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