Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky
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 any one 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 always 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 life-time; 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 am
I—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
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, every one does do that; people do pride themselves
on their diseases, and I do, may be, more than any one. 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 "good
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 "good 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 realize 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
tranquillizing, 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 cætera, et cætera. And the
worst of it is, he himself, his very own self, looks on himself as a
mouse; no one asks him to do so; and that is an important point. Now let
us look at this mouse in action. Let us suppose, for instance, that it
feels insulted, too (and it almost always does feel insulted), and wants
to revenge itself, too. There may even be a greater accumulation of
spite in it than in l'homme de la nature et de la vérité. The
base and nasty desire to vent that spite on its assailant rankles
perhaps even more nastily in it than in l'homme de la nature et de la
vérité. For through his innate stupidity the latter looks upon his
revenge as justice pure and simple; while in consequence of his acute
consciousness the mouse does not believe in the justice of it. To come
at last to the deed itself, to the very act of revenge. Apart from the
one fundamental nastiness the luckless mouse succeeds in creating around
it so many other nastinesses in the form of doubts and questions, adds
to the one question so many unsettled questions that there inevitably
works up around it a sort of fatal brew, a stinking mess, made up of its
doubts, emotions, and of the contempt spat upon it by the direct men of
action who stand solemnly about it as judges and arbitrators, laughing
at it till their healthy sides ache. Of course the only thing left for
it is to dismiss all that with a wave of its paw, and, with a smile of
assumed contempt in which it does not even itself believe, creep
ignominiously into its mouse-hole. There in its nasty, stinking,
underground home our insulted, crushed and ridiculed mouse promptly
becomes absorbed in cold, malignant and, above all, everlasting spite.
For forty years together it will remember its injury down to the
smallest, most ignominious details, and every time will add, of itself,
details still more ignominious, spitefully teasing and tormenting itself
with its own imagination. It will itself be ashamed of its imaginings,
but yet it will recall it all, it will go over and over every detail, it
will invent unheard of things against itself, pretending that those
things might happen, and will forgive nothing. Maybe it will begin to
revenge itself, too, but, as it were, piecemeal, in trivial ways, from
behind the stove, incognito, without believing either in its own right
to vengeance, or in the success of its revenge, knowing that from all
its efforts at revenge it will suffer a hundred times more than he on
whom it revenges itself, while he, I daresay, will not even scratch
himself. On its deathbed it will recall it all over again, with interest
accumulated over all the years and....
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 recognized 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
"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
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 recognize 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
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 Vagenheims
you are in complete slavery to your teeth; that if some one 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 some one 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
civilization, 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 any one 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
every one in the house awake. Well, stay awake then, you, too, feel
every minute that I have toothache. I am not a hero to you now, as I
tried to seem before, but simply a nasty person, an impostor. Well, so
be it, then! I am very glad that you see through me. It is nasty for you
to hear my despicable moans: well, let it be nasty; here I will let you
have a nastier flourish in a minute...." You do not understand even now,
gentlemen? No, it seems our development and our consciousness must go
further to understand all the intricacies of this pleasure. You laugh?
Delighted. My jests, gentlemen, are of course in bad taste, jerky,
involved, lacking self-confidence. But of course that is because I do
not respect myself. Can a man of perception respect himself at all?
Come, can a man who attempts to find enjoyment in the very
feeling of his own degradation possibly have a spark of respect for
himself? I am not saying this now from any mawkish kind of remorse. And,
indeed, I could never endure saying, "Forgive me, Papa, I won't do it
again," not because I am incapable of saying that—on the contrary,
perhaps just because I have been too capable of it, and in what a way,
too! As though of design I used to get into trouble in cases when I was
not to blame in any way. That was the nastiest part of it. At the same
time I was genuinely touched and penitent, I used to shed tears and, of
course, deceived myself, though I was not acting in the least and there
was a sick feeling in my heart at the time.... For that one could not
blame even the laws of nature, though the laws of nature have
continually all my life offended me more than anything. It is loathsome
to remember it all, but it was loathsome even then. Of course, a minute
or so later I would realize 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 to-morrow, 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
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
good and beautiful. How do you like that? I have long had visions of it.
That "good 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 "good 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 "good and beautiful." I should then
have turned everything into the good and the beautiful; in the nastiest,
unquestionable trash, I should have sought out the good 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 "good and beautiful." An author has written As you will:
at once I drink to the health of "any one you will" because I love all
that is "good and beautiful."
I should claim respect for doing so. I should persecute any one 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 every one
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 great 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 shortsighted 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 ...
as to affirm, for instance, following Buckle, that through civilization
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 civilization softens in us?
The only gain of civilization 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 civilized 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 civilization 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 encyclopædic 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
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, à 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, gentlemen, 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
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
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
"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
—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 some one 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 such 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 meant
Gentlemen, I am joking, and I know myself that my jokes
are not brilliant, but you know one can't 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, he 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
You believe in a palace of crystal that can never be
destroyed—a palace at which one will not be able to put out one's
tongue or make a long nose on the sly. And perhaps that is just why I am
afraid of this edifice, that it is of crystal and can never be destroyed
and that one cannot put one's tongue out at it even on the sly.
You see, if it were not a palace, but a hen-house, I might creep into
it to avoid getting wet, and yet I would not call the hen-house a palace
out of gratitude to it for keeping me dry. You laugh and say that in
such circumstances a hen-house is as good as a mansion. Yes, I answer,
if one had to live simply to keep out of the rain.
But what is to be done if I have taken it into my head that that is
not the only object in life, and that if one must live one had better
live in a mansion. That is my choice, my desire. You will only eradicate
it when you have changed my preference. Well, do change it, allure me
with something else, give me another ideal. But meanwhile I will not
take a hen-house for a mansion. The palace of crystal may be an idle
dream, it may be that it is inconsistent with the laws of nature and
that I have invented it only through my own stupidity, through the
old-fashioned irrational habits of my generation. But what does it
matter to me that it is inconsistent? That makes no difference since it
exists in my desires, or rather exists as long as my desires exist.
Perhaps you are laughing again? Laugh away; I will put up with any
mockery rather than pretend that I am satisfied when I am hungry. I
know, anyway, that I will not be put off with a compromise, with a
recurring zero, simply because it is consistent with the laws of nature
and actually exists. I will not accept as the crown of my desires a
block of buildings with tenements for the poor on a lease of a thousand
years, and perhaps with a sign-board of a dentist hanging out. Destroy
my desires, eradicate my ideals, show me something better, and I will
follow you. You will say, perhaps, that it is not worth your trouble;
but in that case I can give you the same answer. We are discussing
things seriously; but if you won't deign to give me your attention, I
will drop your acquaintance. I can retreat into my underground hole.
But while I am alive and have desires I would rather my hand were
withered off than bring one brick to such a building! Don't remind me
that I have just rejected the palace of crystal for the sole reason that
one cannot put out one's tongue at it. I did not say because I am so
fond of putting my tongue out. Perhaps the thing I resented was, that of
all your edifices there has not been one at which one could not put out
one's tongue. On the contrary, I would let my tongue be cut off out of
gratitude if things could be so arranged that I should lose all desire
to put it out. It is not my fault that things cannot be so arranged, and
that one must be satisfied with model flats. Then why am I made with
such desires? Can I have been constructed simply in order to come to the
conclusion that all my construction is a cheat? Can this be my whole
purpose? I do not believe it.
But do you know what: I am convinced that we underground folk ought
to be kept on a curb. Though we may sit forty years underground without
speaking, when we do come out into the light of day and break out we
talk and talk and talk....
The long and the short of it is, gentlemen, that it is
better to do nothing! Better conscious inertia! And so hurrah for
underground! Though I have said that I envy the normal man to the last
drop of my bile, yet I should not care to be in his place such as he is
now (though I shall not cease envying him). No, no; anyway the
underground life is more advantageous. There, at any rate, one can....
Oh, but even now I am lying! I am lying because I know myself that it is
not underground that is better, but something different, quite
different, for which I am thirsting, but which I cannot find! Damn
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 apologizing 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 realize it at all costs. Let me explain.
Every man has reminiscences which he would not tell to every one, 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
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, some one 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 apologize?
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
Quite so; but yet it is more imposing on paper. There is something
more impressive in it; I shall be better able to criticize myself and
improve my style. Besides, I shall perhaps obtain actual relief from
writing. To-day, 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 to-day, yellow and dingy. It fell yesterday, too, and
a few days ago. I fancy it is the wet snow that has reminded me of that
incident which I cannot shake off now. And so let it be a story à
propos of the falling snow.
à 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.
Nekrassov (translated by
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 any
one, and I 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 any
one 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 every one. 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
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 any one. 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 any one 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
Another circumstance, too, worried me in those days: that there was
no one like me and I was unlike any one else. "I am alone and they are
every one," I thought—and pondered.
From that it is evident that I was still a youngster.
The very opposite sometimes happened. It was loathsome sometimes to
go to the office; things reached such a point that I often came home
ill. But all at once, à propos of nothing, there would come a
phase of scepticism and indifference (everything happened in phases to
me), and I would laugh myself at my intolerance and fastidiousness, I
would reproach myself with being romantic. At one time I was
unwilling to speak to any one, 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
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 good 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 good 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
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
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
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 recognized. 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 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 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
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 window and I went away
without having my fight.
An officer put me in my place from the first moment.
I was standing by the billiard-table and in my ignorance blocking up
the way, and he wanted to pass; he took me by the shoulders and without
a word—without a warning or explanation—moved me from where
I was standing to another spot and passed by as though he had not
noticed me. I could have forgiven blows, but I could not forgive his
having moved me without noticing me.
Devil knows what I would have given for a real regular
quarrel—a more decent, a more literary one, so to speak. I
had been treated like a fly. This officer was over six foot, while I was
a spindly little fellow. But the quarrel was in my hands. I had only to
protest and I certainly would have been thrown out of the window. But I
changed my mind and preferred to beat a resentful retreat.
I went out of the tavern straight home, confused and troubled, and
the next night I went out again with the same lewd intentions, still
more furtively, abjectly and miserably than before, as it were, with
tears in my eyes—but still I did go out again. Don't imagine,
though, it was cowardice made me slink away from the officer: I never
have been a coward at heart, though I have always been a coward in
action. Don't be in a hurry to laugh—I assure you I can explain it
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 every one 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 recognized 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 some one 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 recognized,
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
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 apologize 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 good 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 every one, insulted and
injured by every one. Why I inflicted this torture upon myself, why I
went to the Nevsky, I don't know. I felt simply drawn there at every
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 like 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
"Why must you invariably be the first to move aside?" I kept asking
myself in hysterical rage, waking up sometimes at three o'clock in the
morning. "Why is it you and not he? There's no regulation about it;
there's no written law. Let the making way be equal as it usually is
when refined people meet: he moves half-way and you move half-way; you
pass with mutual respect."
But that never happened, and I always moved aside, while he did not
even notice my making way for him. And lo and behold a bright idea
dawned upon me! "What," I thought, "if I meet him and don't move on one
side? What if I don't move aside on purpose, even if I knock up against
him? How would that be?" This audacious idea took such a hold on me that
it gave me no peace. I was dreaming of it continually, horribly, and I
purposely went more frequently to the Nevsky in order to picture more
vividly how I should do it when I did do it. I was delighted. This
intention seemed to me more and more practical and possible.
"Of course I shall not really push him," I thought, already more
good-natured in my joy. "I will simply not turn aside, will run up
against him, not very violently, but just shouldering each
other—just as much as decency permits. I will push against him
just as much as he pushes against me." At last I made up my mind
completely. But my preparations took a great deal of time. To begin
with, when I carried out my plan I should need to be looking rather more
decent, and so I had to think of my get-up. "In case of emergency, if,
for instance, there were any sort of public scandal (and the public
there is of the most recherché: the Countess walks there; Prince
D. walks there; all the literary world is there), I must be well
dressed; that inspires respect and of itself puts us on an equal footing
in the eyes of 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 one 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
any one, 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 authorization
to take from my salary a fortnight later the sum that he had lent
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 off-hand, 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 that 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 good 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 "good 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 appetizing sauce. That sauce was made up of contradictions and
sufferings, of agonizing 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
appetizing 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 good 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 every one; every one, of course, was in
dust and ashes, and was forced spontaneously to recognize 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 "good and beautiful," something in the Manfred
style. Every one 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 the Lake of Como,
the Lake of 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 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 stupified, 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 been in no way
distinguished at school, was of a quiet and equable disposition; but I
discovered in him a certain independence of character and even honesty.
I don't even suppose that he was particularly stupid. I had at one time
spent some rather soulful moments with him, but these had not lasted
long and had somehow been suddenly clouded over. He was evidently
uncomfortable at these reminiscences, and was, I fancy, always afraid
that I might take up the same tone again. I suspected that he had an
aversion for me, but still I went on going to see him, not being quite
certain of it.
And so on one occasion, unable to endure my solitude and knowing that
as it was Thursday Anton Antonitch's door would be closed, I thought of
Simonov. Climbing up to his fourth storey I was thinking that the man
disliked me and that it was a mistake to go and see him. But as it
always happened that such reflections impelled me, as though purposely,
to put myself into a false position, I went in. It was almost a year
since I had last seen Simonov.
I found two of my old schoolfellows with him. They seemed
to be discussing an important matter. All of them took scarcely any
notice of my entrance, which was strange, for I had not met them for
years. Evidently they looked upon me as something on the level of a
common fly. I had not been treated like that even at school, though they
all hated me. I knew, of course, that they must despise me now for my
lack of success in the service, and for my having let myself sink so
low, going about badly dressed and so on—which seemed to them a
sign of my incapacity and insignificance. But I had not expected such
contempt. Simonov was positively surprised at my turning up. Even in old
days he had always seemed surprised at my coming. All this disconcerted
me: I sat down, feeling rather miserable, and began listening to what
they were saying.
They were engaged in warm and earnest conversation about a farewell
dinner which they wanted to arrange for the next day to a comrade of
theirs called Zverkov, an officer in the army, who was going away to a
distant province. This Zverkov had been all the time at school with me
too. I had begun to hate him particularly in the upper forms. In the
lower forms he had simply been a pretty, playful boy whom everybody
liked. I had hated him, however, even in the lower forms, just because
he was a pretty and playful boy. He was always bad at his lessons and
got worse and worse as he went on; however, he left with a good
certificate, as he had powerful interest. 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 Russianized
German—a little fellow with the face of a monkey, a blockhead who
was always deriding every one, 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
"Do we want half a dozen for the four of us?" observed Trudolyubov,
taking notice only of the half dozen.
"So the three of us, with Zverkov for the fourth, twenty-one roubles,
at the Hôtel de Paris at five o'clock to-morrow," 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
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
"And where were we to find you?" Ferfitchkin put in roughly.
"You never were on good terms with Zverkov," Trudolyubov added,
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.
"To-morrow at five o'clock at the Hôtel 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
"We do not want at all, perhaps...."
They went away. Ferfitchkin did not greet me in any way as he went
out, Trudolyubov barely nodded. Simonov, with whom I was left
tête-à-tête, was in a state of vexation and perplexity, and
looked at me queerly. He did not sit down and did not ask me to.
"H'm ... yes ... to-morrow, then. Will you pay your subscription now?
I just ask so as to know," he muttered in embarrassment.
I flushed crimson, and 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 to-morrow
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 some one ... not far from here," he added in an
apologetic voice, somewhat abashed.
"My goodness, why didn't you say so?" I cried, seizing my cap, with
an astonishingly free-and-easy air, which was the last thing I should
have expected of myself.
"It's close by ... not two paces away," Simonov repeated,
accompanying me to the front door with a fussy air which did not suit
him at all. "So five o'clock, punctually, to-morrow," 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 to-morrow'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
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 every one. 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 every one 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
most 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 slipt
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 Hôtel de
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
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 patronizing 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
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 apologizing to me he went off to order the hors
"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
"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, naïvely 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,
"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 happened
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
"In the N—— office," I answered jerkily, with my eyes on
"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 cafés on that," Ferfitchkin added
"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 café, 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
"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 to-morrow 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 to-night to see you off," I cut in suddenly.
For a 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
Trudolyubov raised his glass, as did every one 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 the
"Well, he wants a punch in the face for that," squealed
"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 to-morrow 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
"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
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 realized 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 every one's, every one's: I have insulted
"Aha! A duel is not in your line, old man," Ferfitchkin hissed
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 to-morrow, 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 drinking
"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
"Olympia is mine, friends, that's agreed!" cried Zverkov.
"We won't dispute your right, we won't dispute your right," the
others answered, laughing.
I stood as though spat upon. The party went noisily out of the room.
Trudolyubov struck up some stupid song. Simonov remained behind for a
moment to tip the waiters. I suddenly went up to him.
"Simonov! give me six roubles!" I said, with desperate
He looked at me in extreme amazement, with vacant eyes. He, too, was
"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?
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 agonizing misery in my heart and
finally the waiter, who had seen and heard all and was looking
inquisitively into my face.
"I am going there!" I cried. "Either they shall all go down on their
knees to beg for my friendship, or I will give Zverkov a slap in the
"So this is it, this is it at last—contact with real
life," I muttered as I ran headlong downstairs. "This is very different
from the Pope's leaving Rome and going to Brazil, very different from
the ball on Lake Como!"
"You are a scoundrel," a thought flashed through my mind, "if you
laugh at this now."
"No matter!" I cried, answering myself. "Now everything is lost!"
There was no trace to be seen of them, but that made no
difference—I knew where they had gone.
At the steps was standing a solitary night sledge-driver in a rough
peasant coat, powdered over with the still falling, wet, and as it were
warm, snow. It was hot and steamy. The little shaggy piebald horse was
also covered with snow and coughing, I remember that very well. I made a
rush for the roughly made sledge; but as soon as I raised my foot to get
into it, the recollection of how Simonov had just given me six roubles
seemed to double me up and I tumbled into the sledge like a sack.
"No, I must do a great deal to make up for all that," I cried. "But I
will make up for it or perish on the spot this very night. Start!"
We set off. There was a perfect whirl in my head.
"They won't go down on their knees to beg for my friendship. That is
a mirage, cheap mirage, revolting, romantic and fantastical—that's
another ball on Lake Como. And so I am bound to slap Zverkov's face! It
is my duty to. And so it is settled; I am flying to give him a slap in
the face. Hurry up!"
The driver tugged at the reins.
"As soon as I go in I'll give it him. Ought I before giving him the
slap to say a few words by way of preface? No. I'll simply go in and
give it him. They will all be sitting in the drawing-room, and he with
Olympia on the sofa. That damned Olympia! She laughed at my looks on one
occasion and refused me. I'll pull Olympia's hair, pull Zverkov's ears!
No, better one ear, and pull him by it round the room. Maybe they will
all begin beating me and will kick me out. That's most likely, indeed.
No matter! Anyway, I shall first slap him; the initiative will be mine;
and by the laws of honour that is everything: he will be branded and
cannot wipe off the slap by any blows, by nothing but a duel. He will be
forced to fight. And let them beat me now. Let them, the ungrateful
wretches! Trudolyubov will beat me hardest, he is so strong; Ferfitchkin
will be sure to catch hold sideways and tug at my hair. But no matter,
no matter! That's what I am going for. The blockheads will be forced at
last to see the tragedy of it all! When they drag me to the door I shall
call out to them that in reality they are not worth my little finger.
Get on, driver, get on!" I cried to the driver. He started and flicked
his whip, I shouted so savagely.
"We shall fight at daybreak, that's a settled thing. I've done with
the office. Ferfitchkin made a joke about it just now. But where can I
get pistols? Nonsense! I'll get my salary in advance and buy them. And
powder, and bullets? That's the second's business. And how can it all be
done by daybreak? And where am I to get a second? I have no friends.
Nonsense!" I cried, lashing myself up more and more. "It's of no
consequence! the first person I meet in the street is bound to be my
second, just as he would be bound to pull a drowning man out of water.
The most eccentric things may happen. Even if I were to ask the director
himself to be my second to-morrow, he would be bound to consent, if only
from a feeling of chivalry, and to keep the secret! Anton
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 any one 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! Drive
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 is setting off
to-morrow, 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
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
"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,
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 my 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
realize 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 some one were strangling it.
After an unnaturally prolonged wheezing there followed a shrill, nasty,
and as it were unexpectedly rapid, chime—as though some one 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 scrutinizing 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 realized 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
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
"From a cellar?"
"Not from a cellar, but from 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
"Nasty, in what way?"
"The snow, the wet." (I yawned.)
"It makes no difference," she said suddenly, after a brief
"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
"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
"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
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
"If not now, a little later."
"Why a little later?"
"Why, indeed? Now you are young, pretty, fresh, you fetch a high
price. But after another year of this life you will be very
different—you will go off."
"In a year?"
"Anyway, in a year you will be worth less," I continued malignantly.
"You will go from here to something lower, another house; a year
later—to a third, lower and lower, and in seven years you will
come to a basement in the Haymarket. That will be if you were lucky. But
it would be much worse if you got some disease, consumption, say ... and
caught a chill, or something or other. It's not easy to get over an
illness in your way of life. If you catch anything you may not get rid
of it. And so you would die."
"Oh, well, then I shall die," she answered, quite vindictively, and
she made a quick movement.
"But one is sorry."
"Sorry for whom?"
"Sorry for life."
"Have you been engaged to be married? Eh?"
"What's that to you?"
"Oh, I am not cross-examining you. It's nothing to me. Why are you so
cross? Of course you may have had your own troubles. What is it to me?
It's simply that I felt sorry."
"Sorry for whom?"
"Sorry for you."
"No need," she whispered hardly audibly, and again made a faint
That incensed me at once. What! I was so gentle with her, and
"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. Realize 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
"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 any one's slave. I come and go, and that's an end of it. I
shake it off, and I am a different man. But you are a slave from the
start. Yes, a slave! You give up everything, your whole freedom. If you
want to break your chains afterwards, you won't be able to: you will be
more and more fast in the snares. It is an accursed bondage. I know it.
I won't speak of anything else, maybe you won't understand, but tell me:
no doubt you are in debt to your madam? There, you see," I added, though
she made no answer, but only listened in silence, entirely absorbed,
"that's a bondage for you! You will never buy your freedom. They will
see to that. It's like selling your soul to the devil.... And besides
... perhaps I, too, am just as unlucky—how do you know—and
wallow in the mud on purpose, out of misery? You know, men take to drink
from grief; well, maybe I am here from grief. Come, tell me, what is
there good here? Here you and I ... came together ... just now and did
not say one word to one another all the time, and it was only afterwards
you began staring at me like a wild creature, and I at you. Is that
loving? Is that how one human being should meet another? It's hideous,
that's what it is!"
"Yes!" she assented sharply and hurriedly.
I was positively astounded by the promptitude of this "Yes." So the
same thought may have been straying through her mind when she was
staring at me just before. So she, too, was capable of certain thoughts?
"Damn it all, this was interesting, this was a point of likeness!" I
thought, almost rubbing my hands. And indeed it's easy to turn a young
soul like that!
It was the exercise of my power that attracted me 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 scrutinizing me.
How I regretted that I could not see her eyes. I heard her deep
"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 some one 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 moralizing."
"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
"Why so?" she asked.
Ah! so she was listening!
"I don't know, Liza. I knew a father who was a stern, austere man,
but used to go down on his knees to his daughter, used to kiss her
hands, her feet, he couldn't make enough of her, really. When she danced
at parties he used to stand for five hours at a stretch, gazing at her.
He was mad over her: I understand that! She would fall asleep tired at
night, and he would wake to kiss her in her sleep and make the sign of
the cross over her. He would go about in a dirty old coat, he was stingy
to every one else, but would spend his last penny for her, giving her
expensive presents, and it was his greatest delight when she was pleased
with what he gave her. Fathers always love their daughters more than the
mothers do. Some girls live happily at home! And I believe I should
never let my daughters marry."
"What next?" she said, with a faint smile.
"I should be jealous, I really should. To think that she should kiss
any one 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
"Some are glad to sell their daughters, rather than marrying them
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 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 it up after quarrels, to own herself in the wrong or
to forgive him! And they are both 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 ... 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
I did not understand that she was hiding her feelings under irony,
that this is usually the last refuge of modest and chaste-souled people
when the privacy of their soul is coarsely and intrusively invaded, and
that their pride makes them refuse to surrender till the last moment and
shrink from giving expression to their feelings before you. I ought to
have guessed the truth from the timidity with which she had repeatedly
approached her sarcasm, only bringing herself to utter it at last with
an effort. But I did not guess, and an evil feeling took possession of
"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
any one. 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 any one
to take your part: the others, your companions, will attack you, too, to
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 to-day, 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
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 any one 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 away—to disappear.
"Wait a minute," she said suddenly, in the passage just at the
doorway, stopping me with her hand on my overcoat. She put down the
candle in hot haste and ran off; evidently she had thought of something
or wanted to show me something. As she ran away she flushed, her eyes
shone, and there was a smile on her lips—what was the meaning of
it? Against my will I waited: she came back a minute later with an
expression that seemed to ask forgiveness for something. In fact, it was
not the same face, not the same look as the evening before: sullen,
mistrustful and obstinate. Her eyes now were imploring, soft, and at the
same time trustful, caressing, timid. The expression with which children
look at people they are very fond of, of whom they are asking a favour.
Her eyes were a light hazel, they were lovely eyes, full of life, and
capable of expressing love as well as sullen hatred.
Making no explanation, as though I, as a sort of higher being, must
understand everything without explanations, she held out a piece of
paper to me. Her whole face was positively beaming at that instant with
naïve, almost childish, triumph. I unfolded it. It was a letter to her
from a medical student or some one of that sort—a very high-flown
and flowery, but extremely respectful, love-letter. I don't recall the
words now, but I remember well that through the high-flown phrases there
was apparent a genuine feeling, which cannot be feigned. When I had
finished reading it I met her glowing, questioning, and childishly
impatient eyes fixed upon me. She fastened her eyes upon my face and
waited impatiently for what I should say. In a few words, hurriedly, but
with a sort of joy and pride, she explained to me that she had been to a
dance somewhere in a private house, a family of "very nice people,
who knew nothing, absolutely nothing, for she had only come here
so lately and it had all happened ... and she hadn't made up her mind to
stay and was certainly going away as soon as she had paid her debt ...
and at that party there had been the student who had danced with her all
the evening. He had talked to her, and it turned out that he had known
her in old days at Riga when he was a child, they had played together,
but a very long time ago—and he knew her parents, but about
this he knew nothing, nothing whatever, and had no suspicion! And
the day after the dance (three days ago) he had sent her that letter
through the friend with whom she had gone to the party ... and ... well,
that was all."
She dropped her shining eyes with a sort of bashfulness as she
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 naïve 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 recognize
that truth. Waking up in the morning after some hours of heavy, leaden
sleep, and immediately realizing 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 I
O U with a swaggering air, I told him casually that the night before "I
had been keeping it up with some friends at the Hôtel de Paris; we were
giving a farewell party to a comrade, in fact, I might say a friend of
my childhood, and you know—a desperate rake, fearfully
spoilt—of course, he belongs to a good family, and has
considerable means, a brilliant career; he is witty, charming, a regular
Lovelace, you understand; we drank an extra 'half-dozen' and...."
And it went off all right; all this was uttered very easily,
unconstrainedly and complacently.
On reaching home I promptly wrote to Simonov.
To this hour I am lost in admiration when I recall the truly
gentlemanly, good-humoured, candid tone of my letter. With tact and
good-breeding, and, above all, entirely without superfluous words, I
blamed myself for all that had happened. I defended myself, "if I really
may be allowed to defend myself," by alleging that being utterly
unaccustomed to wine, I had been intoxicated with the first glass, which
I said, I had drunk before they arrived, while I was waiting for them at
the Hôtel de Paris between five and six o'clock. I begged Simonov's
pardon especially; I asked him to convey my explanations to all the
others, especially to Zverkov, whom "I seemed to remember as though in a
dream" I had insulted. I added that I would have called upon all of them
myself, but my head ached, and besides I had not the face to. I was
particularly pleased with a certain lightness, almost carelessness
(strictly within the bounds of politeness, however), which was apparent
in my style, and better than any possible arguments, gave them at once
to understand that I took rather an independent view of "all that
unpleasantness last night;" that I was by no means so utterly crushed as
you, my friends, probably imagine; but on the contrary, looked upon it
as a gentleman serenely respecting himself should look upon it. "On a
young hero's past no censure is cast!"
"There is actually an aristocratic playfulness about it!" I thought
admiringly, as I read over the letter. And it's all because I am an
intellectual and cultivated man! Another man in my place would not have
known how to extricate himself, but here I have got out of it and am as
jolly as ever again, and all because I am "a cultivated and educated man
of our day." And, indeed, perhaps, everything was due to the wine
yesterday. H'm! ... no, it was not the wine. I did not drink anything at
all between five and six when I was waiting for them. I had lied to
Simonov; I had lied shamelessly; and indeed I wasn't ashamed now....
Hang it all though, the great thing was that I was rid of it.
I put six roubles in the letter, sealed it up, and asked Apollon to
take it to Simonov. When he learned that there was money in the letter,
Apollon became more respectful and agreed to take it. Towards evening I
went out for a walk. My head was still aching and giddy after yesterday.
But as evening came on and the twilight grew denser, my impressions and,
following them, my thoughts, grew more and more different and confused.
Something was not dead within me, in the depths of my heart and
conscience it would not die, and it showed itself in acute depression.
For the most part I jostled my way through the most crowded business
streets, along Myeshtchansky Street, along Sadovy Street and in Yusupov
Garden. I always liked particularly sauntering along these streets in
the dusk, just when there were crowds of working people of all sorts
going home from their daily work, with faces looking cross with anxiety.
What I liked was just that cheap bustle, that bare prose. On this
occasion the jostling of the streets irritated me more than ever. I
could not make out what was wrong with me, I could not find the clue,
something seemed rising up continually in my soul, painfully, and
refusing to be appeased. I returned home completely upset, it was just
as though some crime were lying on my conscience.
The thought that Liza was coming worried me continually. It seemed
queer to me that of all my recollections of yesterday this tormented me,
as it were, especially, as it were, quite separately. Everything else I
had quite succeeded in forgetting by the evening; I dismissed it all and
was still perfectly satisfied with my letter to Simonov. But on this
point I was not satisfied at all. It was as though I were worried only
by Liza. "What if she comes," I thought incessantly, "well, it doesn't
matter, let her come! H'm! it's horrid that she should see, for
instance, how I live. Yesterday I seemed such a hero to her, while now,
h'm! It's horrid, though, that I have let myself go so, the room looks
like a beggar's. And I brought myself to go out to dinner in such a
suit! And my American leather sofa with the stuffing sticking out. And
my dressing-gown, which will not cover me, such tatters, and she will
see all this and she will see Apollon. That beast is certain to insult
her. He will fasten upon her in order to be rude to me. And I, of
course, shall be panic-stricken as usual, I shall begin bowing and
scraping before her and pulling my dressing-gown round me, I shall begin
smiling, telling lies. Oh, the beastliness! And it isn't the beastliness
of it that matters most! There is something more important, more
loathsome, viler! Yes, viler! And to put on that dishonest lying mask
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, she still 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
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
-day, she will come to-morrow; 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 understand?..."
But at this point I stopped short, and in great confusion,
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 à 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
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 any one 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 every one. 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 every one during
those days, that I made up my mind for some reason and with some object
to punish Apollon and not to pay him for a fortnight the wages
that were owing him. I had for a long time—for the last two
years—been intending to do this, simply in order to teach him not
to give himself airs with me, and to show him that if I liked I could
withhold his wages. I purposed to say nothing to him about it, and was
purposely silent indeed, in order to score off his pride and force him
to be the first to speak of his wages. Then I would take the seven
roubles out of a drawer, show him I have the money put aside on purpose,
but that I won't, I won't, I simply won't pay him his wages, I won't
just because that is "what I wish," because "I am master, and it is for
me to decide," because he has been disrespectful, because he has been
rude; but if he were to ask respectfully I might be softened and give it
to him, otherwise he might wait another fortnight, another three weeks,
a whole month....
But angry as I was, yet he got the better of me. I could not hold out
for four days. He began as he always did begin in such cases, for there
had been such cases already, there had been attempts (and it may be
observed I knew all this beforehand, I knew his nasty tactics by heart).
He would begin by fixing upon me an exceedingly severe stare, keeping it
up for several minutes at a time, particularly on meeting me or seeing
me out of the house. If I held out and pretended not to notice these
stares, he would, still in silence, proceed to further tortures. All at
once, à propos of nothing, he would walk softly and smoothly into
my room, when I was pacing up and down or reading, stand at the door,
one hand behind his back and one foot behind the other, and fix upon me
a stare more than severe, utterly contemptuous. If I suddenly asked him
what he wanted, he would make me no answer, but continue staring at me
persistently for some seconds, then, with a peculiar compression of his
lips and a most significant air, deliberately turn round and
deliberately go back to his room. Two hours later he would come out
again and again present himself before me in the same way. It had
happened that in my fury I did not even ask him what he wanted, but
simply raised my head sharply and imperiously and began staring back at
him. So we stared at one another for two minutes; at last he turned with
deliberation and dignity and went back again for two hours.
If I were still not brought to reason by all this, but persisted in
my revolt, he would suddenly begin sighing while he looked at me, long,
deep sighs as though measuring by them the depths of my moral
degradation, and, of course, it ended at last by his triumphing
completely: I raged and shouted, but still was forced to do what he
This time the usual staring manœuvres 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 round
"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
"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
"It shall be so," I said, "I give you my word of honour, it shall
"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
"At once, go this minute! Go on, or else you can't imagine what will
"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 naïveté
of expectation drove me to fury, but I restrained myself.
She ought to have tried not to notice, as though everything had been
as usual, while instead of that, she ... and I dimly felt that I should
make her pay dearly for all this.
"You have found me in a strange position, Liza," I began, stammering
and knowing that this was the wrong way to begin. "No, no, don't imagine
anything," I cried, seeing that she had suddenly flushed. "I am not
ashamed of my poverty.... On the contrary I look with pride on my
poverty. I am poor but honourable.... One can be poor and honourable," I
muttered. "However ... would you like tea?"...
"No," she was beginning.
"Wait a minute."
I leapt up and ran to Apollon. I had to get out of the room
"Apollon," I whispered in feverish haste, flinging down before him
the seven roubles which had remained all the time in my clenched fist,
"here are your wages, you see I give them to you; but for that you must
come to my rescue: bring me tea and a dozen rusks from the restaurant.
If you won't go, you'll make me a miserable man! You don't know what
this woman is.... This is—everything! You may be imagining
something.... But you don't know what that woman is!"...
Apollon, who had already sat down to his work and put on his
spectacles again, at first glanced askance at the money without speaking
or putting down his needle; then, without paying the slightest attention
to me or making any answer he went on busying himself with his needle,
which he had not yet threaded. I waited before him for three minutes
with my arms crossed à la Napoléon. My temples were moist with
sweat. I was pale, I felt it. But, thank God, he must have been moved to
pity, looking at me. Having threaded his needle he deliberately got up
from his seat, deliberately moved back his chair, deliberately took off
his spectacles, deliberately counted the money, and finally asking me
over his shoulder: "Shall I get a whole portion?" deliberately walked
out of the room. As I was going back to Liza, the thought occurred to me
on the way: shouldn't I run away just as I was in my dressing-gown, no
matter where, and then let happen what would.
I sat down again. She looked at me uneasily. For some minutes we were
"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;
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
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 getting up.
But as soon as I saw this first impulse of wounded dignity I
positively trembled with spite, and at once burst out.
"Why have you come to me, tell me that, please?" I began, gasping for
breath and regardless of logical connection in my words. I longed to
have it all out at once, at one burst; I did not even trouble how to
begin. "Why have you come? Answer, answer," I cried, hardly knowing what
I was doing. "I'll tell you, my good girl, why you have come. You've
come because I talked sentimental stuff to you then. So now you are soft
as butter and longing for fine sentiments again. So you may as well know
that I was laughing at you then. And I am laughing at you now. Why are
you shuddering? Yes, I was laughing at you! I had been insulted just
before, at dinner, by the fellows who came that evening before me. I
came to you, meaning to thrash one of them, an officer; but I didn't
succeed, I didn't find him; I had to avenge the insult on some one to
get back my own again; you turned up, I vented my spleen on you and
laughed at you. I had been humiliated, so I wanted to humiliate; I had
been treated like a rag, so I wanted to show my power.... That's what it
was, and you imagined I had come there on purpose to save you. Yes? You
imagined that? You imagined that?"
I knew that she would perhaps be muddled and not take it all in
exactly, but I knew, too, that she would grasp the gist of it, very well
indeed. And so, indeed, she did. She turned white as a handkerchief,
tried to say something, and her lips worked painfully; but she sank on a
chair as though she had been felled by an axe. And all the time
afterwards she listened to me with her lips parted and her eyes wide
open, shuddering with awful terror. The cynicism, the cynicism of my
words overwhelmed her....
"Save you!" I went on, jumping up from my chair and running up and
down the room before her. "Save you from what? But perhaps I am worse
than you myself. Why didn't you throw it in my teeth when I was giving
you that sermon: 'But what did you come here yourself for? was it to
read us a sermon?' Power, power was what I wanted then, sport was what I
wanted, I wanted to wring out your tears, your humiliation, your
hysteria—that was what I wanted then! Of course, I couldn't keep
it up then, because I am a wretched creature, I was frightened, and, the
devil knows why, gave you my address in my folly. Afterwards, before I
got home, I was cursing and swearing at you because of that address, I
hated you already because of the lies I had told you. Because I only
like playing with words, only dreaming, but, do you know, what I really
want is that you should all go to hell. That is what I want. I want
peace; yes, I'd sell the whole world for a farthing, straight off, so
long as I was left in peace. Is the world to go to pot, or am I to go
without my tea? I say that the world may go to pot for me so long as I
always get my tea. Did you know that, or not? Well, anyway, I know that
I am a blackguard, a scoundrel, an egoist, a sluggard. Here I have been
shuddering for the last three days at the thought of your coming. And do
you know what has worried me particularly for these three days? That I
posed as such a hero to you, and now you would see me in a wretched torn
dressing-gown, beggarly, loathsome. I told you just now that I was not
ashamed of my poverty; so you may as well know that I am ashamed of it;
I am more ashamed of it than of anything, more afraid of it than of
being found out if I were a thief, because I am as vain as though I had
been skinned and the very air blowing on me hurt. Surely by now you must
realize 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
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
realized 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 such 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 tyrannizing over some one, but
... there is no explaining anything by reasoning and so it is useless to
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
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 realized that my outburst of passion had been simply revenge, a
fresh humiliation, and that to my earlier, almost causeless hatred was
added now a personal hatred, born of envy.... Though I do not
maintain positively that she understood all this distinctly; but she
certainly did fully understand that I was a despicable man, and what was
worse, incapable of loving her.
I know I shall be told that this is incredible—but it is
incredible to be as spiteful and stupid as I was; it may be added that
it was strange I should not love her, or at any rate, appreciate her
love. Why is it strange? In the first place, by then I was incapable of
love, for I repeat, with me loving meant tyrannizing 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 tyrannize 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
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
"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 began listening.
"Liza! Liza!" I cried on the stairs, but in a low voice, not
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
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
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 to-morrow, just because I had kissed her feet to-day?
Should I give her happiness? Had I not recognized 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
"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! To-morrow 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
And, indeed, I will ask on my own account here, an idle question:
which is better—cheap happiness or exalted sufferings? Well, which
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 half-way, 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 generalized 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
[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