
and even most often, choice is utterly and stubbornly opposed to reason
... and ... and ... do you know that that, too, is profitable, sometimes
even praiseworthy? Gentlemen, let us suppose that man is not stupid.
(Indeed one cannot refuse to suppose that, if only from the one consideration,
that, if man is stupid, then who is wise?) But if he is not stupid,
he is monstrously ungrateful! Phenomenally ungrateful. In fact, I
believe that the best definition of man is the ungrateful biped. But
that is not all, that is not his worst defect; his worst defect is
his perpetual moral obliquity, perpetual -- from the days of the Flood
to the Schleswig-Holstein period. Moral obliquity and consequently
lack of good sense; for it has long been accepted that lack of good
sense is due to no other cause than moral obliquity. Put it to the
test and cast your eyes upon the history of mankind. What will you
see? Is it a grand spectacle? Grand, if you like. Take the Colossus
of Rhodes, for instance, that's worth something. With good reason
Mr. Anaevsky testifies of it that some say that it is the work of
man's hands, while others maintain that it has been created by nature
herself. Is it many-coloured? May be it is many-coloured, too: if
one takes the dress uniforms, military and civilian, of all peoples
in all ages -- that alone is worth something, and if you take the
undress uniforms you will never get to the end of it; no historian
would be equal to the job. Is it monotonous? May be it's monotonous
too: it's fighting and fighting; they are fighting now, they fought
first and they fought last -- you will admit, that it is almost too
monotonous. In short, one may say anything about the history of the
world -- anything that might enter the most disordered imagination.
The only thing one can't say is that it's rational. The very word
sticks in one's throat. And, indeed, this is the odd thing that is
continually happening: there are continually turning up in life moral
and rational persons, sages and lovers of humanity who make it their
object to live all their lives as morally and rationally as possible,
to be, so to speak, a light to their neighbours simply in order to
show them that it is possible to live morally and rationally in this
world. And yet we all know that those very people sooner or later
have been false to themselves, playing some queer trick, often a most
unseemly one. Now I ask you: what can be expected of man since he
is a being endowed with strange qualities? Shower upon him every earthly
blessing, drown him in a sea of happiness, so that nothing but bubbles
of bliss can be seen on the surface; give him economic prosperity,
such that he should have nothing else to do but sleep, eat cakes and
busy himself with the continuation of his species, and even then out
of sheer ingratitude, sheer spite, man would play you some nasty trick.
He would even risk his cakes and would deliberately desire the most
fatal rubbish, the most uneconomical absurdity, simply to introduce
into all this positive good sense his fatal fantastic element. lt
is just his fantastic dreams, his vulgar folly that he will desire
to retain, simply in order to prove to himself -- as though that were
so necessary -- that men still are men and not the keys of a piano,
which the laws of nature threaten to control so completely that soon
one will be able to desire nothing but by the calendar. And that is
not all: even if man really were nothing but a piano-key, even if
this were proved to him by natural science and mathematics, even then
he would not become reasonable, but would purposely do something perverse
out of simple ingratitude, simply to gain his point. And if he does
not find means he will contrive destruction and chaos, will contrive
sufferings of all sorts, only to gain his point! He will launch a
curse upon the world, and as only man can curse (it is his privilege,
the primary distinction between him and other animals), may be by
his curse alone he will attain his object -- that is, convince himself
that he is a man and not a piano-key! If you say that all this, too,
can be calculated and tabulated -- chaos and darkness and curses,
so that the mere possibility of calculating it all beforehand would
stop it all, and reason would reassert itself, then man would purposely
go mad in order to be rid of reason and gain his point! I believe
in it, I answer for it, for the whole work of man really seems to
consist in nothing but proving to himself every minute that he is
a man and not a piano-key! It may be at the cost of his skin, it may
be by cannibalism! And this being so, can one help being tempted to
rejoice that it has not yet come off, and that desire still depends
on something we don't know? You will scream at me
(that is, if you condescend to do so) that no one is touching my free
will, that all they are concerned with is that my will should of itself,
of its own free will, coincide with my own normal interests, with
the laws of nature and arithmetic.
Good heavens, gentlemen, what sort of free will
is left when we come to tabulation and arithmetic, when it will all
be a case of twice two make four? Twice two makes four without my
will. As if free will meant that!
Gentlemen, I am joking, and I know myself that
my jokes are not brilliant,but you know one can take everything as
a joke. I am, perhaps, jesting against the grain. Gentlemen, I
am tormented by questions; answer them for me. You, for instance,
want to cure men of their old habits and reform their will in accordance
with science and good sense. But how do you know, not only that it
is possible, but also that it is desirable to reform man in that way?
And what leads you to the conclusion that man's inclinations need
reforming? In short, how do you know that such a reformation will
be a benefit to man? And to go to the root of the matter, why are
you so positively convinced that not to act against his real normal
interests guaranteed by the conclusions of reason and arithmetic is
certainly always advantageous for man and must always be a law for
mankind? So far, you know, this is only your supposition. It may be
the law of logic, but not the law of humanity. You think, gentlemen,
perhaps that I am mad? Allow me to defend myself. I agree that man
is pre-eminently a creative animal, predestined to strive consciously
for an object and to engage in engineering -- that is, incessantly
and eternally to make new roads, wherever they may lead. But the reason
why he wants sometimes to go off at a tangent may just be that he
is predestined to make the road, and perhaps, too, that however stupid
the "direct" practical man may be, the thought sometimes
will occur to him that the road almost always does lead somewhere,
and that the destination it leads to is less important than the process
of making it, and that the chief thing is to save the well-conducted
child from despising engineering, and so giving way to the fatal idleness,
which, as we all know, is the mother of all the vices. Man likes to
make roads and to create, that is a fact beyond dispute. But why has
he such a passionate love for destruction and chaos also? Tell me
that! But on that point I want to say a couple of words myself. May
it not be that he loves chaos and destruction (there can be no disputing
that he does sometimes love it) because he is instinctively afraid
of attaining his object and completing the edifice he is constructing?
Who knows, perhaps he only loves that edifice from a distance, and
is by no means in love with it at close quarters; perhaps he only
loves building it and does not want to live in it, but will leave
it, when completed, for the use of les animaux domestiques -- such
as the ants, the sheep, and so on. Now the ants have quite a different
taste. They have a marvellous edifice of that pattern which endures
for ever -- the ant-heap.
With the ant-heap the respectable race of ants began
and with the ant-heap they will probably end, which does the greatest
credit to their perseverance and good sense. But man is a frivolous
and incongruous creature, and perhaps, like a chess player, loves
the process of the game, not the end of it. And who knows (there is
no saying with certainty), perhaps the only goal on earth to which
mankind is striving lies in this incessant process of attaining, in
other words, in life itself, and not in the thing to be attained,
which must always be expressed as a formula, as positive as twice
two makes four, and such positiveness is not life, gentlemen, but
is the beginning of death. Anyway, man has always been afraid of this
mathematical certainty, and I am afraid of it now. Granted that man
does nothing but seek that mathematical certainty, he traverses oceans,
sacrifices his life in the quest, but to succeed, really to find it,
dreads, I assure you. He feels that when he has found it there will
be nothing for him to look for. When workmen have finished their work
they do at least receive their pay, they go to the tavern, then they
are taken to the police-station -- and there is occupation for a week.
But where can man go? Anyway, one can observe a certain awkwardness
about him when he has attained such objects. He loves the process
of attaining, but does not quite like to have attained, and that,
of course, is very absurd. In fact, man is a comical creature; there
seems to be a kind of jest in it all. But yet mathematical certainty
is after all, something insufferable. Twice two makes four seems to
me simply a piece of insolence. Twice two makes four is a pert coxcomb
who stands with arms akimbo barring your path and spitting. I admit
that twice two makes four is an excellent thing, but if we are to
give everything its due, twice two makes five is sometimes a very
charming thing too.
And why are you so firmly, so triumphantly, convinced that only the
normal and the positive -- in other words, only what is conducive
to welfare -- is for the advantage of man? Is not reason in error
as regards advantage? Does not man, perhaps, love something besides
well-being? Perhaps he is just as fond of suffering? Perhaps suffering
is just as great a benefit to him as well-being? Man is sometimes
extraordinarily, passionately, in love with suffering, and that is
a fact. There is no need to appeal to universal history to prove that;
only ask yourself, if you are a man and have lived at all. As far
as my personal opinion is concerned, to care only for well-being seems
to me positively ill-bred. Whether it's good or bad, it is sometimes
very pleasant, too, to smash things. I hold no brief for suffering
nor for well-being either. I am standing for ... my caprice, and for
its being guaranteed to me when necessary. Suffering would be out
of place in vaudevilles, for instance; I know that. In the "Palace
of Crystal" it is unthinkable; suffering means doubt, negation,
and what would be the good of a "palace of crystal" if there
could be any doubt about it? And yet I think man will never renounce
real suffering, that is, destruction and chaos. Why, suffering is
the sole origin of consciousness. Though I did lay it down at the
beginning that consciousness is the greatest misfortune for man, yet
I know man prizes it and would not give it up for any satisfaction.
Consciousness, for instance, is infinitely superior to twice two makes
four. Once you have mathematical certainty there is nothing left to
do or to understand. There will be nothing left but to bottle up your
five senses and plunge into contemplation. While if you stick to consciousness,
even though the same result is attained, you can at least flog yourself
at times, and that will, at any rate, liven you up. Reactionary as
it is, corporal punishment is better than nothing.
You believe in a palace of crystal that can never
be destroyed -- a palace at which one will not be able to put out
one's tongue or make a long nose on the sly. And perhaps that
is just why I am afraid of this edifice, that it is of crystal and
can never be destroyed and that one cannot put one's tongue out at
it even on the sly You see, if it were not a palace,
but a hen-house, I might creep into it to avoid getting wet, and yet
I would not call the hen-house a palace out of gratitude to it for
keeping me dry. You laugh and say that in such circumstances a hen-house
is as good as a mansion. Yes, I answer, if one had to live simply
to keep out of the rain.
But what is to be done if I have taken it into my
head that that is not the only object in life, and that if one must
live one had better live in a mansion? That is my choice, my desire.
You will only eradicate it when you have changed my preference. Well,
do change it, allure me with something else, give me another ideal.
But meanwhile I will not take a hen-house for a mansion. The palace
of crystal may be an idle dream, it may be that it is inconsistent
with the laws of nature and that I have invented it only through my
own stupidity, through the old-fashioned irrational habits of my generation.
But what does it matter to me that it is inconsistent? That makes
no difference since it exists in my desires, or rather exists as long
as my desires exist. Perhaps you are laughing again? Laugh away; I
will put up with any mockery rather than pretend that I am satisfied
when I am hungry. I know, anyway, that I will not be put off with
a compromise, with a recurring zero, simply because it is consistent
with the laws of nature and actually exists. I will not accept as
the crown of my desires a block of buildings with tenements for the
poor on a lease of a thousand years, and perhaps with a sign-board
of a dentist hanging out. Destroy my desires, eradicate my ideals,
show me something better, and I will follow you. You will say, perhaps,
that it is not worth your trouble; but in that case I can give you
the same answer. We are discussing things seriously; but if you won't
deign to give me your attention, I will drop your acquaintance. I
can retreat into my underground hole.
But while I am alive and have desires I would rather
my hand were withered off than bring one brick to such a building!
Don't remind me that I have just rejected the palace of crystal for
the sole reason that one cannot put out one's tongue at it. I did
not say because I am so fond of putting my tongue out. Perhaps the
thing I resented was, that of all your edifices there has not been
one at which one could not put out one's tongue. On the contrary,
I would let my tongue be cut off out of gratitude if things could
be so arranged that I should lose all desire to put it out. It is
not my fault that things cannot be so arranged, and that one must
be satisfied with model flats. Then why am I made with such desires?
Can I have been constructed simply in order to come to the conclusion
that all my construction is a cheat? Can this be my whole purpose?
I do not believe it. But do you know what: I am
convinced that we underground folk ought to be kept on a curb. Though
we may sit forty years underground without speaking, when we do come
out into the light of day and break out we talk and talk and talk....
The long and the short of it is, gentlemen, that
it is better to do nothing! Better conscious inertia! And so hurrah
for underground! Though I have said that I envy the normal man to
the last drop of my bile, yet I should not care to be in his place
such as he is now (though I shall not cease envying him). No, no;
anyway the underground life is more advantageous. There, at any rate,
one can ... Oh, but even now I am lying! I am lying because I know
myself that it is not underground that is better, but something different,
quite different, for which I am thirsting, but which I cannot find!
I will tell you another thing that would be better,
and that is, if I myself believed in anything of what I have just
written. I swear to you, gentlemen, there is not one thing, not one
word of what I have written that I really believe. That is, I believe
it, perhaps, but at the same time I feel and suspect that I am lying
like a cobbler.
"Then why have you written all this?"
you will say to me. "I ought to put you underground for forty
years without anything to do and then come to you in your cellar,
to find out what stage you have reached! How can a man be left with
nothing to do for forty years?"
"Isn't that shameful, isn't that humiliating?"
you will say, perhaps, wagging your heads contemptuously. "You
thirst for life and try to settle the problems of life by a logical
And how persistent, how insolent are your sallies, and at the same
time what a scare you are in! You talk nonsense and are pleased with
it; you say impudent things and are in continual alarm and apologising
for them. You declare that you are afraid of nothing and at the same
time try to ingratiate yourself in our good opinion. You declare that
you are gnashing your teeth and at the same time you try to be witty
so as to amuse us. You know that your witticisms are not witty, but
you are evidently well satisfied with their literary value. You may,
perhaps, have really suffered, but you have no respect for your own
suffering. You may have sincerity, but you have no modesty; out of
the pettiest vanity you expose your sincerity to publicity and ignominy.
You doubtlessly mean to say something, but hide your last word through
fear, because you have not the resolution to utter it, and only have
a cowardly impudence. You boast of consciousness, but you are not
sure of your ground, for though your mind works, yet your heart is
darkened and corrupt, and you cannot have a full, genuine consciousness
without a pure heart. And how intrusive you are, how you insist and
grimace! Lies, lies, lies!" Of course I have
myself made up all the things you say. That, too, is from underground.
I have been for forty years listening to you through a crack under
the floor. I have invented them myself, there was nothing else I could
invent. It is no wonder that I have learned it by heart and it has
taken a literary form....
But can you really be so credulous as to think that
I will print all this and give it to you to read too? And another
problem: why do I call you "gentlemen," why do I address
you as though you really were my readers? Such confessions as I intend
to make are never printed nor given to other people to read. Anyway,
I am not strong-minded enough for that, and I don't see why I should
be. But you see a fancy has occurred to me and I want to realise it
at all costs. Let me explain.
Every man has reminiscences which he would not tell
to everyone, but only to his friends. He has other matters in his
mind which he would not reveal even to his friends, but only to himself,
and that in secret. But there are other things which a man is afraid
to tell even to himself, and every decent man has a number of such
things stored away in his mind. The more decent he is, the greater
the number of such things in his mind. Anyway, I have only lately
determined to remember some of my early adventures. Till now I have
always avoided them, even with a certain uneasiness. Now, when I am
not only recalling them, but have actually decided to write an account
of them, I want to try the experiment whether one can, even with oneself,
be perfectly open and not take fright at the whole truth. I will observe,
in parenthesis, that Heine says that a true autobiography is almost
an impossibility, and that man is bound to lie about himself. He considers
that Rousseau certainly told lies about himself in his confessions,
and even intentionally lied, out of vanity. I am convinced that Heine
is right; I quite understand how sometimes one may, out of sheer vanity,
attribute regular crimes to oneself, and indeed I can very well conceive
that kind of vanity. But Heine judged of people who made their confessions
to the public. I write only for myself, and I wish to declare once
and for all that if I write as though I were addressing readers, that
is simply because it is easier for me to write in that form. It is
a form, an empty form -- I shall never have readers. I have made this
plain already ... I don't wish to be hampered by
any restrictions in the compilation of my notes. I shall not attempt
any system or method. I will jot things down as I remember them.
But here, perhaps, someone will catch at the word
and ask me: if you really don't reckon on readers, why do you make
such compacts with yourself -- and on paper too -- that is, that you
won't attempt any system or method, that you jot things down as you
remember them, and so on, and so on? Why are you explaining? Why do
Well, there it is, I answer.
There is a whole psychology in all this, though.
Perhaps it is simply that I am a coward. And perhaps that I purposely
imagine an audience before me in order that I may be more dignified
while I write. There are perhaps thousands of reasons. Again, what
is my object precisely in writing? If it is not for the benefit of
the public why should I not simply recall these incidents in my own
mind without putting them on paper?
Quite so; but yet it is more imposing on paper.
There is something more impressive in it; I shall be better able to
criticise myself and improve my style. Besides, I shall perhaps obtain
actual relief from writing. Today, for instance, I am particularly
oppressed by one memory of a distant past. It came back vividly to
my mind a few days ago, and has remained haunting me like an annoying
tune that one cannot get rid of. And yet I must get rid of it somehow.
I have hundreds of such reminiscences; but at times some one stands
out from the hundred and oppresses me. For some reason I believe that
if I write it down I should get rid of it. Why not try? Besides,
I am bored, and I never have anything to do. Writing will be a sort
of work. They say work makes man kind-hearted and honest. Well, here
is a chance for me, anyway.
Snow is falling today, yellow and dingy. It fell
yesterday, too, and a few days ago. I fancy it is the wet snow that
has reminded me of that incident which I cannot shake off now. And
so let it be a story à propos of the falling snow.
A Propos of the Wet Snow
from dark error's subjugation
My words of passionate exhortation
Had wrenched thy fainting spirit free;
And writhing prone in thine affliction
Thou didst recall with malediction
The vice that had encompassed thee:
And when thy slumbering conscience, fretting
By recollection's torturing flame,
Thou didst reveal the hideous setting
Of thy life's current ere I came:
When suddenly I saw thee sicken,
And weeping, hide thine anguished face,
Revolted, maddened, horror-stricken,
At memories of foul disgrace.
(translated by Juliet Soskice).
AT THAT TIME I was only twenty-four. My life
was even then gloomy, ill-regulated, and as solitary as that of a
savage. I made friends with no one and positively avoided talking,
and buried myself more and more in my hole. At work in the office
I never looked at anyone, and was perfectly well aware that my companions
looked upon me, not only as a queer fellow, but even looked upon me
-- I always fancied this -- with a sort of loathing. I sometimes wondered
why it was that nobody except me fancied that he was looked upon with
aversion? One of the clerks had a most repulsive, pock-marked face,
which looked positively villainous. I believe I should not have dared
to look at anyone with such an unsightly countenance. Another had
such a very dirty old uniform that there was an unpleasant odour in
his proximity. Yet not one of these gentlemen showed the slightest
self-consciousness -- either about their clothes or their countenance
or their character in any way. Neither of them ever imagined that
they were looked at with repulsion; if they had imagined it they would
not have minded -- so long as their superiors did not look at them
in that way. It is clear to me now that, owing to my unbounded vanity
and to the high standard I set for myself, I often looked at myself
with furious discontent, which verged on loathing, and so I inwardly
attributed the same feeling to everyone. I hated my face, for instance:
I thought it disgusting, and even suspected that there was something
base in my expression, and so every day when I turned up at the office
I tried to behave as independently as possible, and to assume a lofty
expression, so that I might not be suspected of being abject. "My
face may be ugly," I thought, "but let it be lofty, expressive,
and, above all, extremely intelligent." But I was positively
and painfully certain that it was impossible for my countenance ever
to express those qualities. And what was worst of all, I thought it
actually stupid looking, and I would have been quite satisfied if
I could have looked intelligent. In fact, I would even have put up
with looking base if, at the same time, my face could have been thought
Of course, I hated my fellow clerks one and all,
and I despised them all, yet at the same time I was, as it were, afraid
of them. In fact, it happened at times that I thought more highly
of them than of myself. It somehow happened quite suddenly that I
alternated between despising them and thinking them superior to myself.
A cultivated and decent man cannot be vain without setting a fearfully
high standard for himself, and without despising and almost hating
himself at certain moments. But whether I despised them or thought
them superior I dropped my eyes almost every time I met anyone. I
even made experiments whether I could face so and so's looking at
me, and I was always the first to drop my eyes. This worried me to
distraction. I had a sickly dread, too, of being ridiculous, and so
had a slavish passion for the conventional in everything external.
I loved to fall into the common rut, and had a whole-hearted terror
of any kind of eccentricity in myself. But how could I live up to
it? I was morbidly sensitive as a man of our age should be. They were
all stupid, and as like one another as so many sheep. Perhaps I was
the only one in the office who fancied that I was a coward and a slave,
and I fancied it just because I was more highly developed. But it
was not only that I fancied it, it really was so. I was a coward and
a slave. I say this without the slightest embarrassment. Every decent
man of our age must be a coward and a slave. That is his normal condition.
Of that I am firmly persuaded. He is made and constructed to that
very end. And not only at the present time owing to some casual circumstances,
but always, at all times, a decent man is bound to be a coward and
a slave. It is the law of nature for all decent people all over the
earth. If anyone of them happens to be valiant about something, he
need not be comforted nor carried away by that; he would show the
white feather just the same before something else. That is how it
invariably and inevitably ends. Only donkeys and mules are valiant,
and they only till they are pushed up to the wall. It is not worth
while to pay attention to them for they really are of no consequence.
Another circumstance, too, worried me in those days:
that there was no one like me and I was unlike anyone else. "I
am alone and they are everyone," I thought -- and pondered.
From that it is evident that I was still a youngster.
The very opposite sometimes happened. It was loathsome
sometimes to go to the office; things reached such a point that I
often came home ill. But all at once, à propos of nothing,
there would come a phase of scepticism and indifference (everything
happened in phases to me), and I would laugh myself at my intolerance
and fastidiousness, I would reproach myself with being romantic. At
one time I was unwilling to speak to anyone, while at other times
I would not only talk, but go to the length of contemplating making
friends with them. All my fastidiousness would suddenly, for no rhyme
or reason, vanish. Who knows, perhaps I never had really had it, and
it had simply been affected, and got out of books. I have not decided
that question even now. Once I quite made friends with them, visited
their homes, played preference, drank vodka, talked of promotions....
But here let me make a digression. We Russians,
speaking generally, have never had those foolish transcendental "romantics"
-- German, and still more French -- on whom nothing produces any effect;
if there were an earthquake, if all France perished at the barricades,
they would still be the same, they would not even have the decency
to affect a change, but would still go on singing their transcendental
songs to the hour of their death, because they are fools. We, in Russia,
have no fools; that is well known. That is what distinguishes us from
foreign lands. Consequently these transcendental natures are not found
amongst us in their pure form. The idea that they are is due to our
"realistic" journalists and critics of that day, always
on the look out for Kostanzhoglos and Uncle Pyotr Ivanitchs and foolishly
accepting them as our ideal; they have slandered our romantics, taking
them for the same transcendental sort as in Germany or France. On
the contrary, the characteristics of our "romantics" are
absolutely and directly opposed to the transcendental European type,
and no European standard can be applied to them. (Allow me to make
use of this word "romantic" -- an old-fashioned and much
respected word which has done good service and is familiar to all.)
The characteristics of our romantic are to understand everything,
to see everything and to see it often incomparably more clearly than
our most realistic minds see it; to refuse to accept anyone or anything,
but at the same time not to despise anything; to give way, to yield,
from policy; never to lose sight of a useful practical object (such
as rent-free quarters at the government expense, pensions, decorations),
to keep their eye on that object through all the enthusiasms and volumes
of lyrical poems, and at the same time to preserve "the sublime
and the beautiful" inviolate within them to the hour of their
death, and to preserve themselves also, incidentally, like some precious
jewel wrapped in cotton wool if only for the benefit of "the
sublime and the beautiful." Our "romantic" is a man
of great breadth and the greatest rogue of all our rogues, I assure
you.... I can assure you from experience, indeed. Of course, that
is, if he is intelligent. But what am I saying! The romantic is always
intelligent, and I only meant to observe that although we have had
foolish romantics they don't count, and they were only so because
in the flower of their youth they degenerated into Germans, and to
preserve their precious jewel more comfortably, settled somewhere
out there -- by preference in Weimar or the Black Forest. I,
for instance, genuinely despised my official work and did not openly
abuse it simply because I was in it myself and got a salary for it.
Anyway, take note, I did not openly abuse it. Our romantic would rather
go out of his mind -- a thing, however, which very rarely happens
-- than take to open abuse, unless he had some other career in view;
and he is never kicked out. At most, they would take him to the lunatic
asylum as "the King of Spain" if he should go very mad.
But it is only the thin, fair people who go out of their minds in
Russia. Innumerable "romantics" attain later in life to
considerable rank in the service. Their many-sidedness is remarkable!
And what a faculty they have for the most contradictory sensations!
I was comforted by this thought even in those days, and I am of the
same opinion now. That is why there are so many "broad natures"
among us who never lose their ideal even in the depths of degradation;
and though they never stir a finger for their ideal, though they are
arrant thieves and knaves, yet they tearfully cherish their first
ideal and are extraordinarily honest at heart. Yes, it is only among
us that the most incorrigible rogue can be absolutely and loftily
honest at heart without in the least ceasing to be a rogue. I repeat,
our romantics, frequently, become such accomplished rascals (I use
the term "rascals" affectionately), suddenly display such
a sense of reality and practical knowledge that their bewildered superiors
and the public generally can only ejaculate in amazement.
Their many-sidedness is really amazing, and goodness
knows what it may develop into later on, and what the future has in
store for us. It is not a poor material! I do not say this from any
foolish or boastful patriotism. But I feel sure that you are again
imagining that I am joking. Or perhaps it's just the contrary and
you are convinced that I really think so. Anyway, gentlemen, I shall
welcome both views as an honour and a special favour. And do forgive
my digression. I did not, of course, maintain friendly
relations with my comrades and soon was at loggerheads with them,
and in my youth and inexperience I even gave up bowing to them, as
though I had cut off all relations. That, however, only happened to
me once. As a rule, I was always alone.
In the first place I spent most of my time at home,
reading. I tried to stifle all that was continually seething within
me by means of external impressions. And the only external means I
had was reading. Reading, of course, was a great help -- exciting
me, giving me pleasure and pain. But at times it bored me fearfully.
One longed for movement in spite of everything, and I plunged all
at once into dark, underground, loathsome vice of the pettiest kind.
My wretched passions were acute, smarting, from my continual, sickly
irritability I had hysterical impulses, with tears and convulsions.
I had no resource except reading, that is, there was nothing in my
surroundings which I could respect and which attracted me. I was overwhelmed
with depression, too; I had an hysterical craving for incongruity
and for contrast, and so I took to vice. I have not said all this
to justify myself.... But, no! I am lying. I did want to justify myself.
I make that little observation for my own benefit, gentlemen. I don't
want to lie. I vowed to myself I would not.
And so, furtively, timidly, in solitude, at night,
I indulged in filthy vice, with a feeling of shame which never deserted
me, even at the most loathsome moments, and which at such moments
nearly made me curse. Already even then I had my underground world
in my soul. I was fearfully afraid of being seen, of being met, of
being recognised. I visited various obscure haunts.
One night as I was passing a tavern I saw through
a lighted window some gentlemen fighting with billiard cues, and saw
one of them thrown out of the window. At other times I should have
felt very much disgusted, but I was in such a mood at the time, that
I actually envied the gentleman thrown out of the window -- and I
envied him so much that I even went into the tavern and into the billiard-room.
"Perhaps," I thought, "I'll have a fight, too, and
they'll throw me out of the window."
I was not drunk -- but what is one to do -- depression
will drive a man to such a pitch of hysteria? But nothing happened.
It seemed that I was not even equal to being thrown out of the window
and I went away without having my fight. An officer
put me in my place from the first moment.
I was standing by the billiard-table and in my ignorance
blocking up the way, and he wanted to pass; he took me by the shoulders
and without a word -- without a warning or explanation -- moved me
from where I was standing to another spot and passed by as though
he had not noticed me. I could have forgiven blows, but I could not
forgive his having moved me without noticing me.
Devil knows what I would have given for a real regular
quarrel -- a more decent, a more literary one, so to speak. I had
been treated like a fly. This officer was over six foot, while I was
a spindly little fellow. But the quarrel was in my hands. I had only
to protest and I certainly would have been thrown out of the window.
But I changed my mind and preferred to beat a resentful retreat.
I went out of the tavern straight home, confused
and troubled, and the next night I went out again with the same lewd
intentions, still more furtively, abjectly and miserably than before,
as it were, with tears in my eyes -- but still I did go out again.
Don't imagine, though, it was cowardice made me slink away from the
officer; I never have been a coward at heart, though I have always
been a coward in action. Don't be in a hurry to laugh -- I assure
you I can explain it all.
Oh, if only that officer had been one of the sort
who would consent to fight a duel! But no, he was one of those gentlemen
(alas, long extinct!) who preferred fighting with cues or, like Gogol's
Lieutenant Pirogov, appealing to the police. They did not fight duels
and would have thought a duel with a civilian like me an utterly unseemly
procedure in any case -- and they looked upon the duel altogether
as something impossible, something free-thinking and French. But they
were quite ready to bully, especially when they were over six foot.
I did not slink away through cowardice, but through
an unbounded vanity. I was afraid not of his six foot, not of getting
a sound thrashing and being thrown out of the window; I should have
had physical courage enough, I assure you; but I had not the moral
courage. What I was afraid of was that everyone present, from the
insolent marker down to the lowest little stinking, pimply clerk in
a greasy collar, would jeer at me and fail to understand when I began
to protest and to address them in literary language. For of the point
of honour -- not of honour, but of the point of honour (point d'honneur)
-- one cannot speak among us except in literary language. You can't
allude to the "point of honour" in ordinary language. I
was fully convinced (the sense of reality, in spite of all my romanticism!)
that they would all simply split their sides with laughter, and that
the officer would not simply beat me, that is, without insulting me,
but would certainly prod me in the back with his knee, kick me round
the billiard-table, and only then perhaps have pity and drop me out
of the window.
Of course, this trivial incident could not with
me end in that. I often met that officer afterwards in the street
and noticed him very carefully. I am not quite sure whether he recognised
me, I imagine not; I judge from certain signs. But I -- I stared at
him with spite and hatred and so it went on ... for several years!
My resentment grew even deeper with years. At first I began making
stealthy inquiries about this officer. It was difficult for me to
do so, for I knew no one. But one day I heard someone shout his surname
in the street as I was following him at a distance, as though I were
tied to him -- and so I learnt his surname. Another time I followed
him to his flat, and for ten kopecks learned from the porter where
he lived, on which storey, whether he lived alone or with others,
and so on -- in fact, everything one could learn from a porter. One
morning, though I had never tried my hand with the pen, it suddenly
occurred to me to write a satire on this officer in the form of a
novel which would un-mask his villainy. I wrote the novel with relish.
I did unmask his villainy, I even exaggerated it; at first I so altered
his surname that it could easily be recognised, but on second thoughts
I changed it, and sent the story to the Otetchestvenniya Zapiski.
But at that time such attacks were not the fashion and my story was
not printed. That was a great vexation to me.
Sometimes I was positively choked with resentment.
At last I determined to challenge my enemy to a duel. I composed a
splendid, charming letter to him, imploring him to apologise to me,
and hinting rather plainly at a duel in case of refusal. The letter
was so composed that if the officer had had the least understanding
of the sublime and the beautiful he would certainly have flung himself
on my neck and have offered me his friendship. And how fine that would
have been! How we should have got on together! "He could have
shielded me with his higher rank, while I could have improved his
mind with my culture, and, well ... my ideas, and all sorts of things
might have happened." Only fancy, this was two years after his
insult to me, and my challenge would have been a ridiculous anachronism,
in spite of all the ingenuity of my letter in disguising and explaining
away the anachronism. But, thank God (to this day I thank the Almighty
with tears in my eyes) I did not send the letter to him. Cold shivers
run down my back when I think of what might have happened if I had
sent it. And all at once I revenged myself in the
simplest way, by a stroke of genius! A brilliant thought suddenly
dawned upon me. Sometimes on holidays I used to stroll along the sunny
side of the Nevsky about four o'clock in the afternoon. Though it
was hardly a stroll so much as a series of innumerable miseries, humiliations
and resentments; but no doubt that was just what I wanted. I used
to wriggle along in a most unseemly fashion, like an eel, continually
moving aside to make way for generals, for officers of the guards
and the hussars, or for ladies. At such minutes there used to be a
convulsive twinge at my heart, and I used to feel hot all down my
back at the mere thought of the wretchedness of my attire, of the
wretchedness and abjectness of my little scurrying figure. This was
a regular martyrdom, a continual, intolerable humiliation at the thought,
which passed into an incessant and direct sensation, that I was a
mere fly in the eyes of all this world, a nasty, disgusting fly --
more intelligent, more highly developed, more refined in feeling than
any of them, of course -- but a fly that was continually making way
for everyone, insulted and injured by everyone. Why I inflicted this
torture upon myself, why I went to the Nevsky, I don't know. I felt
simply drawn there at every possible opportunity.
Already then I began to experience a rush of the
enjoyment of which I spoke in the first chapter. After my affair with
the officer I felt even more drawn there than before: it was on the
Nevsky that I met him most frequently, there I could admire him. He,
too, went there chiefly on holidays, He, too, turned out of his path
for generals and persons of high rank, and he too, wriggled between
them like an eel; but people, like me, or even better dressed than
me, he simply walked over; he made straight for them as though there
was nothing but empty space before him, and never, under any circumstances,
turned aside. I gloated over my resentment watching him and ... always
resentfully made way for him. It exasperated me that even in the street
I could not be on an even footing with him. "Why
must you invariably be the first to move aside?" I kept asking
myself in hysterical rage, waking up sometimes at three o'clock in
the morning. "Why is it you and not he? There's no regulation
about it; there's no written law. Let the making way be equal as it
usually is when refined people meet; he moves half-way and you move
half-way; you pass with mutual respect."
But that never happened, and I always moved aside,
while he did not even notice my making way for him. And lo and behold
a bright idea dawned upon me! "What," I thought, "if
I meet him and don't move on one side? What if I don't move aside
on purpose, even if I knock up against him? How would that be?"
This audacious idea took such a hold on me that it gave me no peace.
I was dreaming of it continually, horribly, and I purposely went more
frequently to the Nevsky in order to picture more vividly how I should
do it when I did do it. I was delighted. This intention seemed to
me more and more practical and possible.
"Of course I shall not really push him,"
I thought, already more good-natured in my joy. "I will simply
not turn aside, will run up against him, not very violently, but just
shouldering each other -- just as much as decency permits. I will
push against him just as much as he pushes against me." At last
I made up my mind completely. But my preparations took a great deal
of time. To begin with, when I carried out my plan I should need to
be looking rather more decent, and so I had to think of my get-up.
"In case of emergency, if, for instance, there were any sort
of public scandal (and the public there is of the most recherché:
the Countess walks there; Prince D. walks there; all the literary
world is there), I must be well dressed; that inspires respect and
of itself puts us on an equal footing in the eyes of the society."
With this object I asked for some of my salary in
advance, and bought at Tchurkin's a pair of black gloves and a decent
hat. Black gloves seemed to me both more dignified and bon tonthan
the lemon-coloured ones which I had contemplated at first. "The
colour is too gaudy, it looks as though one were trying to be conspicuous,"
and I did not take the lemon-coloured ones. I had got ready long beforehand
a good shirt, with white bone studs; my overcoat was the only thing
that held me back. The coat in itself was a very good one, it kept
me warm; but it was wadded and it had a raccoon collar which was the
height of vulgarity. I had to change the collar at any sacrifice,
and to have a beaver one like an officer's. For this purpose I began
visiting the Gostiny Dvor and after several attempts I pitched upon
a piece of cheap German beaver. Though these German beavers soon grow
shabby and look wretched, yet at first they look exceedingly well,
and I only needed it for the occasion. I asked the price; even so,
it was too expensive. After thinking it over thoroughly I decided
to sell my raccoon collar. The rest of the money -- a considerable
sum for me, I decided to borrow from Anton Antonitch Syetotchkin,
my immediate superior, an unassuming person, though grave and judicious.
He never lent money to anyone, but I had, on entering the service,
been specially recommended to him by an important personage who had
got me my berth. I was horribly worried. To borrow from Anton Antonitch
seemed to me monstrous and shameful. I did not sleep for two or three
nights. Indeed, I did not sleep well at that time, I was in a fever;
I had a vague sinking at my heart or else a sudden throbbing, throbbing,
throbbing! Anton Antonitch was surprised at first, then he frowned,
then he reflected, and did after all lend me the money, receiving
from me a written authorisation to take from my salary a fortnight
later the sum that he had lent me.
In this way everything was at last ready. The handsome
beaver replaced the mean-looking raccoon, and I began by degrees to
get to work. It would never have done to act offhand, at random; the
plan had to be carried out skilfully, by degrees. But I must confess
that after many efforts I began to despair: we simply could not run
into each other. I made every preparation, I was quite determined
-- it seemed as though we should run into one another directly --
and before I knew what I was doing I had stepped aside for him again
and he had passed without noticing me. I even prayed as I approached
him that God would grant me determination. One time I had made up
my mind thoroughly, but it ended in my stumbling and falling at his
feet because at the very last instant when I was six inches from him
my courage failed me. He very calmly stepped over me, while I flew
on one side like a ball. That night I was ill again, feverish and
delirious. And suddenly it ended most happily. The
night before I had made up my mind not to carry out my fatal plan
and to abandon it all, and with that object I went to the Nevsky for
the last time, just to see how I would abandon it all. Suddenly, three
paces from my enemy, I unexpectedly made up my mind -- I closed my
eyes, and we ran full tilt, shoulder to shoulder, against one another!
I did not budge an inch and passed him on a perfectly equal footing!
He did not even look round and pretended not to notice it; but he
was only pretending, I am convinced of that. I am convinced of that
to this day! Of course, I got the worst of it -- he was stronger,
but that was not the point. The point was that I had attained my object,
I had kept up my dignity, I had not yielded a step, and had put myself
publicly on an equal social footing with him. I returned home feeling
that I was fully avenged for everything. I was delighted. I was triumphant
and sang Italian arias. Of course, I will not describe to you what
happened to me three days later; if you have read my first chapter
you can guess for yourself. The officer was afterwards transferred;
I have not seen him now for fourteen years. What is the dear fellow
doing now? Whom is he walking over?
But the period of my dissipation would end and I
always felt very sick afterwards. It was followed by remorse --
I tried to drive it away; I felt too sick. By degrees, however, I
grew used to that too. I grew used to everything, or rather I voluntarily
resigned myself to enduring it. But I had a means of escape that reconciled
everything -- that was to find refuge in "the sublime and the
beautiful," in dreams, of course. I was a terrible dreamer, I
would dream for three months on end, tucked away in my corner, and
you may believe me that at those moments I had no resemblance to the
gentleman who, in the perturbation of his chicken heart, put a collar
of German beaver on his great-coat. I suddenly became a hero. I would
not have admitted my six-foot lieutenant even if he had called on
me. I could not even picture him before me then. What were my dreams
and how I could satisfy myself with them -- it is hard to say now,
but at the time I was satisfied with them. Though, indeed, even now,
I am to some extent satisfied with them. Dreams were particularly
sweet and vivid after a spell of dissipation; they came with remorse
and with tears, with curses and transports. There were moments of
such positive intoxication, of such happiness, that there was not
the faintest trace of irony within me, on my honour. I had faith,
hope, love. I believed blindly at such times that by some miracle,
by some external circumstance, all this would suddenly open out, expand;
that suddenly a vista of suitable activity -- beneficent, good, and,
above all, ready made (what sort of activity I had no idea, but the
great thing was that it should be all ready for me) -- would rise
up before me -- and I should come out into the light of day, almost
riding a white horse and crowned with laurel. Anything but the foremost
place I could not conceive for myself, and for that very reason I
quite contentedly occupied the lowest in reality. Either to be a hero
or to grovel in the mud -- there was nothing between. That was my
ruin, for when I was in the mud I comforted myself with the thought
that at other times I was a hero, and the hero was a cloak for the
mud: for an ordinary man it was shameful to defile himself, but a
hero was too lofty to be utterly defiled, and so he might defile himself.
lt is worth noting that these attacks of the "sublime and the
beautiful" visited me even during the period of dissipation and
just at the times when I was touching the bottom. They came in separate
spurts, as though reminding me of themselves, but did not banish the
dissipation by their appearance. On the contrary, they seemed to add
a zest to it by contrast, and were only sufficiently present to serve
as an appetising sauce. That sauce was made up of contradictions and
sufferings, of agonising inward analysis, and all these pangs and
pin-pricks gave a certain piquancy, even a significance to my dissipation
-- in fact, completely answered the purpose of an appetising sauce.
There was a certain depth of meaning in it. And I could hardly have
resigned myself to the simple, vulgar, direct debauchery of a clerk
and have endured all the filthiness of it. What could have allured
me about it then and have drawn me at night into the street? No, I
had a lofty way of getting out of it all. And what
loving-kindness, oh Lord, what loving-kindness I felt at times in
those dreams of mine! in those "flights into the sublime and
the beautiful"; though it was fantastic love, though it was never
applied to anything human in reality, yet there was so much of this
love that one did not feel afterwards even the impulse to apply it
in reality; that would have been superfluous. Everything, however,
passed satisfactorily by a lazy and fascinating transition into the
sphere of art, that is, into the beautiful forms of life, lying ready,
largely stolen from the poets and novelists and adapted to all sorts
of needs and uses. I, for instance, was triumphant over everyone;
everyone, of course, was in dust and ashes, and was forced spontaneously
to recognise my superiority, and I forgave them all. I was a poet
and a grand gentleman, I fell in love; I came in for countless millions
and immediately devoted them to humanity, and at the same time I confessed
before all the people my shameful deeds, which, of course, were not
merely shameful, but had in them much that was "sublime and beautiful"
something in the Manfred style. Everyone would kiss me and weep (what
idiots they would be if they did not), while I should go barefoot
and hungry preaching new ideas and fighting a victorious Austerlitz
against the obscurantists. Then the band would play a march, an amnesty
would be declared, the Pope would agree to retire from Rome to Brazil;
then there would be a ball for the whole of Italy at the Villa Borghese
on the shores of Lake Como, Lake Como being for that purpose transferred
to the neighbourhood of Rome; then would come a scene in the bushes,
and so on, and so on -- as though you did not know all about it? You
will say that it is vulgar and contemptible to drag all this into
public after all the tears and transports which I have myself confessed.
But why is it contemptible? Can you imagine that I am ashamed of it
all, and that it was stupider than anything in your life, gentlemen?
And I can assure you that some of these fancies were by no means
badly composed.... It did not all happen on the shores of Lake Como.
And yet you are right -- it really is vulgar and contemptible. And
most contemptible of all it is that now I am attempting to justify
myself to you. And even more contemptible than that is my making this
remark now. But that's enough, or there will be no end to it; each
step will be more contemptible than the last.... I
could never stand more than three months of dreaming at a time without
feeling an irresistible desire to plunge into society. To plunge into
society meant to visit my superior at the office, Anton Antonitch
Syetotchkin. He was the only permanent acquaintance I have had in
my life, and I wonder at the fact myself now. But I only went to see
him when that phase came over me, and when my dreams had reached such
a point of bliss that it became essential at once to embrace my fellows
and all mankind; and for that purpose I needed, at least, one human
being, actually existing. I had to call on Anton Antonitch, however,
on Tuesday -- his at-home day; so I had always to time my passionate
desire to embrace humanity so that it might fall on a Tuesday.
This Anton Antonitch lived on the fourth storey
in a house in Five Corners, in four low-pitched rooms, one smaller
than the other, of a particularly frugal and sallow appearance. He
had two daughters and their aunt, who used to pour out the tea. Of
the daughters one was thirteen and another fourteen, they both had
snub noses, and I was awfully shy of them because they were always
whispering and giggling together. The master of the house usually
sat in his study on a leather couch in front of the table with some
grey-headed gentleman, usually a colleague from our office or some
other department. I never saw more than two or three visitors there,
always the same. They talked about the excise duty; about business
in the senate, about salaries, about promotions, about His Excellency,
and the best means of pleasing him, and so on. I had the patience
to sit like a fool beside these people for four hours at a stretch,
listening to them without knowing what to say to them or venturing
to say a word. I became stupefied, several times I felt myself perspiring,
I was overcome by a sort of paralysis; but this was pleasant and good
for me. On returning home I deferred for a time my desire to embrace
I had however one other acquaintance of a sort,
Simonov, who was an old schoolfellow. I had a number of schoolfellows,
indeed, in Petersburg, but I did not associate with them and had even
given up nodding to them in the street. I believe I had transferred
into the department I was in simply to avoid their company and to
cut off all connection with my hateful childhood. Curses on that school
and all those terrible years of penal servitude! In short, I parted
from my schoolfellows as soon as I got out into the world. There were
two or three left to whom I nodded in the street. One of them was
Simonov, who had in no way been distinguished at school, was of a
quiet and equable disposition; but I discovered in him a certain independence
of character and even honesty I don't even suppose that he was particularly
stupid. I had at one time spent some rather soulful moments with him,
but these had not lasted long and had somehow been suddenly clouded
over. He was evidently uncomfortable at these reminiscences, and was,
I fancy, always afraid that I might take up the same tone again. I
suspected that he had an aversion for me, but still I went on going
to see him, not being quite certain of it.
And so on one occasion, unable to endure my solitude
and knowing that as it was Thursday Anton Antonitch's door would be
closed, I thought of Simonov. Climbing up to his fourth storey I was
thinking that the man disliked me and that it was a mistake to go
and see him. But as it always happened that such reflections impelled
me, as though purposely, to put myself into a false position, I went
in. It was almost a year since I had last seen Simonov.
I found two of my old schoolfellows with
him. They seemed to be discussing an important matter. All of
them took scarcely any notice of my entrance, which was strange, for
I had not met them for years. Evidently they looked upon me as something
on the level of a common fly. I had not been treated like that even
at school, though they all hated me. I knew, of course, that they
must despise me now for my lack of success in the service, and for
my having let myself sink so low, going about
badly dressed and so on -- which seemed to them a sign of my incapacity
and insignificance. But I had not expected such contempt. Simonov
was positively surprised at my turning up. Even in old days he had
always seemed surprised at my coming. All this disconcerted me: I
sat down, feeling rather miserable, and began listening to what they
were saying. They were engaged in warm and earnest
conversation about a farewell dinner which they wanted to arrange
for the next day to a comrade of theirs called Zverkov, an officer
in the army, who was going away to a distant province. This Zverkov
had been all the time at school with me too. I had begun to hate him
particularly in the upper forms. In the lower forms he had simply
been a pretty, playful boy whom everybody liked. I had hated him,
however, even in the lower forms, just because he was a pretty and
playful boy. He was always bad at his lessons and got worse and worse
as he went on; however, he left with a good certificate, as he had
powerful interests. During his last year at school he came in for
an estate of two hundred serfs, and as almost all of us were poor
he took up a swaggering tone among us. He was vulgar in the extreme,
but at the same time he was a good-natured fellow, even in his swaggering.
In spite of superficial, fantastic and sham notions of honour and
dignity, all but very few of us positively grovelled before Zverkov,
and the more so the more he swaggered. And it was not from any interested
motive that they grovelled, but simply because he had been favoured
by the gifts of nature. Moreover, it was, as it were, an accepted
idea among us that Zverkov was a specialist in regard to tact and
the social graces. This last fact particularly infuriated me. I hated
the abrupt self-confident tone of his voice, his admiration of his
own witticisms, which were often frightfully stupid, though he was
bold in his language; I hated his handsome, but stupid face (for which
I would, however, have gladly exchanged my intelligent one), and the
free-and-easy military manners in fashion in the "'forties."
I hated the way in which he used to talk of his future conquests of
women (he did not venture to begin his attack upon women until he
had the epaulettes of an officer, and was looking forward to them
with impatience), and boasted of the duels he would constantly be
fighting. I remember how I, invariably so taciturn, suddenly fastened
upon Zverkov, when one day talking at a leisure moment with his schoolfellows
of his future relations with the fair sex, and growing as sportive
as a puppy in the sun, he all at once declared that he would not leave
a single village girl on his estate unnoticed, that that was his droit
de seigneur, and that if the peasants dared to protest he would have
them all flogged and double the tax on them, the bearded rascals.
Our servile rabble applauded, but I attacked him, not from compassion
for the girls and their fathers, but simply because they were applauding
such an insect. I got the better of him on that occasion, but though
Zverkov was stupid he was lively and impudent, and so laughed it off,
and in such a way that my victory was not really complete; the laugh
was on his side. He got the better of me on several occasions afterwards,
but without malice, jestingly, casually. I remained angrily and contemptuously
silent and would not answer him. When we left school he made advances
to me; I did not rebuff them, for I was flattered, but we soon parted
and quite naturally. Afterwards I heard of his barrack-room success
as a lieutenant, and of the fast life he was leading. Then there came
other rumours -- of his successes in the service. By then he had taken
to cutting me in the street, and I suspected that he was afraid of
compromising himself by greeting a personage as insignificant as me.
I saw him once in the theatre, in the third tier of boxes. By then
he was wearing shoulder-straps. He was twisting and twirling about,
ingratiating himself with the daughters of an ancient General. In
three years he had gone off considerably, though he was still rather
handsome and adroit. One could see that by the time he was thirty
he would be corpulent. So it was to this Zverkov that my schoolfellows
were going to give a dinner on his departure. They had kept up with
him for those three years, though privately they did not consider
themselves on an equal footing with him, I am convinced of that.
Of Simonov's two visitors, one was Ferfitchkin,
a Russianised German -- a little fellow with the face of a monkey,
a blockhead who was always deriding everyone, a very bitter enemy
of mine from our days in the lower forms -- a vulgar, impudent, swaggering
fellow, who affected a most sensitive feeling of personal honour,
though, of course, he was a wretched little coward at heart. He was
one of those worshippers of Zverkov who made up to the latter from
interested motives, and often borrowed money from him. Simonov's other
visitor, Trudolyubov, was a person in no way remarkable -- a tall
young fellow, in the army, with a cold face, fairly honest, though
he worshipped success of every sort, and was only capable of thinking
of promotion. He was some sort of distant relation of Zverkov's, and
this, foolish as it seems, gave him a certain importance among us.
He always thought me of no consequence whatever; his behaviour to
me, though not quite courteous, was tolerable. "Well,
with seven roubles each," said Trudolyubov, "twenty-one
roubles between the three of us, we ought to be able to get a good
dinner. Zverkov, of course, won't pay."
"Of course not, since we are inviting him,"
"Can you imagine," Ferfitchkin interrupted
hotly and conceitedly, like some insolent flunkey boasting of his
master the General's decorations, "can you imagine that Zverkov
will let us pay alone? He will accept from delicacy, but he will order
half a dozen bottles of champagne."
"Do we want half a dozen for the four of us?"
observed Trudolyubov, taking notice only of the half dozen.
"So the three of us, with Zverkov for the fourth,
twenty-one roubles, at the Hôtel de Paris at five o'clock tomorrow,"
Simonov, who had been asked to make the arrangements, concluded finally,
"How twenty-one roubles?" I asked in some
agitation, with a show of being offended; "if you count me it
will not be twenty-one, but twenty-eight roubles."
It seemed to me that to invite myself so suddenly
and unexpectedly would be positively graceful, and that they would
all be conquered at once and would look at me with respect.
"Do you want to join, too?" Simonov observed,
with no appearance of pleasure, seeming to avoid looking at me. He
knew me through and through.
It infuriated me that he knew me so thoroughly.
"Why not? I am an old schoolfellow of his,
too, I believe, and I must own I feel hurt that you have left me out,"
I said, boiling over again.
"And where were we to find you?" Ferfitchkin
put in roughly.
"You never were on good terms with Zverkov,"
Trudolyubov added, frowning.
But I had already clutched at the idea and would
not give it up.
"It seems to me that no one has a right to
form an opinion upon that," I retorted in a shaking voice, as
though something tremendous had happened. "Perhaps that is just
my reason for wishing it now, that I have not always been on good
terms with him." "Oh, there's no making
you out ... with these refinements," Trudolyubov jeered.
"We'll put your name down," Simonov decided,
addressing me. "Tomorrow at five-o'clock at the Hôtel de
"What about the money?" Ferfitchkin began
in an undertone, indicating me to Simonov, but he broke off, for even
Simonov was embarrassed.
"That will do," said Trudolyubov, getting
up. "If he wants to come so much, let him."
"But it's a private thing, between us friends,"
Ferfitchkin said crossly, as he, too, picked up his hat. "It's
not an official gathering."
"We do not want at all, perhaps..."
They went away. Ferfitchkin did not greet me in
any way as he went out, Trudolyubov barely nodded. Simonov, with whom
I was left tête-à-tête, was in a state of vexation
and perplexity, and looked at me queerly. He did not sit down and
did not ask me to.
"H'm ... yes ... tomorrow, then. Will you pay
your subscription now? I just ask so as to know," he muttered
I flushed crimson, as I did so I remembered that
I had owed Simonov fifteen roubles for ages -- which I had, indeed,
never forgotten, though I had not paid it.
"You will understand, Simonov, that I could
have no idea when I came here.... I am very much vexed that I have
"All right, all right, that doesn't matter.
You can pay tomorrow after the dinner. I simply wanted to know....
He broke off and began pacing the room still more
vexed. As he walked he began to stamp with his heels.
"Am I keeping you?" I asked, after two
minutes of silence.
"Oh!" he said, starting, "that is
-- to be truthful -- yes. I have to go and see someone ... not far
from here," he added in an apologetic voice, somewhat abashed.
"My goodness, why didn't you say so?"
I cried, seizing my cap, with an astonishingly free-and-easy air,
which was the last thing I should have expected of myself
"It's close by ... not two paces away,"
Simonov repeated, accompanying me to the front door with a fussy air
which did not suit him at all. "So five o'clock, punctually,
tomorrow," he called down the stairs after me. He was very glad
to get rid of me. I was in a fury.
"What possessed me, what possessed me to force
myself upon them?" I wondered, grinding my teeth as I strode
along the street, "for a scoundrel, a pig like that Zverkov!
Of course I had better not go; of course, I must just snap my fingers
at them. I am not bound in any way. I'll send Simonov a note by tomorrow's
But what made me furious was that I knew for certain
that I should go, that I should make a point of going; and the more
tactless, the more unseemly my going would be, the more certainly
I would go.
And there was a positive obstacle to my going: I
had no money. All I had was nine roubles, I had to give seven of that
to my servant, Apollon, for his monthly wages. That was all I paid
him -- he had to keep himself.
Not to pay him was impossible, considering his character.
But I will talk about that fellow, about that plague of mine, another
However, I knew I should go and should not pay him
That night I had the most hideous dreams. No wonder;
all the evening I had been oppressed by memories of my miserable days
at school, and I could not shake them off. I was sent to the school
by distant relations, upon whom I was dependent and of whom I have
heard nothing since -- they sent me there a forlorn, silent boy, already
crushed by their reproaches, already troubled by doubt, and looking
with savage distrust at everyone. My schoolfellows met me with spiteful
and merciless jibes because I was not like any of them. But I could
not endure their taunts; I could not give in to them with the ignoble
readiness with which they gave in to one another. I hated them from
the first, and shut myself away from everyone in timid, wounded and
disproportionate pride. Their coarseness revolted me. They laughed
cynically at my face, at my clumsy figure; and yet what stupid faces
they had themselves. In our school the boys' faces seemed in a special
way to degenerate and grow stupider. How many fine-looking boys came
to us! In a few years they became repulsive. Even at sixteen I wondered
at them morosely; even then I was struck by the pettiness of their
thoughts, the stupidity of their pursuits, their games, their conversations.
They had no understanding of such essential things, they took no interest
in such striking, impressive subjects, that I could not help considering
them inferior to myself. It was not wounded vanity that drove me to
it, and for God's sake do not thrust upon me your hackneyed remarks,
repeated to nausea, that "I was only a dreamer," while they
even then had an understanding of life. They understood nothing, they
had no idea of real life, and I swear that that was what made me most
indignant with them. On the contrary, the most obvious, striking reality
they accepted with fantastic stupidity and even at that time were
accustomed to respect success. Everything that was just, but oppressed
and looked down upon, they laughed at heartlessly and shamefully.
They took rank for intelligence; even at sixteen they were already
talking about a snug berth. Of course, a great deal of it was due
to their stupidity, to the bad examples with which they had always
been surrounded in their childhood and boyhood. They were monstrously
depraved. Of course a great deal of that, too, was superficial and
an assumption of cynicism; of course there were glimpses of youth
and freshness even in their depravity; but even that freshness was
not attractive, and showed itself in a certain rakishness. I hated
them horribly, though perhaps I was worse than any of them. They repaid
me in the same way, and did not conceal their aversion for me. But
by then I did not desire their affection: on the contrary, I continually
longed for their humiliation. To escape from their derision I purposely
began to make all the progress I could with my studies and forced
my way to the very top. This impressed them. Moreover, they all began
by degrees to grasp that I had already read books none of them could
read, and understood things (not forming part of our school curriculum)
of which they had not even heard. They took a savage and sarcastic
view of it, but were morally impressed, especially as the teachers
began to notice me on those grounds. The mockery ceased, but the hostility
remained, and cold and strained relations became permanent between
us. In the end I could not put up with it: with years a craving for
society, for friends, developed in me. I attempted to get on friendly
terms with some of my schoolfellows; but somehow or other my intimacy
with them was always strained and soon ended of itself. Once, indeed,
I did have a friend. But I was already a tyrant at heart; I wanted
to exercise unbounded sway over him; I tried to instil into him a
contempt for his surroundings; I required of him a disdainful and
complete break with those surroundings. I frightened him with my passionate
affection; I reduced him to tears, to hysterics. He was a simple and
devoted soul; but when he devoted himself to me entirely I began to
hate him immediately and repulsed him -- as though all I needed him
for was to win a victory over him, to subjugate him and nothing else.
But I could not subjugate all of them; my friend was not at all like
them either, he was, in fact, a rare exception. The first thing I
did on leaving school was to give up the special job for which I had
been destined so as to break all ties, to curse my past and shake
the dust from off my feet.... And goodness knows why, after all that,
I should go trudging off to Simonov's! Early next
morning I roused myself and jumped out of bed with excitement, as
though it were all about to happen at once. But I believed that some
radical change in my life was coming, and would inevitably come that
day. Owing to its rarity, perhaps, any external event, however trivial,
always made me feel as though some radical change in my life were
at hand. I went to the office, however, as usual, but sneaked away
home two hours earlier to get ready. The great thing, I thought, is
not to be the first to arrive, or they will think I am overjoyed at
coming. But there were thousands of such great points to consider,
and they all agitated and overwhelmed me. I polished my boots a second
time with my own hands; nothing in the world would have induced Apollon
to clean them twice a day, as he considered that it was more than
his duties required of him. I stole the brushes to clean them from
the passage, being careful he should not detect it, for fear of his
contempt. Then I minutely examined my clothes and thought that everything
looked old, worn and threadbare. I had let myself get too slovenly.
My uniform, perhaps, was tidy, but I could not go out to dinner in
my uniform. The worst of it was that on the knee of my trousers was
a big yellow stain. I had a foreboding that that stain would deprive
me of nine-tenths of my personal dignity. I knew, too, that it was
very poor to think so. "But this is no time for thinking: now
I am in for the real thing," I thought, and my heart sank. I
knew, too, perfectly well even then, that I was monstrously exaggerating
the facts. But how could I help it? I could not control myself and
was already shaking with fever. With despair I pictured to myself
how coldly and disdainfully that "scoundrel" Zverkov would
meet me; with what dull-witted, invincible contempt the blockhead
Trudolyubov would look at me; with what impudent rudeness the insect
Ferfitchkin would snigger at me in order to curry favour with Zverkov;
how completely Simonov would take it all in, and how he would despise
me for the abjectness of my vanity and lack of spirit -- and, worst
of all, how paltry, unliterary, commonplace it would all be. Of course,
the best thing would be not to go at all. But that was most impossible
of all: if I feel impelled to do anything, I seem to be pitchforked
into it. I should have jeered at myself ever afterwards: "So
you funked it, you funked it, you funked the real thing!" On
the contrary, I passionately longed to show all that "rabble"
that I was by no means such a spiritless creature as I seemed to myself.
What is more, even in the acutest paroxysm of this cowardly fever,
I dreamed of getting the upper hand, of dominating them, carrying
them away, making them like me -- if only for my "elevation of
thought and unmistakable wit." They would abandon Zverkov, he
would sit on one side, silent and ashamed, while I should crush him.
Then, perhaps, we would be reconciled and drink to our everlasting
friendship; but what was most bitter and humiliating for me was that
I knew even then, knew fully and for certain, that I needed nothing
of all this really, that I did not really want to crush, to subdue,
to attract them, and that I did not care a straw really for the result,
even if I did achieve it. Oh, how I prayed for the day to pass quickly!
In unutterable anguish I went to the window, opened the movable pane
and looked out into the troubled darkness of the thickly falling wet
snow. At last my wretched little clock hissed out five. I seized my
hat and, trying not to look at Apollon, who had been all day expecting
his month's wages, but in his foolishness was unwilling to be the
first to speak about it, I slipped between him and the door and, lumping
into a high-class sledge, on which I spent my last half rouble, I
drove up in grand style to the Hôtel de Paris.
I had been certain the day before that I should
be the first to arrive. But it was not a question of being the
first to arrive. Not only were they not there, but I had difficulty
in finding our room. The table was not laid even. What did it mean?
After a good many questions I elicited from the waiters that the dinner
had been ordered not for five, but for six o'clock. This was confirmed
at the buffet too. I felt really ashamed to go on questioning them.
It was only twenty-five minutes past five. If they changed the dinner
hour they ought at least to have let me know -- that is what the post
is for, and not to have put me in an absurd position in my own eyes
and ... and even before the waiters. I sat down; the servant began
laying the table; I felt even more humiliated when he was present.
Towards six o'clock they brought in candles, though there were lamps
burning in the room. It had not occurred to the waiter, however, to
bring them in at once when I arrived. In the next room two gloomy,
angry-looking persons were eating their dinners in silence at two
different tables. There was a great deal of noise, even shouting,
in a room further away; one could hear the laughter of a crowd of
people, and nasty little shrieks in French: there were ladies at the
dinner. It was sickening, in fact. I rarely passed more unpleasant
moments, so much so that when they did arrive all together punctually
at six I was overjoyed to see them, as though they were my deliverers,
and even forgot that it was incumbent upon me to show resentment.
Zverkov walked in at the head of them; evidently
he was the leading spirit. He and all of them were laughing; but,
seeing me, Zverkov drew himself up a little, walked up to me deliberately
with a slight, rather jaunty bend from the waist. He shook hands with
me in a friendly, but not over-friendly, fashion, with a sort of circumspect
courtesy like that of a General, as though in giving me his hand he
were warding off something. I had imagined, on the contrary, that
on coming in he would at once break into his habitual thin, shrill
laugh and fall to making his insipid jokes and witticisms. I had been
preparing for them ever since the previous day, but I had not expected
such condescension, such high-official courtesy. So, then, he felt
himself ineffably superior to me in every respect! If he only meant
to insult me by that high-official tone, it would not matter, I thought
-- I could pay him back for it one way or another. But what if, in
reality, without the least desire to be offensive, that sheepshead
had a notion in earnest that he was superior to me and could only
look at me in a patronising way? The very supposition made me gasp.
"I was surprised to hear of your desire to
join us," he began, lisping and drawling, which was something
new. "You and I seem to have seen nothing of one another. You
fight shy of us. You shouldn't. We are not such terrible people as
you think. Well, anyway, I am glad to renew our acquaintance."
And he turned carelessly to put down his hat on
"Have you been waiting long?" Trudolyubov
"I arrived at five o'clock as you told me yesterday,"
I answered aloud, with an irritability that threatened an explosion.
"Didn't you let him know that we had changed
the hour?" said Trudolyubov to Simonov.
"No, I didn't. I forgot," the latter replied,
with no sign of regret, and without even apologising to me he went
off to order the hors d'oeuvre.
"So you've been here a whole hour? Oh, poor
fellow!" Zverkov cried ironically, for to his notions this was
bound to be extremely funny. That rascal Ferfitchkin followed with
his nasty little snigger like a puppy yapping. My position struck
him, too, as exquisitely ludicrous and embarrassing.
"It isn't funny at all!" I cried to Ferfitchkin,
more and more irritated. "It wasn't my fault, but other people's.
They neglected to let me know. It was ... it was ... it was simply
"It's not only absurd, but something else as
well," muttered Trudolyubov, naively taking my part. "You
are not hard enough upon it. It was simply rudeness -- unintentional,
of course. And how could Simonov ... h'm!"
"If a trick like that had been played on me,"
observed Ferfitchkin, "I should ..."
"But you should have ordered something for yourself,"
Zverkov interrupted, "or simply asked for dinner without waiting
"You will allow that I might have done that
without your permission," I rapped out. "If I waited, it
"Let us sit down, gentlemen," cried Simonov,
coming in. "Everything is ready; I can answer for the champagne;
it is capitally frozen.... You see, I did not know your address, where
was I to look for you?" he suddenly turned to me, but again he
seemed to avoid looking at me. Evidently he had something against
me. It must have been what happened yesterday.
All sat down; I did the same. It was a round table.
Trudolyubov was on my left, Simonov on my right, Zverkov was sitting
opposite, Ferfitchkin next to him, between him and Trudolyubov.
"Tell me, are you ... in a government office?"
Zverkov went on attending to me. Seeing that I was embarrassed he
seriously thought that he ought to be friendly to me, and, so to speak,
cheer me up.
"Does he want me to throw a bottle at his head?"
I thought, in a fury. In my novel surroundings I was unnaturally ready
to be irritated.
"In the N -- -office," I answered jerkily,
with my eyes on my plate.
"And ha-ave you a go-od berth? I say, what
ma-a-de you leave your original job?"
"What ma-a-de me was that I wanted to leave
my original job," I drawled more than he, hardly able to control
myself. Ferfitchkin went off into a guffaw. Simonov looked at me ironically.
Trudolyubov left off eating and began looking at me with curiosity.
Zverkov winced, but he tried not to notice it.
"And the remuneration?"
"I mean, your sa-a-lary?"
"Why are you cross-examining me?" However,
I told him at once what my salary was. I turned horribly red.
"It is not very handsome," Zverkov observed
"Yes, you can't afford to dine at cafes on
that," Ferfitchkin added insolently.
"To my thinking it's very poor," Trudolyubov observed gravely.
"And how thin you have grown! How you have
changed!" added Zverkov, with a shade of venom in his voice,
scanning me and my attire with a sort of insolent compassion.
"Oh, spare his blushes," cried Ferfitchkin,
"My dear sir, allow me to tell you I am not
blushing," I broke out at last; "do you hear? I am dining
here, at this cafe, at my own expense, not at other people's -- note
that, Mr. Ferfitchkin."
"Wha-at? Isn't every one here dining at his
own expense? You would seem to be ..." Ferfitchkin flew out at
me, turning as red as a lobster, and looking me in the face with fury.
"Tha-at," I answered, feeling I had gone
too far, "and I imagine it would be better to talk of something
"You intend to show off your intelligence,
"Don't disturb yourself, that would be quite
out of place here."
"Why are you clacking away like that, my good
sir, eh? Have you gone out of your wits in your office?"
"Enough, gentlemen, enough!" Zverkov cried,
"How stupid it is!" muttered Simonov.
"It really is stupid. We have met here, a company
of friends, for a farewell dinner to a comrade and you carry on an
altercation," said Trudolyubov, rudely addressing himself to
me alone. "You invited yourself to join us, so don't disturb
the general harmony."
"Enough, enough!" cried Zverkov. "Give
over, gentlemen, it's out of place. Better let me tell you how I nearly
got married the day before yesterday ...."
And then followed a burlesque narrative of how this
gentleman had almost been married two days before. There was not a
word about the marriage, however, but the story was adorned with generals,
colonels and kammer-junkers, while Zverkov almost took the lead among
them. It was greeted with approving laughter; Ferfitchkin positively
No one paid any attention to me, and I sat crushed
"Good Heavens, these are not the people for
me!" I thought. "And what a fool I have made of myself before
them! I let Ferfitchkin go too far, though. The brutes imagine they
are doing me an honour in letting me sit down with them. They don't
understand that it's an honour to them and not to me! I've grown thinner!
My clothes! Oh, damn my trousers! Zverkov noticed the yellow stain
on the knee as soon as he came in.... But what's the use! I must get
up at once, this very minute, take my hat and simply go without a
word ... with contempt! And tomorrow I can send a challenge. The scoundrels!
As though I cared about the seven roubles. They may think .... Damn
it! I don't care about the seven roubles. I'll go this minute!"
Of course I remained. I drank sherry and Lafitte
by the glassful in my discomfiture. Being unaccustomed to it, I was
quickly affected. My annoyance increased as the wine went to my head.
I longed all at once to insult them all in a most flagrant manner
and then go away. To seize the moment and show what I could do, so
that they would say, "He's clever, though he is absurd,"
and ... and ... in fact, damn them all!
I scanned them all insolently with my drowsy eyes.
But they seemed to have forgotten me altogether. They were noisy,
vociferous, cheerful. Zverkov was talking all the time. I began listening.
Zverkov was talking of some exuberant lady whom he had at last led
on to declaring her love (of course, he was lying like a horse), and
how he had been helped in this affair by an intimate friend of his,
a Prince Kolya, an officer in the hussars, who had three thousand
"And yet this Kolya, who has three thousand
serfs, has not put in an appearance here tonight to see you off,"
I cut in suddenly
For one minute every one was silent. "You are
drunk already." Trudolyubov deigned to notice me at last, glancing
contemptuously in my direction. Zverkov, without a word, examined
me as though I were an insect. I dropped my eyes. Simonov made haste
to fill up the glasses with champagne.
Trudolyubov raised his glass, as did everyone else
"Your health and good luck on the journey!"
he cried to Zverkov. "To old times, to our future, hurrah!"
They all tossed off their glasses, and crowded round
Zverkov to kiss him. I did not move; my full glass stood untouched
"Why, aren't you going to drink it?" roared Trudolyubov,
losing patience and turning menacingly to me.
"I want to make a speech separately, on my
own account ... and then I'll drink it, Mr. Trudolyubov."
"Spiteful brute!" muttered Simonov. I
drew myself up in my chair and feverishly seized my glass, prepared
for something extraordinary, though I did not know myself precisely
what I was going to say.
"Silence!" cried Ferfitchkin. "Now
for a display of wit!"
Zverkov waited very gravely, knowing what was coming.
"Mr. Lieutenant Zverkov," I began, "let
me tell you that I hate phrases, phrasemongers and men in corsets
... that's the first point, and there is a second one to follow it."
There was a general stir.
"The second point is: I hate ribaldry and ribald
talkers. Especially ribald talkers! The third point: I love justice,
truth and honesty." I went on almost mechanically, for I was
beginning to shiver with horror myself and had no idea how I came
to be talking like this. "I love thought, Monsieur Zverkov; I
love true comradeship, on an equal footing and not ... H'm ... I love
... But, however, why not? I will drink your health, too, Mr. Zverkov.
Seduce the Circassian girls, shoot the enemies of the fatherland and
... and ... to your health, Monsieur Zverkov!"
Zverkov got up from his seat, bowed to me and said:
"I am very much obliged to you." He was
frightfully offended and turned pale.
"Damn the fellow!" roared Trudolyubov,
bringing his fist down on the table.
"Well, he wants a punch in the face for that,"
"We ought to turn him out," muttered Simonov.
"Not a word, gentlemen, not a movement!"
cried Zverkov solemnly, checking the general indignation. "I
thank you all, but I can show him for myself how much value I attach
to his words."
"Mr. Ferfitchkin, you will give me satisfaction
tomorrow for your words just now!" I said aloud, turning with
dignity to Ferfitchkin.
"A duel, you mean? Certainly," he answered.
But probably I was so ridiculous as I challenged him and it was so
out of keeping with my appearance that everyone including Ferfitchkin
was prostrate with laughter. "Yes, let him
alone, of course! He is quite drunk," Trudolyubov said with disgust.
"I shall never forgive myself for letting him
join us," Simonov muttered again.
"Now is the time to throw a bottle at their
heads," I thought to myself I picked up the bottle ... and filled
my glass...."No, I'd better sit on to the end," I went on
thinking; "you would be pleased, my friends, if I went away.
Nothing will induce me to go. I'll go on sitting here and drinking
to the end, on purpose, as a sign that I don't think you of the slightest
consequence. I will go on sitting and drinking, because this is a
public-house and I paid my entrance money. I'll sit here and drink,
for I look upon you as so many pawns, as inanimate pawns. I'll sit
here and drink... and sing if I want to, yes, sing, for I have the
right to ... to sing... H'm!"
But I did not sing. I simply tried not to look at
any of them. I assumed most unconcerned attitudes and waited with
impatience for them to speak first. But alas, they did not address
me! And oh, how I wished, how I wished at that moment to be reconciled
to them! lt struck eight, at last nine. They moved from the table
to the sofa. Zverkov stretched himself on a lounge and put one foot
on a round table. Wine was brought there. He did, as a fact, order
three bottles on his own account. I, of course, was not invited to
join them. They all sat round him on the sofa. They listened to him,
almost with reverence. It was evident that they were fond of him.
"What for? What for?" I wondered. From time to time they
were moved to drunken enthusiasm and kissed each other. They talked
of the Caucasus, of the nature of true passion, of snug berths in
the service, of the income of an hussar called Podharzhevsky, whom
none of them knew personally, and rejoiced in the largeness of it,
of the extraordinary grace and beauty of a Princess D., whom none
of them had ever seen; then it came to Shakespeare's being immortal.
I smiled contemptuously and walked up and down the
other side of the room, opposite the sofa, from the table to the stove
and back again. I tried my very utmost to show them that I could do
without them, and yet I purposely made a noise with my boots, thumping
with my heels. But it was all in vain. They paid no attention. I had
the patience to walk up and down in front of them from eight o'clock
till eleven, in the same place, from the table to the stove and back
again. "I walk up and down to please myself and no one can prevent
me." The waiter who came into the room stopped, from time to
time, to look at me. I was somewhat giddy from turning round so often;
at moments it seemed to me that I was in delirium. During those three
hours I was three times soaked with sweat and dry again. At times,
with an intense, acute pang I was stabbed to the heart by the thought
that ten years, twenty years, forty years would pass, and that even
in forty years I would remember with loathing and humiliation those
filthiest, most ludicrous, and most awful moments of my life. No one
could have gone out of his way to degrade himself more shamelessly,
and I fully realised it, fully, and yet I went on pacing up and down
from the table to the stove. "Oh, if you only knew what thoughts
and feelings I am capable of, how cultured I am!" I thought at
moments, mentally addressing the sofa on which my enemies were sitting.
But my enemies behaved as though I were not in the room. Once -- only
once -- they turned towards me, just when Zverkov was talking about
Shakespeare, and I suddenly gave a contemptuous laugh. I laughed in
such an affected and disgusting way that they all at once broke off
their conversation, and silently and gravely for two minutes watched
me walking up and down from the table to the stove, taking no notice
of them. But nothing came of it: they said nothing, and two minutes
later they ceased to notice me again. lt struck eleven.
"Friends," cried Zverkov getting up from
the sofa, "let us all be off now, there!"
"Of course, of course," the others assented.
I turned sharply to Zverkov. I was so harassed, so exhausted, that
I would have cut my throat to put an end to it. I was in a fever;
my hair, soaked with perspiration, stuck to my forehead and temples.
"Zverkov, I beg your pardon," I said abruptly
and resolutely. "Ferfitchkin, yours too, and everyone's, everyone's:
I have insulted you all!"
"Aha! A duel is not in your line, old man,"
Ferfitchkin hissed venomously.
It sent a sharp pang to my heart.
"No, it's not the duel I am afraid of, Ferfitchkin!
I am ready to fight you tomorrow, after we are reconciled. I insist
upon it, in fact, and you cannot refuse. I want to show you that I
am not afraid of a duel. You shall fire first and I shall fire into
"He is comforting himself," said Simonov.
"He's simply raving," said Trudolyubov.
"But let us pass. Why are you barring our way?
What do you want?" Zverkov answered disdainfully.
They were all flushed, their eyes were bright: they
had been drinking heavily.
"I ask for your friendship, Zverkov; I insulted
you, but ..."
"Insulted? You insulted me? Understand, sir,
that you never, under any circumstances, could possibly insult me."
"And that's enough for you. Out of the way!"
"Olympia is mine, friends, that's agreed!"
"We won't dispute your right, we won't dispute
your right," the others answered, laughing.
I stood as though spat upon. The party went noisily
out of the room. Trudolyubov struck up some stupid song. Simonov remained
behind for a moment to tip the waiters. I suddenly went up to him.
"Simonov! give me six roubles!" I said,
with desperate resolution.
He looked at me in extreme amazement, with vacant
eyes. He, too, was drunk.
"You don't mean you are coming with us?"
"I've no money," he snapped out, and with
a scornful laugh he went out of the room.
I clutched at his overcoat. It was a nightmare.
"Simonov, I saw you had money. Why do you refuse
me? Am I a scoundrel? Beware of refusing me: if you knew, if you knew
why I am asking! My whole future, my whole plans depend upon it!"
Simonov pulled out the money and almost flung it
"Take it, if you have no sense of shame!"
he pronounced pitilessly, and ran to overtake them.
I was left for a moment alone. Disorder, the remains
of dinner, a broken wine-glass on the floor, spilt wine, cigarette
ends, fumes of drink and delirium in my brain, an agonising misery
in my heart and finally the waiter, who had seen and heard all and
was looking inquisitively into my face.
"I am going there!" I cried. "Either
they shall all go down on their knees to beg for my friendship, or
I will give Zverkov a slap in the face!"
"So this is it, this is it at last -- contact
with real life," I muttered as I ran headlong downstairs.
"This is very different from the Pope's leaving Rome and going
to Brazil, very different from the ball on Lake Como!"
"You are a scoundrel," a thought flashed
through my mind, "if you laugh at this now."
"No matter!" I cried, answering myself.
"Now everything is lost!"
There was no trace to be seen of them, but that
made no difference -- I knew where they had gone.
At the steps was standing a solitary night sledge-driver
in a rough peasant coat, powdered over with the still falling, wet,
and as it were warm, snow. It was hot and steamy. The little shaggy
piebald horse was also covered with snow and coughing, I remember
that very well. I made a rush for the roughly made sledge; but as
soon as I raised my foot to get into it, the recollection of how Simonov
had just given me six roubles seemed to double me up and I tumbled
into the sledge like a sack.
"No, I must do a great deal to make up for
all that," I cried. "But I will make up for it or perish
on the spot this very night. Start!"
We set off. There was a perfect whirl in my head.
"They won't go down on their knees to beg for
my friendship. That is a mirage, cheap mirage, revolting, romantic
and fantastical -- that's another ball on Lake Como. And so I am bound
to slap Zverkov's face! It is my duty to. And so it is settled; I
am flying to give him a slap in the face. Hurry up!"
The driver tugged at the reins.
"As soon as I go in I'll give it him. Ought I before giving
him the slap to say a few words by way of preface? No. I'll simply
go in and give it him. They will all be sitting in the drawing-room,
and he with Olympia on the sofa. That damned Olympia! She laughed
at my looks on one occasion and refused me. I'll pull Olympia's hair,
pull Zverkov's ears! No, better one ear, and pull him by it round
the room. Maybe they will all begin beating me and will kick me out.
That's most likely, indeed. No matter! Anyway, I shall first slap
him; the initiative will be mine; and by the laws of honour that is
everything: he will be branded and cannot wipe off the slap by any
blows, by nothing but a duel. He will be forced to fight. And let
them beat me now. Let them, the ungrateful wretches! Trudolyubov will
beat me hardest, he is so strong; Ferfitchkin will be sure to catch
hold sideways and tug at my hair. But no matter, no matter! That's
what I am going for. The blockheads will be forced at last to see
the tragedy of it all! When they drag me to the door I shall call
out to them that in reality they are not worth my little finger. Get
on, driver, get on!" I cried to the driver. He started and flicked
his whip, I shouted so savagely.
"We shall fight at daybreak, that's a settled
thing. I've done with the office. Ferfitchkin made a joke about it
just now. But where can I get pistols? Nonsense! I'll get my salary
in advance and buy them. And powder, and bullets? That's the second's
business. And how can it all be done by daybreak? and where am I to
get a second? I have no friends. Nonsense!" I cried, lashing
myself up more and more. "It's of no consequence! the first person
I meet in the street is bound to be my second, just as he would be
bound to pull a drowning man out of water. The most eccentric things
may happen. Even if I were to ask the director himself to be my second
tomorrow, he would be bound to consent, if only from a feeling of
chivalry, and to keep the secret! Anton Antonitch... ."
The fact is, that at that very minute the disgusting
absurdity of my plan and the other side of the question was clearer
and more vivid to my imagination than it could be to anyone on earth.
"Get on, driver, get on, you rascal, get on!"
"Ugh, sir!" said the son of toil.
Cold shivers suddenly ran down me. Wouldn't it be
better ... to go straight home? My God, my God! Why did I invite myself
to this dinner yesterday? But no, it's impossible. And my walking
up and down for three hours from the table to the stove? No, they,
they and no one else must pay for my walking up and down! They must
wipe out this dishonour! Drive on! And what if they
give me into custody? They won't dare! They'll be afraid of the scandal.
And what if Zverkov is so contemptuous that he refuses to fight a
duel? He is sure to; but in that case I'll show them ... I will turn
up at the posting station when he's setting off tomorrow, I'll catch
him by the leg, I'll pull off his coat when he gets into the carriage.
I'll get my teeth into his hand, I'll bite him. "See what lengths
you can drive a desperate man to!" He may hit me on the head
and they may belabour me from behind. I will shout to the assembled
multitude: "Look at this young puppy who is driving off to captivate
the Circassian girls after letting me spit in his face!"
Of course, after that everything will be over! The
office will have vanished off the face of the earth. I shall be arrested,
I shall be tried, I shall be dismissed from the service, thrown in
prison, sent to Siberia. Never mind! In fifteen years when they let
me out of prison I will trudge off to him, a beggar, in rags. I shall
find him in some provincial town. He will be married and happy. He
will have a grown-up daughter.... I shall say to him: "Look,
monster, at my hollow cheeks and my rags! I've lost everything --
my career, my happiness, art, science, the woman I loved, and all
through you. Here are pistols. I have come to discharge my pistol
and ... and I ... forgive you. Then I shall fire into the air and
he will hear nothing more of me ...."
I was actually on the point of tears, though I knew
perfectly well at that moment that all this was out of Pushkin's Silvio
and Lermontov's Masquerade. And all at once I felt horribly ashamed,
so ashamed that I stopped the horse, got out of the sledge, and stood
still in the snow in the middle of the street. The driver gazed at
me, sighing and astonished.
What was I to do? I could not go on there -- it
was evidently stupid, and I could not leave things as they were, because
that would seem as though ... Heavens, how could I leave things! And
after such insults! "No!" I cried, throwing myself into
the sledge again. "It is ordained! It is fate! Drive on, drive
on!" And in my impatience I punched the sledge-driver
on the back of the neck.
"What are you up to? What are you hitting me
for?" the peasant shouted, but he whipped up his nag so that
it began kicking.
The wet snow was falling in big flakes; I unbuttoned
myself, regardless of it. I forgot everything else, for I had finally
decided on the slap, and felt with horror that it was going to happen
now, at once, and that no force could stop it. The deserted street
lamps gleamed sullenly in the showy darkness like torches at a funeral.
The snow drifted under my great-coat, under my coat, under my cravat,
and melted there. I did not wrap myself up -- all was lost, anyway.
At last we arrived. I jumped out, almost unconscious,
rail up the steps and began knocking and kicking at the door. I felt
fearfully weak, particularly in my legs and knees. The door was opened
quickly as though they knew I was coming. As a fact, Simonov had warned
them that perhaps another gentleman would arrive, and this was a place
in which one had to give notice and to observe certain precautions.
It was one of those "millinery establishments" which were
abolished by the police a good time ago. By day it really was a shop;
but at night, if one had an introduction, one might visit it for other
I walked rapidly through the dark shop into the
familiar drawing-room, where there was only one candle burning, and
stood still in amazement: there was no one there. "Where are
they?" I asked somebody. But by now, of course, they had separated.
Before me was standing a person with a stupid smile, the "madam"
herself, who had seen me before. A minute later a door opened and
another person came in.
Taking no notice of anything I strode about the
room, and, I believe, I talked to myself. I felt as though I had been
saved from death and was conscious of this, joyfully, all over: I
should have given that slap, I should certainly, certainly have given
it! But now they were not here and ... everything had vanished and
changed! I looked round. I could not realise my condition yet. I looked
mechanically at the girl who had come in: and had a glimpse of a fresh,
young, rather pale face, with straight, dark eyebrows, and with grave,
as it were wondering, eyes that attracted me at once; I should have
hated her if she had been smiling. I began looking at her more intently
and, as it were, with effort. I had not fully collected my thoughts.
There was something simple and good-natured in her face, but something
strangely grave. I am sure that this stood in her way here, and no
one of those fools had noticed her. She could not, however, have been
called a beauty, though she was tall, strong-looking, and well built.
She was very simply dressed. Something loathsome stirred within me.
I went straight up to her. I chanced to look into
the glass. My harassed face struck me as revolting in the extreme,
pale, angry, abject, with dishevelled hair. "No matter, I am
glad of it," I thought; "I am glad that I shall seem repulsive
to her; I like that."
behind a screen a clock began wheezing, as though oppressed by something,
as though someone were strangling it. After an unnaturally prolonged
wheezing there followed a shrill, nasty, and as it were unexpectedly
rapid, chime -- as though someone were suddenly jumping forward. It
struck two. I woke up, though I had indeed not been asleep but lying
It was almost completely dark in the narrow, cramped,
low-pitched room, cumbered up with an enormous wardrobe and piles
of cardboard boxes and all sorts of frippery and litter. The candle
end that had been burning on the table was going out and gave a faint
flicker from time to time. In a few minutes there would be complete
I was not long in coming to myself; everything came
back to my mind at once, without an effort, as though it had been
in ambush to pounce upon me again. And, indeed, even while I was unconscious
a point seemed continually to remain in my memory unforgotten, and
round it my dreams moved drearily. But strange to say, everything
that had happened to me in that day seemed to me now, on waking, to
be in the far, far away past, as though I had long, long ago lived
all that down.
My head was full of fumes. Something seemed to be
hovering over me, rousing me, exciting me, and making me restless.
Misery and spite seemed surging up in me again and seeking an outlet.
Suddenly I saw beside me two wide open eyes scrutinising me curiously
and persistently. The look in those eyes was coldly detached, sullen,
as it were utterly remote; it weighed upon me. A
grim idea came into my brain and passed all over my body, as a horrible
sensation, such as one feels when one goes into a damp and mouldy
cellar. There was something unnatural in those two eyes, beginning
to look at me only now. I recalled, too, that during those two hours
I had not said a single word to this creature, and had, in fact, considered
it utterly superfluous; in fact, the silence had for some reason gratified
me. Now I suddenly realised vividly the hideous idea -- revolting
as a spider -- of vice, which, without love, grossly and shamelessly
begins with that in which true love finds its consummation. For a
long time we gazed at each other like that, but she did not drop her
eyes before mine and her expression did not change, so that at last
I felt uncomfortable.
"What is your name?" I asked abruptly,
to put an end to it.
"Liza," she answered almost in a whisper,
but somehow far from graciously, and she turned her eyes away.
I was silent.
"What weather! The snow ... it's disgusting!"
I said, almost to myself, putting my arm under my head despondently,
and gazing at the ceiling.
She made no answer. This was horrible.
"Have you always lived in Petersburg?"
I asked a minute later, almost angrily, turning my head slightly towards
"Where do you come from?"
"From Riga," she answered reluctantly.
"Are you a German?"
"Have you been here long?"
"In this house?"
She spoke more and more jerkily. The candle went
out; I could no longer distinguish her face.
"Have you a father and mother?"
"Yes ... no ... I have."
"Where are they?"
"There ... in Riga."
"What are they?"
"Nothing? Why, what class are they?"
"Have you always lived with them?"
"How old are you?"
"Why did you leave them?"
"Oh, for no reason."
That answer meant "Let me alone; I feel sick,
We were silent.
God knows why I did not go away. I felt myself more
and more sick and dreary. The images of the previous day began of
themselves, apart from my will, flitting through my memory in confusion.
I suddenly recalled something I had seen that morning when, full of
anxious thoughts, I was hurrying to the office.
"I saw them carrying a coffin out yesterday
and they nearly dropped it," I suddenly said aloud, not that
I desired to open the conversation, but as it were by accident.
"Yes, in the Haymarket; they were bringing
it up out of a cellar."
"From a cellar?"
"Not from a cellar, but a basement. Oh, you
know... down below... from a house of ill-fame. It was filthy all
round... Egg-shells, litter... a stench. It was loathsome."
"A nasty day to be buried," I began, simply
to avoid being silent.
"Nasty, in what way?"
"The snow, the wet." (I yawned.)
"It makes no difference," she said suddenly,
after a brief silence.
"No, it's horrid." (I yawned again). "The
gravediggers must have sworn at getting drenched by the snow. And
there must have been water in the grave."
"Why water in the grave?" she asked, with a sort of
curiosity, but speaking even more harshly and abruptly than before.
I suddenly began to feel provoked.
"Why, there must have been water at the bottom
a foot deep. You can't dig a dry grave in Volkovo Cemetery."
"Why? Why, the place is waterlogged. It's a
regular marsh. So they bury them in water. I've seen it myself ...
(I had never seen it once, indeed I had never been
in Volkovo, and had only heard stories of it.)
"Do you mean to say, you don't mind how you
"But why should I die?" she answered,
as though defending herself.
"Why, some day you will die, and you will die
just the same as that dead woman. She was ... a girl like you. She
died of consumption."
"A wench would have died in hospital..."
(She knows all about it already: she said "wench," not "girl.")
"She was in debt to her madam," I retorted,
more and more provoked by the discussion; "and went on earning
money for her up to the end, though she was in consumption. Some sledge-drivers
standing by were talking about her to some soldiers and telling them
so. No doubt they knew her. They were laughing. They were going to
meet in a pot-house to drink to her memory."
A great deal of this was my invention. Silence followed,
profound silence. She did not stir.
"And is it better to die in a hospital?"
"Isn't it just the same? Besides, why should
I die?" she added irritably.
"If not now, a little later."
"Why a little later?"
"Why, indeed? Now you are young, pretty, fresh,
you fetch a high price. But after another year of this life you will
be very different -- you will go off."
"In a year?"
"Anyway, in a year you will be worth less,"
I continued malignantly. "You will go from here to something
lower, another house; a year later -- to a third, lower and lower,
and in seven years you will come to a basement in the Haymarket.
That will be if you were lucky. But it would be much worse if you
got some disease, consumption, say ... and caught a chill, or something
or other. It's not easy to get over an illness in your way of life.
If you catch anything you may not get rid of it. And so you would
die." "Oh, well, then I shall die,"
she answered, quite vindictively, and she made a quick movement.
"But one is sorry."
"Sorry for whom?"
"Sorry for life."
"Have you been engaged to be married? Eh?"
"What's that to you?"
"Oh, I am not cross-examining you. It's nothing
to me. Why are you so cross? Of course you may have had your own troubles.
What is it to me? It's simply that I felt sorry."
"Sorry for whom?"
"Sorry for you."
"No need," she whispered hardly audibly,
and again made a faint movement.
That incensed me at once. What! I was so gentle
with her, and she ....
"Why, do you think that you are on the right
"I don't think anything."
"That's what's wrong, that you don't think.
Realise it while there is still time. There still is time. You are
still young, good-looking; you might love, be married, be happy...
"Not all married women are happy," she
snapped out in the rude abrupt tone she had used at first.
"Not all, of course, but anyway it is much
better than the life here. Infinitely better. Besides, with love one
can live even without happiness. Even in sorrow life is sweet; life
is sweet, however one lives. But here what is there but ... foulness?
I turned away with disgust; I was no longer reasoning
coldly. I began to feel myself what I was saying and warmed to the
subject. I was already longing to expound the cherished ideas I had
brooded over in my corner. Something suddenly flared up in me. An
object had appeared before me.
"Never mind my being here, I am not an example
for you. I am, perhaps, worse than you are. I was drunk when I came
here, though," I hastened, however, to say in self-defence. "Besides,
a man is no example for a woman. It's a different thing. I may degrade
and defile myself, but I am not anyone's slave. I come and go, and
that's an end of it. I shake it off, and I am a different man. But
you are a slave from the start. Yes, a slave! You give up everything,
your whole freedom. If you want to break your chains afterwards, you
won't be able to; you will be more and more fast in the snares. It
is an accursed bondage. I know it. I won't speak of anything else,
maybe you won't understand, but tell me: no doubt you are in debt
to your madam? There, you see," I added, though she made no answer,
but only listened in silence, entirely absorbed, "that's a bondage
for you! You will never buy your freedom. They will see to that. It's
like selling your soul to the devil.... And besides ... perhaps, I
too, am just as unlucky -- how do you know -- and wallow in the mud
on purpose, out of misery? You know, men take to drink from grief;
well, maybe I am here from grief. Come, tell me, what is there good
here? Here you and I ... came together ... just now and did not say
one word to one another all the time, and it was only afterwards you
began staring at me like a wild creature, and I at you. Is that loving?
Is that how one human being should meet another? It's hideous, that's
what it is!"
"Yes!" she assented sharply and hurriedly.
I was positively astounded by the promptitude of
this "Yes." So the same thought may have been straying through
her mind when she was staring at me just before. So she, too, was
capable of certain thoughts? "Damn it all, this was interesting,
this was a point of likeness!" I thought, almost rubbing my hands.
And indeed it's easy to turn a young soul like that!
It was the exercise of my power that attracted me
She turned her head nearer to me, and it seemed
to me in the darkness that she propped herself on her arm. Perhaps
she was scrutinising me. How I regretted that I could not see her
eyes. I heard her deep breathing.
"Why have you come here?" I asked her,
with a note of authority already in my voice.
"Oh, I don't know."
"But how nice it would be to be living in your
father's house! It's warm and free; you have a home of your own."
"But what if it's worse than this?"
"I must take the right tone," flashed
through my mind. "I may not get far with sentimentality."
But it was only a momentary thought. I swear she really did interest
me. Besides, I was exhausted and moody. And cunning so easily goes
hand-in-hand with feeling.
"Who denies it!" I hastened to answer.
"Anything may happen. I am convinced that someone has wronged
you, and that you are more sinned against than sinning. Of course,
I know nothing of your story, but it's not likely a girl like you
has come here of her own inclination... ."
"A girl like me?" she whispered, hardly
audibly; but I heard it.
Damn lt all, I was flattering her. That was horrid.
But perhaps it was a good thing.... She was silent.
"See, Liza, I will tell you about myself. If
I had had a home from childhood, I shouldn't be what I am now. I often
think that. However bad it may be at home, anyway they are your father
and mother, and not enemies, strangers. Once a year at least, they'll
show their love of you. Anyway, you know you are at home. I grew up
without a home; and perhaps that's why I've turned so ... unfeeling."
I waited again. "Perhaps she doesn't understand,"
I thought, "and, indeed, it is absurd -- it's moralising."
"If I were a father and had a daughter, I believe
I should love my daughter more than my sons, really," I began
indirectly, as though talking of something else, to distract her attention.
I must confess I blushed.
"Why so?" she asked.
Ah! so she was listening!
"I don't know, Liza. I knew a father who was
a stern, austere man, but used to go down on his knees to his daughter,
used to kiss her hands, her feet, he couldn't make enough of her,
really. When she danced at parties he used to stand for five hours
at a stretch, gazing at her. He was mad over her: I understand that!
She would fall asleep tired at night, and he would wake to kiss her
in her sleep and make the sign of the cross over her. He would go
about in a dirty old coat, he was stingy to every one else, but would
spend his last penny for her, giving her expensive presents, and it
was his greatest delight when she was pleased with what he gave her.
Fathers always love their daughters more than the mothers do. Some
girls live happily at home! And I believe I should never let my daughters
marry. "What next?" she said, with a faint
"I should be jealous, I really should. To think
that she should kiss anyone else! That she should love a stranger
more than her father! It's painful to imagine it. Of course, that's
all nonsense, of course every father would be reasonable at last.
But I believe before I should let her marry, I should worry myself
to death; I should find fault with all her suitors. But I should end
by letting her marry whom she herself loved. The one whom the daughter
loves always seems the worst to the father, you know. That is always
so. So many family troubles come from that."
"Some are glad to sell their daughters, rather
than marrying them honourably."
Ah, so that was it!
"Such a thing, Liza, happens in those accursed
families in which there is neither love nor God," I retorted
warmly, "and where there is no love, there is no sense either.
There are such families, it's true, but I am not speaking of them.
You must have seen wickedness in your own family, if you talk like
that. Truly, you must have been unlucky. H'm! ... that sort of thing
mostly comes about through poverty."
"And is it any better with the gentry? Even
among the poor, honest people who live happily?"
"H'm ... yes. Perhaps. Another thing, Liza,
man is fond of reckoning up his troubles, but does not count his joys.
If he counted them up as he ought, he would see that every lot has
enough happiness provided for it. And what if all goes well with the
family, if the blessing of God is upon it, if the husband is a good
one, loves you, cherishes you, never leaves you! There is happiness
in such a family! Even sometimes there is happiness in the midst of
sorrow; and indeed sorrow is everywhere. If you marry you will find
out for yourself. But think of the first years of married life with
one you love: what happiness, what happiness there sometimes is in
it! And indeed it's the ordinary thing. In those early days even quarrels
with one's husband end happily. Some women get up quarrels with their
husbands just because they love them. Indeed, I knew a woman like
that: she seemed to say that because she loved him, she would torment
him and make him feel it. You know that you may torment a man on purpose
through love. Women are particularly given to that, thinking to themselves
'I will love him so, I will make so much of him afterwards, that it's
no sin to torment him a little now.' And all in the house rejoice
in the sight of you, and you are happy and gay and peaceful and honourable....
Then there are some women who are jealous. If he went off anywhere
-- I knew one such woman, she couldn't restrain herself, but would
jump up at night and run off on the sly to find out where he was,
whether he was with some other woman. That's a pity. And the woman
knows herself it's wrong, and her heart fails her and she suffers,
but she loves -- it's all through love. And how sweet it is to make
up after quarrels, to own herself in the wrong or to forgive him!
And they both are so happy all at once -- as though they had met anew,
been married over again; as though their love had begun afresh. And
no one, no one should know what passes between husband and wife if
they love one another. And whatever quarrels there may be between
them they ought not to call in their own mother to judge between them
and tell tales of one another. They are their own judges. Love is
a holy mystery and ought to be hidden from all other eyes, whatever
happens. That makes it holier and better. They respect one another
more, and much is built on respect. And if once there has been love,
if they have been married for love, why should love pass away? Surely
one can keep it! It is rare that one cannot keep it. And if the husband
is kind and straightforward, why should not love last? The first phase
of married love will pass, it is true, but then there will come a
love that is better still. Then there will be the union of souls,
they will have everything in common, there will be no secrets between
them. And once they have children, the most difficult times will seem
to them happy, so long as there is love and courage. Even toil will
be a joy, you may deny yourself bread for your children and even that
will be a joy, They will love you for it afterwards; so you are laying
by for your future. As the children grow up you feel that you are
an example, a support for them; that even after you die your children
will always keep your thoughts and feelings, because they have received
them from you, they will take on your semblance and likeness. So you
see this is a great duty. How can it fail to draw the father and mother
nearer? People say it's a trial to have children. Who says that? It
is heavenly happiness! Are you fond of little children, Liza? I am
awfully fond of them. You know -- a little rosy baby boy at your bosom,
and what husband's heart is not touched, seeing his wife nursing his
child! A plump little rosy baby, sprawling and snuggling, chubby little
hands and feet, clean tiny little nails, so tiny that it makes one
laugh to took at them; eyes that look as if they understand everything.
And while it sucks it clutches at your bosom with its little hand,
plays. When its father comes up, the child tears itself away from
the bosom, flings itself back, looks at its father, laughs, as though
it were fearfully funny, and falls to sucking again. Or it will bite
its mother's breast when its little teeth are coming, while it looks
sideways at her with its little eyes as though to say, 'Look, I am
biting!' Is not all that happiness when they are the three together,
husband, wife and child? One can forgive a great deal for the sake
of such moments. Yes, Liza, one must first learn to live oneself before
one blames others!" "It's by pictures,
pictures like that one must get at you," I thought to myself,
though I did speak with real feeling, and all at once I flushed crimson.
"What if she were suddenly to burst out laughing, what should
I do then?" That idea drove me to fury. Towards the end of my
speech I really was excited, and now my vanity was somehow wounded.
The silence continued. I almost nudged her.
"Why are you -- " she began and stopped.
But I understood: there was a quiver of something different in her
voice, not abrupt, harsh and unyielding as before, but something soft
and shamefaced, so shamefaced that I suddenly felt ashamed and guilty.
"What?" I asked, with tender curiosity
"Why, you ..."
"Why, you ... speak somehow like a book,"
she said, and again there was a note of irony in her voice.
That remark sent a pang to my heart. It was not what I was expecting.
I did not understand that she was hiding her feelings
under irony, that this is usually the last refuge of modest and chaste-souled
people when the privacy of their soul is coarsely and intrusively
invaded, and that their pride makes them refuse to surrender till
the last moment and shrink from giving expression to their feelings
before you. I ought to have guessed the truth from the timidity with
which she had repeatedly approached her sarcasm, only bringing herself
to utter it at last with an effort. But I did not guess, and an evil
feeling took possession of me.
"Wait a bit!" I thought.
"Oh, hush, Liza! How can you talk about being
like a book, when it makes even me, an outsider, feel sick? Though
I don't look at it as an outsider, for, indeed, it touches me to the
heart.... Is it possible, is it possible that you do not feel sick
at being here yourself? Evidently habit does wonders! God knows what
habit can do with anyone. Can you seriously think that you will never
grow old, that you will always be good-looking, and that they will
keep you here for ever and ever? I say nothing of the loathsomeness
of the life here.... Though let me tell you this about it -- about
your present life, I mean; here though you are young now, attractive,
nice, with soul and feeling, yet you know as soon as I came to myself
just now I felt at once sick at being here with you! One can only
come here when one is drunk. But if you were anywhere else, living
as good people live, I should perhaps be more than attracted by you,
should fall in love with you, should be glad of a look from you, let
alone a word; I should hang about your door, should go down on my
knees to you, should look upon you as my betrothed and think it an
honour to be allowed to. I should not dare to have an impure thought
about you. But here, you see, I know that I have only to whistle and
you have to come with me whether you like it or not. I don't consult
your wishes, but you mine. The lowest labourer hires himself as a
workman, but he doesn't make a slave of himself altogether; besides,
he knows that he will be free again presently. But when are you free?
Only think what you are giving up here? What is it you are making
a slave of? It is your soul, together with your body; you are selling
your soul which you have no right to dispose of! You give your love
to be outraged by every drunkard! Love! But that's everything, you
know, it's a priceless diamond, it's a maiden's treasure, love --
why, a man would be ready to give his soul, to face death to gain
that love. But how much is your love worth now? You are sold, all
of you, body and soul, and there is no need to strive for love when
you can have everything without love. And you know there is no greater
insult to a girl than that, do you understand? To be sure, I have
heard that they comfort you, poor fools, they let you have lovers
of your own here. But you know that's simply a farce, that's simply
a sham, it's just laughing at you, and you are taken in by it! Why,
do you suppose he really loves you, that lover of yours? I don't believe
it. How can he love you when he knows you may be called away from
him any minute? He would be a low fellow if he did! Will he have a
grain of respect for you? What have you in common with him? He laughs
at you and robs you -- that is all his love amounts to! You are lucky
if he does not beat you. Very likely he does beat you, too. Ask him,
if you have got one, whether he will marry you. He will laugh in your
face, if he doesn't spit in it or give you a blow -- though maybe
he is not worth a bad halfpenny himself. And for what have you ruined
your life, if you come to think of it? For the coffee they give you
to drink and the plentiful meals? But with what object are they feeding
you up? An honest girl couldn't swallow the food, for she would know
what she was being fed for. You are in debt here, and, of course,
you will always be in debt, and you will go on in debt to the end,
till the visitors here begin to scorn you. And that will soon happen,
don't rely upon your youth -- all that flies by express train here,
you know. You will be kicked out. And not simply kicked out; long
before that she'll begin nagging at you, scolding you, abusing you,
as though you had not sacrificed your health for her, had not thrown
away your youth and your soul for her benefit, but as though you had
ruined her, beggared her, robbed her. And don't expect anyone to take
your part: the others, your companions, will attack you, too, win
her favour, for all are in slavery here, and have lost all conscience
and pity here long ago. They have become utterly vile, and nothing
on earth is viler, more loathsome, and more insulting than their abuse.
And you are laying down everything here, unconditionally, youth and
health and beauty and hope, and at twenty-two you will look like a
woman of five-and-thirty, and you will be lucky if you are not diseased,
pray to God for that! No doubt you are thinking now that you have
a gay time and no work to do! Yet there is no work harder or more
dreadful in the world or ever has been. One would think that the heart
alone would be worn out with tears. And you won't dare to say a word,
not half a word when they drive you away from here; you will go away
as though you were to blame. You will change to another house, then
to a third, then somewhere else, till you come down at last to the
Haymarket. There you will be beaten at every turn; that is good manners
there, the visitors don't know how to be friendly without beating
you. You don't believe that it is so hateful there? Go and look for
yourself some time, you can see with your own eyes. Once, one New
Year's Day, I saw a woman at a door. They had turned her out as a
joke, to give her a taste of the frost because she had been crying
so much, and they shut the door behind her. At nine o'clock in the
morning she was already quite drunk, dishevelled, half-naked, covered
with bruises, her face was powdered, but she had a black-eye, blood
was trickling from her nose and her teeth; some cabman had just given
her a drubbing. She was sitting on the stone steps, a salt fish of
some sort was in her hand; she was crying, wailing something about
her luck and beating with the fish on the steps, and cabmen and drunken
soldiers were crowding in the doorway taunting her. You don't believe
that you will ever be like that? I should be sorry to believe it,
too, but how do you know; maybe ten years, eight years ago that very
woman with the salt fish came here fresh as a cherub, innocent, pure,
knowing no evil, blushing at every word. Perhaps she was like you,
proud, ready to take offence, not like the others; perhaps she looked
like a queen, and knew what happiness was in store for the man who
should love her and whom she should love. Do you see how it ended?
And what if at that very minute when she was beating on the filthy
steps with that fish, drunken and dishevelled -- what if at that very
minute she recalled the pure early days in her father's house, when
she used to go to school and the neighbour's son watched for her on
the way, declaring that he would love her as long as he lived, that
he would devote his life to her, and when they vowed to love one another
for ever and be married as soon as they were grown up! No, Liza, it
would be happy for you if you were to die soon of consumption in some
corner, in some cellar like that woman just now. In the hospital,
do you say? You will be lucky if they take you, but what if you are
still of use to the madam here? Consumption is a queer disease, it
is not like fever. The patient goes on hoping till the last minute
and says he is all right. He deludes himself And that just suits your
madam. Don't doubt it, that's how it is; you have sold your soul,
and what is more you owe money, so you daren't say a word. But when
you are dying, all will abandon you, all will turn away from you,
for then there will be nothing to get from you. What's more, they
will reproach you for cumbering the place, for being so long over
dying. However you beg you won't get a drink of water without abuse:
'Whenever are you going off, you nasty hussy, you won't let us sleep
with your moaning, you make the gentlemen sick.' That's true, I have
heard such things said myself. They will thrust you dying into the
filthiest corner in the cellar -- in the damp and darkness; what will
your thoughts be, lying there alone? When you die, strange hands will
lay you out, with grumbling and impatience; no one will bless you,
no one will sigh for you, they only want to get rid of you as soon
as may be; they will buy a coffin, take you to the grave as they did
that poor woman today, and celebrate your memory at the tavern. In
the grave, sleet, filth, wet snow -- no need to put themselves out
for you -- 'Let her down, Vanuha; it's just like her luck -- even
here, she is head-foremost, the hussy. Shorten the cord, you rascal.'
'It's all right as it is.' 'All right, is it? Why, she's on her side!
She was a fellow-creature, after all! But, never mind, throw the earth
on her.' And they won't care to waste much time quarrelling over you.
They will scatter the wet blue clay as quick as they can and go off
to the tavern ... and there your memory on earth will end; other women
have children to go to their graves, fathers, husbands. While for
you neither tear, nor sigh, nor remembrance; no one in the whole world
will ever come to you, your name will vanish from the face of the
earth -- as though you had never existed, never been born at all!
Nothing but filth and mud, however you knock at your coffin lid at
night, when the dead arise, however you cry: 'Let me out, kind people,
to live in the light of day! My life was no life at all; my life has
been thrown away like a dish-clout; it was drunk away in the tavern
at the Haymarket; let me out, kind people, to live in the world again.'"
And I worked myself up to such a pitch that I began
to have a lump in my throat myself, and ... and all at once I stopped,
sat up in dismay and, bending over apprehensively, began to listen
with a beating heart. I had reason to be troubled.
I had felt for some time that I was turning her
soul upside down and rending her heart, and -- and the more I was
convinced of it, the more eagerly I desired to gain my object as quickly
and as effectually as possible. It was the exercise of my skill that
carried me away; yet it was not merely sport....
I knew I was speaking stiffly, artificially, even
bookishly, in fact, I could not speak except "like a book."
But that did not trouble me: I knew, I felt that I should be understood
and that this very bookishness might be an assistance. But now, having
attained my effect, I was suddenly panic-stricken. Never before had
I witnessed such despair! She was lying on her face, thrusting her
face into the pillow and clutching it in both hands. Her heart was
being torn. Her youthful body was shuddering all over as though in
convulsions. Suppressed sobs rent her bosom and suddenly burst out
in weeping and walling, then she pressed closer into the pillow: she
did not want anyone here, not a living soul, to know of her anguish
and her tears. She bit the pillow, bit her hand till it bled (I saw
that afterwards), or, thrusting her fingers into her dishevelled hair,
seemed rigid with the effort of restraint, holding her breath and
clenching her teeth. I began saying something, begging her to calm
herself, but felt that I did not dare; and all at once, in a sort
of cold shiver, almost in terror, began fumbling in the dark, trying
hurriedly to get dressed to go. It was dark; though I tried my best
I could not finish dressing quickly. Suddenly I felt a box of matches
and a candlestick with a whole candle in it. As soon as the room was
lighted up, Liza sprang up, sat up in bed, and with a contorted face,
with a half insane smile, looked at me almost senselessly. I sat down
beside her and took her hands; she came to herself, made an impulsive
movement towards me, would have caught hold of me, but did not dare,
and slowly bowed her head before me. "Liza,
my dear, I was wrong ... forgive me, my dear," I began, but she
squeezed my hand in her fingers so tightly that I felt I was saying
the wrong thing and stopped.
"This is my address, Liza, come to me."
"I will come," she answered resolutely,
her head still bowed.
"But now I am going, good-bye ... till we meet
I got up; she, too, stood up and suddenly flushed
all over, gave a shudder, snatched up a shawl that was lying on a
chair and muffled herself in it to her chin. As she did this she gave
another sickly smile, blushed and looked at me strangely. I felt wretched;
I was in haste to get away -- to disappear.
"Wait a minute," she said suddenly, in
the passage just at the doorway, stopping me with her hand on my overcoat.
She put down the candle in hot haste and ran off; evidently she had
thought of something or wanted to show me something. As she ran away
she flushed, her eyes shone, and there was a smile on her lips --
what was the meaning of it? Against my will I waited: she came back
a minute later with an expression that seemed to ask forgiveness for
something. In fact, it was not the same face, not the same look as
the evening before: sullen, mistrustful and obstinate. Her eyes now
were imploring, soft, and at the same time trustful, caressing, timid.
The expression with which children look at people they are very fond
of, of whom they are asking a favour. Her eyes were a light hazel,
they were lovely eyes, full of life, and capable of expressing love
as well as sullen hatred.
Making no explanation, as though I, as a sort of
higher being, must understand everything without explanations, she
held out a piece of paper to me. Her whole face was positively beaming
at that instant with naive, almost childish, triumph. I unfolded it.
It was a letter to her from a medical student or someone of that sort
-- a very high-flown and flowery, but extremely respectful, love-letter.
I don't recall the words now, but I remember well that through the
high-flown phrases there was apparent a genuine feeling, which cannot
be feigned. When I had finished reading it I met her glowing, questioning,
and childishly impatient eyes fixed upon me. She fastened her eyes
upon my face and waited impatiently for what I should say. In a few
words, hurriedly, but with a sort of joy and pride, she explained
to me that she had been to a dance somewhere in a private house, a
family of "very nice people, who knew nothing, absolutely nothing,
for she had only come here so lately and it had all happened ... and
she hadn't made up her mind to stay and was certainly going away as
soon as she had paid her debt..." and at that party there had
been the student who had danced with her all the evening. He had talked
to her, and it turned out that he had known her in old days at Riga
when he was a child, they had played together, but a very long time
ago -- and he knew her parents, but about this he knew nothing, nothing
whatever, and had no suspicion! And the day after the dance (three
days ago) he had sent her that letter through the friend with whom
she had gone to the party ... and ... well, that was all."
She dropped her shining eyes with a sort of bashfulness
as she finished.
The poor girl was keeping that student's letter
as a precious treasure, and had run to fetch it, her only treasure,
because she did not want me to go away without knowing that she, too,
was honestly and genuinely loved; that she, too, was addressed respectfully.
No doubt that letter was destined to lie in her box and lead to nothing.
But none the less, I am certain that she would keep it all her life
as a precious treasure, as her pride and justification, and now at
such a minute she had thought of that letter and brought it with naive
pride to raise herself in my eyes that I might see, that I, too, might
think well of her. I said nothing, pressed her hand and went out.
I so longed to get away ... I walked all the way home, in spite of
the fact that the melting snow was still falling in heavy flakes.
I was exhausted, shattered, in bewilderment. But behind the bewilderment
the truth was already gleaming. The loathsome truth.
It was some time, however, before I consented
to recognise that truth. Waking up in the morning after some hours
of heavy, leaden sleep, and immediately realising all that had happened
on the previous day, I was positively amazed at my last night's sentimentality
with Liza, at all those "outcries of horror and pity." "To
think of having such an attack of womanish hysteria, pah!" I
concluded. And what did I thrust my address upon her for? What if
she comes? Let her come, though; it doesn't matter.... But obviously,
that was not now the chief and the most important matter: I had to
make haste and at all costs save my reputation in the eyes of Zverkov
and Simonov as quickly as possible; that was the chief business. And
I was so taken up that morning that I actually forgot all about Liza.
First of all I had at once to repay what I had borrowed
the day before from Simonov. I resolved on a desperate measure: to
borrow fifteen roubles straight off from Anton Antonitch. As luck
would have it he was in the best of humours that morning, and gave
it to me at once, on the first asking. I was so delighted at this
that, as I signed the IOU with a swaggering air, I told him casually
that the night before "I had been keeping it up with some friends
at the Hôtel de Paris; we were giving a farewell party to a
comrade, in fact, I might say a friend of my childhood, and you know
-- a desperate rake, fearfully spoilt -- of course, he belongs to
a good family, and has considerable means, a brilliant career; he
is witty, charming, a regular Lovelace, you understand; we drank an
extra 'half-dozen' and..."
And it went off all right; all this was uttered
very easily, unconstrainedly and complacently.
On reaching home I promptly wrote to Simonov.
To this hour I am lost in admiration when I recall
the truly gentlemanly, good-humoured, candid tone of my letter. With
tact and good-breeding, and, above all, entirely without superfluous
words, I blamed myself for all that had happened. I defended myself,
"if I really may be allowed to defend myself," by alleging
that being utterly unaccustomed to wine, I had been intoxicated with
the first glass, which I said, I had drunk before they arrived, while
I was waiting for them at the Hôtel de Paris between five and
six o'clock. I begged Simonov's pardon especially; I asked him to
convey my explanations to all the others, especially to Zverkov, whom
"I seemed to remember as though in a dream" I had insulted.
I added that I would have called upon all of them myself, but my head
ached, and besides I had not the face to. I was particularly pleased
with a certain lightness, almost carelessness (strictly within the
bounds of politeness, however), which was apparent in my style, and
better than any possible arguments, gave them at once to understand
that I took rather an independent view of "all that unpleasantness
last night"; that I was by no means so utterly crushed as you,
my friends, probably imagine; but on the contrary, looked upon it
as a gentleman serenely respecting himself should look upon it. "On
a young hero's past no censure is cast!" "There
is actually an aristocratic playfulness about it!" I thought
admiringly, as I read over the letter. "And it's all because
I am an intellectual and cultivated man! Another man in my place would
not have known how to extricate himself, but here I have got out of
it and am as jolly as ever again, and all because I am 'a cultivated
and educated man of our day.' And, indeed, perhaps, everything was
due to the wine yesterday. H'm!" ... no, it was not the wine.
I did not drink anything at all between five and six when I was waiting
for them. I had lied to Simonov; I had lied shamelessly; and indeed
I wasn't ashamed now.... Hang it all though, the great thing was that
I was rid of it.
I put six roubles in the letter, sealed it up, and
asked Apollon to take it to Simonov. When he learned that there was
money in the letter, Apollon became more respectful and agreed to
take it. Towards evening I went out for a walk. My head was still
aching and giddy after yesterday. But as evening came on and the twilight
grew denser, my impressions and, following them, my thoughts, grew
more and more different and confused. Something was not dead within
me, in the depths of my heart and conscience it would not die, and
it showed itself in acute depression. For the most part I jostled
my way through the most crowded business streets, along Myeshtchansky
Street, along Sadovy Street and in Yusupov Garden. I always liked
particularly sauntering along these streets in the dusk, just when
there were crowds of working people of all sorts going home from their
daily work, with faces looking cross with anxiety. What I liked was
just that cheap bustle, that bare prose. On this occasion the jostling
of the streets irritated me more than ever, I could not make out what
was wrong with me, I could not find the clue, something seemed rising
up continually in my soul, painfully, and refusing to be appeased.
I returned home completely upset, it was just as though some crime
were lying on my conscience. The thought that Liza
was coming worried me continually. It seemed queer to me that of all
my recollections of yesterday this tormented me, as it were, especially,
as it were, quite separately. Everything else I had quite succeeded
in forgetting by the evening; I dismissed it all and was still perfectly
satisfied with my letter to Simonov. But on this point I was not satisfied
at all. It was as though I were worried only by Liza. "What if
she comes," I thought incessantly, "well, it doesn't matter,
let her come! H'm! it's horrid that she should see, for instance,
how I live. Yesterday I seemed such a hero to her, while now, h'm!
It's horrid, though, that I have let myself go so, the room looks
like a beggar's. And I brought myself to go out to dinner in such
a suit! And my American leather sofa with the stuffing sticking out.
And my dressing-gown, which will not cover me, such tatters, and she
will see all this and she will see Apollon. That beast is certain
to insult her. He will fasten upon her in order to be rude to me.
And I, of course, shall be panic-stricken as usual, I shall begin
bowing and scraping before her and pulling my dressing-gown round
me, I shall begin smiling, telling lies. Oh, the beastliness! And
it isn't the beastliness of it that matters most! There is something
more important, more loathsome, viler! Yes, viler! And to put on that
dishonest lying mask again!..."
When I reached that thought I fired up all at once.
"Why dishonest? How dishonest? I was speaking
sincerely last night. I remember there was real feeling in me, too.
What I wanted was to excite an honourable feeling in her.... Her crying
was a good thing, it will have a good effect."
Yet I could not feel at ease. All that evening,
even when I had come back home, even after nine o'clock, when I calculated
that Liza could not possibly come, still she haunted me, and what
was worse, she came back to my mind always in the same position.
One moment out of all that had happened last night stood vividly before
my imagination; the moment when I struck a match and saw her pale,
distorted face, with its look of torture. And what a pitiful, what
an unnatural, what a distorted smile she had at that moment! But I
did not know then, that fifteen years later I should still in my imagination
see Liza, always with the pitiful, distorted, inappropriate smile
which was on her face at that minute. Next day I
was ready again to look upon it all as nonsense, due to over-excited
nerves, and, above all, as exaggerated. I was always conscious of
that weak point of mine, and sometimes very much afraid of it. "I
exaggerate everything, that is where I go wrong," I repeated
to myself every hour. But, however, "Liza will very likely come
all the same," was the refrain with which all my reflections
ended. I was so uneasy that I sometimes flew into a fury: "She'll
come, she is certain to come!" I cried, running about the room,
"if not today, she will come tomorrow; she'll find me out! The
damnable romanticism of these pure hearts! Oh, the vileness -- oh,
the silliness -- oh, the stupidity of these 'wretched sentimental
souls!' Why, how fail to understand? How could one fall to understand?
But at this point I stopped short, and in great
And how few, how few words, I thought, in passing,
were needed; how little of the idyllic (and affectedly, bookishly,
artificially idyllic too) had sufficed to turn a whole human life
at once according to my will. That's virginity, to be sure! Freshness
At times a thought occurred to me, to go to her,
"to tell her all," and beg her not to come to me. But this
thought stirred such wrath in me that I believed I should have crushed
that "damned" Liza if she had chanced to be near me at the
time. I should have insulted her, have spat at her, have turned her
out, have struck her!
One day passed, however, another and another; she
did not come and I began to grow calmer. I felt particularly bold
and cheerful after nine o'clock, I even sometimes began dreaming,
and rather sweetly: I, for instance, became the salvation of Liza,
simply through her coming to me and my talking to her....
I develop her, educate her. Finally, I notice that she loves me, loves
me passionately. I pretend not to understand (I don't know, however,
why I pretend, just for effect, perhaps). At last all confusion, transfigured,
trembling and sobbing, she flings herself at my feet and says that
I am her saviour, and that she loves me better than anything in the
world. I am amazed, but.... Liza," I say, "can you imagine
that I have not noticed your love? I saw it all, I divined it, but
I did not dare to approach you first, because I had an influence over
you and was afraid that you would force yourself, from gratitude,
to respond to my love, would try to rouse in your heart a feeling
which was perhaps absent, and I did not wish that ... because it would
be tyranny ... it would be indelicate (in short, I launch off at that
point into European, inexplicably lofty subtleties a la George Sand),
but now, now you are mine, you are my creation, you are pure, you
are good, you are my noble wife.
'Into my house come bold and free,
Its rightful mistress there to be'."
Then we begin living together, go abroad and so
on, and so on. In fact, in the end it seemed vulgar to me myself,
and I began putting out my tongue at myself
Besides, they won't let her out, "the hussy!"
I thought. They don't let them go out very readily, especially in
the evening (for some reason I fancied she would come in the evening,
and at seven o'clock precisely). Though she did say she was not altogether
a slave there yet, and had certain rights; so, h'm! Damn it all, she
will come, she is sure to come!
It was a good thing, in fact, that Apollon distracted
my attention at that time by his rudeness. He drove me beyond all
patience! He was the bane of my life, the curse laid upon me by Providence.
We had been squabbling continually for years, and I hated him. My
God, how I hated him! I believe I had never hated anyone in my life
as I hated him, especially at some moments. He was an elderly, dignified
man, who worked part of his time as a tailor. But for some unknown
reason he despised me beyond all measure, and looked down upon me
insufferably. Though, indeed, he looked down upon everyone. Simply
to glance at that flaxen, smoothly brushed head, at the tuft of hair
he combed up on his forehead and oiled with sunflower oil, at that
dignified mouth, compressed into the shape of the letter V, made one
feel one was confronting a man who never doubted of himself. He was
a pedant, to the most extreme point, the greatest pedant I had met
on earth, and with that had a vanity only befitting Alexander of Macedon.
He was in love with every button on his coat, every nail on his fingers
-- absolutely in love with them, and he looked it! In his behaviour
to me he was a perfect tyrant, he spoke very little to me, and if
he chanced to glance at me he gave me a firm, majestically self-confident
and invariably ironical look that drove me sometimes to fury. He did
his work with the air of doing me the greatest favour, though he did
scarcely anything for me, and did not, indeed, consider himself bound
to do anything. There could be no doubt that he looked upon me as
the greatest fool on earth, and that "he did not get rid of me"
was simply that he could get wages from me every month. He consented
to do nothing for me for seven roubles a month. Many sins should be
forgiven me for what I suffered from him. My hatred reached such a
point that sometimes his very step almost threw me into convulsions.
What I loathed particularly was his lisp. His tongue must have been
a little too long or something of that sort, for he continually lisped,
and seemed to be very proud of it, imagining that it greatly added
to his dignity. He spoke in a slow, measured tone, with his hands
behind his back and his eyes fixed on the ground. He maddened me particularly
when he read aloud the psalms to himself behind his partition. Many
a battle I waged over that reading! But he was awfully fond of reading
aloud in the evenings, in a slow, even, sing-song voice, as though
over the dead. It is interesting that that is how he has ended: he
hires himself out to read the psalms over the dead, and at the same
time he kills rats and makes blacking. But at that time I could not
get rid of him, it was as though he were chemically combined with
my existence. Besides, nothing would have induced him to consent to
leave me. I could not live in furnished lodgings: my lodging was my
private solitude, my shell, my cave, in which I concealed myself from
all mankind, and Apollon seemed to me, for some reason, an integral
part of that flat, and for seven years I could not turn him away.
To be two or three days behind with his wages, for
instance, was impossible. He would have made such a fuss, I should
not have known where to hide my head. But I was so exasperated with
everyone during those days, that I made up my mind for some reason
and with some object to punish Apollon and not to pay him for a fortnight
the wages that were owing him. I had for a long time -- for the last
two years -- been intending to do this, simply in order to teach him
not to give himself airs with me, and to show him that if I liked
I could withhold his wages. I purposed to say nothing to him about
it, and was purposely silent indeed, in order to score off his pride
and force him to be the first to speak of his wages. Then I would
take the seven roubles out of a drawer, show him I have the money
put aside on purpose, but that I won't, I won't, I simply won't pay
him his wages, I won't just because that is "what I wish,"
because "I am master, and it is for me to decide," because
he has been disrespectful, because he has been rude; but if he were
to ask respectfully I might be softened and give it to him, otherwise
he might wait another fortnight, another three weeks, a whole month....
But angry as I was, yet he got the better of me.
I could not hold out for four days. He began as he always did begin
in such cases, for there had been such cases already, there had been
attempts (and it may be observed I knew all this beforehand, I knew
his nasty tactics by heart). He would begin by fixing upon me an exceedingly
severe stare, keeping it up for several minutes at a time, particularly
on meeting me or seeing me out of the house. If I held out and pretended
not to notice these stares, he would, still in silence, proceed to
further tortures. All at once, à propos of nothing, he would
walk softly and smoothly into my room, when I was pacing up and down
or reading, stand at the door, one hand behind his back and one foot
behind the other, and fix upon me a stare more than severe, utterly
contemptuous. If I suddenly asked him what he wanted, he would make
me no answer, but continue staring at me persistently for some seconds,
then, with a peculiar compression of his lips and a most significant
air, deliberately turn round and deliberately go back to his room.
Two hours later he would come out again and again present himself
before me in the same way. It had happened that in my fury I did not
even ask him what he wanted, but simply raised my head sharply and
imperiously and began staring back at him. So we stared at one another
for two minutes; at last he turned with deliberation and dignity and
went back again for two hours. If I were still not
brought to reason by all this, but persisted in my revolt, he would
suddenly begin sighing while he looked at me, long, deep sighs as
though measuring by them the depths of my moral degradation, and,
of course, it ended at last by his triumphing completely: I raged
and shouted, but still was forced to do what he wanted.
This time the usual staring manoeuvres had scarcely
begun when I lost my temper and flew at him in a fury. I was irritated
beyond endurance apart from him.
"Stay," I cried, in a frenzy, as he was
slowly and silently turning, with one hand behind his back, to go
to his room. "Stay! Come back, come back, I tell you!" and
I must have bawled so unnaturally, that he turned round and even looked
at me with some wonder. However, he persisted in saying nothing, and
that infuriated me.
"How dare you come and look at me like that
without being sent for? Answer!"
After looking at me calmly for half a minute, he
began turning round again.
"Stay!" I roared, running up to him, "don't
stir! There. Answer, now: what did you come in to look at?"
"If you have any order to give me it's my duty
to carry it out," he answered, after another silent pause, with
a slow, measured lisp, raising his eyebrows and calmly twisting his
head from one side to another, all this with exasperating composure.
"That's not what I am asking you about, you
torturer!" I shouted, turning crimson with anger. "I'll
tell you why you came here myself: you see, I don't give you your
wages, you are so proud you don't want to bow down and ask for it,
and so you come to punish me with your stupid stares, to worry me
and you have no sus... pic ... ion how stupid it is -- stupid, stupid,
stupid, stupid! ..."
He would have turned round again without a word,
but I seized him.
"Listen," I shouted to him. "Here's
the money, do you see, here it is," (I took it out of the table
drawer); "here's the seven roubles complete, but you are not
going to have it, you ... are ... not ... going ... to ... have it
until you come respectfully with bowed head to beg my pardon. Do you
hear?" "That cannot be," he answered,
with the most unnatural self-confidence.
"It shall be so," I said, "I give
you my word of honour, it shall be!"
"And there's nothing for me to beg your pardon
for," he went on, as though he had not noticed my exclamations
at all. "Why, besides, you called me a 'torturer,' for which
I can summon you at the police-station at any time for insulting behaviour."
"Go, summon me," I roared, "go at
once, this very minute, this very second! You are a torturer all the
same! a torturer!"
But he merely looked at me, then turned, and regardless
of my loud calls to him, he walked to his room with an even step and
without looking round.
"If it had not been for Liza nothing of this
would have happened," I decided inwardly. Then, after waiting
a minute, I went myself behind his screen with a dignified and solemn
air, though my heart was beating slowly and violently.
"Apollon," I said quietly and emphatically,
though I was breathless, "go at once without a minute's delay
and fetch the police-officer."
He had meanwhile settled himself at his table, put
on his spectacles and taken up some sewing. But, hearing my order,
he burst into a guffaw.
"At once, go this minute! Go on, or else you
can't imagine what will happen."
"You are certainly out of your mind,"
he observed, without even raising his head, lisping as deliberately
as ever and threading his needle. "Whoever heard of a man sending
for the police against himself? And as for being frightened -- you
are upsetting yourself about nothing, for nothing will come of it."
"Go!" I shrieked, clutching him by the
shoulder. I felt I should strike him in a minute.
But I did not notice the door from the passage softly
and slowly open at that instant and a figure come in, stop short,
and begin staring at us in perplexity I glanced, nearly swooned with
shame, and rushed back to my room. There, clutching at my hair with
both hands, I leaned my head against the wall and stood motionless
in that position. Two minutes later I heard Apollon's
deliberate footsteps. "There is some woman asking for you,"
he said, looking at me with peculiar severity. Then he stood aside
and let in Liza. He would not go away, but stared at us sarcastically.
"Go away, go away," I commanded in desperation.
At that moment my clock began whirring and wheezing and struck seven.
my house come bold and free,
Its rightful mistress there to be."
stood before her crushed, crestfallen, revoltingly confused, and
I believe I smiled as I did my utmost to wrap myself in the skirts
of my ragged wadded dressing-gown -- exactly as I had imagined the
scene not long before in a fit of depression. After standing over
us for a couple of minutes Apollon went away, but that did not make
me more at ease. What made it worse was that she, too, was overwhelmed
with confusion, more so, in fact, than I should have expected. At
the sight of me, of course.
"Sit down," I said mechanically, moving
a chair up to the table, and I sat down on the sofa. She obediently
sat down at once and gazed at me open-eyed, evidently expecting something
from me at once. This naivete of expectation drove me to fury, but
I restrained myself.
She ought to have tried not to notice, as though
everything had been as usual, while instead of that, she ... and I
dimly felt that I should make her pay dearly for all this.
"You have found me in a strange position, Liza,"
I began, stammering and knowing that this was the wrong way to begin.
"No, no, don't imagine anything," I cried, seeing that she
had suddenly flushed. "I am not ashamed of my poverty.... On
the contrary, I look with pride on my poverty. I am poor but honourable....
One can be poor and honourable," I muttered. "However ...
would you like tea?...."
"No," she was beginning.
"Wait a minute."
I leapt up and ran to Apollon. I had to get out of the room
"Apollon," I whispered in feverish haste,
flinging down before him the seven roubles which had remained all
the time in my clenched fist, "here are your wages, you see I
give them to you; but for that you must come to my rescue: bring me
tea and a dozen rusks from the restaurant. If you won't go, you'll
make me a miserable man! You don't know what this woman is.... This
is -- everything! You may be imagining something.... But you don't
know what that woman is! ..."
Apollon, who had already sat down to his work and
put on his spectacles again, at first glanced askance at the money
without speaking or putting down his needle; then, without paying
the slightest attention to me or making any answer, he went on busying
himself with his needle, which he had not yet threaded. I waited before
him for three minutes with my arms crossed à la Napoléon
. My temples were moist with sweat. I was pale, I felt it. But, thank
God, he must have been moved to pity, looking at me. Having threaded
his needle he deliberately got up from his seat, deliberately moved
back his chair, deliberately took off his spectacles, deliberately
counted the money, and finally asking me over his shoulder: "Shall
I get a whole portion?" deliberately walked out of the room.
As I was going back to Liza, the thought occurred to me on the way:
shouldn't I run away just as I was in my dressing-gown, no matter
where, and then let happen what would?
I sat down again. She looked at me uneasily. For
some minutes we were silent.
"I will kill him," I shouted suddenly,
striking the table with my fist so that the ink spurted out of the
"What are you saying!" she cried, starting.
"I will kill him! kill him!" I shrieked,
suddenly striking the table in absolute frenzy, and at the same time
fully understanding how stupid it was to be in such a frenzy. "You
don't know, Liza, what that torturer is to me. He is my torturer....
He has gone now to fetch some rusks; he ..."
And suddenly I burst into tears. It was an hysterical
attack. How ashamed I felt in the midst of my sobs; but still I could
not restrain them.
She was frightened.
"What is the matter? What is wrong?" she cried, fussing
"Water, give me water, over there!" I
muttered in a faint voice, though I was inwardly conscious that I
could have got on very well without water and without muttering in
a faint voice. But I was, what is called, putting it on, to save appearances,
though the attack was a genuine one.
She gave me water, looking at me in bewilderment.
At that moment Apollon brought in the tea. It suddenly seemed to me
that this common-place, prosaic tea was horribly undignified and paltry
after all that had happened, and I blushed crimson. Liza looked at
Apollon with positive alarm. He went out without a glance at either
"Liza, do you despise me?" I asked, looking
at her fixedly, trembling with impatience to know what she was thinking.
She was confused, and did not know what to answer.
"Drink your tea," I said to her angrily.
I was angry with myself, but, of course, it was she who would have
to pay for it. A horrible spite against her suddenly surged up in
my heart; I believe I could have killed her. To revenge myself on
her I swore inwardly not to say a word to her all the time. "She
is the cause of it all," I thought.
Our silence lasted for five minutes. The tea stood
on the table; we did not touch it. I had got to the point of purposely
refraining from beginning in order to embarrass her further; it was
awkward for her to begin alone. Several times she glanced at me with
mournful perplexity. I was obstinately silent. I was, of course, myself
the chief sufferer, because I was fully conscious of the disgusting
meanness of my spiteful stupidity, and yet at the same time I could
not restrain myself
"I want to... get away ... from there altogether,"
she began, to break the silence in some way, but, poor girl, that
was just what she ought not to have spoken about at such a stupid
moment to a man so stupid as I was. My heart positively ached with
pity for her tactless and unnecessary straightforwardness. But something
hideous at once stifled all compassion in me; it even provoked me
to greater venom. I did not care what happened. Another five minutes
"Perhaps I am in your way," she began
timidly, hardly audibly, and was getting up. But as soon as I saw
this first impulse of wounded dignity I positively trembled with spite,
and at once burst out.
"Why have you come to me, tell me that, please?"
I began, gasping for breath and regardless of logical connection in
my words. I longed to have it all out at once, at one burst; I did
not even trouble how to begin. "Why have you come? Answer, answer,"
I cried, hardly knowing what I was doing. "I'll tell you, my
good girl, why you have come. You've come because I talked sentimental
stuff to you then. So now you are soft as butter and longing for fine
sentiments again. So you may as well know that I was laughing at you
then. And I am laughing at you now. Why are you shuddering? Yes, I
was laughing at you! I had been insulted just before, at dinner, by
the fellows who came that evening before me. I came to you, meaning
to thrash one of them, an officer; but I didn't succeed, I didn't
find him; I had to avenge the insult on someone to get back my own
again; you turned up, I vented my spleen on you and laughed at you.
I had been humiliated, so I wanted to humiliate; I had been treated
like a rag, so I wanted to show my power.... That's what it was, and
you imagined I had come there on purpose to save you. Yes? You imagined
that? You imagined that?"
I knew that she would perhaps be muddled and not
take it all in exactly, but I knew, too, that she would grasp the
gist of it, very well indeed. And so, indeed, she did. She turned
white as a handkerchief, tried to say something, and her lips worked
painfully; but she sank on a chair as though she had been felled by
an axe. And all the time afterwards she listened to me with her lips
parted and her eyes wide open, shuddering with awful terror. The cynicism,
the cynicism of my words overwhelmed her....
"Save you!" I went on, jumping up from
my chair and running up and down the room before her. "Save you
from what? But perhaps I am worse than you myself. Why didn't you
throw it in my teeth when I was giving you that sermon: 'But what
did you come here yourself for? was it to read us a sermon?' Power,
power was what I wanted then, sport was what I wanted, I wanted to
wring out your tears, your humiliation, your hysteria -- that was
what I wanted then! Of course, I couldn't keep it up then, because
I am a wretched creature, I was frightened, and, the devil knows why,
gave you my address in my folly. Afterwards, before I got home, I
was cursing and swearing at you because of that address, I hated you
already because of the lies I had told you. Because I only like playing
with words, only dreaming, but, do you know, what I really want is
that you should all go to hell. That is what I want. I want peace;
yes, I'd sell the whole world for a farthing, straight off, so long
as I was left in peace. Is the world to go to pot, or am I to go without
my tea? I say that the world may go to pot for me so long as I always
get my tea. Did you know that, or not? Well, anyway, I know that I
am a blackguard, a scoundrel, an egoist, a sluggard. Here I have been
shuddering for the last three days at the thought of your coming.
And do you know what has worried me particularly for these three days?
That I posed as such a hero to you, and now you would see me in a
wretched torn dressing-gown, beggarly, loathsome. I told you just
now that I was not ashamed of my poverty; so you may as well know
that I am ashamed of it; I am more ashamed of it than of anything,
more afraid of it than of being found out if I were a thief, because
I am as vain as though I had been skinned and the very air blowing
on me hurt. Surely by now you must realise that I shall never forgive
you for having found me in this wretched dressing-gown, just as I
was flying at Apollon like a spiteful cur. The saviour, the former
hero, was flying like a mangy, unkempt sheep-dog at his lackey, and
the lackey was jeering at him! And I shall never forgive you for the
tears I could not help shedding before you just now, like some silly
woman put to shame! And for what I am confessing to you now, I shall
never forgive you either! Yes -- you must answer for it all because
you turned up like this, because I am a blackguard, because I am the
nastiest, stupidest, absurdest and most envious of all the worms on
earth, who are not a bit better than I am, but, the devil knows why,
are never put to confusion; while I shall always be insulted by every
louse, that is my doom! And what is it to me that you don't understand
a word of this! And what do I care, what do I care about you, and
whether you go to ruin there or not? Do you understand? How I shall
hate you now after saying this, for having been here and listening.
Why, it's not once in a lifetime a man speaks out like this, and then
it is in hysterics! ... What more do you want? Why do you still stand
confronting me, after all this? Why are you worrying me? Why don't
you go?" But at this point a strange thing
happened. I was so accustomed to think and imagine everything from
books, and to picture everything in the world to myself just as I
had made it up in my dreams beforehand, that I could not all at once
take in this strange circumstance. What happened was this: Liza, insulted
and crushed by me, understood a great deal more than I imagined. She
understood from all this what a woman understands first of all, if
she feels genuine love, that is, that I was myself unhappy.
The frightened and wounded expression on her face
was followed first by a look of sorrowful perplexity. When I began
calling myself a scoundrel and a blackguard and my tears flowed (the
tirade was accompanied throughout by tears) her whole face worked
convulsively. She was on the point of getting up and stopping me;
when I finished she took no notice of my shouting: "Why are you
here, why don't you go away?" but realised only that it must
have been very bitter to me to say all this. Besides, she was so crushed,
poor girl; she considered herself infinitely beneath me; how could
she feel anger or resentment? She suddenly leapt up from her chair
with an irresistible impulse and held out her hands, yearning towards
me, though still timid and not daring to stir.... At this point there
was a revulsion in my heart too. Then she suddenly rushed to me, threw
her arms round me and burst into tears. I, too, could not restrain
myself, and sobbed as I never had before.
"They won't let me ... I can't be good!"
I managed to articulate; then I went to the sofa, fell on it face
downwards, and sobbed on it for a quarter of an hour in genuine hysterics.
She came close to me, put her arms round me and stayed motionless
in that position. But the trouble was that the hysterics could not
go on for ever, and (I am writing the loathsome truth) lying face
downwards on the sofa with my face thrust into my nasty leather pillow,
I began by degrees to be aware of a far-away, involuntary but irresistible
feeling that it would be awkward now for me to raise my head and look
Liza straight in the face. Why was I ashamed? I don't know, but I
was ashamed. The thought, too, came into my overwrought brain that
our parts now were completely changed, that she was now the heroine,
while I was just a crushed and humiliated creature as she had been
before me that night -- four days before.... And all this came into
my mind during the minutes I was lying on my face on the sofa. My
God! surely I was not envious of her then.
I don't know, to this day I cannot decide, and at
the time, of course, I was still less able to understand what I was
feeling than now. I cannot get on without domineering and tyrannising
over someone, but ... there is no explaining anything by reasoning
and so it is useless to reason.
I conquered myself, however, and raised my head;
I had to do so sooner or later ... and I am convinced to this day
that it was just became I was ashamed to look at her that another
feeling was suddenly kindled and flamed up in my heart ... a feeling
of mastery and possession. My eyes gleamed with passion, and I gripped
her hands tightly. How I hated her and how I was drawn to her at that
minute! The one feeling intensified the other. It was almost like
an act of vengeance. At first there was a look of amazement, even
of terror on her face, but only for one instant. She warmly and rapturously
A quarter of an hour later I was rushing up and
down the room in frenzied impatience, from minute to minute I went
up to the screen and peeped through the crack at Liza. She was
sitting on the ground with her head leaning against the bed, and must
have been crying. But she did not go away, and that irritated me.
This time she understood it all. I had insulted her finally, but ...
there's no need to describe it. She realised that my outburst of passion
had been simply revenge, a fresh humiliation, and that to my earlier,
almost causeless hatred was added now a personal hatred, born of envy....
Though I do not maintain positively that she understood all this distinctly;
but she certainly did fully understand that I was a despicable man,
and what was worse, incapable of loving her.
I know I shall be told that this is incredible --
but it is incredible to be as spiteful and stupid as I was; it may
be added that it was strange I should not love her, or at any rate,
appreciate her love. Why is it strange? In the first place, by then
I was incapable of love, for I repeat, with me loving meant tyrannising
and showing my moral superiority. I have never in my life been able
to imagine any other sort of love, and have nowadays come to the point
of sometimes thinking that love really consists in the right -- freely
given by the beloved object -- to tyrannise over her. Even
in my underground dreams I did not imagine love except as a struggle.
I began it always with hatred and ended it with moral subjugation,
and afterwards I never knew what to do with the subjugated object.
And what is there to wonder at in that, since I had succeeded in so
corrupting myself, since I was so out of touch with "real life,"
as to have actually thought of reproaching her, and putting her to
shame for having come to me to hear "fine sentiments"; and
did not even guess that she had come not to hear fine sentiments,
but to love me, because to a woman all reformation, all salvation
from any sort of ruin, and all moral renewal is included in love and
can only show itself in that form.
I did not hate her so much, however, when I was
running about the room and peeping through the crack in the screen.
I was only insufferably oppressed by her being here. I wanted her
to disappear. I wanted "peace," to be left alone in my underground
world. Real life oppressed me with its novelty so much that I could
But several minutes passed and she still remained,
without stirring, as though she were unconscious. I had the shamelessness
to tap softly at the screen as though to remind her.... She started,
sprang up, and flew to seek her kerchief, her hat, her coat, as though
making her escape from me.... Two minutes later she came from behind
the screen and looked with heavy eyes at me. I gave a spiteful grin,
which was forced, however, to keep up appearances, and I turned away
from her eyes.
"Good-bye," she said, going towards the
I ran up to her, seized her hand, opened it, thrust
something in it and closed it again. Then I turned at once and dashed
away in haste to the other corner of the room to avoid seeing, anyway....
I did mean a moment since to tell a lie -- to write
that I did this accidentally, not knowing what I was doing through
foolishness, through losing my head. But I don't want to lie, and
so I will say straight out that I opened her hand and put the money
in it ... from spite. It came into my head to do this while I was
running up and down the room and she was sitting behind the screen.
But this I can say for certain: though I did that cruel thing purposely,
it was not an impulse from the heart, but came from my evil brain.
This cruelty was so affected, so purposely made up, so completely
a product of the brain, of books, that I could not even keep it up
a minute -- first I dashed away to avoid seeing her, and then in shame
and despair rushed after Liza. I opened the door in the passage and
began listening. "Liza! Liza!" I cried
on the stairs, but in a low voice, not boldly.
There was no answer, but I fancied I heard her footsteps,
lower down on the stairs.
"Liza!" I cried, more loudly.
No answer. But at that minute I heard the stiff
outer glass door open heavily with a creak and slam violently; the
sound echoed up the stairs.
She had gone. I went back to my room in hesitation.
I felt horribly oppressed.
I stood still at the table, beside the chair on
which she had sat and looked aimlessly before me. A minute passed,
suddenly I started; straight before me on the table I saw .... In
short, I saw a crumpled blue five-rouble note, the one I had thrust
into her hand a minute before. It was the same note; it could be no
other, there was no other in the flat. So she had managed to fling
it from her hand on the table at the moment when I had dashed into
the further corner.
Well! I might have expected that she would do that.
Might I have expected it? No, I was such an egoist, I was so lacking
in respect for my fellow-creatures that I could not even imagine she
would do so. I could not endure it. A minute later I flew like a madman
to dress, flinging on what I could at random and ran headlong after
her. She could not have got two hundred paces away when I ran out
into the street.
It was a still night and the snow was coming down
in masses and falling almost perpendicularly, covering the pavement
and the empty street as though with a pillow. There was no one in
the street, no sound was to be heard. The street lamps gave a disconsolate
and useless glimmer. I ran two hundred paces to the cross-roads and
stopped short. Where had she gone? And why was I
running after her?
Why? To fall down before her, to sob with remorse,
to kiss her feet, to entreat her forgiveness! I longed for that, my
whole breast was being rent to pieces, and never, never shall I recall
that minute with indifference. But -- what for? I thought. Should
I not begin to hate her, perhaps, even tomorrow, just because I had
kissed her feet today? Should I give her happiness? Had I not recognised
that day, for the hundredth time, what I was worth? Should I not torture
I stood in the snow, gazing into the troubled darkness
and pondered this.
"And will it not be better?" I mused fantastically,
afterwards at home, stifling the living pang of my heart with fantastic
dreams. "Will it not be better that she should keep the resentment
of the insult for ever? Resentment -- why, it is purification; it
is a most stinging and painful consciousness! Tomorrow I should have
defiled her soul and have exhausted her heart, while now the feeling
of insult will never die in her heart, and however loathsome the filth
awaiting her -- the feeling of insult will elevate and purify her
... by hatred ... h'm! ... perhaps, too, by forgiveness.... Will all
that make things easier for her though? ..."
And, indeed, I will ask on my own account here,
an idle question: which is better -- cheap happiness or exalted sufferings?
Well, which is better?
So I dreamed as I sat at home that evening, almost
dead with the pain in my soul. Never had I endured such suffering
and remorse, yet could there have been the faintest doubt when I ran
out from my lodging that I should turn back half-way? I never met
Liza again and I have heard nothing of her. I will add, too, that
I remained for a long time afterwards pleased with the phrase about
the benefit from resentment and hatred in spite of the fact that I
almost fell ill from misery.
Even now, so many years later, all this is somehow
a very evil memory. I have many evil memories now, but ... hadn't
I better end my "Notes" here? I believe I made a mistake
in beginning to write them, anyway I have felt ashamed all the time
I've been writing this story; so it's hardly literature so much as
a corrective punishment. Why, to tell long stories, showing how I
have spoiled my life through morally rotting in my corner, through
lack of fitting environment, through divorce from real life, and rankling
spite in my underground world, would certainly not be interesting;
a novel needs a hero, and all the traits for an anti-hero are expressly
gathered together here, and what matters most, it all produces an
unpleasant impression, for we are all divorced from life, we are all
cripples, every one of us, more or less. We are so divorced from it
that we feel at once a sort of loathing for real life, and so cannot
bear to be reminded of it. Why, we have come almost to looking upon
real life as an effort, almost as hard work, and we are all privately
agreed that it is better in books. And why do we fuss and fume sometimes?
Why are we perverse and ask for something else? We don't know what
ourselves. It would be the worse for us if our petulant prayers were
answered. Come, try, give any one of us, for instance, a little more
independence, untie our hands, widen the spheres of our activity,
relax the control and we ... yes, I assure you ... we should be begging
to be under control again at once. I know that you will very likely
be angry with me for that, and will begin shouting and stamping. Speak
for yourself, you will say, and for your miseries in your underground
holes, and don't dare to say all of us -- excuse me, gentlemen, I
am not justifying myself with that "all of us." As for what
concerns me in particular I have only in my life carried to an extreme
what you have not dared to carry halfway, and what's more, you have
taken your cowardice for good sense, and have found comfort in deceiving
yourselves. So that perhaps, after all, there is more life in me than
in you. Look into it more carefully! Why, we don't even know what
living means now, what it is, and what it is called? Leave us alone
without books and we shall be lost and in confusion at once. We shall
not know what to join on to, what to cling to, what to love and what
to hate, what to respect and what to despise. We are oppressed at
being men -- men with a real individual body and blood, we are ashamed
of it, we think it a disgrace and try to contrive to be some sort
of impossible generalised man. We are stillborn, and for generations
past have been begotten, not by living fathers, and that suits us
better and better. We are developing a taste for it. Soon we shall
contrive to be born somehow from an idea. But enough; I don't want
to write more from "Underground."
The notes of this paradoxalist do not end here, however. He could
not refrain from going on with them, but it seems to us that we may
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