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Notes from the Underground
*The author of the diary and the diary itself
areof courseimaginary. Nevertheless it is clear
that such persons as the writer of these notes
not only maybut positively mustexist in our
societywhen 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 doneone of the
characters of the recent past. He is one of the
representatives of a generation still living. In this
fragmententitled "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. --AUTHOR'S NOTE.
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 stillif I don't consult a doctor it is
from spite. My liver is badwell--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 servicebut am no longer. I was a
spiteful official. I was rude and took pleasure in being so. I did not take
bribesyou seeso I was bound to find a recompense in thatat least. (A
poor jestbut 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 wayI will not scratch it out on purpose!)
When petitioners used to come for information to the table at which I
satI used to grind my teeth at themand felt intense enjoyment when I
succeeded in making anybody unhappy. I almost did succeed. For the
most part they were all timid people--of coursethey were petitioners.
But of the uppish ones there was one officer in particular I could not
endure. He simply would not be humbleand 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 youththough.
But do you knowgentlemenwhat was the chief point about my spite?
Whythe whole pointthe real sting of it lay in the fact that continually
even in the moment of the acutest spleenI 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 mouthbut bring me a doll to play withgive me a cup of
tea with sugar in itand maybe I should be appeased. I might even be
genuinely touchedthough probably I should grind my teeth at myself afterwards
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 officerand in reality I never could become spiteful. I was conscious
every moment in myself of manyvery many elements absolutely opposite to
that. I felt them positively swarming in methese opposite elements.
I knew that they had been swarming in me all my life and craving
some outlet from mebut I would not let themwould not let them
purposely would not let them come out. They tormented me till I was
ashamed: they drove me to convulsions and--sickened meat lasthow
they sickened me! Noware not you fancyinggentlementhat I am
expressing remorse for something nowthat I am asking your forgiveness
for something? I am sure you are fancying that ... HoweverI assure you
I do not care if you are. ...
It was not only that I could not become spitefulI did not know how to
become anything; neither spiteful nor kindneither a rascal nor an honest
manneither a hero nor an insect. NowI am living out my life in my
cornertaunting myself with the spiteful and useless consolation that an
intelligent man cannot become anything seriouslyand it is only the fool
who becomes anything. Yesa man in the nineteenth century must and
morally ought to be pre-eminently a characterless creature; a man of
characteran active man is pre-eminently a limited creature. That is my
conviction of forty years. I am forty years old nowand you know forty
years is a whole lifetime; you know it is extreme old age. To live longer
than forty years is bad mannersis vulgarimmoral. Who does live
beyond forty? Answer thatsincerely and honestly I will tell you who do:
fools and worthless fellows. I tell all old men that to their faceall these
venerable old menall these silver-haired and reverend seniors! I tell the
whole world that to its face! I have a right to say sofor I shall go on
living to sixty myself. To seventy! To eighty! ... Staylet me
take breath ...
You imagine no doubtgentlementhat I want to amuse you. You are
mistaken in thattoo. I am by no means such a mirthful person as you
imagineor as you may imagine; howeverirritated by all this babble (and
I feel that you are irritated) you think fit to ask me who I am--then my
answer isI 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 beforebut 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 countrywoman
ill-natured from stupidityandmoreoverthere is always a nasty
smell about her. I am told that the Petersburg climate is bad for meand
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! Whyit is
absolutely no matter whether I am going away or not going away.
But what can a decent man speak of with most pleasure?
Answer: Of himself.
Wellso I will talk about myself.
I want now to tell yougentlemenwhether you care to hear it or notwhy
I could not even become an insect. I tell you solemnlythat I have many
times tried to become an insect. But I was not equal even to that. I swear
gentlementhat to be too conscious is an illness--a real thorough-going
illness. For man's everyday needsit would have been quite enough to
have the ordinary human consciousnessthat ishalf or a quarter of the
amount which falls to the lot of a cultivated man of our unhappy
nineteenth centuryespecially one who has the fatal ill-luck to inhabit
Petersburgthe most theoretical and intentional town on the whole
terrestrial globe. (There are intentional and unintentional towns.) It
would have been quite enoughfor instanceto 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 affectationto be witty at the expense of
men of action; and what is morethat from ill-bred affectationI am
clanking a sword like my officer. Butgentlemenwhoever can pride
himself on his diseases and even swagger over them?
Thoughafter alleveryone does do that; people do pride themselves
on their diseasesand I domay bemore than anyone. We will not
dispute it; my contention was absurd. But yet I am firmly persuaded that
a great deal of consciousnessevery sort of consciousnessin factis a
disease. I stick to that. Let us leave thattoofor a minute. Tell me this:
why does it happen that at the veryyesat 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 evasionas 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 gladthough we scarcely believe
in it ourselvesas a rule. Nothey are nonplussed in all sincerity. The
wall has for them something tranquillisingmorally soothingfinal-maybe
even something mysterious ... but of the wall later.)
Wellsuch a direct person I regard as the real normal manas 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 thatbut perhaps the normal man should be
stupidhow do you know? Perhaps it is very beautifulin fact. And I am
the more persuaded of that suspicionif one can call it soby the fact that
if you takefor instancethe antithesis of the normal manthat isthe
man of acute consciousnesswho has comeof coursenot out of the lap
of nature but out of a retort (this is almost mysticismgentlemenbut I
suspect thistoo)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 mouseyet it is a mousewhile the other is a manand
thereforeet caeteraet caetera. And the worst of it ishe himselfhis very
own selflooks 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
supposefor instancethat it feels insultedtoo (and it almost always does
feel insulted)and wants to revenge itselftoo. There may even be a
greater accumulation of spite in it than in L'HOMME DE LA NATURE ET DE LA
VERITE. 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
VERITE. 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 itselfto 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 questionsadds to the one question
so many unsettled questions that there inevitably works up around it a sort
of fatal brewa stinking messmade up of its doubtsemotionsand of the
contempt spat upon it by the direct men of action who stand solemnly
about it as judges and arbitratorslaughing 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 pawandwith a smile of assumed contempt in which it does not
even itself believecreep ignominiously into its mouse-hole. There in its
nastystinkingunderground home our insultedcrushed and ridiculed
mouse promptly becomes absorbed in coldmalignant andabove all
everlasting spite. For forty years together it will remember its injury down
to the smallestmost ignominious detailsand every time will addof
itselfdetails still more ignominiousspitefully teasing and tormenting
itself with its own imagination. It will itself be ashamed of its imaginings
but yet it will recall it allit will go over and over every detailit will
invent unheard of things against itselfpretending that those things
might happenand will forgive nothing. Maybe it will begin to revenge
itselftoobutas it werepiecemealin trivial waysfrom behind the
stoveincognitowithout believing either in its own right to vengeance
or in the success of its revengeknowing that from all its efforts at revenge
it will suffer a hundred times more than he on whom it revenges itself
while heI daresaywill not even scratch himself. On its deathbed it will
recall it all over againwith interest accumulated over all the years
But it is just in that coldabominable half despairhalf beliefin 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
positionin that hell of unsatisfied desires turned inwardin that fever of
oscillationsof 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 subtleso difficult of analysisthat persons who are a
little limitedor even simply persons of strong nerveswill 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 wordthey will shout at youit is no use protesting: it is a
case of twice two makes four! Nature does not ask your permissionshe
has nothing to do with your wishesand whether you like her laws or
dislike themyou are bound to accept her as she isand consequently all
her conclusions. A wallyou seeis a wall ... and so onand so on."
Merciful Heavens! but what do I care for the laws of nature and
arithmeticwhenfor 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
downbut 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 consolationand really did
contain some word of conciliationsimply because it is as true as twice
two makes four. Ohabsurdity of absurdities! How much better it is to
understand it allto recognise it allall 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 themethat even for the stone wall you are yourself somehow
to blamethough again it is as clear as day you are not to blame in the
leastand therefore grinding your teeth in silent impotence to sink into
luxurious inertiabrooding on the fact that there is no one even for you to
feel vindictive againstthat you have notand perhaps never will havean
object for your spitethat it is a sleight of handa bit of jugglinga cardsharper's
trickthat it is simply a messno knowing what and no knowing
whobut in spite of all these uncertainties and jugglingsstill there is an
ache in youand the more you do not knowthe worse the ache.
Ha, 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 toothache
for a whole month and I know there is. In that caseof course
people are not spiteful in silencebut moan; but they are not candid
moansthey are malignant moansand 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
examplegentlemenand I will develop it. Those moans express in the
first place all the aimlessness of your painwhich is so humiliating to
your consciousness; the whole legal system of nature on which you spit
disdainfullyof coursebut from which you suffer all the same while she
does not. They express the consciousness that you have no enemy to
punishbut 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 ityour teeth will leave off achingand if he does not
they will go on aching another three months; and that finally if you are
still contumacious and still protestall that is left you for your own
gratification is to thrash yourself or beat your wall with your fist as hard as
you canand absolutely nothing more. Wellthese mortal insultsthese
jeers on the part of someone unknownend at last in an enjoyment which
sometimes reaches the highest degree of voluptuousness. I ask you
gentlemenlisten sometimes to the moans of an educated man of the
nineteenth century suffering from toothacheon the second or third day
of the attackwhen he is beginning to moannot as he moaned on the
first daythat isnot simply because he has toothachenot just as any
coarse peasantbut 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 youI am lacerating
your heartsI am keeping everyone in the house awake. Wellstay awake
thenyoutoofeel every minute that I have toothache. I am not a hero
to you nowas I tried to seem beforebut simply a nasty personan
impostor. Wellso be itthen! I am very glad that you see through me. It
is nasty for you to hear my despicable moans: welllet it be nasty; here I
will let you have a nastier flourish in a minute. ..." You do not
understand even nowgentlemen? Noit seems our development and our
consciousness must go further to understand all the intricacies of this
pleasure. You laugh? Delighted. My jestsgentlemenare of course in
bad tastejerkyinvolvedlacking self-confidence. But of course that is
because I do not respect myself. Can a man of perception respect himself
Comecan 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. AndindeedI could
never endure sayingForgive me, Papa, I won't do it again,not because
I am incapable of saying that--on the contraryperhaps just because I
have been too capable of itand in what a waytoo. 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
penitentI used to shed tears andof coursedeceived myselfthough 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 naturethough
the laws of nature have continually all my life offended me more than
anything. It is loathsome to remember it allbut it was loathsome even
then. Of coursea minute or so later I would realise wrathfully that it was
all a liea revolting liean affected liethat isall this penitencethis
emotionthese vows of reform. You will ask why did I worry myself with
such antics: answerbecause it was very dull to sit with one's hands
foldedand so one began cutting capers. That is really it. Observe
yourselves more carefullygentlementhen you will understand that it is
so. I invented adventures for myself and made up a lifeso as at least to
live in some way. How many times it has happened to me--wellfor
instanceto take offence simply on purposefor nothing; and one knows
oneselfof coursethat one is offended at nothing; that one is putting it
onbut yet one brings oneself at last to the point of being really offended.
All my life I have had an impulse to play such pranksso that in the end I
could not control it in myself. Another timetwicein factI tried hard to
be in love. I sufferedtoogentlemenI assure you. In the depth of my
heart there was no faith in my sufferingonly a faint stir of mockerybut
yet I did sufferand in the realorthodox way; I was jealousbeside myself
... and it was all from ENNUIgentlemenall from ENNUI; inertia overcame
me. You know the directlegitimate fruit of consciousness is
inertiathat isconscious sitting-with-the-hands-folded. I have referred
to this already. I repeatI 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 onesand in that way
persuade themselves more quickly and easily than other people do that
they have found an infallible foundation for their activityand their
minds are at ease and you know that is the chief thing. To begin to act
you knowyou must first have your mind completely at ease and no trace
of doubt left in it. Whyhow am Ifor exampleto 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 primaryand 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? Whyjust 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 causethat isjustice. And so he is at
rest on all sidesand consequently he carries out his revenge calmly and
successfullybeing persuaded that he is doing a just and honest thing. But
I see no justice in itI find no sort of virtue in it eitherand consequently
if I attempt to revenge myselfit is only out of spite. Spiteof course
might overcome everythingall my doubtsand so might serve quite
successfully in place of a primary causeprecisely because it is not a
cause. But what is to be done if I have not even spite (I began with that
just nowyou know). In consequence again of those accursed laws of
consciousnessanger in me is subject to chemical disintegration. You
look into itthe object flies off into airyour reasons evaporatethe
criminal is not to be foundthe wrong becomes not a wrong but a
phantomsomething like the toothachefor which no one is to blame
and consequently there is only the same outlet left again--that isto 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 feelingsblindlywithout reflectionwithout a
primary causerepelling consciousness at least for a time; hate or loveif
only not to sit with your hands folded. The day after tomorrowat the
latestyou will begin despising yourself for having knowingly deceived
yourself. Result: a soap-bubble and inertia. Ohgentlemendo you
knowperhaps I consider myself an intelligent manonly because all my
life I have been able neither to begin nor to finish anything. Granted I am
a babblera harmless vexatious babblerlike all of us. But what is to be
done if the direct and sole vocation of every intelligent man is babble
that isthe intentional pouring of water through a sieve?
Ohif I had done nothing simply from laziness! Heavenshow I should
have respected myselfthen. I should have respected myself because I
should at least have been capable of being lazy; there would at least have
been one qualityas it werepositive in mein 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
definedit would mean that there was something to say about me.
Sluggard--whyit is a calling and vocationit is a career. Do not jestit
is so. I should then be a member of the best club by rightand 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 virtueand never doubted himself. He diednot simply
with a tranquilbut with a triumphant conscienceand he was quite right
too. Then I should have chosen a career for myselfI should have been a
sluggard and a gluttonnot a simple onebutfor instanceone 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--ohthen it would have
been different! I should have found for myself a form of activity in keeping
with itto be precisedrinking to the health of everything "sublime and
beautiful." 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
nastiestunquestionable trashI should have sought out the sublime and
the beautiful. I should have exuded tears like a wet sponge. An artistfor
instancepaints a picture worthy of Gay. At once I drink to the health of
the artist who painted the picture worthy of Gaybecause 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 and
I should claim respect for doing so. I should persecute anyone who
would not show me respect. I should live at easeI should die with
dignitywhyit is charmingperfectly charming! And what a good round
belly I should have grownwhat a treble chin I should have established
what a ruby nose I should have coloured for myselfso that everyone
would have saidlooking at me: "Here is an asset! Here is something real
and solid!" Andsay what you likeit is very agreeable to hear such
remarks about oneself in this negative age.
But these are all golden dreams. Ohtell mewho was it first announced
who was it first proclaimedthat man only does nasty things because he
does not know his own interests; and that if he were enlightenedif his
eyes were opened to his real normal interestsman would at once cease to
do nasty thingswould at once become good and noble becausebeing
enlightened and understanding his real advantagehe would see his own
advantage in the good and nothing elseand we all know that not one
man canconsciouslyact against his own interestsconsequentlyso to
saythrough necessityhe would begin doing good? Ohthe babe! Oh
the pureinnocent child! Whyin the first placewhen 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 menCONSCIOUSLYthat is fully understanding their real
interestshave left them in the background and have rushed headlong on
another pathto meet peril and dangercompelled to this course by
nobody and by nothingbutas it weresimply disliking the beaten track
and have obstinatelywilfullystruck out another difficultabsurd way
seeking it almost in the darkness. SoI supposethis 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 advantageSOMETIMESnot only maybut even
mustconsist in his desiring in certain cases what is harmful to himself
and not advantageous. And if soif there can be such a casethe whole
principle falls into dust. What do you think--are there such cases? You
laugh; laugh awaygentlemenbut 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 seeyou gentlemen haveto the best of my
knowledgetaken your whole register of human advantages from the
averages of statistical figures and politico-economical formulas. Your
advantages are prosperitywealthfreedompeace--and so onand so
on. So that the man who shouldfor instancego openly and knowingly
in opposition to all that list would to your thinkingand indeed mine
tooof coursebe an obscurantist or an absolute madman: would not he?
Butyou knowthis is what is surprising: why does it so happen that all
these statisticianssages and lovers of humanitywhen 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 takenand the whole
reckoning depends upon that. It would be no greater matterthey would
simply have to take itthis advantageand add it to the list. But the
trouble isthat this strange advantage does not fall under any classification
and is not in place in any list. I have a friend for instance ... Ech!
gentlemenbut of course he is your friendtoo; and indeed there is no
oneno one to whom he is not a friend! When he prepares for any
undertaking this gentleman immediately explains to youelegantly and
clearlyexactly how he must act in accordance with the laws of reason and
truth. What is morehe will talk to you with excitement and passion of
the true normal interests of man; with irony he will upbraid the shortsighted
fools who do not understand their own interestsnor the true
significance of virtue; andwithin a quarter of an hourwithout any
sudden outside provocationbut simply through something inside him
which is stronger than all his interestshe will go off on quite a different
tack--that isact in direct opposition to what he has just been saying
about himselfin opposition to the laws of reasonin opposition to his
own advantagein 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 isgentlemenit seems there must really
exist something that is dearer to almost every man than his greatest
advantagesor (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 advantagesfor the sake
of which a man if necessary is ready to act in opposition to all laws; that
isin opposition to reasonhonourpeaceprosperity--in factin opposition
to all those excellent and useful things if only he can attain that
fundamentalmost advantageous advantage which is dearer to him
than all. "Yesbut 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 manysidedness
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 bloodthirsty,
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 factthose will be
halcyon days. Of course there is no guaranteeing (this is my comment)
that it will not befor instancefrightfully 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 peoplebut 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 stupidyou knowphenomenally stupid; or rather he is
not at all stupidbut he is so ungrateful that you could not find another
like him in all creation. Ifor instancewould not be in the least
surprised if all of a suddenA PROPOS of nothingin the midst of general
prosperity a gentleman with an ignobleor rather with a reactionary and
ironicalcountenance were to arise andputting his arms akimbosay to
us all: "I saygentlemanhadn't we better kick over the whole show and
scatter rationalism to the windssimply to send these logarithms to the
deviland to enable us to live once more at our own sweet foolish will!"
That again would not matterbut 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 reasonwhichone would thinkwas hardly worth mentioning:
that isthat man everywhere and at all timeswhoever he may
behas 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
interestsand sometimes one POSITIVELY OUGHT (that is my idea). One's
own free unfettered choiceone's own capricehowever wild it may be
one's own fancy worked up at times to frenzy--is that very "most
advantageous advantage" which we have overlookedwhich 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 normala virtuous choice? What has made them
conceive that man must want a rationally advantageous choice? What
man wants is simply INDEPENDENT choicewhatever that independence
may cost and wherever it may lead. And choiceof coursethe 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--"
StaygentlemenI meant to begin with that myself I confessI was
rather frightened. I was just going to say that the devil only knows what
choice depends onand that perhaps that was a very good thingbut I
remembered the teaching of science ... and pulled myself up. And here
you have begun upon it. Indeedif there really is some day discovered a
formula for all our desires and caprices--that isan explanation of what
they depend uponby what laws they arisehow they developwhat they
are aiming at in one case and in another and so onthat is a real
mathematical formula--thenmost likelyman will at once cease to feel
desireindeedhe will be certain to. For who would want to choose by
rule? Besideshe 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 choiceif 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 possiblefor 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 desirebecause it
will be impossible retaining our reason to be SENSELESS in our desiresand
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--sojoking
apartthere may one day be something like a table constructed of them
so that we really shall choose in accordance with it. Iffor instancesome
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 waywhat FREEDOM is left meespecially 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 shortif this could
be arranged there would be nothing left for us to do; anywaywe should
have to understand that. Andin factwe 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 fancyand if we really aspire to formulas
and tables of rulesand welleven ... to the chemical retortthere's no
help for itwe must accept the retort tooor else it will be accepted
without our consent ...."
Yesbut here I come to a stop! Gentlemenyou must excuse me for being
over-philosophical; it's the result of forty years underground! Allow me to
indulge my fancy. You seegentlemenreason is an excellent thingthere's
no disputing thatbut reason is nothing but reason and satisfies only
the rational side of man's naturewhile will is a manifestation of the whole
lifethat isof the whole human life including reason and all the impulses.
And although our lifein this manifestation of itis often worthlessyet
it is life and not simply extracting square roots. Here Ifor instance
quite naturally want to livein order to satisfy all my capacities for
lifeand not simply my capacity for reasoningthat isnot simply one
twentieth of my capacity for life. What does reason know? Reason only
knows what it has succeeded in learning (some thingsperhapsit will
never learn; this is a poor comfortbut why not say so frankly?) and
human nature acts as a wholewith everything that is in itconsciously
or unconsciouslyandeven if it goes wrongit lives. I suspect
gentlementhat you are looking at me with compassion; you tell me
again that an enlightened and developed mansuchin shortas the
future man will becannot consciously desire anything disadvantageous
to himselfthat that can be proved mathematically. I thoroughly agreeit
can--by mathematics. But I repeat for the hundredth timethere is one
caseone onlywhen man may consciouslypurposelydesire what is
injurious to himselfwhat is stupidvery 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 coursethis
very stupid thingthis caprice of oursmay be in realitygentlemen
more advantageous for us than anything else on earthespecially in
certain cases. And in particular it may be more advantageous than any
advantage even when it does us obvious harmand 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 isour personalityour individuality. Someyou see
maintain that this really is the most precious thing for mankind; choice
canof courseif it choosesbe in agreement with reason; and especially
if this be not abused but kept within bounds. It is profitable and sometimes
even praiseworthy. But very oftenand even most oftenchoice is
utterly and stubbornly opposed to reason ... and ... and ... do you
know that thattoois profitablesometimes even praiseworthy? Gentlemen
let us suppose that man is not stupid. (Indeed one cannot refuse to
suppose thatif only from the one considerationthatif man is stupid
then who is wise?) But if he is not stupidhe is monstrously ungrateful!
Phenomenally ungrateful. In factI believe that the best definition of
man is the ungrateful biped. But that is not allthat is not his worst
defect; his worst defect is his perpetual moral obliquityperpetual--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? Grandif you like. Take the Colossus of
Rhodesfor instancethat'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-colouredtoo: if one takes the dress
uniformsmilitary and civilianof all peoples in all ages--that alone is
worth somethingand 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
nowthey fought first and they fought last--you will admitthat it is
almost too monotonous. In shortone 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. Andindeedthis is the odd thing that is continually
happening: there are continually turning up in life moral and rational
personssages and lovers of humanity who make it their object to live all
their lives as morally and rationally as possibleto beso to speaka 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 themselvesplaying some queer
trickoften 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 blessingdrown him in a sea of happinessso that
nothing but bubbles of bliss can be seen on the surface; give him
economic prosperitysuch that he should have nothing else to do but
sleepeat cakes and busy himself with the continuation of his speciesand
even then out of sheer ingratitudesheer spiteman would play you some
nasty trick. He would even risk his cakes and would deliberately desire
the most fatal rubbishthe most uneconomical absurditysimply to
introduce into all this positive good sense his fatal fantastic element. It is
just his fantastic dreamshis 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 pianowhich 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-keyeven if this were proved to him by natural
science and mathematicseven 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 chaoswill contrive sufferings of all sortsonly to gain his
point! He will launch a curse upon the worldand as only man can curse
(it is his privilegethe 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
thistoocan be calculated and tabulated--chaos and darkness and
cursesso that the mere possibility of calculating it all beforehand would
stop it alland reason would reassert itselfthen man would purposely go
mad in order to be rid of reason and gain his point! I believe in itI
answer for itfor 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 skinit may be by cannibalism! And this being
socan one help being tempted to rejoice that it has not yet come offand
that desire still depends on something we don't know?
You will scream at me (that isif you condescend to do so) that no one
is touching my free willthat all they are concerned with is that my will
should of itselfof its own free willcoincide with my own normal
interestswith the laws of nature and arithmetic.
Good heavensgentlemenwhat sort of free will is left when we
come to tabulation and arithmeticwhen it will all be a case of twice
two make four? Twice two makes four without my will. As if free will
GentlemenI am jokingand I know myself that my jokes are not
brilliantbut you know one can take everything as a joke. I amperhaps
jesting against the grain. GentlemenI am tormented by questions;
answer them for me. Youfor instancewant to cure men of their old
habits and reform their will in accordance with science and good sense.
But how do you knownot only that it is possiblebut 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 shorthow do you know
that such a reformation will be a benefit to man? And to go to the root of
the matterwhy 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 faryou knowthis is only your supposition. It may be
the law of logicbut not the law of humanity. You thinkgentlemen
perhaps that I am mad? Allow me to defend myself. I agree that man is
pre-eminently a creative animalpredestined to strive consciously for an
object and to engage in engineering--that isincessantly and eternally to
make new roadsWHEREVER 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 roadand perhapstoothat however stupid the "direct" practical
man may bethe thought sometimes will occur to him that the road
almost always does lead SOMEWHEREand that the destination it leads to is
less important than the process of making itand that the chief thing is to
save the well-conducted child from despising engineeringand so giving
way to the fatal idlenesswhichas we all knowis the mother of all the
vices. Man likes to make roads and to createthat 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 distanceand is by no means in
love with it at close quarters; perhaps he only loves building it and does
not want to live in itbut will leave itwhen completedfor the use of
LES ANIMAUX DOMESTIQUES--such as the antsthe sheepand 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 antheap
they will probably endwhich does the greatest credit to their
perseverance and good sense. But man is a frivolous and incongruous
creatureand perhapslike a chess playerloves 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 attainingin other wordsin life itselfand not in the
thing to be attainedwhich must always be expressed as a formulaas
positive as twice two makes fourand such positiveness is not life
gentlemenbut is the beginning of death. Anywayman has always been
afraid of this mathematical certaintyand I am afraid of it now. Granted
that man does nothing but seek that mathematical certaintyhe traverses
oceanssacrifices his life in the questbut to succeedreally to find it
dreadsI 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 paythey go to the tavernthen they are taken
to the police-station--and there is occupation for a week. But where can
man go? Anywayone can observe a certain awkwardness about him
when he has attained such objects. He loves the process of attainingbut
does not quite like to have attainedand thatof courseis very absurd. In
factman is a comical creature; there seems to be a kind of jest in it all.
But yet mathematical certainty is after allsomething 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 duetwice two makes five is sometimes
a very charming thing too.
And why are you so firmlyso triumphantlyconvinced that only the
normal and the positive--in other wordsonly what is conducive to
welfare--is for the advantage of man? Is not reason in error as regards
advantage? Does not manperhapslove 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 extraordinarilypassionately
in love with sufferingand that is a fact. There is no need to appeal
to universal history to prove that; only ask yourselfif you are a man and
have lived at all. As far as my personal opinion is concernedto care only
for well-being seems to me positively ill-bred. Whether it's good or badit
is sometimes very pleasanttooto smash things. I hold no brief for
suffering nor for well-being either. I am standing for ... my capriceand
for its being guaranteed to me when necessary. Suffering would be out of
place in vaudevillesfor instance; I know that. In the "Palace of Crystal" it
is unthinkable; suffering means doubtnegationand 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 sufferingthat isdestruction and
chaos. Whysuffering is the sole origin of consciousness. Though I did
lay it down at the beginning that consciousness is the greatest misfortune
for manyet I know man prizes it and would not give it up for any
satisfaction. Consciousnessfor instanceis 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
consciousnesseven though the same result is attainedyou can at least flog
yourself at timesand that willat any rateliven you up. Reactionary as it
iscorporal 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 edificethat 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 seeif it were not a palacebut a hen-houseI might creep into it
to avoid getting wetand 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. YesI answerif 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 lifeand that if one must live one had better live in a
mansion? That is my choicemy desire. You will only eradicate it when
you have changed my preference. Welldo change itallure me with
something elsegive me another ideal. But meanwhile I will not take a
hen-house for a mansion. The palace of crystal may be an idle dreamit
may be that it is inconsistent with the laws of nature and that I have
invented it only through my own stupiditythrough 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 desiresor
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 knowanywaythat I will not be put off with
a compromisewith a recurring zerosimply 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 yearsand perhaps with a sign-board of a dentist hanging out.
Destroy my desireseradicate my idealsshow me something betterand I
will follow you. You will sayperhapsthat 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 attentionI 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 wasthat of all your
edifices there has not been one at which one could not put out one's
tongue. On the contraryI 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 arrangedand 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
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 speakingwhen 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 isgentlementhat 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 bileyet I should
not care to be in his place such as he is now (though I shall not cease
envying him). Nono; anyway the underground life is more advantageous.
Thereat any rateone can ... Ohbut even now I am lying! I
am lying because I know myself that it is not underground that is better
but something differentquite differentfor which I am thirstingbut
which I cannot find! Damn underground!
I will tell you another thing that would be betterand that isif I
myself believed in anything of what I have just written. I swear to you
gentlementhere is not one thingnot one word of what I have written that I
really believe. That isI believe itperhapsbut 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 cellarto 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 sayperhaps
wagging your heads contemptuously. "You thirst for life and try to settle
the problems of life by a logical tangle. And how persistenthow insolent
are your salliesand 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 wittybut you are evidently well satisfied with their
literary value. You mayperhapshave really sufferedbut you have no
respect for your own suffering. You may have sinceritybut you have no
modesty; out of the pettiest vanity you expose your sincerity to publicity
and ignominy. You doubtlessly mean to say somethingbut hide your last
word through fearbecause you have not the resolution to utter itand
only have a cowardly impudence. You boast of consciousnessbut you
are not sure of your groundfor though your mind worksyet your heart is
darkened and corruptand you cannot have a fullgenuine consciousness
without a pure heart. And how intrusive you arehow you insist and
Of course I have myself made up all the things you say. Thattoois
from underground. I have been for forty years listening to you through a
crack under the floor. I have invented them myselfthere 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. AnywayI am not strong-minded enough for thatand 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 friendsbut only to himselfand that in secret. But
there are other things which a man is afraid to tell even to himselfand
every decent man has a number of such things stored away in his mind.
The more decent he isthe greater the number of such things in his
mind. AnywayI have only lately determined to remember some of my
early adventures. Till now I have always avoided themeven with a
certain uneasiness. Nowwhen I am not only recalling thembut have
actually decided to write an account of themI want to try the experiment
whether one caneven with oneselfbe perfectly open and not take
fright at the whole truth. I will observein parenthesisthat Heine says
that a true autobiography is almost an impossibilityand that man is
bound to lie about himself. He considers that Rousseau certainly told lies
about himself in his confessionsand even intentionally liedout of
vanity. I am convinced that Heine is right; I quite understand how
sometimes one mayout of sheer vanityattribute regular crimes to
oneselfand 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 myselfand I wish to declare once and for all that if I write as
though I were addressing readersthat is simply because it is easier for me
to write in that form. It is a forman 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 hereperhapssomeone will catch at the word and ask me: if you
really don't reckon on readerswhy do you make such compacts with
yourself--and on paper too--that isthat you won't attempt any system
or methodthat you jot things down as you remember themand so on
and so on? Why are you explaining? Why do you apologise?
Wellthere it isI answer.
There is a whole psychology in all thisthough. 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. Againwhat 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. BesidesI shall perhaps obtain actual relief from writing.
Todayfor instanceI am particularly oppressed by one memory of a
distant past. It came back vividly to my mind a few days agoand 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?
BesidesI am boredand 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 meanyway.
Snow is falling todayyellow and dingy. It fell yesterdaytooand 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 A PROPOS of the
A Propos of the Wet Snow
When 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 consciencefretting
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 weepinghide thine anguished face
At memories of foul disgrace.
(translated by Juliet Soskice).
AT THAT TIME I was only twenty-four. My life was even then gloomyillregulated
and as solitary as that of a savage. I made friends with no one
and positively avoided talkingand buried myself more and more in my
hole. At work in the office I never looked at anyoneand was perfectly
well aware that my companions looked upon menot only as a queer
fellowbut 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 repulsivepock-marked facewhich 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 thatowing to my unbounded
vanity and to the high standard I set for myselfI often looked at myself
with furious discontentwhich verged on loathingand so I inwardly
attributed the same feeling to everyone. I hated my facefor instance: I
thought it disgustingand even suspected that there was something base
in my expressionand so every day when I turned up at the office I tried to
behave as independently as possibleand to assume a lofty expressionso
that I might not be suspected of being abject. "My face may be ugly I
thought, but let it be loftyexpressiveandabove allEXTREMELY
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 allI thought it actually stupid lookingand I would have been quite
satisfied if I could have looked intelligent. In factI would even have put
up with looking base ifat the same timemy face could have been
thought strikingly intelligent.
Of courseI hated my fellow clerks one and alland I despised them all
yet at the same time I wasas it wereafraid of them. In factit 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 himselfand 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 meand I was always the first to drop my eyes. This worried
me to distraction. I had a sickly dreadtooof being ridiculousand so had
a slavish passion for the conventional in everything external. I loved to fall
into the common rutand 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 stupidand 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 slaveand I fancied it just because I was
more highly developed. But it was not only that I fancied itit 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 circumstancesbut alwaysat all timesa 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 somethinghe
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 valiantand 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 circumstancetooworried 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, A 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"--Germanand still more French--on whom
nothing produces any effect; if there were an earthquakeif all France
perished at the barricadesthey would still be the samethey would not
even have the decency to affect a changebut would still go on singing
their transcendental songs to the hour of their deathbecause they are
fools. Wein Russiahave 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 dayalways on
the look out for Kostanzhoglos and Uncle Pyotr Ivanitchs and foolishly
accepting them as our ideal; they have slandered our romanticstaking
them for the same transcendental sort as in Germany or France. On the
contrarythe characteristics of our "romantics" are absolutely and directly
opposed to the transcendental European typeand 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 everythingTO SEE EVERYTHING AND TO SEE IT
OFTEN INCOMPARABLY MORE CLEARLY THAN OUR MOST REALISTIC MINDS SEE IT; to
refuse to accept anyone or anythingbut at the same time not to despise
anything; to give wayto yieldfrom policy; never to lose sight of a useful
practical object (such as rent-free quarters at the government expense
pensionsdecorations)to keep their eye on that object through all the
enthusiasms and volumes of lyrical poemsand at the same time to preserve
the sublime and the beautifulinviolate within them to the hour of
their deathand to preserve themselves alsoincidentallylike 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 roguesI assure you .... I can assure you from
experienceindeed. Of coursethat isif he is intelligent. But what am I
saying! The romantic is always intelligentand I only meant to observe
that although we have had foolish romantics they don't countand they
were only so because in the flower of their youth they degenerated into
Germansand to preserve their precious jewel more comfortablysettled
somewhere out there--by preference in Weimar or the Black Forest.
Ifor instancegenuinely 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 noteI did not openly abuse it. Our romantic would rather go out of
his mind--a thinghoweverwhich very rarely happens--than take to
open abuseunless he had some other career in view; and he is never
kicked out. At mostthey would take him to the lunatic asylum as "the
King of Spain" if he should go very mad. But it is only the thinfair 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 daysand 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 idealthough they are arrant thieves and
knavesyet they tearfully cherish their first ideal and are extraordinarily
honest at heart. Yesit 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 repeatour romanticsfrequentlybecome 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 amazingand goodness knows what it
may develop into later onand 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
gentlemenI shall welcome both views as an honour and a special favour.
And do forgive my digression.
I did notof coursemaintain friendly relations with my comrades and
soon was at loggerheads with themand in my youth and inexperience I
even gave up bowing to themas though I had cut off all relations. That
howeveronly happened to me once. As a ruleI was always alone.
In the first place I spent most of my time at homereading. 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. Readingof
coursewas a great help--exciting megiving me pleasure and pain. But
at times it bored me fearfully. One longed for movement in spite of
everythingand I plunged all at once into darkundergroundloathsome
vice of the pettiest kind. My wretched passions were acutesmarting
from my continualsickly irritability I had hysterical impulseswith
tears and convulsions. I had no resource except readingthat isthere was
nothing in my surroundings which I could respect and which attracted
me. I was overwhelmed with depressiontoo; I had an hysterical craving
for incongruity and for contrastand so I took to vice. I have not said all
this to justify myself .... Butno! I am lying. I did want to justify
myself. I make that little observation for my own benefitgentlemen. I don't
want to lie. I vowed to myself I would not.
And sofurtivelytimidlyin solitudeat nightI indulged in filthy
vicewith a feeling of shame which never deserted meeven at the most
loathsome momentsand 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 seenof being metof 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 cuesand 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 timethat 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 fighttooand 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 wayand 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.
could have forgiven blowsbut 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 decenta more LITERARY oneso to speak. I had been treated like a
fly. This officer was over six footwhile 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 homeconfused and troubledand the
next night I went out again with the same lewd intentionsstill more
furtivelyabjectly and miserably than beforeas it werewith tears in my
eyes--but still I did go out again. Don't imaginethoughit was cowardice
made me slink away from the officer; I never have been a coward at
heartthough I have always been a coward in action. Don't be in a hurry
to laugh--I assure you I can explain it all.
Ohif only that officer had been one of the sort who would consent to
fight a duel! But nohe was one of those gentlemen (alaslong extinct!)
who preferred fighting with cues orlike 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
bullyespecially when they were over six foot.
I did not slink away through cowardicebut through an unbounded
vanity. I was afraid not of his six footnot of getting a sound thrashing and
being thrown out of the window; I should have had physical courage
enoughI assure you; but I had not the moral courage. What I was afraid of
was that everyone presentfrom the insolent marker down to the lowest
little stinkingpimply clerk in a greasy collarwould 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 honourbut 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 realityin spite of all my romanticism!)
that they would all simply split their sides with laughterand that the
officer would not simply beat methat iswithout insulting mebut would
certainly prod me in the back with his kneekick me round the billiardtable
and only then perhaps have pity and drop me out of the window.
Of coursethis 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 meI 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 sofor I knew no one. But one day I heard someone shout his
surname in the street as I was following him at a distanceas though I
were tied to him--and so I learnt his surname. Another time I followed
him to his flatand for ten kopecks learned from the porter where he
livedon which storeywhether he lived alone or with othersand so
on--in facteverything one could learn from a porter. One morning
though I had never tried my hand with the penit suddenly occurred to
me to write a satire on this officer in the form of a novel which would unmask
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
recognisedbut on second thoughts I changed itand 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 splendidcharming
letter to himimploring him to apologise to meand 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 rankwhile I
could have improved his mind with my cultureandwell ... my ideas
and all sorts of things might have happened." Only fancythis was two
years after his insult to meand my challenge would have been a
ridiculous anachronismin spite of all the ingenuity of my letter in
disguising and explaining away the anachronism. Butthank 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 wayby 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 miserieshumiliations and resentments; but no doubt that
was just what I wanted. I used to wriggle along in a most unseemly fashion
like an eelcontinually moving aside to make way for generalsfor officers
of the guards and the hussarsor for ladies. At such minutes there used to be
a convulsive twinge at my heartand I used to feel hot all down my back at
the mere thought of the wretchedness of my attireof the wretchedness and
abjectness of my little scurrying figure. This was a regular martyrdoma
continualintolerable humiliation at the thoughtwhich passed into an
incessant and direct sensationthat I was a mere fly in the eyes of all this
worlda nastydisgusting fly--more intelligentmore highly developed
more refined in feeling than any of themof course--but a fly that was
continually making way for everyoneinsulted and injured by everyone.
Why I inflicted this torture upon myselfwhy I went to the NevskyI 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. Hetoowent there chiefly on holidays
Hetooturned out of his path for generals and persons of high rankand
he toowriggled between them like an eel; but peoplelike meor even
better dressed than mehe simply walked over; he made straight for them
as though there was nothing but empty space before himand neverunder
any circumstancesturned 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 ragewaking 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 happenedand I always moved asidewhile 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 purposeeven 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 continuallyhorribly
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 thoughtalready more goodnatured
in my joy. "I will simply not turn asidewill run up against him
not very violentlybut 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 withwhen I carried out my plan I
should need to be looking rather more decentand so I had to think of my
get-up. "In case of emergencyiffor instancethere were any sort of
public scandal (and the public there is of the most RECHERCHE: 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 advanceand bought at
Tchurkin's a pair of black gloves and a decent hat. Black gloves seemed to
me both more dignified and BON TON than the lemon-coloured ones which
I had contemplated at first. "The colour is too gaudyit 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. It 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 spurtsas though reminding
me of themselvesbut did not banish the dissipation by their appearance.
On the contrarythey seemed to add a zest to it by contrastand were only
sufficiently present to serve as an appetising sauce. That sauce was made
up of contradictions and sufferingsof agonising inward analysisand all
these pangs and pin-pricks gave a certain piquancyeven a significance to
my dissipation--in factcompletely 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 simplevulgardirect 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? NoI had a lofty
way of getting out of it all.
And what loving-kindnessoh Lordwhat loving-kindness I felt at
times in those dreams of mine! in those "flights into the sublime and the
beautiful"; though it was fantastic lovethough it was never applied to
anything human in realityyet 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. Everythinghoweverpassed satisfactorily by a lazy
and fascinating transition into the sphere of artthat isinto the beautiful
forms of lifelying readylargely stolen from the poets and novelists and
adapted to all sorts of needs and uses. Ifor instancewas triumphant over
everyone; everyoneof coursewas in dust and ashesand was forced
spontaneously to recognise my superiorityand I forgave them all. I was a
poet and a grand gentlemanI fell in love; I came in for countless
millions and immediately devoted them to humanityand at the same
time I confessed before all the people my shameful deedswhichof
coursewere not merely shamefulbut had in them much that was
sublime and beautifulsomething 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 marchan amnesty would be declaredthe 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 ComoLake Como being for
that purpose transferred to the neighbourhood of Rome; then would
come a scene in the bushesand so onand 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 alland 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 enoughor 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 officeAnton Antonitch
Syetotchkin. He was the only permanent acquaintance I have had in my
lifeand I wonder at the fact myself now. But I only went to see him when
that phase came over meand 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 neededat leastone human being
actually existing. I had to call on Anton Antonitchhoweveron
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
Cornersin four low-pitched roomsone smaller than the otherof a
particularly frugal and sallow appearance. He had two daughters and
their auntwho used to pour out the tea. Of the daughters one was
thirteen and another fourteenthey both had snub nosesand 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 gentlemanusually a
colleague from our office or some other department. I never saw more
than two or three visitors therealways the same. They talked about the
excise duty; about business in the senateabout salariesabout promotions
about His Excellencyand the best means of pleasing himand so
on. I had the patience to sit like a fool beside these people for four hours at
a stretchlistening to them without knowing what to say to them or
venturing to say a word. I became stupefiedseveral times I felt myself
perspiringI 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 all mankind.
I had however one other acquaintance of a sortSimonovwho was an
old schoolfellow. I had a number of schoolfellowsindeedin 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 shortI 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 Simonovwho had in no way been distinguished
at schoolwas 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 himbut these had not lasted long and had
somehow been suddenly clouded over. He was evidently uncomfortable
at these reminiscencesand wasI fancyalways afraid that I might take
up the same tone again. I suspected that he had an aversion for mebut
still I went on going to see himnot being quite certain of it.
And so on one occasionunable to endure my solitude and knowing
that as it was Thursday Anton Antonitch's door would be closedI
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 meas though purposely
to put myself into a false positionI 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 entrancewhich was strangefor 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 schoolthough they all hated
me. I knewof coursethat they must despise me now for my lack of
success in the serviceand for my having let myself sink so lowgoing
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 downfeeling rather miserableand began listening to what they were
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 Zverkovan officer in the armywho 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 prettyplayful boy whom everybody liked. I
had hated himhowevereven in the lower formsjust because he was a
pretty and playful boy. He was always bad at his lessons and got worse and
worse as he went on; howeverhe left with a good certificateas he had
powerful interests. During his last year at school he came in for an estate
of two hundred serfsand as almost all of us were poor he took up a
swaggering tone among us. He was vulgar in the extremebut at the same
time he was a good-natured felloweven in his swaggering. In spite of
superficialfantastic and sham notions of honour and dignityall but very
few of us positively grovelled before Zverkovand 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 wasas it werean 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 voicehis
admiration of his own witticismswhich were often frightfully stupid
though he was bold in his language; I hated his handsomebut stupid
face (for which I wouldhoweverhave 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 officerand was looking forward to them with impatience)
and boasted of the duels he would constantly be fighting. I remember
how Iinvariably so taciturnsuddenly fastened upon Zverkov
when one day talking at a leisure moment with his schoolfellows of his
future relations with the fair sexand growing as sportive as a puppy in
the sunhe all at once declared that he would not leave a single village
girl on his estate unnoticedthat that was his DROIT DE SEIGNEURand that if
the peasants dared to protest he would have them all flogged and double
the tax on themthe bearded rascals. Our servile rabble applaudedbut I
attacked himnot from compassion for the girls and their fathersbut
simply because they were applauding such an insect. I got the better of
him on that occasionbut though Zverkov was stupid he was lively and
impudentand so laughed it offand 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 afterwardsbut without malicejestinglycasually. I
remained angrily and contemptuously silent and would not answer him.
When we left school he made advances to me; I did not rebuff themfor I
was flatteredbut we soon parted and quite naturally. Afterwards I heard
of his barrack-room success as a lieutenantand 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 streetand I suspected
that he was afraid of compromising himself by greeting a personage as
insignificant as me. I saw him once in the theatrein the third tier of
boxes. By then he was wearing shoulder-straps. He was twisting and
twirling aboutingratiating himself with the daughters of an ancient
General. In three years he had gone off considerablythough 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 yearsthough privately they did not consider themselves
on an equal footing with himI am convinced of that.
Of Simonov's two visitorsone was Ferfitchkina Russianised German
--a little fellow with the face of a monkeya blockhead who was always
deriding everyonea very bitter enemy of mine from our days in the lower
forms--a vulgarimpudentswaggering fellowwho affected a most sensitive
feeling of personal honourthoughof coursehe was a wretched
little coward at heart. He was one of those worshippers of Zverkov who
made up to the latter from interested motivesand often borrowed money
from him. Simonov's other visitorTrudolyubovwas a person in no way
remarkable--a tall young fellowin the armywith a cold facefairly
honestthough he worshipped success of every sortand was only capable
of thinking of promotion. He was some sort of distant relation of
Zverkov'sand thisfoolish as it seemsgave him a certain importance
among us. He always thought me of no consequence whatever; his
behaviour to methough not quite courteouswas tolerable.
Well, with seven roubles each,said Trudolyubovtwenty-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,Simonov decided.
Can you imagine,Ferfitchkin interrupted hotly and conceitedlylike
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 Hotel de Paris at five o'clock tomorrow,Simonovwho had been
asked to make the arrangementsconcluded finally.
How twenty-one roubles?I asked in some agitationwith a show of
being offended; "if you count me it will not be twenty-onebut
It seemed to me that to invite myself so suddenly and unexpectedly
would be positively gracefuland that they would all be conquered at
once and would look at me with respect.
Do you want to join, too?Simonov observedwith no appearance of
pleasureseeming 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 saidboiling over again.
And where were we to find you?Ferfitchkin put in roughly.
You never were on good terms with Zverkov,Trudolyubov addedfrowning.
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 voiceas 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,
We'll put your name down,Simonov decidedaddressing me.
Tomorrow at five-o'clock at the Hotel de Paris.
What about the money?Ferfitchkin began in an undertoneindicating
me to Simonovbut he broke offfor even Simonov was embarrassed.
That will do,said Trudolyubovgetting up. "If he wants to come so
But it's a private thing, between us friends,Ferfitchkin said crossly
as hetoopicked 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
outTrudolyubov barely nodded. Simonovwith whom I was left TETE-A-TETE
was in a state of vexation and perplexityand 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 in embarrassment.
I flushed crimsonas I did so I remembered that I had owed Simonov
fifteen roubles for ages--which I hadindeednever forgottenthough 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 forgotten ....
All right, all right, that doesn't matter. You can pay tomorrow after the
dinner. I simply wanted to know .... Please don't ...
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 askedafter two minutes of silence.
Oh!he saidstartingthat is--to be truthful--yes. I have to go and
see someone ... not far from here,he added in an apologetic voice
My goodness, why didn't you say so?I criedseizing my capwith an
astonishingly free-and-easy airwhich was the last thing I should have
expected of myself.
It's close by ... not two paces away,Simonov repeatedaccompanying
me to the front door with a fussy air which did not suit him at all. "So
five o'clockpunctuallytomorrow he called down the stairs after me.
He was very glad to get rid of me. I was in a fury.
What possessed mewhat possessed me to force myself upon them?" I
wonderedgrinding my teeth as I strode along the streetfor 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 post ....
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 tactlessthe more
unseemly my going would bethe more certainly I would go.
And there was a positive obstacle to my going: I had no money. All I
had was nine roublesI had to give seven of that to my servantApollon
for his monthly wages. That was all I paid him--he had to keep himself.
Not to pay him was impossibleconsidering his character. But I will
talk about that fellowabout that plague of mineanother time.
HoweverI knew I should go and should not pay him his wages.
That night I had the most hideous dreams. No wonder; all the evening
I had been oppressed by memories of my miserable days at schooland 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 forlornsilent boyalready crushed by their reproaches
already troubled by doubtand 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 firstand shut myself away from
everyone in timidwounded and disproportionate pride. Their coarseness
revolted me. They laughed cynically at my faceat 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 thoughtsthe stupidity of their pursuitstheir games
their conversations. They had no understanding of such essential things
they took no interest in such strikingimpressive subjectsthat I could
not help considering them inferior to myself. It was not wounded vanity
that drove me to itand for God's sake do not thrust upon me your
hackneyed remarksrepeated to nauseathat "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-wittedinvincible 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 inand how he would despise me for the abjectness of
my vanity and lack of spirit--andworst of allhow paltryUNLITERARY
commonplace it would all be. Of coursethe best thing would be not to
go at all. But that was most impossible of all: if I feel impelled to do
anythingI seem to be pitchforked into it. I should have jeered at myself
ever afterwards: "So you funked ityou funked ityou funked the REAL
THING!" On the contraryI passionately longed to show all that "rabble"
that I was by no means such a spiritless creature as I seemed to myself.
What is moreeven in the acutest paroxysm of this cowardly feverI
dreamed of getting the upper handof dominating themcarrying them
awaymaking them like me--if only for my "elevation of thought and
unmistakable wit." They would abandon Zverkovhe would sit on one
sidesilent and ashamedwhile I should crush him. Thenperhapswe
would be reconciled and drink to our everlasting friendship; but what was
most bitter and humiliating for me was that I knew even thenknew fully
and for certainthat I needed nothing of all this reallythat I did not really
want to crushto subdueto attract themand that I did not care a straw
really for the resulteven if I did achieve it. Ohhow I prayed for the day
to pass quickly! In unutterable anguish I went to the windowopened 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 andtrying not to look at Apollonwho had been all day
expecting his month's wagesbut in his foolishness was unwilling to be
the first to speak about itI slipped between him and the door and
jumping into a high-class sledgeon which I spent my last half roubleI
drove up in grand style to the Hotel 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
therebut 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 fivebut 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 forand 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 candlesthough there were lamps
burning in the room. It had not occurred to the waiterhoweverto bring
them in at once when I arrived. In the next room two gloomyangrylooking
persons were eating their dinners in silence at two different
tables. There was a great deal of noiseeven shoutingin a room further
away; one could hear the laughter of a crowd of peopleand nasty little
shrieks in French: there were ladies at the dinner. It was sickeningin fact.
I rarely passed more unpleasant momentsso much so that when they did
arrive all together punctually at six I was overjoyed to see themas though
they were my deliverersand 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; butseeing meZverkov drew
himself up a littlewalked up to me deliberately with a slightrather jaunty
bend from the waist. He shook hands with me in a friendlybut not overfriendly
fashionwith a sort of circumspect courtesy like that of a General
as though in giving me his hand he were warding off something. I had
imaginedon the contrarythat on coming in he would at once break into
his habitual thinshrill laugh and fall to making his insipid jokes and
witticisms. I had been preparing for them ever since the previous daybut I
had not expected such condescensionsuch high-official courtesy. So
thenhe felt himself ineffably superior to me in every respect! If he only
meant to insult me by that high-official toneit would not matterI
thought--I could pay him back for it one way or another. But what ifin
realitywithout the least desire to be offensivethat 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 beganlisping and
drawlingwhich 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. WellanywayI am glad to renew our acquaintance."
And he turned carelessly to put down his hat on the window.
Have you been waiting long?Trudolyubov inquired.
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 repliedwith 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
ironicallyfor 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 himtooas exquisitely ludicrous and embarrassing.
It isn't funny at all!I cried to Ferfitchkinmore 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 absurd.
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--unintentionalof course. And how could Simonov ... h'm!"
If a trick like that had been played on me,observed FerfitchkinI
But you should have ordered something for yourself,Zverkov interrupted
or simply asked for dinner without waiting for us.
You will allow that I might have done that without your permission,
I rapped out. "If I waitedit was ..."
Let us sit down, gentlemen,cried Simonovcoming in. "Everything
is ready; I can answer for the champagne; it is capitally frozen .... You
seeI did not know your addresswhere was I to look for you?" he
suddenly turned to mebut again he seemed to avoid looking at me.
Evidently he had something against me. It must have been what
All sat down; I did the same. It was a round table. Trudolyubov was on
my leftSimonov on my rightZverkov was sitting oppositeFerfitchkin
next to himbetween 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 meandso to speakcheer me up.
Does he want me to throw a bottle at his head?I thoughtin a fury.
In my novel surroundings I was unnaturally ready to be irritated.
In the N--- office,I answered jerkilywith my eyes on my plate.
And ha-ave you a go-od berth? I say, what ma-a-de you leave your
What ma-a-de me was that I wanted to leave my original job,I
drawled more than hehardly 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 wincedbut he tried not to notice it.
And the remuneration?
I mean, your sa-a-lary?
Why are you cross-examining me?HoweverI told him at once what
my salary was. I turned horribly red.
It is not very handsome,Zverkov observed majestically.
Yes, you can't afford to dine at cafes on that,Ferfitchkin
To my thinking it's very poor,Trudolyubov observed gravely.
And how thin you have grown! How you have changed!added
Zverkovwith a shade of venom in his voicescanning me and my attire
with a sort of insolent compassion.
Oh, spare his blushes,cried Ferfitchkinsniggering.
My dear sir, allow me to tell you I am not blushing,I broke out at
last; "do you hear? I am dining hereat this cafeat my own expensenot
at other people's--note thatMr. Ferfitchkin."
Wha-at? Isn't every one here dining at his own expense? You would
seem to be ...Ferfitchkin flew out at meturning as red as a lobster
and looking me in the face with fury.
Tha-at,I answeredfeeling I had gone too farand I imagine it
would be better to talk of something more intelligent.
You intend to show off your intelligence, I suppose?
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 criedauthoritatively.
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
Trudolyubovrudely addressing himself to me alone. "You invited yourself
to join usso don't disturb the general harmony."
Enough, enough!cried Zverkov. "Give overgentlemenit's out of
place. Better let me tell you how I nearly got married the day before
And then followed a burlesque narrative of how this gentleman had
almost been married two days before. There was not a word about the
marriagehoweverbut the story was adorned with generalscolonels and
kammer-junkerswhile Zverkov almost took the lead among them. It was
greeted with approving laughter; Ferfitchkin positively squealed.
No one paid any attention to meand I sat crushed and humiliated.
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! Ohdamn 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 oncethis very minutetake 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 itI 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 doso that they would sayHe's clever,
though he is absurd,and ... and ... in factdamn them all!
I scanned them all insolently with my drowsy eyes. But they seemed to
have forgotten me altogether. They were noisyvociferouscheerful.
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
coursehe was lying like a horse)and how he had been helped in this
affair by an intimate friend of hisa Prince Kolyaan officer in the
hussarswho had three thousand serfs.
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 lastglancing contemptuously in my
direction. Zverkovwithout a wordexamined me as though I were an insect.
I dropped my eyes. Simonov made haste to fill up the glasses with champagne.
Trudolyubov raised his glassas did everyone else but me.
Your health and good luck on the journey!he cried to Zverkov. "To
old timesto our futurehurrah!"
They all tossed off their glassesand crowded round Zverkov to kiss
him. I did not move; my full glass stood untouched before me.
Why, aren't you going to drink it?roared Trudolyubovlosing 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 glassprepared for something extraordinarythough
I did not know myself precisely what I was going to say.
SILENCE!cried Ferfitchkin. "Now for a display of wit!"
Zverkov waited very gravelyknowing what was coming.
Mr. Lieutenant Zverkov,I beganlet 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 mechanicallyfor 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 comradeshipon an equal footing and
not ... H'm ... I love ... Buthoweverwhy not? I will drink your
healthtooMr. Zverkov. Seduce the Circassian girlsshoot the enemies
of the fatherland and ... and ... to your healthMonsieur Zverkov!"
Zverkov got up from his seatbowed to me and said:
I am very much obliged to you.He was frightfully offended and
Damn the fellow!roared Trudolyubovbringing his fist down on
Well, he wants a punch in the face for that,squealed Ferfitchkin.
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 allbut 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 aloudturning 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
I shall never forgive myself for letting him join us,Simonov
Now is the time to throw a bottle at their heads,I thought to myself.
I picked up the bottle ... and filled my glass .... "NoI'd better sit
on to the end I went on thinking; you would be pleasedmy friendsif I
went away. Nothing will induce me to go. I'll go on sitting here and
drinking to the endon purposeas a sign that I don't think you of the
slightest consequence. I will go on sitting and drinkingbecause this is a
public-house and I paid my entrance money. I'll sit here and drinkfor I
look upon you as so many pawnsas inanimate pawns. I'll sit here and
drink ... and sing if I want toyessingfor 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 alasthey did not address me! And ohhow I wishedhow
I wished at that moment to be reconciled to them! It struck eightat 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 didas a factorder three bottles on his own account. Iof coursewas
not invited to join them. They all sat round him on the sofa. They
listened to himalmost 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
Caucasusof the nature of true passionof snug berths in the serviceof
the income of an hussar called Podharzhevskywhom none of them knew
personallyand rejoiced in the largeness of itof 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
roomopposite the sofafrom the table to the stove and back again. I tried
my very utmost to show them that I could do without themand yet I
purposely made a noise with my bootsthumping 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 elevenin 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
stoppedfrom time to timeto 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 timeswith an intenseacute pang I was stabbed to the
heart by the thought that ten yearstwenty yearsforty years would pass
and that even in forty years I would remember with loathing and humiliation
those filthiestmost ludicrousand most awful moments of my life.
No one could have gone out of his way to degrade himself more shamelessly
and I fully realised itfullyand yet I went on pacing up and down
from the table to the stove. "Ohif you only knew what thoughts and
feelings I am capable ofhow 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 mejust 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 stoveTAKING NO NOTICE OF THEM. But nothing
came of it: they said nothingand two minutes later they ceased to notice
me again. It struck eleven.
Friends,cried Zverkov getting up from the sofalet us all be off
Of course, of course,the others assented. I turned sharply to
Zverkov. I was so harassedso exhaustedthat I would have cut my throat
to put an end to it. I was in a fever; my hairsoaked 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
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 the air.
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 flushedtheir eyes were bright: they had been
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!concluded Trudolyubov.
Olympia is mine, friends, that's agreed!cried Zverkov.
We won't dispute your right, we won't dispute your right,the others
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 saidwith desperate resolution.
He looked at me in extreme amazementwith vacant eyes. Hetoo
You don't mean you are coming with us?
I've no money,he snapped outand 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 at me.
Take it, if you have no sense of shame!he pronounced pitilesslyand
ran to overtake them.
I was left for a moment alone. Disorderthe remains of dinnera
broken wine-glass on the floorspilt winecigarette endsfumes of drink
and delirium in my brainan agonising misery in my heart and finally
the waiterwho had seen and heard all and was looking inquisitively into
I am going there!I cried. "Either they shall all go down on their
knees to beg for my friendshipor 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 Brazilvery different from the ball on Lake Como!"
You are a scoundrel,a thought flashed through my mindif you
laugh at this now.
No matter!I criedanswering myself. "Now everything is lost!"
There was no trace to be seen of thembut that made no difference--I
knew where they had gone.
At the steps was standing a solitary night sledge-driver in a rough
peasant coatpowdered over with the still fallingwetand as it were
warmsnow. It was hot and steamy. The little shaggy piebald horse was
also covered with snow and coughingI remember that very well. I made
a rush for the roughly made sledge; but as soon as I raised my foot to get
into itthe 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.
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 whipI 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 criedlashing myself up more and more. "It's of no consequence!
The first person I meet in the street is bound to be my secondjust
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 tomorrowhe would be bound to consentif only from a
feeling of chivalryand to keep the secret! Anton Antonitch ...."
The fact isthat 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. But ....
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 Godmy God! Why did I invite myself to this dinner
yesterday? But noit's impossible. And my walking up and down for three
hours from the table to the stove? Notheythey and no one else must
pay for my walking up and down! They must wipe out this dishonour!
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 tomorrowI'll
catch him by the legI'll pull off his coat when he gets into the carriage.
I'll get my teeth into his handI'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 courseafter that everything will be over! The office will have
vanished off the face of the earth. I shall be arrestedI shall be triedI
shall be dismissed from the servicethrown in prisonsent to Siberia.
Never mind! In fifteen years when they let me out of prison I will trudge
off to hima beggarin 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: "Lookmonsterat my hollow cheeks and my rags! I've lost
everything--my careermy happinessartscienceTHE 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 tearsthough 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 ashamedso ashamed that I
stopped the horsegot out of the sledgeand stood still in the snow in the
middle of the street. The driver gazed at mesighing 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 werebecause that would seem as
though ... Heavenshow could I leave things! And after such insults!
No!I criedthrowing myself into the sledge again. "It is ordained! It is
fate! Drive ondrive 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
shoutedbut he whipped up his nag so that it began kicking.
The wet snow was falling in big flakes; I unbuttoned myselfregardless
of it. I forgot everything elsefor I had finally decided on the slapand
felt with horror that it was going to happen NOWAT ONCEand that NO FORCE
COULD STOP IT. The deserted street lamps gleamed sullenly in the snowy
darkness like torches at a funeral. The snow drifted under my great-coat
under my coatunder my cravatand melted there. I did not wrap myself
up--all was lostanyway.
At last we arrived. I jumped outalmost unconsciousran 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 factSimonov had warned them
that perhaps another gentleman would arriveand 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 nightif one had
an introductionone might visit it for other purposes.
I walked rapidly through the dark shop into the familiar drawingroom
where there was only one candle burningand stood still in
amazement: there was no one there. "Where are they?" I asked somebody.
But by nowof coursethey had separated. Before me was standing a
person with a stupid smilethe "madam" herselfwho had seen me
before. A minute later a door opened and another person came in.
Taking no notice of anything I strode about the roomandI believeI
talked to myself. I felt as though I had been saved from death and was
conscious of thisjoyfullyall over: I should have given that slapI should
certainlycertainly 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 freshyoungrather pale facewith straightdark
eyebrowsand with graveas it were wonderingeyes that attracted me at
once; I should have hated her if she had been smiling. I began looking at
her more intently andas it werewith effort. I had not fully collected my
thoughts. There was something simple and good-natured in her facebut
something strangely grave. I am sure that this stood in her way hereand
no one of those fools had noticed her. She could nothoweverhave been
called a beautythough she was tallstrong-lookingand 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 extremepaleangryabjectwith dishevelled hair. "No
matterI am glad of it I thought; I am glad that I shall seem repulsive
to her; I like that."
... Somewhere behind a screen a clock began wheezingas though
oppressed by somethingas though someone were strangling it. After an
unnaturally prolonged wheezing there followed a shrillnastyand as it
were unexpectedly rapidchime--as though someone were suddenly
jumping forward. It struck two. I woke upthough I had indeed not been
asleep but lying half-conscious.
It was almost completely dark in the narrowcrampedlow-pitched
roomcumbered 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 darkness.
I was not long in coming to myself; everything came back to my mind
at oncewithout an effortas though it had been in ambush to pounce
upon me again. Andindeedeven while I was unconscious a point
seemed continually to remain in my memory unforgottenand round it
my dreams moved drearily. But strange to sayeverything that had
happened to me in that day seemed to me nowon wakingto be in the
farfar away pastas though I had longlong ago lived all that down.
My head was full of fumes. Something seemed to be hovering over
merousing meexciting meand 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 detachedsullenas it were utterly
remote; it weighed upon me.
A grim idea came into my brain and passed all over my bodyas a
horrible sensationsuch 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 recalledtoothat during those two
hours I had not said a single word to this creatureand hadin fact
considered it utterly superfluous; in factthe silence had for some reason
gratified me. Now I suddenly realised vividly the hideous idea-revolting
as a spider--of vicewhichwithout lovegrossly and shamelessly
begins with that in which true love finds its consummation. For a long time
we gazed at each other like thatbut she did not drop her eyes before mine
and her expression did not changeso that at last I felt uncomfortable.
What is your name?I asked abruptlyto put an end to it.
Liza,she answered almost in a whisperbut somehow far from
graciouslyand she turned her eyes away.
I was silent.
What weather! The snow ... it's disgusting!I saidalmost to myself
putting my arm under my head despondentlyand gazing at the ceiling.
She made no answer. This was horrible.
Have you always lived in Petersburg?I asked a minute lateralmost
angrilyturning my head slightly towards her.
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 sicksad."
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 themselvesapart from
my willflitting through my memory in confusion. I suddenly recalled
something I had seen that morning whenfull of anxious thoughtsI was
hurrying to the office.
I saw them carrying a coffin out yesterday and they nearly dropped
it,I suddenly said aloudnot that I desired to open the conversationbut
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 begansimply to avoid being silent.
Nasty, in what way?
The snow, the wet.(I yawned.)
It makes no difference,she said suddenlyafter 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 askedwith a sort of curiositybut
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 ... many times.
(I had never seen it onceindeed I had never been in Volkovoand had
only heard stories of it.)
Do you mean to say, you don't mind how you die?
But why should I die?she answeredas 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 retortedmore 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 followedprofound
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
Oh, well, then I shall die,she answeredquite vindictivelyand 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 audiblyand again made a faint movement.
That incensed me at once. What! I was so gentle with herand she ....
Why, do you think that you are on the right path?
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? Phew!
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
hastenedhoweverto say in self-defence. "Besidesa man is no example
for a woman. It's a different thing. I may degrade and defile myselfbut I
am not anyone's slave. I come and goand that's an end of it. I shake it off
and I am a different man. But you are a slave from the start. Yesa slave!
You give up everythingyour whole freedom. If you want to break your
chains afterwardsyou 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
elsemaybe you won't understandbut tell me: no doubt you are in debt
to your madam? Thereyou 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 ... perhapsI tooam just as
unlucky--how do you know--and wallow in the mud on purposeout of
misery? You knowmen take to drink from grief; wellmaybe I am here
from grief. Cometell mewhat is there good here? Here you and I ...
came together ... just now and did not say one word to one another all
the timeand it was only afterwards you began staring at me like a wild
creatureand I at you. Is that loving? Is that how one human being
should meet another? It's hideousthat'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 shetoowas 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
It was the exercise of my power that attracted me most.
She turned her head nearer to meand 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 herwith 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. BesidesI 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 youand that you are more sinned
against than sinning. Of courseI know nothing of your storybut it's not
likely a girl like you has come here of her own inclination ...."
A girl like me?she whisperedhardly audibly; but I heard it.
Damn it allI 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
indeedit 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 indirectlyas though talking
of something elseto 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 everyone 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 saidwith a faint smile.
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
Ahso that was it!
Such a thing, Liza, happens in those accursed families in which
there is neither love nor God,I retorted warmlyand 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 look 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
myselfthough I did speak with real feelingand all at once I flushed
crimson. "What if she were suddenly to burst out laughingwhat should I
do then?" That idea drove me to fury. Towards the end of my speech I
really was excitedand 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 voicenot abruptharsh and
unyielding as beforebut something soft and shamefacedso shamefaced
that I suddenly felt ashamed and guilty.
What?I askedwith tender curiosity.
Why, you ...
Why, you ... speak somehow like a book,she saidand 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 invadedand
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 sarcasmonly bringing herself to utter it at last
with an effort. But I did not guessand an evil feeling took possession
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 goodlooking,
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 dishclout;
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 myselfand ... and all at once I stoppedsat up in dismay and
bending over apprehensivelybegan 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 heartand--and the more I was convinced of itthe 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 stifflyartificiallyeven bookishlyin factI
could not speak except "like a book." But that did not trouble me: I
knewI felt that I should be understood and that this very bookishness
might be an assistance. But nowhaving attained my effectI was
suddenly panic-stricken. Never before had I witnessed such despair! She
was lying on her facethrusting 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 wailingthen she pressed
closer into the pillow: she did not want anyone herenot a living soulto
know of her anguish and her tears. She bit the pillowbit her hand till it
bled (I saw that afterwards)orthrusting her fingers into her dishevelled
hairseemed rigid with the effort of restraintholding her breath and
clenching her teeth. I began saying somethingbegging her to calm
herselfbut felt that I did not dare; and all at oncein a sort of cold
shiveralmost in terrorbegan fumbling in the darktrying 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 upLiza sprang
upsat up in bedand with a contorted facewith a half insane smile
looked at me almost senselessly. I sat down beside her and took her
hands; she came to herselfmade an impulsive movement towards me
would have caught hold of mebut did not dareand slowly bowed her
head before me.
Liza, my dear, I was wrong ... forgive me, my dear,I beganbut
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 resolutelyher head still bowed.
But now I am going, good-bye ... till we meet again.
I got up; shetoostood up and suddenly flushed all overgave a
shuddersnatched 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
Wait a minute,she said suddenlyin 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 flushedher eyes shoneand
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 factit was not the same face
not the same look as the evening before: sullenmistrustful and obstinate.
Her eyes now were imploringsoftand at the same time trustful
caressingtimid. The expression with which children look at people they
are very fond ofof whom they are asking a favour. Her eyes were a light
hazelthey were lovely eyesfull of lifeand capable of expressing love as
well as sullen hatred.
Making no explanationas though Ias a sort of higher beingmust
understand everything without explanationsshe held out a piece of
paper to me. Her whole face was positively beaming at that instant with
naivealmost childishtriumph. I unfolded it. It was a letter to her from
a medical student or someone of that sort--a very high-flown and
flowerybut extremely respectfullove-letter. I don't recall the words
nowbut I remember well that through the high-flown phrases there was
apparent a genuine feelingwhich cannot be feigned. When I had
finished reading it I met her glowingquestioningand childishly
impatient eyes fixed upon me. She fastened her eyes upon my face and
waited impatiently for what I should say. In a few wordshurriedly
but with a sort of joy and prideshe explained to me that she had been
to a dance somewhere in a private housea family of "very nice people
WHO KNEW NOTHINGabsolutely nothingfor 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 herand it turned out that he
had known her in old days at Riga when he was a childthey had played
togetherbut a very long time ago--and he knew her parentsbut ABOUT THIS
he knew nothingnothing whateverand 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 ... wellthat
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 ither only treasurebecause she did not want me to
go away without knowing that shetoowas honestly and genuinely loved;
that shetoowas addressed respectfully. No doubt that letter was destined
to lie in her box and lead to nothing. But none the lessI am certain
that she would keep it all her life as a precious treasureas her pride and
justificationand 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 Itoomight think well of her. I said nothingpressed her hand and
went out. I so longed to get away ... I walked all the way homein spite
of the fact that the melting snow was still falling in heavy flakes. I was
exhaustedshatteredin bewilderment. But behind the bewilderment the
truth was already gleaming. The loathsome truth.
It was some timehoweverbefore I consented to recognise that truth.
Waking up in the morning after some hours of heavyleaden sleepand
immediately realising all that had happened on the previous dayI was
positively amazed at my last night's SENTIMENTALITY with Lizaat 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 comethough; it doesn't
matter .... But OBVIOUSLYthat 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 morningand gave it to me at onceon the
first asking. I was so delighted at this thatas I signed the IOU with a
swaggering airI told him casually that the night before "I had been
keeping it up with some friends at the Hotel de Paris; we were giving a
farewell party to a comradein factI might say a friend of my childhood
and you know--a desperate rakefearfully spoilt--of coursehe belongs
to a good familyand has considerable meansa brilliant career; he is
wittycharminga regular Lovelaceyou 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-humouredcandid tone of my letter. With tact and goodbreeding
andabove allentirely without superfluous wordsI blamed
myself for all that had happened. I defended myselfif I really may be
allowed to defend myself,by alleging that being utterly unaccustomed
to wineI had been intoxicated with the first glasswhich I saidI had
drunk before they arrivedwhile I was waiting for them at the Hotel de
Paris between five and six o'clock. I begged Simonov's pardon especially;
I asked him to convey my explanations to all the othersespecially to
Zverkovwhom "I seemed to remember as though in a dream" I had
insulted. I added that I would have called upon all of them myselfbut
my head achedand besides I had not the face to. I was particularly
pleased with a certain lightnessalmost carelessness (strictly within the
bounds of politenesshowever)which was apparent in my styleand
better than any possible argumentsgave 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 youmy friendsprobably
imagine; but on the contrarylooked 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
admiringlyas 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 himselfbut here I have got out of it and am as
jolly as ever againand all because I am 'a cultivated and educated man
of our day.' Andindeedperhapseverything was due to the wine
yesterday. H'm!" ... Noit 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 thoughthe great thing was that I was rid of it.
I put six roubles in the lettersealed it upand asked Apollon to take it
to Simonov. When he learned that there was money in the letterApollon
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 densermy impressions and
following themmy thoughtsgrew more and more different and confused.
Something was not dead within mein the depths of my heart and
conscience it would not dieand it showed itself in acute depression. For
the most part I jostled my way through the most crowded business streets
along Myeshtchansky Streetalong 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 workwith faces looking cross with anxiety. What I liked
was just that cheap bustlethat bare prose. On this occasion the jostling
of the streets irritated me more than everI could not make out what was
wrong with meI could not find the cluesomething seemed rising up
continually in my soulpainfullyand refusing to be appeased. I returned
home completely upsetit was just as though some crime were lying on
The thought that Liza was coming worried me continually. It seemed
queer to me that of all my recollections of yesterday this tormented meas
it wereespeciallyas it werequite 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, wellit doesn't matterlet her come!
H'm! it's horrid that she should seefor instancehow I live. Yesterday I
seemed such a hero to herwhile nowh'm! It's horridthoughthat I have
let myself go sothe 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-gownwhich will not cover me
such tattersand 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 Iof courseshall be panic-stricken as usualI shall begin bowing
and scraping before her and pulling my dressing-gown round meI shall
begin smilingtelling lies. Ohthe beastliness! And it isn't the
beastliness of it that matters most! There is something more importantmore
loathsomeviler! Yesviler! And to put on that dishonest lying mask
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 eveningeven when I had come
back homeeven after nine o'clockwhen I calculated that Liza could
not possibly comestill she haunted meand what was worseshe 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 paledistorted facewith its look
of torture. And what a pitifulwhat an unnaturalwhat a distorted smile
she had at that moment! But I did not know thenthat fifteen years later I
should still in my imagination see Lizaalways with the pitifuldistorted
inappropriate smile which was on her face at that minute.
Next day I was ready again to look upon it all as nonsensedue to overexcited
nervesandabove allas EXAGGERATED. I was always conscious of
that weak point of mineand sometimes very much afraid of it. "I
exaggerate everythingthat 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 comeshe is certain to come!" I cried
running about the roomif 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 fail to
But at this point I stopped shortand in great confusionindeed.
And how fewhow few wordsI thoughtin passingwere needed; how
little of the idyllic (and affectedlybookishlyartificially idyllic too) had
sufficed to turn a whole human life at once according to my will. That's
virginityto be sure! Freshness of soil!
At times a thought occurred to meto go to herto 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 herhave spat at her
have turned her outhave struck her!
One day passedhoweveranother and another; she did not come and I
began to grow calmer. I felt particularly bold and cheerful after nine
o'clockI even sometimes began dreamingand rather sweetly: Ifor
instancebecame the salvation of Lizasimply through her coming to me
and my talking to her .... I develop hereducate her. FinallyI notice
that she loves meloves me passionately. I pretend not to understand (I
don't knowhoweverwhy I pretendjust for effectperhaps). At last all
confusiontransfiguredtrembling and sobbingshe flings herself at my
feet and says that I am her saviourand that she loves me better than
anything in the world. I am amazedbut .... "Liza I say, can you
imagine that I have not noticed your love? I saw it allI divined itbut I
did not dare to approach you firstbecause I had an influence over you and was
afraid that you would force yourselffrom gratitudeto respond to my
lovewould 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 shortI launch off at that point into Europeaninexplicably
lofty subtleties a la George Sand)but nownow you are mineyou are my
creationyou are pureyou are goodyou are my noble wife.
'Into my house come bold and free
Its rightful mistress there to be'."
Then we begin living togethergo abroad and so onand so on. In fact
in the end it seemed vulgar to me myselfand I began putting out my
tongue at myself.
Besidesthey won't let her outthe hussy!I thought. They don't let
them go out very readilyespecially in the evening (for some reason I
fancied she would come in the eveningand at seven o'clock precisely).
Though she did say she was not altogether a slave there yetand had
certain rights; soh'm! Damn it allshe will comeshe is sure to come!
It was a good thingin factthat Apollon distracted my attention at that
time by his rudeness. He drove me beyond all patience! He was the bane
of my lifethe curse laid upon me by Providence. We had been squabbling
continually for yearsand I hated him. My Godhow I hated him!
I believe I had never hated anyone in my life as I hated himespecially at
some moments. He was an elderlydignified manwho worked part of his
time as a tailor. But for some unknown reason he despised me beyond all
measureand looked down upon me insufferably. Thoughindeedhe
looked down upon everyone. Simply to glance at that flaxensmoothly
brushed headat the tuft of hair he combed up on his forehead and oiled
with sunflower oilat that dignified mouthcompressed into the shape of
the letter Vmade one feel one was confronting a man who never doubted
of himself. He was a pedantto the most extreme pointthe greatest
pedant I had met on earthand 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 themand he looked it!
In his behaviour to me he was a perfect tyranthe spoke very little to me
and if he chanced to glance at me he gave me a firmmajestically selfconfident
and invariably ironical look that drove me sometimes to fury.
He did his work with the air of doing me the greatest favourthough he did
scarcely anything for meand did notindeedconsider himself bound to
do anything. There could be no doubt that he looked upon me as the
greatest fool on earthand 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 sortfor he continually lispedand seemed to be very proud of it
imagining that it greatly added to his dignity. He spoke in a slowmeasured
tonewith 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 eveningsin a slowevensing-song
voiceas though over the dead. It is interesting that that is how he has
ended: he hires himself out to read the psalms over the deadand at the
same time he kills rats and makes blacking. But at that time I could not get
rid of himit was as though he were chemically combined with my
existence. Besidesnothing would have induced him to consent to leave
me. I could not live in furnished lodgings: my lodging was my private
solitudemy shellmy cavein which I concealed myself from all mankind
and Apollon seemed to mefor some reasonan integral part of that
flatand for seven years I could not turn him away.
To be two or three days behind with his wagesfor instancewas
impossible. He would have made such a fussI should not have known
where to hide my head. But I was so exasperated with everyone during
those daysthat 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 thissimply in order to teach him not to give himself airs
with meand to show him that if I liked I could withhold his wages. I
purposed to say nothing to him about itand 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 drawershow him I
have the money put aside on purposebut that I won'tI won'tI simply
won't pay him his wagesI won't just because that is "what I wish
because I am masterand 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, A 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 backcome
backI tell you!" and I must have bawled so unnaturallythat he turned
round and even looked at me with some wonder. Howeverhe persisted in
saying nothingand that infuriated me.
How dare you come and look at me like that without being sent for?
After looking at me calmly for half a minutehe began turning
Stay!I roaredrunning up to himdon'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
answeredafter another silent pausewith a slowmeasured lispraising
his eyebrows and calmly twisting his head from one side to anotherall
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
seeI don't give you your wagesyou are so proud you don't want to bow
down and ask for itand so you come to punish me with your stupid
staresto worry me and you have no sus-pic-ion how stupid it is-stupid
He would have turned round again without a wordbut I seized him.
Listen,I shouted to him. "Here's the moneydo you seehere it is (I
took it out of the table drawer); here's the seven roubles completebut
you are not going to have ityou ... are ... not ... going ... to ...
have it until you come respectfully with bowed head to beg my pardon.
Do you hear?"
That cannot be,he answeredwith the most unnatural self-confidence.
It shall be so,I saidI give you my word of honour, it shall be!
And there's nothing for me to beg your pardon for,he went onas
though he had not noticed my exclamations at all. "Whybesidesyou
called me a 'torturer' for which I can summon you at the police-station
at any time for insulting behaviour."
Go, summon me,I roaredgo at once, this very minute, this very
second! You are a torturer all the same! a torturer!
But he merely looked at methen turnedand regardless of my loud
calls to himhe walked to his room with an even step and without
If it had not been for Liza nothing of this would have happened,I
decided inwardly. Thenafter waiting a minuteI went myself behind his
screen with a dignified and solemn airthough my heart was beating
slowly and violently.
Apollon,I said quietly and emphaticallythough I was breathless
go at once without a minute's delay and fetch the police-officer.
He had meanwhile settled himself at his tableput on his spectacles
and taken up some sewing. Buthearing my orderhe burst into a guffaw.
At once, go this minute! Go on, or else you can't imagine what
You are certainly out of your mind,he observedwithout even
raising his headlisping 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 shriekedclutching 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 instop shortand begin staring at us in
perplexity I glancednearly swooned with shameand rushed back to my
room. Thereclutching at my hair with both handsI 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 awaygo away I commanded in desperation. At that moment my
clock began whirring and wheezing and struck seven.
Into my house come bold and free
Its rightful mistress there to be."
I stood before her crushedcrestfallenrevoltingly confusedand 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 awaybut that did not make me more at ease. What made it
worse was that shetoowas overwhelmed with confusionmore soin
factthan I should have expected. At the sight of meof course.
Sit down,I said mechanicallymoving a chair up to the tableand I
sat down on the sofa. She obediently sat down at once and gazed at me
open-eyedevidently expecting something from me at once. This
naivete of expectation drove me to furybut I restrained myself.
She ought to have tried not to noticeas though everything had been as
usualwhile instead of thatshe ... and I dimly felt that I should make
her pay dearly for ALL THIS.
You have found me in a strange position, Liza,I beganstammering
and knowing that this was the wrong way to begin. "Nonodon't
imagine anything I cried, seeing that she had suddenly flushed. I am
not ashamed of my poverty .... On the contraryI 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 somehow.
Apollon,I whispered in feverish hasteflinging down before him the
seven roubles which had remained all the time in my clenched fisthere
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! ...
Apollonwho had already sat down to his work and put on his
spectacles againat first glanced askance at the money without speaking
or putting down his needle; thenwithout paying the slightest attention to
me or making any answerhe went on busying himself with his needle
which he had not yet threaded. I waited before him for three minutes
with my arms crossed A LA NAPOLEON. My temples were moist with sweat.
I was paleI felt it. Butthank Godhe must have been moved to pity
looking at me. Having threaded his needle he deliberately got up from
his seatdeliberately moved back his chairdeliberately took off his
spectaclesdeliberately counted the moneyand finally asking me over
his shoulder: "Shall I get a whole portion?" deliberately walked out of the
room. As I was going back to Lizathe thought occurred to me on the
way: shouldn't I run away just as I was in my dressing-gownno matter
whereand then let happen what would?
I sat down again. She looked at me uneasily. For some minutes we
I will kill him,I shouted suddenlystriking the table with my fist so
that the ink spurted out of the inkstand.
What are you saying!she criedstarting.
I will kill him! kill him!I shriekedsuddenly striking the table in
absolute frenzyand at the same time fully understanding how stupid it
was to be in such a frenzy. "You don't knowLizawhat 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 criedfussing about me.
Water, give me water, over there!I muttered in a faint voicethough
I was inwardly conscious that I could have got on very well without water
and without muttering in a faint voice. But I waswhat is calledPUTTING
IT ONto save appearancesthough the attack was a genuine one.
She gave me waterlooking at me in bewilderment. At that moment
Apollon brought in the tea. It suddenly seemed to me that this commonplace
prosaic tea was horribly undignified and paltry after all that had
happenedand I blushed crimson. Liza looked at Apollon with positive
alarm. He went out without a glance at either of us.
Liza, do you despise me?I askedlooking at her fixedlytrembling
with impatience to know what she was thinking.
She was confusedand did not know what to answer.
Drink your tea,I said to her angrily. I was angry with myselfbutof
courseit 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 passed.
Perhaps I am in your way she began timidly, hardly audibly, and was
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 metell me thatplease?" I begangasping for
breath and regardless of logical connection in my words. I longed to have
it all out at onceat one burst; I did not even trouble how to begin. "Why
have you come? Answeranswer I cried, hardly knowing what I was
doing. I'll tell youmy good girlwhy 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? YesI was laughing at you! I had been insulted just
beforeat dinnerby the fellows who came that evening before me. I
came to youmeaning to thrash one of theman officer; but I didn't
succeedI didn't find him; I had to avenge the insult on someone to get
back my own again; you turned upI vented my spleen on you and
laughed at you. I had been humiliatedso I wanted to humiliate; I had
been treated like a ragso I wanted to show my power .... That's what it
wasand 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 knewtoothat she would grasp the gist of itvery well indeed. And
soindeedshe did. She turned white as a handkerchieftried to say
somethingand 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 openshuddering
with awful terror. The cynicismthe cynicism of my words overwhelmed
Save you!I went onjumping 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?' Powerpower was what I wanted thensport was what I
wantedI wanted to wring out your tearsyour humiliationyour
hysteria--that was what I wanted then! Of courseI couldn't keep it up
thenbecause I am a wretched creatureI was frightenedandthe devil
knows whygave you my address in my folly. Afterwardsbefore I got
homeI was cursing and swearing at you because of that addressI hated
you already because of the lies I had told you. Because I only like playing
with wordsonly dreamingbutdo you knowwhat I really want is that
you should all go to hell. That is what I want. I want peace; yesI'd sell
the whole world for a farthingstraight offso long as I was left in peace.
Is the world to go to potor 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 thator
not? WellanywayI know that I am a blackguarda scoundrelan 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 youand now
you would see me in a wretched torn dressing-gownbeggarlyloathsome.
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 anythingmore 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-gownjust as I
was flying at Apollon like a spiteful cur. The saviourthe former herowas
flying like a mangyunkempt sheep-dog at his lackeyand the lackey was
jeering at him! And I shall never forgive you for the tears I could not help
shedding before you just nowlike some silly woman put to shame! And
for what I am confessing to you nowI shall never forgive you either!
Yes--you must answer for it all because you turned up like thisbecause I
am a blackguardbecause I am the nastieststupidestabsurdest and most
envious of all the worms on earthwho are not a bit better than I ambut
the devil knows whyare never put to confusion; while I shall always be
insulted by every lousethat is my doom! And what is it to me that you
don't understand a word of this! And what do I carewhat do I care about
youand whether you go to ruin there or not? Do you understand? How I
shall hate you now after saying thisfor having been here and listening.
Whyit's not once in a lifetime a man speaks out like thisand then it is in
hysterics! ... What more do you want? Why do you still stand confronting
meafter 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 booksand to picture everything in the
world to myself just as I had made it up in my dreams beforehandthat I
could not all at once take in this strange circumstance. What happened
was this: Lizainsulted and crushed by meunderstood a great deal more
than I imagined. She understood from all this what a woman understands
first of allif she feels genuine lovethat isthat 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 herewhy don't you go away?" but realised
only that it must have been very bitter to me to say all this. Besidesshe
was so crushedpoor 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 handsyearning
towards methough 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. Itoocould not restrain
myselfand 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 sofafell on it face downwardsand sobbed on it for a quarter
of an hour in genuine hysterics. She came close to meput her arms
round me and stayed motionless in that position. But the trouble was that
the hysterics could not go on for everand (I am writing the loathsome
truth) lying face downwards on the sofa with my face thrust into my nasty
leather pillowI began by degrees to be aware of a far-awayinvoluntary
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
knowbut I was ashamed. The thoughttoocame into my overwrought
brain that our parts now were completely changedthat she was now the
heroinewhile 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 knowto this day I cannot decideand at the timeof courseI
was still less able to understand what I was feeling than now. I cannot get
on without domineering and tyrannising over someonebut ... there is
no explaining anything by reasoning and so it is useless to reason.
I conquered myselfhoweverand raised my head; I had to do so
sooner or later ... and I am convinced to this day that it was just because
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 passionand 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 amazementeven of terror on her facebut only for one instant.
She warmly and rapturously embraced me.
A quarter of an hour later I was rushing up and down the room in
frenzied impatiencefrom 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 bedand must have been crying. But she did not
go awayand that irritated me. This time she understood it all. I had
insulted her finallybut ... there's no need to describe it. She realised
that my outburst of passion had been simply revengea fresh humiliation
and that to my earlieralmost causeless hatred was added now a
PERSONAL HATREDborn 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 manand what was worseincapable of
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 heror at any rateappreciate her love. Why is it strange? In the
first placeby then I was incapable of lovefor I repeatwith me loving
meant tyrannising and showing my moral superiority. I have never in my
life been able to imagine any other sort of loveand 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 thatsince I had succeeded in so
corrupting myselfsince 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 sentimentsbut to love mebecause to a woman all
reformationall salvation from any sort of ruinand all moral renewal is
included in love and can only show itself in that form.
I did not hate her so muchhoweverwhen 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 hardly breathe.
But several minutes passed and she still remainedwithout stirringas
though she were unconscious. I had the shamelessness to tap softly at the
screen as though to remind her .... She startedsprang upand flew to
seek her kerchiefher hather coatas 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 grinwhich was forcedhowever
to KEEP UP APPEARANCESand I turned away from her eyes.
Good-bye,she saidgoing towards the door.
I ran up to herseized her handopened itthrust 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 seeinganyway ....
I did mean a moment since to tell a lie--to write that I did this
accidentallynot knowing what I was doing through foolishnessthrough
losing my head. But I don't want to lieand 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 purposelyit was not an impulse from the heartbut came
from my evil brain. This cruelty was so affectedso purposely made up
so completely a product of the brainof booksthat I could not even keep
it up a minute--first I dashed away to avoid seeing herand then in
shame and despair rushed after Liza. I opened the door in the passage and
Liza! Liza!I cried on the stairsbut in a low voicenot boldly.
There was no answerbut I fancied I heard her footstepslower down
on the stairs.
Liza!I criedmore 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
I stood still at the tablebeside the chair on which she had sat and
looked aimlessly before me. A minute passedsuddenly I started; straight
before me on the table I saw .... In shortI saw a crumpled blue fiverouble
notethe one I had thrust into her hand a minute before. It was the
same note; it could be no otherthere 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? NoI was such an egoistI 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 dressflinging 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 perpendicularlycovering the pavement and the empty street as
though with a pillow. There was no one in the streetno 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 herto sob with remorseto kiss her feetto
entreat her forgiveness! I longed for thatmy whole breast was being rent
to piecesand nevernever shall I recall that minute with indifference.
But--what for? I thought. Should I not begin to hate herperhapseven
tomorrowjust because I had kissed her feet today? Should I give her
happiness? Had I not recognised that dayfor the hundredth timewhat I
was worth? Should I not torture her?
I stood in the snowgazing into the troubled darkness and pondered this.
And will it not be better?I mused fantasticallyafterwards 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--whyit is purification; it is a most stinging and painful
consciousness! Tomorrow I should have defiled her soul and have exhausted
her heartwhile 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! ... perhapstooby
forgiveness .... Will all that make things easier for her though? ..."
AndindeedI will ask on my own account herean idle question:
which is better--cheap happiness or exalted sufferings? Wellwhich is better?
So I dreamed as I sat at home that eveningalmost dead with the pain
in my soul. Never had I endured such suffering and remorseyet 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 addtoothat 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 nowso many years laterall this is somehow a very evil memory.
I have many evil memories nowbut ... hadn't I better end my "Notes"
here? I believe I made a mistake in beginning to write themanyway I
have felt ashamed all the time I've been writing this story; so it's hardly
literature so much as a corrective punishment. Whyto tell long stories
showing how I have spoiled my life through morally rotting in my corner
through lack of fitting environmentthrough divorce from real lifeand
rankling spite in my underground worldwould certainly not be interesting;
a novel needs a heroand all the traits for an anti-hero are EXPRESSLY
gathered together hereand what matters mostit all produces an unpleasant
impressionfor we are all divorced from lifewe are all cripples
every one of usmore or less. We are so divorced from it that we feel at
once a sort of loathing for real lifeand so cannot bear to be reminded of
it. Whywe have come almost to looking upon real life as an effort
almost as hard workand 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. Cometrygive
any one of usfor instancea little more independenceuntie our hands
widen the spheres of our activityrelax the control and we ... yesI
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 thatand will begin
shouting and stamping. Speak for yourselfyou will sayand for your
miseries in your underground holesand don't dare to say all of us--
excuse megentlemenI 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 halfwayand what's moreyou
have taken your cowardice for good senseand have found comfort in
deceiving yourselves. So that perhapsafter allthere is more life in me
than in you. Look into it more carefully! Whywe don't even know what
living means nowwhat it isand 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 towhat to cling towhat to love and what to hatewhat
to respect and what to despise. We are oppressed at being men--men
with a real individual body and bloodwe are ashamed of itwe think it a
disgrace and try to contrive to be some sort of impossible generalised
man. We are stillbornand for generations past have been begottennot
by living fathersand 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 herehowever. He could not
refrain from going on with thembut it seems to us that we may stop