The Diary of A Superfluous Man by Iván Turgénieff
Translator, Isabel Hapgood
Hamlet of Ovétchi-Vódy,
March 20, 18 .
The doctor has just left me. At last I have obtained a categorical
answer! Dodge as he might, he could not help saying what he thought, at
last. Yes, I shall die soon, very soon. The streams are opening, and I
shall float away, probably with the last snows .... whither? God knows!
To the sea also. Well, all right! If I must die, then 't is better to
die in the spring. But is it not ridiculous to begin one's diary perhaps
a fortnight before one's death? Where 's the harm? And in what way are
fourteen days less than fourteen years, fourteen centuries? In the
presence of eternity, they say, everything is of no account—yes; but,
in that case, eternity also is of no account. I am falling into
speculation, I think: that is a bad sign—am not I beginning to turn
coward?—It will be better if I narrate something. It is raw and windy
out of doors,—I am forbidden to go out. But what shall I narrate? A
well-bred man does not talk about his maladies; composing a novel, or
something of that sort, is not in my line; reflections about exalted
themes are beyond my powers; descriptions of life round about me do not
even interest me; and to do nothing is tiresome; to read—is idleness.
Eh! I will narrate to myself the story of my own life. A capital idea!
When death is approaching it is proper, and can offend no one. I begin.
I was born thirty years ago, the son of a fairly wealthy landed
proprietor. My father was a passionate gambler; my mother was a lady
with character .... a very virtuous lady. Only, I have never known a
woman whose virtue afforded less satisfaction. She succumbed under the
burden of her merits, and tortured everybody, beginning with herself.
During the whole fifty years of her life, she never once rested, never
folded her hands; she was eternally bustling and fussing about, like an
ant—and without any result whatever, which cannot be said of the ant.
An implacable worm gnawed her day and night. Only once did I behold her
perfectly quiet,—namely, on the first day after her death, in her
coffin. As I gazed at her, it really seemed to me that her face
expressed mild surprise; the half-open lips, the sunken cheeks, and the
gently-motionless eyes seemed to breathe forth the words: "How good it
is not to stir!" Yes, 't is good, 't is good to part at last from the
fatiguing consciousness of life, from the importunate and uneasy sense
of existence! But that is not the point.
I grew up badly, and not cheerfully. Both my father and my mother loved
me; but that did not make things any the easier for me. My father had no
power whatever in his own house, and no importance, in his quality of a
man given over to a shameful and ruinous vice. He admitted his fall,
and, without having the strength to renounce his favourite passion, he
endeavoured, at least, by his constantly affectionate and discreet mien,
by his submissive humility, to win the indulgence of his exemplary wife.
My mamma, in fact, bore her misfortune with that magnificent and
ostentatious long-suffering of virtue which contains so much of
self-satisfied pride. She never reproached my father for anything, she
silently surrendered to him her last penny, and paid his debts; he
lauded her to her face and behind her back, but was not fond of staying
at home, and petted me on the sly, as though he were himself afraid of
contaminating me by his presence. But his ruffled features exhaled such
kindness at those times, the feverish smirk on his lips was replaced by
such a touching smile, his brown eyes, surrounded by fine wrinkles,
beamed with so much love, that I involuntarily pressed my cheek to his
cheek, moist and warm with tears. I wiped away those tears with my
handkerchief, and they flowed again, without effort, like the water in
an overfilled glass. I set to crying myself, and he soothed me, patted
my back with his hand, kissed me all over my face with his quivering
lips. Even now, more than twenty years after his death, when I recall my
poor father, dumb sobs rise in my throat, and my heart beats—beats as
hotly and bitterly, it languishes with as much sorrowful compassion, as
though it still had a long time to beat and as though there were
anything to feel compassion about!
My mother, on the contrary, always treated me in one way,
affectionately, but coldly. Such mothers, moral and just, are frequently
to be met with in children's books. She loved me, but I did not love
her. Yes! I shunned my virtuous mother, and passionately loved my
But enough for to-day. I have made a beginning, and there is no cause
for me to feel anxious about the end, whatever it may be. My malady will
attend to that.
The weather is wonderful to-day. It is warm and bright; the sun is
playing gaily on the slushy snow; everything is glittering, smoking,
dripping; the sparrows are screaming like mad creatures around the dark,
sweating hedges; the damp air irritates my chest sweetly but
frightfully. The spring, the spring is coming! I am sitting by the
window, and looking out across the little river to the fields. O Nature!
Nature! I love thee so, but I came forth from thy womb unfitted even for
life. Yonder is a male sparrow hopping about with outspread wings; he is
screaming—and every sound of his voice, every ruffled feather on his
tiny body breathes forth health and strength.
What is to be concluded from that? Nothing. He is healthy and has a
right to scream and ruffle up his feathers; but I am ill and must
die—that is all. It is not worth while to say any more about that. And
tearful appeals to nature are comically absurd. Let us return to my
I grew up, as I have already said, badly and not cheerfully. I had no
brothers or sisters. I was educated at home. And, indeed, what would my
mother have had to occupy her if I had been sent off to boarding-school
or to a government institute? That 's what children are for—to keep
their parents from being bored. We lived chiefly in the country, and
sometimes went to Moscow. I had governors and teachers, as is the
custom. A cadaverous and tearful German, Riechmann, has remained
particularly memorable to me,—a remarkably melancholy being, crippled
by fate, who was fruitlessly consumed by an anguished longing for his
native land. My man-nurse, Vasíly, nicknamed "The Goose," would sit,
unshaved, in his everlasting old coat of blue frieze, beside the stove
in the frightfully stifling atmosphere of the close anteroom,
impregnated through and through with the sour odour of old kvas,—would
sit and play cards with the coachman, Potáp, who had just got a new
sheepskin coat, white as snow, and invincible tarred boots,—while
Riechmann would be singing on the other side of the partition:
"Herz, mein Herz, warum so traurig?
Was bekümmert dich so sehr?
'S ist ja schön im fremden Lande—
Herz, mein Herz, was willst du mehr?"
After my father's death, we definitively removed to Moscow. I was then
twelve years of age. My father died during the night of a stroke of
apoplexy. I shall never forget that night. I was sleeping soundly, as
all children are in the habit of sleeping; but I remember, that even
athwart my slumber I thought I heard a heavy, laboured breathing.
Suddenly I felt some one seize me by the shoulder and shake me. I open
my eyes: in front of me stands my man-nurse.—"What 's the
matter?"—"Come along, come along, Alexyéi Mikhaílitch is dying...." I
fly out of the bed like a mad creature, and into the bedroom. I look: my
father is lying with his head thrown back, all red in the face, and
rattling in his throat most painfully. The servants, with frightened
faces, throng the doors; in the anteroom some one inquires in a hoarse
voice: "Has the doctor been sent for?" In the courtyard, a horse is
being led out of the stable, the gate is creaking, a tallow candle is
burning in the room on the floor; mamma is there also, overwhelmed, but
without losing either her decorum or the consciousness of her own
dignity. I flung myself on my father's breast, embraced him, and
stammered out: "Papa, papa!"... He lay motionless and puckered up his
eyes in a strange sort of way. I looked him in the face—unbearable
horror stopped my breath; I squeaked with terror, like a roughly-grasped
bird. They dragged me from him and carried me away. Only the night
before, as though with a foreboding of his approaching death, he had
caressed me so fervently and so sadly.
They brought a dishevelled and sleepy doctor, with a strong smell of
lovage vodka. My father died under his lancet, and on the following day,
thoroughly stupefied with grief, I stood with a candle in my hand in
front of the table on which lay the corpse, and listened unheeding to
the thick-voiced intoning of the chanter, occasionally broken by the
feeble voice of the priest; tears kept streaming down my cheeks, over my
lips, and my collar and my cuffs; I was consumed with tears, I stared
fixedly at the motionless face of my father, as though I were expecting
him to do something; and my mother, meanwhile, slowly made reverences
to the floor, slowly raised herself and, as she crossed herself, pressed
her fingers strongly to her brow, her shoulders, and her body. There was
not a single thought in my head; I had grown heavy all over, but I felt
that something dreadful was taking place with me..... It was then that
Death looked into my face, and made a note of me.
We removed our residence to Moscow, after the death of my father, for a
very simple reason: all our estate was sold under the hammer for
debt,—positively everything, with the exception of one wretched little
hamlet, the very one in which I am now finishing my magnificent
existence. I confess that, in spite of the fact that I was young at the
time, I grieved over the sale of our nest; that is to say, in reality, I
grieved over our park only. With that park are bound up my sole bright
memories. There, on one tranquil spring evening, I buried my best
friend, an old dog with a bob tail and crooked paws—Trixie; there,
hiding myself in the tall grass, I used to eat stolen apples, red, sweet
Nóvgorod apples; there, in conclusion, I for the first time beheld
through the bushes of ripe raspberries, Klaudia the maid, who, despite
her snub nose, and her habit of laughing in her kerchief, aroused in me
such a tender passion that in her presence I hardly breathed, felt like
swooning, and was stricken dumb. But one day, on the Bright Sunday,
when her turn came to kiss my lordly hand, I all but flung myself down
and kissed her patched goatskin shoes. Great heavens! Can it be twenty
years since all that happened? It does not seem so very long since I
used to ride my shaggy, chestnut horse along the old wattled hedge of
our park, and, rising in my stirrups, pluck the double-faced leaves of
the poplars. While a man is living he is not conscious of his own life;
like a sound, it becomes intelligible to him a little while afterward.
Oh, my park! Oh, my overgrown paths along the little pond! Oh, unhappy
little spot beneath the decrepit dam, where I used to catch minnows and
gudgeons! And you, ye lofty birch-trees, with long, pendulous branches,
from behind which, from the country road, the melancholy song of the
peasant used to be wafted, unevenly broken by the jolts of the rough
cart—I send you my last farewells!... As I part with life I stretch out
my hands to you alone. I should like once more to inhale the bitter
freshness of the wormwood, the sweet scent of the reaped buckwheat in
the fields of my natal spot; I should like once more to hear from afar
the modest jangling of the cracked bell on our parish church; once more
to lie in the cool shadow beneath the oak-bush on the slope of the
familiar ravine; once more to follow with my eyes the moving trace of
the wind, as it flew like a dark streak over the golden grass of our
Ekh, to what end is all this? But I cannot go on to-day. Until
To-day it is cold and overcast again. Such weather is far more suitable.
It is in accord with my work. Yesterday quite unseasonably evoked in me
a multitude of unnecessary feelings and memories. That will not be
repeated. Emotional effusions are like liquorice-root: when you take
your first suck at it, it does n't seem bad, but it leaves a very bad
taste in your mouth afterward. I will simply and quietly narrate the
story of my life.
So then, we went to live in Moscow....
But it just occurs to me: is it really worth while to tell the story of
No, decidedly it is not worth while.... My life is in no way different
from the lives of a mass of other people. The parental home, the
university, service in inferior positions, retirement, a small circle of
acquaintances, downright poverty, modest pleasures, humble occupations,
moderate desires—tell me, for mercy's sake, who does not know all that?
And I, in particular, shall not tell the story of my life, because I am
writing for my own pleasure; and if my past presents even to me nothing
very cheerful, nor even very sorrowful, that means that there really can
be nothing in it worthy of attention. I had better try to analyse my own
character to myself.
What sort of a man am I?... Some one may remark to me that no one asks
about that.—Agreed. But, you see, I am dying,—God is my witness, I am
dying,—and really before death the desire to know what sort of a fellow
I have been is pardonable, I think.
After having thoroughly pondered this important question, and having,
moreover, no need to express myself bitterly on my own score, as do
people who are strongly convinced of their merits, I must confess one
thing: I have been an utterly superfluous man in this world, or, if you
like to put it that way, an utterly useless bird. And I intend to prove
that to-morrow, because to-day I am coughing like an aged sheep, and my
nurse, Teréntievna, will give me no peace. "Lie down, dear little father
mine," she says, "and drink your tea."... I know why she worries me: she
wants some tea herself! Well! All right! Why not permit the poor old
woman to extract, at the finish, all possible profit from her master?...
The time for that has not yet gone by.
Winter again. The snow is falling in large flakes.
Superfluous, superfluous.... That 's a capital word I have devised. The
more deeply I penetrate into myself, the more attentively I scrutinise
the whole of my own past life, the more convinced do I become of the
strict justice of that expression. Superfluous—precisely that. That
word is not appropriate to other people.... People are bad, good,
clever, stupid, agreeable, and disagreeable; but superfluous.... no.
That is to say, understand me: the universe could dispense with these
people also .... of course; but uselessness is not their chief quality,
is not their distinguishing characteristic, and when you are speaking of
them, the word "superfluous" is not the first one that comes to your
tongue. But I .... of me nothing else could possibly be said:
superfluous—that is all. Nature had not, evidently, calculated on my
appearance, and in consequence of this, she treated me like an
unexpected and unbidden guest. Not without cause did one wag, a great
lover of Swedish whist, say of me, that my mother had discarded. I
speak of myself now calmly, without any gall..... 'T is a thing of the
past! During the whole course of my life I have constantly found my
place occupied, possibly because I sought my place in the wrong
direction. I was suspicious, bashful, irritable, like all invalids;
moreover, probably owing to superfluous vanity,—or by reason of the
deficient organisation of my person,—between my feelings and my
thoughts and the expression of those feelings and thoughts there existed
some senseless, incomprehensible and insuperable barrier; and when I
made up my mind to overcome that impediment by force, to break down that
barrier, my movements, the expression of my face, my entire being
assumed the aspect of anguished tension: I not only seemed, but I
actually became unnatural and affected. I was conscious of it myself and
made haste to retire again into myself. Then a frightful tumult arose
within me. I analysed myself to the last shred; I compared myself with
other people; I recalled the smallest glances, the smiles, the words of
the people before whom I would have liked to expand; I interpreted
everything from its bad side, and laughed maliciously over my
pretensions "to be like the rest of the world,"—and suddenly, in the
midst of my laughter, I sadly relaxed utterly, fell into foolish
dejection, and then began the same thing all over again; in a word, I
ran round like a squirrel in a wheel. Whole days passed in this
torturing, fruitless toil. Come now, tell me, pray, to whom and for what
is such a man of use? Why did this happen with me, what was the cause
of this minute fidgeting over myself—who knows? Who can say?
I remember, one day I was driving out of Moscow in the diligence. The
road was good, but the postilion had hitched an extra trace-horse to the
four-span. This unhappy, fifth, wholly unnecessary horse, fastened in
rough fashion to the fore-end of a thick, short rope, which ruthlessly
saws its haunches, rubs its tail, makes it run in the most unnatural
manner, and imparts to its whole body the shape of a comma, always
arouses my profound compassion. I remarked to the postilion that,
apparently, the fifth horse might be dispensed with on that
occasion..... He remained silent awhile, shook the back of his neck,
lashed the horse half a score of times in succession with his whip
across its gaunt back and under its puffed-out belly—and said, not
without a grin: "Well, you see, it has stuck itself on, that 's a fact!
What the devil 's the use?"
And I, also, have stuck myself on... But the station is not far off, I
Superfluous.... I promised to prove the justice of my opinion, and I
will fulfil my promise. I do not consider it necessary to mention a
thousand details, daily occurrences and incidents, which, moreover, in
the eyes of every thoughtful man might serve as incontrovertible proofs
in my favour—that is to say, in favour of my view; it is better for me
to begin directly with one decidedly important event, after which,
probably, no doubt will remain as to the accuracy of the word
superfluous. I repeat: I have no intention of entering into details, but
I cannot pass over in silence one decidedly curious and noteworthy
circumstance,—namely, the strange manner in which my friends treated me
(I also had friends) every time I chanced to meet them, or even dropped
in to see them. They seemed to grow uneasy; as they came to meet me they
either smiled in a not entirely natural manner, looked not at my eyes,
not at my feet, as some people do, but chiefly at my cheeks, hastily
ejaculated: "Ah! how do you do, Tchulkatúrin!" (Fate had favoured me
with that name) or, "Ah! so here 's Tchulkatúrin!" immediately
stepped aside, went apart, and even remained for some time thereafter
motionless, as though they were trying to recall something. I noticed
all this, because I am not deficient in penetration and the gift of
observation; on the whole, I am not stupid; decidedly amusing thoughts
sometimes come into my head even, not at all ordinary thoughts; but, as
I am a superfluous man with a dumbness inside me, I dread to express my
thought, the more so, as I know beforehand that I shall express it very
badly. It even seems strange to me, sometimes, that people can talk,
and so simply, so freely.... "What a calamity!!" you think. I am bound
to say that my tongue pretty often itched, in spite of my dumbness; and
I actually did utter words in my youth, but in riper years I succeeded
in restraining myself almost every time. I would say to myself in an
undertone: "See here, now, 't will be better for me to hold my tongue
awhile," and I quieted down. We are all experts at holding our tongues;
our women in particular have that capacity: one exalted young Russian
lady maintains silence so vigorously that such a spectacle is capable of
producing a slight shiver and cold perspiration even in a man who has
been forewarned. But that is not the point, and it is not for me to
criticise other people. I will proceed to the promised story.
Several years ago, thanks to a concurrence of trivial but, for me, very
important circumstances, I chanced to pass six months in the county town
of O***. This town is built entirely on a declivity. It has about eight
hundred inhabitants, remarkably poor; the wretched little houses are
outrageously bad; in the main street, under the guise of a pavement,
formidable slabs of unhewn limestone crop out whitely here and there, in
consequence of which, even the peasant-carts drive around it; in the
very centre of an astonishingly untidy square rises a tiny yellowish
structure with dark holes, and in the holes sit men in large caps with
visors, and pretend to be engaged in trade; there, also, rears itself
aloft a remarkably tall, striped pole, and beside the pole, by way of
order, at the command of the authorities, a load of yellow hay is kept,
and one governmental hen stalks about. In a word, in the town of O***
existence is excellent.
During the early days of my sojourn in that town I nearly went out of my
mind with ennui. I must say of myself that, although I am a superfluous
man, of course, yet it is not of my own will; I am sickly myself, but I
cannot endure anything sickly.... I would have no objections to
happiness, I have even tried to approach it from the right and from the
left.... And, therefore, it is not surprising that I can also feel
bored, like any other mortal. I found myself in the town of O*** on
business connected with the Government service....
Teréntievna is absolutely determined to kill me. Here is a specimen of
Teréntievna. O-okh, dear little father! why do you keep writing? It is
n't healthy for you to write.
I. But I 'm bored, Teréntievna.
She. But do drink some tea and lie down.
I. But I don't feel sleepy.
She. Akh, dear little father! Why do you say that? The Lord be with
you! Lie down now, lie down: it 's better for you.
I. I shall die anyway, Teréntievna.
She. The Lord forbid and have mercy!... Well, now, do you order me to
I. I shall not survive this week, Teréntievna.
She. Ii-i, dear little father! Why do you say that?... So I 'll go and
prepare the samovár.
Oh, decrepit, yellow, toothless creature! Is it possible that to you I
am not a man!
March 24. A hard frost.
On the very day of my arrival in the town of O***, the above-mentioned
governmental business caused me to call on a certain Ozhógin, Kiríll
Matvyéevitch, one of the chief officials of the county; but I made
acquaintance with him, or, as the saying is, got intimate with him, two
weeks later. His house was situated on the principal street, and was
distinguished from all the rest by its size, its painted roof, and two
lions on the gate, belonging to that race of lions which bear a
remarkable likeness to the unsuccessful dogs whose birthplace is Moscow.
It is possible to deduce from these lions alone that Ozhógin was an
opulent man. And, in fact, he owned four hundred souls of serfs; he
received at his house the best society of the town of O***, and bore the
reputation of being a hospitable man. The chief of police came to him,
in a broad carroty-hued drozhky drawn by a pair of horses—a remarkably
large man, who seemed to have been carved out of shop-worn material.
Other officials visited him also: the pettifogger, a yellowish and
rather malicious creature; the waggish surveyor, of German extraction,
with a Tatár face; the officer of Ways of Communication, a tender soul,
a singer, but a scandal-monger; a former county Marshal of Nobility, a
gentleman with dyed hair, and rumpled cuffs, trousers with straps, and
that extremely noble expression of countenance which is so
characteristic of people who have been under trial by the courts. He was
visited also by two landed proprietors, inseparable friends, both no
longer young, and even threadbare with age, the younger of whom was
constantly squelching the elder, and shutting his mouth with one and the
same reproach: "Come, that will do, Sergyéi Sergyéitch! What do you know
about it? For you write the word próbka [cork] with the letter b....
Yes, gentlemen,"—he was wont to continue, with all the heat of
conviction, addressing those present:—"Sergyéi Sergyéitch writes not
próbka, but bróbka." And all present laughed, although, probably,
not one of them was particularly distinguished for his skill in
orthography; and the unhappy Sergyéi Sergyéitch held his peace, and
bowed his head with a pacific smile. But I am forgetting that my days
are numbered, and am entering into too great detail. So then, without
further circumlocution: Ozhógin was married and had a daughter,
Elizavéta Kiríllovna, and I fell in love with that daughter.
Ozhógin himself was a commonplace man, neither good nor bad; his wife
was beginning to look a good deal like an aged hen; but their daughter
did not take after her parents. She was very comely, of vivacious and
gentle disposition. Her bright grey eyes gazed good-naturedly, and in a
straightforward manner from beneath childishly-arched brows; she smiled
almost constantly, and laughed also quite frequently. Her fresh voice
had a very pleasant ring; she moved easily, swiftly, and blushed gaily.
She did not dress very elegantly; extremely simple gowns suited her
As a rule, I have never made acquaintance quickly, and if I have felt at
ease with a person on first meeting,—which, however, has almost never
been the case,—I confess that that has spoken strongly in favour of the
new acquaintance. I have not known how to behave to women at all, and in
their presence I either frowned and assumed a fierce expression, or
displayed my teeth in a grin in the stupidest way, and twisted my tongue
about in my mouth with embarrassment. With Elizavéta Kiríllovna, on the
contrary, I felt myself at home from the very first moment. This is how
it came about. One day I arrive at Ozhógin's before dinner, and ask:
"Is he at home?" I am told: "Yes, and he is dressing; please come into
the hall." I go into the hall; I see a young girl in a white gown
standing by the window, with her back toward me, and holding a cage in
her hands. I curl up a little, according to my habit; but, nevertheless,
I cough out of propriety. The young girl turns round quickly, so quickly
that her curls strike her in the face, catches sight of me, bows, and
with a smile shows me a little box, half-filled with seed.
"Will you excuse me?"
Of course, as is customary in such circumstances, I first bent my head,
and, at the same time, crooked and straightened my knees (as though some
one had hit me from behind in the back of my legs, which, as everybody
knows, serves as a token of excellent breeding and agreeable ease of
manner), and then smiled, raised my hand, and waved it twice cautiously
and gently in the air. The girl immediately turned away from me, took
from the cage a small board, and began to scrape it violently with a
knife, and suddenly, without changing her attitude, gave utterance to
the following words:
"This is papa's bull-finch.... Do you like bull-finches?"
"I prefer canary-birds,"—I replied, not without a certain effort.
"And I am fond of canary-birds also; but just look at him, see how
pretty he is. See, he is not afraid."—What surprised me was that I was
not afraid.—"Come closer. His name is Pópka."
I went up, and bent over.
"He 's very charming, is n't he?"
She turned her face toward me; but we were standing so close to each
other that she was obliged to throw her head back a little, in order to
look at me with her bright eyes. I gazed at her: the whole of her rosy
young face was smiling in so friendly a manner that I smiled also, and
almost laughed aloud with pleasure. The door opened; Mr. Ozhógin
entered. I immediately went to him, and began to talk with him in a very
unembarrassed way; I do not know myself how I came to stay to dinner; I
sat out the whole evening, and on the following day, Ozhógin's lackey, a
long, purblind fellow, was already smiling at me, as a friend of the
house, as he pulled off my overcoat.
To find a refuge, to weave for myself even a temporary nest, to know the
joy of daily relations and habits,—that was a happiness which I, a
superfluous man, without domestic memories, had not experienced up to
that time. If there were anything about me suggestive of a flower, and
if that comparison were not so threadbare, I would decide to say that,
from that hour, I began to blossom out in spirit. Everything in me and
round about me underwent such an instantaneous change! My whole life was
illuminated by love,—literally my whole life, down to the smallest
details,—like a dark, deserted chamber into which a candle has been
brought. I lay down to sleep and I rose up, dressed myself, breakfasted,
and smoked my pipe in a way different from my habit; I even skipped as I
walked,—really I did, as though wings had suddenly sprouted on my
shoulders. I remember that I was not in doubt even for a minute, as to
the feeling with which Elizavéta Kiríllovna had inspired me; and from
the very first day, I fell in love with her passionately, and from the
very first day, too, I knew that I was in love. I saw her every day for
the space of three weeks. Those three weeks were the happiest time of my
life; but the remembrance of them is painful to me. I cannot think of
them alone: that which followed them involuntarily rises up before me,
and venomous grief slowly grips the heart which had just grown soft.
When a man is feeling very well, his brain, as every one knows, acts
very little. A calm and joyous feeling, a feeling of satisfaction,
permeates his whole being; he is swallowed up in it; the consciousness
of individuality vanishes in him—he is in a state of bliss, as badly
educated poets say. But when, at last, that "spell" passes off, a man
sometimes feels vexed and regretful that, in the midst of happiness, he
was so unobservant of himself that he did not redouble his thoughts, his
reflections, and his memories, that he did not prolong his enjoyment
.... as though a "blissful" man had any time, and as though it were
worth while to reflect about his own emotions! The happy man is like a
fly in the sunshine. That is why, when I recall those three weeks, I
find it almost impossible to retain in my mind an accurate, definite
impression, the more so, as in the whole course of that time, nothing of
particular note took place between us..... Those twenty days present
themselves to me as something warm, young, and fragrant, as a sort of
bright streak in my dim and grey-hued life. My memory suddenly becomes
implacably faithful and clear, only dating from the moment when the
blows of Fate descended upon me, speaking again in the words of those
same ill-bred writers.
Yes, those three weeks.... However, they did not precisely leave no
images behind in me. Sometimes, when I happen to think long of that
time, certain memories suddenly float forth from the gloom of the
past—as the stars unexpectedly start forth in the evening sky to meet
attentively-riveted eyes. Especially memorable to me is one stroll in a
grove outside the town. There were four of us: old Madame Ozhógin, Liza,
I, and a certain Bizmyónkoff, a petty official of the town of O***, a
fair-haired, good-natured, and meek young man. I shall have occasion to
allude to him again. Mr. Ozhógin remained at home: his head ached, in
consequence of his having slept too long. The day was splendid, warm,
and calm. I must remark that gardens of entertainment and public
amusement are not to the taste of the Russian. In governmental towns, in
the so-called Public Gardens, you will never encounter a living soul at
any season of the year; possibly some old woman will seat herself,
grunting, on a green bench baked through and through by the sun, in the
neighbourhood of a sickly tree, and that only when there is no dirty
little shop close to the gate. But if there is a sparse little
birch-grove in the vicinity of the town, the merchants, and sometimes
the officials, will gladly go thither on Sundays and feast-days, with
their samovár, patties, water-melons, and set out all those good gifts
on the dusty grass, right by the side of the road, seat themselves
around, and eat and drink tea in the sweat of their brows until the very
evening. Precisely that sort of small grove existed then two versts
distant from the town of O***. We went thither after dinner, drank tea
in due form, and then all four of us set off for a stroll through the
grove. Bizmyónkoff gave his arm to old Madame Ozhógin; I gave mine to
Liza. The day was already inclining toward evening. I was then in the
very ardour of first love (not more than a fortnight had elapsed since
we had become acquainted), in that condition of passionate and attentive
adoration, when your whole soul innocently and involuntarily follows
every motion of the beloved being; when you cannot satiate yourself with
its presence, or hear enough of its voice; when you smile and look like
a convalescent child, and any man of a little experience must see at the
first glance, a hundred paces off, what is going on in you.
Up to that day, I had not once chanced to be arm in arm with Liza. I
walked by her side, treading softly on the green grass. A light breeze
seemed to be fluttering around us, between the white boles of the
birch-trees, now and then blowing the ribbon of her hat in my face. With
an importunate gaze I watched her, until, at last, she turned gaily to
me, and we smiled at each other. The birds chirped approvingly overhead,
the blue sky peered caressingly through the fine foliage. My head reeled
with excess of pleasure. I hasten to remark that Liza was not in the
least in love with me. She liked me; in general, she was not shy of any
one, but I was not fated to disturb her childish tranquillity. She
walked arm in arm with me, as with a brother. She was seventeen years
old at the time.... And yet, that same evening, in my presence, there
began in her that quiet, inward fermentation, which precedes the
conversion of a child into a woman..... I was witness to that change of
the whole being, that innocent perplexity, that tremulous pensiveness; I
was the first to note that sudden softness of glance, that ringing
uncertainty of voice—and, oh, stupid fool! oh, superfluous man! for a
whole week I was not ashamed to assume that I, I was the cause of that
This is the way it happened.
We strolled for quite a long time, until evening, and chatted very
little. I held my peace, like all inexperienced lovers, and she, in all
probability, had nothing to say to me; but she seemed to be meditating
about something, and shook her head in a queer sort of way, pensively
nibbling at a leaf which she had plucked. Sometimes she began to stride
forward in such a decided way ... and then suddenly halted, waited for
me and gazed about her with eyebrows elevated and an absent-minded
smile. On the preceding evening, we had read together "The Prisoner of
the Caucasus." With what eagerness had she listened to me, with her
face propped on both hands, and her bosom resting against the table! I
tried to talk about our reading of the evening before; she blushed,
asked me whether I had given the bull-finch any hemp-seed before we
started, began to sing loudly some song, then suddenly ceased. The grove
ended on one side in a rather steep and lofty cliff; below flowed a
small, meandering river, and beyond it, further than the eye could see,
stretched endless meadows, now swelling slightly like waves, now
spreading out like a table-cloth, here and there intersected with
ravines. Liza and I were the first to emerge on the edge of the grove;
Bizmyónkoff remained behind with the old lady. We came out, halted, and
both of us involuntarily narrowed our eyes: directly opposite us, in the
midst of the red-hot mist, the sun was setting, huge and crimson. Half
the sky was aglow and flaming; the red rays beat aslant across the
meadows, casting a scarlet reflection even on the shady side of the
ravine, and lay like fiery lead upon the river, where it was not hidden
under overhanging bushes, and seemed to be reposing in the lap of the
ravine and the grove. We stood there drenched in the blazing radiance.
It is beyond my power to impart all the passionate solemnity of that
picture. They say that the colour red appeared to one blind man like the
sound of a trumpet; I do not know to what degree that comparison is
just; but, actually, there was something challenging in that flaming
gold of the evening air, in the crimson glow of sky and earth. I cried
out with rapture, and immediately turned to Liza. She was gazing
straight at the sun. I remember, the glare of the sunset was reflected
in her eyes in tiny, flaming spots. She was startled, profoundly moved.
She made no answer to my exclamation, did not stir for a long time, and
hung her head.... I stretched out my hand to her; she turned away from
me, and suddenly burst into tears. I gazed at her with secret, almost
joyful surprise.... Bizmyónkoff's voice rang out a couple of paces from
us. Liza hastily wiped her eyes, and with a wavering smile looked at me.
The old lady emerged from the grove, leaning on the arm of her
fair-haired escort; both of them, in their turn, admired the view. The
old lady asked Liza some question, and I remember that I involuntarily
shivered when, in reply, her daughter's broken voice, like cracked
glass, resounded in reply. In the meanwhile, the sun had set, the glow
was beginning to die out. We retraced our steps. I again gave Liza my
arm. It was still light in the grove, and I could clearly discern her
features. She was embarrassed, and did not raise her eyes. The flush
which had spread all over her face did not disappear; she seemed still
to be standing in the rays of the setting sun.... Her arm barely touched
mine. For a long time I could not start a conversation, so violently was
my heart beating. We caught glimpses of the carriage far away, through
the trees; the coachman was driving to meet us at a foot-pace over the
friable sand of the road.
"Lizavéta Kiríllovna,"—I said at last,—"why did you weep?"
"I don't know,"—she answered after a brief pause, looking at me with
her gentle eyes, still wet with tears,—their glance seemed to me to
have undergone a change,—and again fell silent.
"I see that you love nature...." I went on.—That was not in the least
what I had meant to say, and my tongue hardly stammered out the last
phrase to the end. She shook her head. I could not utter a word more....
I was waiting for something .... not a confession—no, indeed! I was
waiting for a confiding glance, a question.... But Liza stared at the
ground and held her peace. I repeated once more, in an undertone: "Why?"
and received no reply. She was embarrassed, almost ashamed, I saw that.
A quarter of an hour later, we were all seated in the carriage and
driving toward the town. The horses advanced at a brisk trot; we dashed
swiftly through the moist, darkening air. I suddenly began to talk,
incessantly addressing myself now to Bizmyónkoff, now to Madame Ozhógin.
I did not look at Liza, but I could not avoid perceiving that from the
corner of the carriage her gaze never once rested on me. At home she
recovered with a start, but would not read with me, and soon went off to
bed. The break—that break of which I have spoken—had been effected in
her. She had ceased to be a little girl; she was already beginning to
expect ... like myself .... something or other. She did not have to wait
But that night I returned to my lodgings in a state of utter
enchantment. The confused something, which was not exactly a foreboding,
nor yet exactly a suspicion, that had arisen within me vanished: I
ascribed the sudden constraint in Liza's behaviour toward me to maidenly
modesty, to timidity.... Had not I read a thousand times in many
compositions, that the first appearance of love agitates and alarms a
young girl? I felt myself very happy, and already began to construct
various plans in my own mind....
If any one had then whispered in my ear: "Thou liest, my dear fellow!
that 's not in store for thee at all, my lad! thou art doomed to die
alone in a miserable little house, to the intolerable grumbling of an
old peasant-woman, who can hardly wait for thy death, in order that she
may sell thy boots for a song...."
Yes, one involuntarily says, with the Russian philosopher: "How is one
to know what he does not know?"—Until to-morrow.
March 25. A white winter day.
I have read over what I wrote yesterday, and came near tearing up the
whole note-book. It seems to me that my style of narrative is too
protracted and too mawkish. However, as my remaining memories of that
period present nothing cheerful, save the joy of that peculiar nature
which Lérmontoff had in view when he said that it is a cheerful and a
painful thing to touch the ulcers of ancient wounds, then why should not
I observe myself? But I must not impose upon kindness. Therefore I will
continue without mawkishness.
For the space of a whole week, after that stroll outside the town, my
position did not improve in the least, although the change in Liza
became more perceptible every day. As I have already stated, I
interpreted this change in the most favourable possible light for
myself.... The misfortune of solitary and timid men—those who are timid
through self-love—consists precisely in this—that they, having eyes,
and even keeping them staring wide open, see nothing, or see it in a
false light, as though through coloured glasses. And their own thoughts
and observations hinder them at every step.
In the beginning of our acquaintance Liza had treated me trustingly and
frankly, like a child; perhaps, even, in her liking for me there was
something of simple, childish affection.... But when that strange,
almost sudden crisis took place in her, after a short perplexity, she
felt herself embarrassed in my presence, she turned away from me
involuntarily, and at the same time grew sad and pensive.... She was
expecting .... what? She herself did not know .... but I .... I, as I
have already said, rejoiced at that crisis.... As God is my witness, I
almost swooned with rapture, as the saying is. However, I am willing to
admit that any one else in my place might have been deceived also....
Who is devoid of self-love? It is unnecessary to say that all this
became clear to me only after a time, when I was compelled to fold my
injured wings, which were not any too strong at best.
The misunderstanding which arose between Liza and me lasted for a whole
week,—and there is nothing surprising about that: it has been my lot to
be a witness of misunderstandings which have lasted for years and years.
And who was it that said that only the true is real? A lie is as
tenacious of life as is the truth, if not more so. It is a fact, I
remember, that even during that week I had a pang now and then .... but
a lonely man like myself, I will say once more, is as incapable of
understanding what is going on within him as he is of comprehending what
is going on before his eyes. Yes, and more than that: is love a natural
feeling? Is it natural to a man to love? Love is a malady; and for a
malady the law is not written. Suppose my heart did contract
unpleasantly within me at times; but, then, everything in me was turned
upside down. How is a man to know under such circumstances what is right
and what is wrong, what is the cause, what is the significance of every
But, be that as it may, all these misunderstandings, forebodings, and
hopes were resolved in the following manner.
One day,—it was in the morning, about eleven o'clock,—before I had
contrived to set my foot in Mr. Ozhógin's anteroom, an unfamiliar,
ringing voice resounded in the hall, the door flew open, and,
accompanied by the master of the house, there appeared on the threshold
a tall, stately man of five-and-twenty, who hastily threw on his
military cloak, which was lying on the bench, took an affectionate leave
of Kiríll Matvyéevitch, touched his cap negligently as he passed me—and
vanished, clinking his spurs.
"Who is that?"—I asked Ozhógin.
"Prince N***,"—replied the latter, with a troubled face;—"he has been
sent from Petersburg to receive the recruits. But where are those
servants?"—he went on with vexation:—"there was no one to put on his
We entered the hall.
"Has he been here long?"—I inquired.
"They say he came yesterday evening. I offered him a room in my house,
but he declined it. However, he seems to be a very nice young fellow."
"Did he stay long with you?"
"About an hour. He asked me to introduce him to Olympiáda Nikítichna."
"And did you introduce him?"
"And did he make acquaintance with Lizavéta Kiríllovna?...."
"Yes, he made her acquaintance, of course."
I said nothing for a while.
"Has he come to remain long, do you know?"
"Yes, I think he will be obliged to stay here more than a fortnight."
And Kiríll Matvyéevitch ran off to dress.
I paced up and down the hall several times. I do not remember that
Prince N***'s arrival produced any special impression on me at the time,
except that unpleasant sensation which usually takes possession of us at
the appearance of a new face in our domestic circle. Perhaps that
feeling was mingled with something in the nature of envy of the timid
and obscure Moscow man for the brilliant officer from Petersburg.—"The
Prince,"—I thought,—"is a dandy of the capital; he will look down on
us."... I had not seen him for more than a minute, but I had managed to
note that he was handsome, alert, and easy-mannered.
After pacing the hall for a while, I came to a halt, at last, in front
of a mirror, pulled from my pocket a tiny comb, imparted to my hair a
picturesque disorder and, as sometimes happens, suddenly became
engrossed in the contemplation of my own visage. I remember that my
attention was concentrated with particular solicitude on my nose; the
rather flabby and undefined outline of that feature was affording me no
special gratification—when, all of a sudden, in the dark depths of the
inclined glass, which reflected almost the entire room, the door opened,
and the graceful figure of Liza made its appearance. I do not know why I
did not stir and kept the same expression on my face. Liza craned her
head forward, gazed attentively at me and, elevating her eyebrows,
biting her lips, and holding her breath, like a person who is delighted
that he has not been seen, cautiously retreated, and softly drew the
door to after her. The door creaked faintly. Liza shuddered, and stood
stock-still on the spot.... I did not move.... Again she pulled at the
door-handle, and disappeared. There was no possibility of doubt: the
expression of Liza's face at the sight of my person denoted nothing
except a desire to beat a successful retreat, to avoid an unpleasant
meeting; the swift gleam of pleasure which I succeeded in detecting in
her eyes, when she thought that she really had succeeded in escaping
unperceived,—all that said but too clearly: that young girl was not in
love with me. For a long, long time I could not withdraw my gaze from
the motionless, dumb door, which again presented itself as a white spot
in the depths of the mirror; I tried to smile at my own upright
figure—hung my head, returned home, and flung myself on the divan. I
felt remarkably heavy at heart, so heavy that I could not weep .... and
what was there to weep about?.... "Can it be?"—I kept reiterating
incessantly, as I lay, like a dead man, on my back, and with my hands
folded on my breast:—"Can it be?".... How do you like that "Can it be?"
March 26. A thaw.
When, on the following day, after long hesitation and inward quailing, I
entered the familiar drawing-room of the Ozhógins', I was no longer the
same man whom they had known for the space of three weeks. All my former
habits, from which I had begun to wean myself under the influence of an
emotion which was new to me, had suddenly made their appearance again,
and taken entire possession of me like the owners returning to their
People like myself are generally guided not so much by positive facts,
as by their own impressions; I, who, no longer ago than the previous
evening, had been dreaming of "the raptures of mutual love," to-day
cherished not the slightest doubt as to my own "unhappiness," and was in
utter despair, although I myself was not able to discover any reasonable
pretext for my despair. I could not be jealous of Prince N***, and
whatever merits he might possess, his mere arrival was not sufficient
instantly to extirpate Liza's inclination for me.... But stay!—did
that inclination exist? I recalled the past. "And the stroll in the
forest?" I asked myself. "And the expression of her face in the
mirror?"—"But," I went on,—"the stroll in the forest, apparently....
Phew, good heavens! What an insignificant being I am!" I exclaimed
aloud, at last. This is a specimen of the half-expressed, half-thought
ideas which, returning a thousand times, revolved in a monotonous
whirlwind in my head. I repeat,—I returned to the Ozhógins' the same
mistrustful, suspicious, constrained person that I had been from my
I found the whole family in the drawing-room; Bizmyónkoff was sitting
there also, in one corner. All appeared to be in high spirits: Ozhógin,
in particular, was fairly beaming, and his first words were to
communicate to me that Prince N*** had spent the whole of the preceding
evening with them.—"Well," I said to myself, "now I understand why you
are in such good humour." I must confess that the Prince's second call
puzzled me. I had not expected that. Generally speaking, people like me
expect everything in the world except that which ought to happen in the
ordinary run of things. I sulked and assumed the aspect of a wounded,
but magnanimous man; I wanted to punish Liza for her ungraciousness;
from which, moreover, it must be concluded, that, nevertheless, I was
not yet in utter despair. They say, in some cases when you are really
beloved, it is even advantageous to torture the adored object; but in my
position, it was unutterably stupid. Liza, in the most innocent manner,
paid no attention whatever to me. Only old Madame Ozhógin noticed my
solemn taciturnity, and anxiously inquired after my health. Of course I
answered her with a bitter smile that "I was perfectly well, thank God."
Ozhógin continued to dilate on the subject of his visitor; but,
observing that I answered him reluctantly, he addressed himself chiefly
to Bizmyónkoff, who was listening to him with great attention, when a
footman entered and announced Prince N***. The master of the house
instantly sprang to his feet, and rushed forth to welcome him! Liza, on
whom I immediately darted an eagle glance, blushed with pleasure, and
fidgeted about on her chair. The Prince entered, perfumed, gay,
As I am not composing a novel for the indulgent reader, but simply
writing for my own pleasure, there is no necessity for my having
recourse to the customary devices of the literary gentlemen. So I will
say at once, without further procrastination, that Liza, from the very
first day, fell passionately in love with the Prince, and the Prince
fell in love with her—partly for the lack of anything to do, but also
partly because Liza really was a very charming creature. There was
nothing remarkable in the fact that they fell in love with each other.
He, in all probability, had not in the least expected to find such a
pearl in such a wretched shell (I am speaking of the God-forsaken town
of O***), and she, up to that time, had never beheld, even in her
dreams, anything in the least like this brilliant, clever, fascinating
After the preliminary greetings, Ozhógin introduced me to the Prince,
who treated me very politely. As a rule, he was polite to every one, and
despite the incommensurable distance which existed between him and our
obscure rural circle, he understood not only how to avoid embarrassing
any one, but even to have the appearance of being our equal, and of only
happening to live in St. Petersburg.
That first evening.... Oh, that first evening! In the happy days of our
childhood, our teachers used to narrate to us and hold up to us as an
example of manly fortitude the young Lacedæmonian who, having stolen a
fox and hidden it under his cloak, never once uttered a sound, but
permitted the animal to devour all his entrails, and thus preferred
death to dishonour.... I can find no better expression of my unutterable
sufferings in the course of that evening, when, for the first time, I
beheld the Prince by Liza's side. My persistent, constrained smile, my
anguished attention, my stupid taciturnity, my painful and vain longing
to depart, all this, in all probability, was extremely noticeable in its
way. Not one fox alone was ravaging my vitals—jealousy, envy, the
consciousness of my own insignificance, and impotent rage were rending
me. I could not but admit that the Prince was really a very amiable
young man.... I devoured him with my eyes; I really believe that I
forgot to wink as I gazed at him. He did not chat with Liza exclusively,
but, of course, he talked for her alone. I must have bored him
extremely..... He probably soon divined that he had to do with a
discarded lover, but, out of compassion for me, and also from a profound
sense of my perfect harmlessness, he treated me with extraordinary
gentleness. You can imagine how that hurt me!
I remember that, in the course of the evening, I tried to efface my
fault; I (do not laugh at me, whoever you may be under whose eyes these
lines may chance to fall, especially as this was my final dream) .... I
suddenly took it into my head, God is my witness, among the varied
torments, that Liza was trying to punish me for my arrogant coldness at
the beginning of my visit; that she was angry with me, and was flirting
with the Prince merely out of vexation at me. I seized a convenient
opportunity, and approaching her with a meek but caressing smile, I
murmured: "Enough, forgive me ... however, I do not ask it because I am
afraid"—and without awaiting her answer, I suddenly imparted to my face
an unusually vivacious and easy expression, gave a wry laugh, threw my
hand up over my head in the direction of the ceiling (I remember that I
was trying to adjust my neckcloth), and was even on the point of
wheeling round on one foot, as much as to say: "All is over, I 'm in
fine spirits, let every one be in fine spirits!" but I did not wheel
round, nevertheless, because I was afraid of falling, owing to an
unnatural stiffness in my knees... Liza did not understand me in the
least, looked into my face with surprise, smiled hurriedly, as though
desirous of getting rid of me as promptly as possible, and again
approached the Prince. Blind and deaf as I was, I could not but inwardly
admit that she was not at all angry nor vexed with me at that moment;
she simply was not thinking about me. The blow was decisive, my last
hopes crumbled to ruin with a crash—as a block of ice penetrated with
the spring sun suddenly crumbles into tiny fragments. I had received a
blow on the head at the first assault, and, like the Prussians at Jena,
in one day I lost everything. No, she was not angry with me!...
Alas! on the contrary! She herself—I could see that—was being
undermined, as with a billow. Like a young sapling, which has already
half deserted the bank, she bent eagerly forward over the flood, ready
to surrender to it both the first blossoming of her spring, and her
whole life. Any one to whose lot it has fallen to be a witness to such
an infatuation has lived through bitter moments, if he himself loved and
was not beloved. I shall forever remember the devouring attention, the
tender gaiety, the innocent self-forgetfulness, the glance,
half-childish and already womanly, the happy smile which blossomed
forth, as it were, and never left the half-parted lips and the blushing
cheeks.... Everything of which Liza had had a dim foreboding during our
stroll in the grove had now come to pass—and she, surrendering herself
wholly to love, had, at the same time, grown quiet and sparkling like
young wine which has ceased to ferment, because its time has come....
I had the patience to sit out that first evening, and the evenings which
followed .... all, to the very end! I could cherish no hope whatsoever.
Liza and the Prince grew more and more attached to each other with every
day that passed..... But I positively lost all sense of my own dignity,
and could not tear myself away from the spectacle of my unhappiness. I
remember that one day I made an effort not to go, gave myself my word of
honour in the morning that I would remain at home,—and at eight o'clock
in the evening (I usually went out at seven), I jumped up like a
lunatic, put on my hat, and ran, panting, to Kiríll Matvyéevitch's.
My position was extremely awkward; I maintained obdurate silence, and
sometimes for days at a stretch never uttered a sound. I have never been
distinguished for eloquence, as I have already said; but now every bit
of sense I had seemed to fly away in the presence of the Prince, and I
remained as poor as a church mouse. Moreover, in private, I forced my
unhappy brain to toil to such a degree, slowly pondering over everything
I had marked or noted in the course of the preceding day, that when I
returned to the Ozhógins', I hardly had enough strength left to continue
my observations. They spared me as they would a sick man, I saw that.
Every morning I reached a fresh, definitive decision, which had chiefly
been hatched out during a sleepless night. Now I prepared to have an
explanation with Liza, to give her some friendly advice ... but when I
happened to be alone with her, my tongue suddenly ceased to act, as
though it had congealed, and we both painfully awaited the appearance of
a third person; then, again, I wanted to flee, for good and all, leaving
behind me, for the object of my affections of course, a letter filled
with reproaches; and one day I set about that letter, but the sense of
justice had not yet quite vanished from within me; I understood that I
had no right to upbraid any one for anything, and flung my note into
the fire; again I suddenly offered the whole of myself as a sacrifice,
in magnanimous fashion, and gave Liza my blessing, wishing her happiness
in her love, and smiled in a gentle and friendly way on the Prince from
a corner. But the hard-hearted lovers not only did not thank me for my
sacrifice, they did not even perceive it, and evidently stood in no need
either of my blessings or of my smiles.... Then, with vexation, I
suddenly passed over into the diametrically opposite frame of mind. I
promised myself, as I swathed myself in my cloak, Spanish fashion, to
cut the lucky rival's throat from round a corner, and with the joy of a
wild beast, I pictured to myself Liza's despair.... But, in the first
place, in the town of O*** there were very few such corners, and, in the
second place, a board fence, a street-lantern, a policeman in the
distance.... No! at such a corner as that it would be more seemly to
peddle rings of bread than to shed human blood. I must confess that,
among other means of deliverance,—as I very indefinitely expressed it
when holding a conference with myself,—I thought of appealing straight
to Mr. Ozhógin .... of directing the attention of that nobleman to the
dangerous position of his daughter, to the sad consequences of her
frivolity.... I even began to talk with him one day on the very ticklish
subject, but framed my speech so craftily and obscurely, that he
listened and listened to me, and suddenly, as though awaking from sleep,
swiftly rubbed the palm of his hand all over his face, not sparing even
his nose, snorted, and walked away from me.
It is needless to say that, on adopting that decision, I assured myself
that I was acting from the most disinterested motives, that I was
desirous of the universal welfare, that I was fulfilling the duty of a
friend of the family.... But I venture to think that even if Kiríll
Matvyéevitch had not cut short my effusions, I should still have lacked
the courage to finish my monologue. I sometimes undertook, with the
pompousness of an ancient sage, to weigh the Prince's merits; I
sometimes comforted myself with the hope that it was merely a passing
fancy, that Liza would come to her senses, that her love was not genuine
love.... Oh, no! In a word, I do not know of a thought over which I did
not brood at that time. One remedy alone, I frankly confess, never
entered my head; namely, it never once occurred to me to commit suicide.
Why that did not occur to me, I do not know.... Perhaps even then I had
a foreboding that I had not long to live in any case.
It is easy to understand that, under such untoward conditions, my
conduct, my behaviour toward other people, was more characterised by
unnaturalness and constraint than ever. Even old lady Ozhógin—that
dull-witted being—began to shun me, and at times did not know from
which side to approach me. Bizmyónkoff, always courteous and ready to be
of service, avoided me. It also seemed to me then that in him I had a
fellow-sufferer, that he also loved Liza. But he never replied to my
hints, and, in general, talked to me with reluctance. The Prince behaved
in a very friendly manner to him; I may say that the Prince respected
him. Neither Bizmyónkoff nor I interfered with the Prince and Liza; but
he did not shun them as I did, he did not look like a wolf nor like a
victim—and gladly joined them whenever they wished it. He did not
distinguish himself particularly by jocularity on such occasions, it is
true; but even in times past there had been a quiet element in his
In this manner about two weeks passed. The Prince was not only
good-looking and clever: he played on the piano, sang, drew very
respectably, and knew how to narrate well. His anecdotes, drawn from the
highest circles of society in the capital, always produced a strong
impression on the hearers, which was all the more powerful because he
himself did not seem to attribute any particular importance to them....
The consequence of this guile, if you choose to call it so, on the
Prince's part was, that in the course of his brief sojourn in the town
of O*** he absolutely bewitched the whole of society there. It is
always very easy for a man from the highest circles to bewitch us
steppe-dwellers. The Prince's frequent calls on the Ozhógins (he spent
his evenings at their house), as a matter of course, aroused the envy of
the other nobles and officials; but the Prince, being a man of the world
and clever, did not neglect a single one of them, called on all of them,
said at least one pleasant word to all the dames and young ladies,
permitted himself to be stuffed with laboriously-heavy viands and
treated to vile wines with magnificent appellations; in a word, behaved
himself admirably, cautiously, and cleverly. Prince N*** was,
altogether, a man of cheerful disposition, sociable, amiable by
inclination, and as a matter of calculation also: how was it possible
for him to be otherwise than a complete success in every way?
From the time of his arrival, every one in the house had thought that
the time flew by with remarkable swiftness; everything went splendidly;
old Ozhógin, although he pretended not to notice anything, was, in all
probability, secretly rubbing his hands at the thought of having such a
son-in-law. The Prince himself was conducting the whole affair very
quietly and decorously, when, all of a sudden, an unforeseen event ....
Until to-morrow. To-day I am weary. These reminiscences chafe me, even
on the brink of the grave. Teréntievna thought to-day that my nose had
grown even more pointed; and that 's a bad sign, they say.
March 27. The thaw continues.
Matters were in the above-described condition: the Prince and Liza loved
each other, the elder Ozhógins were waiting to see what would happen;
Bizmyónkoff was present also—nothing else could be said of him; I was
flopping like a fish on the ice, and keeping watch to the best of my
ability,—I remember that at that time I appointed to myself the task of
at least not allowing Liza to perish in the snare of the seducer, and in
consequence thereof, I had begun to pay particular attention to the
maid-servants and the fatal "back" entrance—although, on the other
hand, I sometimes dreamed for whole nights together about the touching
magnanimity with which, in the course of time, I would extend my hand to
the deluded victim and say to her: "The wily man has betrayed thee; but
I am thy faithful friend.... let us forget the past and be
happy!"—when, suddenly, a joyful piece of news was disseminated
throughout the town: the Marshal of Nobility for the county intended to
give a large ball in honour of the respected visitor, at his own estate
Gornostáevka, also called Gubnyakóva. All the hierarchies and powers of
the town of O*** received invitations, beginning with the chief of
police and ending with the apothecary, a remarkably pimple-faced
German, with cruel pretensions to the ability to speak Russian purely,
in consequence of which, he was constantly using violent expressions
with absolute inappropriateness, as, for instance: "Devil take me, I
feel a dashing fine fellow to-day."... Terrible preparations began,
as was fitting. One cosmetic-shop sold sixteen dark-blue jars of pomade,
with the inscription, "à la jesmin" with the Russian character denoting
the hard pronunciation after the n. The young ladies supplied
themselves with stiff gowns, torturingly tight at the waist-line, and
with promontories on the stomach; the mammas erected on their own heads
formidable decorations, under the pretext that they were caps; the
bustling fathers lay without their hind legs, as the saying is....
The longed-for day arrived at last. I was among those invited. The
distance from the town to Gornostáevka was reckoned at nine versts.
Kiríla Matvyéevitch offered me a seat in his carriage; but I
declined.... Thus do chastised children, desirous of revenging
themselves well on their parents, refuse their favourite viands at
table. Moreover, I felt that my presence would embarrass Liza.
Bizmyónkoff took my place. The Prince drove out in his own calash, I in
a miserable drozhky, which I had hired at an exorbitant price for this
I will not describe the ball. Everything about it was as usual:
musicians with remarkably false horns in the gallery; flustered landed
proprietors with antiquated families; lilac ice-cream, slimy orgeat; men
in patched boots and knitted cotton gloves; provincial lions with
convulsively-distorted faces; and so forth, and so forth. And all this
little world circled round its sun—round the Prince. Lost in the
throng, unnoticed even by the maidens of eight-and-forty with pimples on
their brows and blue flowers on their temples, I kept incessantly gazing
now at the Prince, now at Liza. She was very charmingly dressed and very
pretty that evening. They only danced together twice (he danced the
mazurka with her, 't is true!), but, at all events, so it seemed to
me, there existed between them a certain mysterious, unbroken
communication. Even when he was not looking at her, was not talking to
her, he seemed constantly to be addressing her, and her alone; he was
handsome and brilliant, and charming with others—for her alone. She was
evidently conscious that she was the queen of the ball—and beloved; her
face simultaneously beamed with childish joy and innocent pride, and
then suddenly was lighted up with a different, a more profound feeling.
She exhaled an atmosphere of happiness. I observed all this.... It was
not the first time I had had occasion to watch them.... At first this
greatly pained me, then it seemed to touch me, and at last it enraged
me. I suddenly felt myself remarkably malicious and, I remember, I
rejoiced wonderfully over this new sensation, and even conceived a
certain respect for myself. "Let 's show them that we have n't perished
yet!" I said to myself. When the first sounds summoning to the mazurka
thundered out, I calmly glanced around, coldly, and with much ease of
manner, approached a long-faced young lady with a red and shining nose,
an awkwardly gaping mouth, which looked as though it had been unhooked,
and a sinewy neck, which reminded one of the handle of a
bass-viol,—approached her, and curtly clicking my heels together,
invited her for the dance. She wore a pink gown, which seemed to have
faded recently and not quite completely; above her head quivered some
sort of a faded melancholy fly on a very thick brass spring; and,
altogether, the young woman was impregnated through and through, if one
may so express one's self, with a sort of sour boredom and antiquated
ill-success. From the very beginning of the evening, she had not stirred
from her seat; no one had thought of asking her to dance. One
sixteen-year-old youth, in default of any other partner, had been on
the point of appealing to this young woman, and had already taken one
step in her direction, but had bethought himself, taken one look, and
briskly concealed himself in the crowd. You can imagine with what joyful
surprise she accepted my proposal!
I solemnly led her the whole length of the hall, found two chairs, and
seated myself with her in the circle of the mazurka, the tenth pair,
almost opposite the Prince, to whom, of course, the first place had been
conceded. The Prince, as I have already said, was dancing with Liza.
Neither my partner nor I were incommoded with invitations; consequently,
we had plenty of time for conversation. Truth to tell, my lady was not
distinguished by ability to utter words in coherent speech: she employed
her mouth more for the execution of a strange downward smile, hitherto
unbeheld by me; at the same time, she rolled her eyes upward, as though
some invisible force were stretching her face; but I had no need of her
eloquence. Fortunately, I felt vicious, and my partner did not inspire
me with timidity. I set to criticising everything and everybody in the
world, laying special stress on whipper-snappers from the capital, and
Petersburg fops, and waxed so angry, at last, that my lady gradually
ceased to smile, and instead of rolling her eyes upward, she suddenly
began—with amazement, it must have been—to look cross-eyed, and in
such a queer way, to boot, as though she had perceived, for the first
time, that she had a nose on her face; and my next neighbour, one of
those lions of whom I have spoken above, more than once scanned me with
a glance, even turned to me with the expression of an actor on the stage
who has waked up in an unknown land, as much as to say: "Art thou still
at it?" However, while I sang like a nightingale, as the saying is, I
still continued to watch the Prince and Liza. They were constantly
invited; but I suffered less when both of them were dancing; and even
when they were sitting side by side and chatting with each other, and
smiling with that gentle smile which refuses to leave the face of happy
lovers,—even then I was not so greatly pained; but when Liza was
fluttering through the hall with some gallant dandy, and the Prince,
with her blue gauze scarf on his knees, thoughtfully followed her with
his eyes, as though admiring his conquest,—then, oh, then I experienced
unbearable tortures, and in my vexation I emitted such malicious
remarks, that the pupils of my partner's eyes reclined completely from
both sides, on her nose!
In the meantime, the mazurka was drawing to a close.... They began to
execute the figure known as "la confidente." In this figure the lady
seats herself in the centre of the circle, chooses another lady for her
confidante and whispers in her ear the name of the gentleman with whom
she wishes to dance; the cavalier leads up to her the dancers, one by
one, and the confidante refuses them until, at last, the happy man who
has already been designated makes his appearance. Liza sat in the centre
of the circle, and chose the daughter of the hostess, one of those young
girls of whom it is said that they are "God bless them." The Prince
began to search for the chosen man. In vain did he present about half a
score of young men (the hostess' daughter refused them all, with a
pleasant smile), and, at last, had recourse to me. Something unusual
took place in me at that moment: I seemed to wink with my whole body,
and tried to decline; nevertheless, I rose and went. The Prince
conducted me to Liza.... She did not even glance at me; the hostess'
daughter shook her head in negation, the Prince turned toward me, and,
prompted probably by the goose-like expression of my face, made me a
profound bow. This mocking reverence, this refusal, presented to me by
my triumphant rival, his negligent smile, Liza's indifferent
inattention,—all this provoked an explosion on my part. I stepped up to
the Prince and whispered in a frenzied rage: "I think you are permitting
yourself to jeer at me?"
The Prince stared at me with scornful surprise, again took me by the
hand, and with the air of leading me back to my seat, replied coldly:
"Yes, you, you!"—I went on in a whisper, obeying him, nevertheless;
that is to say, following him to my seat;—"you! But I do not intend to
allow any frivolous Petersburg upstart ..."
The Prince smiled calmly, almost patronisingly, gripped my hand hard,
whispered: "I understand you; but this is not the proper place; we will
talk it over," turned away from me, approached Bizmyónkoff and led him
to Liza. The pale little petty official proved to be the chosen
cavalier. Liza rose to meet him.
As I sat beside my partner with the melancholy fly on her head, I felt
myself almost a hero. My heart thumped violently within me, my bosom
swelled nobly under my starched shirt-front, my breath came fast and
deep—and all of a sudden, I stared at the adjacent lion in so
magnificent a manner, that he involuntarily wiggled the leg which was
turned toward me. Having rid myself of this man, I ran my eyes over the
circle of dancers.... It seemed to me that two or three gentlemen were
gazing at me not without amazement; but, on the whole, my conversation
with the Prince had not been noticed.... My rival was already seated on
his chair, perfectly composed, and with his former smile on his face.
Bizmyónkoff led Liza to her place. She gave him a friendly nod and
immediately turned to the Prince, as it seemed to me, with a certain
anxiety; but he laughed in response, waved his hand gracefully, and must
have said something very agreeable to her, for she flushed all over with
pleasure, dropped her eyes, and then riveted them on him once more with
The heroic frame of mind which had suddenly developed in me did not
disappear until the end of the mazurka; but I made no more jests, and
did not criticise, and merely cast a severe and gloomy glance from time
to time at my lady, who was, evidently, beginning to be afraid of me,
and was reduced to a state of complete stammering and winked
incessantly, when I led her to the natural stronghold of her mother, a
very fat woman with a red head-dress. Having handed over the frightened
young girl as behooved me, I walked off to the window, clasped my hands,
and waited to see what would happen. I waited a good while. The Prince
was constantly surrounded by the host,—precisely that, surrounded, as
England is surrounded by the sea,—not to mention the other members of
the county Marshal of the Nobility's family, and the other guests; and,
moreover, he could not, without arousing universal surprise, approach
such an insignificant man as I, and enter into conversation with him.
This insignificance of mine, I remember, was even a source of delight
to me then. "Fiddlesticks!" I thought, as I watched him turning
courteously now to one, now to another respected personage who sought
the honour of being noticed by him, if only for "the twinkling of an
eye," as the poets say:—"Fiddlesticks, my dear fellow!.... Thou wilt
come to me by and by—for I have insulted thee."
At last the Prince, having cleverly got rid of the crowd of his adorers,
strode past me, darted a glance, not exactly at the window, nor yet
exactly at my hair, was on the point of turning away, and suddenly came
to a halt, as though he had just remembered something.
"Akh, yes!"—he said, addressing me with a smile;—"by the way, I have a
little matter of business with you."
Two landed proprietors, the most persistent of all, who were obstinately
following up the Prince, probably thought that the "little matter of
business" was connected with the service, and respectfully retreated.
The Prince put his arm in mine, and led me to one side. My heart thumped
in my breast.
"You,"—he began, drawling out the word you, and staring at my chin
with a contemptuous expression which, strange to say, was infinitely
becoming to his fresh, handsome face,—"you said something insolent to
me, I believe."
"I said what I thought,"—I retorted, raising my voice.
"Ssssh .... speak more quietly,"—he remarked:—"well-bred men do not
shout. Perhaps you would like to fight with me?"
"That is your affair,"—I replied, drawing myself up.
"I shall be compelled to call you out,"—he said carelessly,—"if you do
not withdraw your expressions...."
"I have no intention of withdrawing anything,"—I retorted proudly.
"Really?"—he remarked, not without a sneering smile.—"In that
case,"—he went on, after a brief pause,—"I shall have the honour to
send my second to you to-morrow."
"Very well, sir,"—I said in the most indifferent tone I could muster.
The Prince bowed slightly.
"I cannot forbid you to think me a frivolous man,"—he added, arrogantly
narrowing his eyes;—"but it is impossible that the Princes N*** should
be upstarts. Farewell for the present, Mr.... Mr. Shtukatúrin."
He quickly turned his back on me, and again approached his host, who had
already begun to grow agitated.
"Mr. Shtukatúrin"!.... My name is Tchulkatúrin.... I could find no reply
to make to this last insult of his, and only stared after him in a
violent rage.—"Farewell until to-morrow," I whispered, setting my
teeth, and immediately hunted up an officer of my acquaintance, Captain
Koloberdyáeff of the uhlans, a desperate carouser and a splendid fellow,
narrated to him in a few words my quarrel with the Prince, and asked him
to be my second. He, of course, immediately consented, and I wended my
I could not get to sleep all night—from agitation, not from
pusillanimity. I am no coward. I even thought very little indeed about
the impending possibility of losing my life, that highest good on earth,
according to the Germans. I thought of Liza only, of my dead hopes, of
what I ought to do. "Ought I to try to kill the Prince?" I asked myself,
and, of course, wanted to kill him,—not out of vengeance, but out of a
desire for Liza's good. "But she will not survive that blow," I went on.
"No, it will be better to let him kill me!"
I confess that it was also pleasant to me to think that I, an obscure
man from the country, had forced so important a personage to fight a
duel with me.
Dawn found me engrossed in these cogitations; and later in the morning,
Koloberdyáeff presented himself.
"Well,"—he asked me, noisily entering my bedroom,—"and where 's the
"Why, good gracious!"—I replied with vexation,—"it 's only seven
o'clock in the morning now; I presume the Prince is still fast asleep."
"In that case,"—returned the irrepressible cavalry-captain,—"order
them to give me some tea. I have a headache from last night's
doings..... I have n't even been undressed. However,"—he added with a
yawn,—"I rarely do undress anyway."
Tea was served to him. He drank six glasses with rum, smoked four pipes,
told me that on the preceding day he had bought for a song a horse which
the coachmen had given up as a bad job, and intended to break it in by
tying up one of its forelegs,—and fell asleep, without undressing, on
the couch, with his pipe still in his mouth. I rose, and put my papers
in order. One note of invitation from Liza, the only note I had received
from her, I was on the point of putting in my breast, but changed my
mind, and tossed it into a box. Koloberdyáeff was snoring faintly, with
his head hanging down from the leather cushions.... I remember that I
surveyed for a long time his dishevelled, dashing, care-free and kindly
face. At ten o'clock my servant announced the arrival of Bizmyónkoff.
The Prince had selected him for his second.
Together we roused the soundly-sleeping captain. He rose, stared at us
with eyes owlishly stupid from sleep, and in a hoarse voice asked for
vodka;—he recovered himself, and after having exchanged salutes with
Bizmyónkoff, went out with him into the next room for consultation. The
conference of the seconds did not last long. A quarter of an hour later
they both came to me in my bedroom; Koloberdyáeff announced to me that
"we shall fight to-day, at three o'clock, with pistols." I silently
bowed my head, in token of assent. Bizmyónkoff immediately took leave of
us, and drove away. He was somewhat pale and inwardly agitated, like a
man who is not accustomed to that sort of performance, but was very
polite and cold. I seemed, somehow, to feel ashamed in his presence, and
I did not dare to look him in the eye.
Koloberdyáeff began to talk about his horse again. This conversation was
very much to my taste. I was afraid he might mention Liza. But my good
captain was no scandal-monger, and, more than that, he despised all
women, calling them, God knows why, "salad." At two o'clock we lunched,
and at three were already on the field of action—in that same
birch-grove where I had once strolled with Liza, a couple of paces from
We were the first to arrive. But the Prince and Bizmyónkoff did not make
us wait long for them. The Prince was, without exaggeration, as fresh as
a rose; his brown eyes gazed out with extreme affability from beneath
the visor of his military cap. He was smoking a straw cigar, and on
catching sight of Koloberdyáeff he shook hands with him in a cordial
manner. He even bowed very charmingly to me. I, on the contrary, felt
conscious that I was pale, and my hands, to my intense vexation, were
trembling slightly;... my throat was dry... Never, up to that time, had
I fought a duel. "O God!" I thought; "if only that sneering gentleman
does not take my agitation for timidity!" I inwardly consigned my nerves
to all the fiends; but on glancing, at last, straight at the Prince's
face, and catching on his lips an almost imperceptible smile, I suddenly
became inflated with wrath, and immediately recovered my equanimity.
In the meantime, our seconds had arranged the barrier, had paced off the
distance, and loaded the pistols. Koloberdyáeff did most of the active
part; Bizmyónkoff chiefly watched him. It was a magnificent day—quite
equal to the day of the never-to-be-forgotten stroll. The dense azure of
the sky again peeped through the gilded green of the leaves. Their
rustling seemed to excite me. The Prince continued to smoke his cigar,
as he leaned his shoulder against the trunk of a linden....
"Be so good as to take your places, gentlemen; all is ready,"—said
Koloberdyáeff at last, handing us the pistols.
The Prince retreated a few paces, halted, and turning his head back
over his shoulder, asked me: "And do you still refuse to withdraw your
words?"... I tried to answer him; but my voice failed me, and I
contented myself with a disdainful motion of the hand. The Prince
laughed again, and took his place. We began to approach each other. I
raised my pistol, and was on the point of taking aim at the breast of my
enemy,—at that moment he really was my enemy,—but suddenly elevated
the barrel, as though some one had jogged my elbow, and fired. The
Prince staggered, raised his left hand to his left temple—a thin stream
of blood trickled down his cheek from beneath his white wash-leather
glove. Bizmyónkoff flew to him.
"It is nothing,"—he said, taking off his cap, which had been
perforated;—"if it did not enter my head, that means it is only a
He calmly pulled a batiste handkerchief from his pocket, and laid it on
his curls, which were wet with blood. I looked at him as though
petrified, and did not stir from the spot.
"Please go to the barrier!"—remarked Koloberdyáeff to me with severity.
"Shall the duel go on?"—he added, addressing Bizmyónkoff.
Bizmyónkoff made him no reply; but the Prince, without removing the
handkerchief from the wound, nor even giving himself the satisfaction
of teasing me at the barrier, replied with a smile: "The duel is ended,"
and fired into the air. I nearly wept with vexation and rage. That man,
by his magnanimity, had definitively trampled me in the mud, had cut my
throat. I wanted to protest, I wanted to demand that he should fire at
me; but he stepped up to me, and offering me his hand, "Everything is
forgotten between us, is it not?"—he said, in a cordial voice.
I cast a glance at his pale face, at that blood-stained handkerchief,
and utterly losing my head, blushing with shame, and annihilated, I
pressed his hand...
"Gentlemen!"—he added, addressing the seconds:—"I hope that all this
will remain a secret?"
"Of course!"—exclaimed Koloberdyáeff,—"but, Prince, allow me...."
And he himself bound up his head.
The Prince, as he departed, bowed to me once more; but Bizmyónkoff did
not even bestow a glance on me. Slain,—morally slain,—I returned home
"But what ails you?"—the captain asked me. "Calm yourself; the wound is
not dangerous. He can dance to-morrow, if he likes. Or are you sorry
that you did not kill him? In that case, you 're wrong; he 's a splendid
"Why did he spare me?!"—I muttered at last.
"Oho! so that 's it!"—calmly retorted the captain... "Okh, these
romancers will be the death of me!"
I positively refuse to describe my tortures in the course of the evening
which followed this unlucky duel. My pride suffered inexpressibly. It
was not my conscience which tormented me; the consciousness of my
stupidity annihilated me. "I myself have dealt myself the last, the
final blow!" I kept repeating as I paced my room with long strides....
"The Prince wounded by me and forgiving me .... yes, Liza is his now.
Nothing can save her now, nor hold her back on the brink of perdition."
I was very well aware that our duel could not remain a secret, in spite
of the Prince's words; in any case, it could not remain a secret to
Liza. "The Prince is not so stupid"—I whispered in a frenzy—"as not to
take advantage of it."... And, nevertheless, I was mistaken: the whole
town heard about the duel and its actual cause,—on the very next day,
of course; but it was not the Prince who had babbled—on the contrary;
when he had presented himself to Liza with a bandaged head and an excuse
which had been prepared in advance, she already knew everything...
Whether Bizmyónkoff had betrayed me, or whether the news had reached her
by other roads, I cannot say. And, after all, is it possible to conceal
anything in a small town? You can imagine how Liza took it, how the
whole Ozhógin family took it! As for me, I suddenly became the object of
universal indignation, of loathing, a monster, a crazily jealous man,
and a cannibal. My few acquaintances renounced me, as they would have
renounced a leper. The town authorities appealed to the Prince with a
proposition to chastise me in a stern and exemplary manner; only the
persistent and importunate entreaties of the Prince himself warded off
the calamity which menaced my head. This man was fated to annihilate me
in every way. By his magnanimity he had shut me up as though with my
coffin-lid. It is needless to say that the Ozhógins' house was
immediately closed to me. Kiríla Matvyéevitch even returned to me a
plain pencil, which I had left at his residence. In reality, he was
precisely the last man who should have been incensed with me. My "crazy"
jealousy, as they called it in the town, had defined, elucidated, so to
speak, the relations between Liza and the Prince. The old Ozhógins
themselves and the other residents began to look upon him almost in the
light of a betrothed husband. In reality, that could not have been quite
agreeable to him; but he liked Liza very much; and moreover, at that
time he had not, as yet, attained his object.... With all the tact of a
clever man of the world, he accommodated himself to his new position,
immediately entered into the spirit of his new part, as the saying
But I!... I then gave up in despair, so far as I myself was concerned,
and so far as my future was concerned. When sufferings reach such a
pitch that they make our whole inward being crack and creak like an
overloaded cart, they ought to cease being ridiculous.... But no!
laughter not only accompanies tears to the end, to exhaustion, to the
point where it is impossible to shed any more of them,—not at all! it
still rings and resounds at a point where the tongue grows dumb and
lamentation itself dies away.... And then, in the first place, as I have
no intention of appearing absurd even to myself, and in the second
place, as I am frightfully tired, I shall defer the continuation and,
God willing, the conclusion of my story until to-morrow....
March 29. A light frost; last night there was a thaw.
Yesterday I was unable to go on with my diary; like Póprishshtchin, I
lay most of the time in bed, and chatted with Teréntievna. There 's a
woman for you! Sixty years ago she lost her first betrothed from the
plague, she has outlived all her children, she herself is unpardonably
old, she drinks tea to her heart's content, she is well-fed, warmly
clad; but what do you think she talked to me about yesterday? I had
ordered that the cape of an old livery-coat should be given to another
utterly denuded old woman for a waistcoat (she wears a breast-piece in
the shape of a waistcoat).... The cape was pretty thoroughly eaten by
moths, so why should not she have it? "Well, it strikes me that I 'm
your nurse.... O-okh, my dear little father, 't is a sin for you to do
that.... And have n't I been tending you?".... and so forth. The
merciless old woman fairly wore me out with her reproaches.... But let
us return to the story.
So, then, I suffered like a dog which has had the hind part of its body
run over by a wheel. Only then,—only after my expulsion from the
Ozhógins' house,—did I become definitively aware how much pleasure a
man may derive from the contemplation of his own unhappiness. Oh, men!
ye are, in reality, a pitiful race!... Well, but that is in the nature
of a philosophical remark.... I passed my days in utter solitude, and
only in the most roundabout and even base ways was I able to find out
what was going on in the Ozhógin family, what the Prince was doing. My
servant struck up an acquaintance with the great-aunt of the wife of his
coachman. This acquaintance afforded me some alleviation, and my servant
speedily was able, from my hints and gifts, to divine what it behooved
him to talk about with his master, when he was pulling off the latter's
boots at night. Sometimes I chanced to meet in the street some member of
the Ozhógin family, Bizmyónkoff, or the Prince.... With the Prince and
Bizmyónkoff I exchanged bows, but I did not enter into conversation. I
saw Liza thrice in all: once with her mamma, in a milliner's shop, once
in an open calash with her father, her mother, and the Prince; once in
church. Of course, I did not venture to approach her, and only gazed at
her from afar. In the shop she was anxious but cheerful.... She was
ordering something for herself, and busily trying on ribbons. Her mother
was gazing at her, with hands clasped on her stomach, her nose elevated,
and indulging in that stupid and affectionate smile which is permissible
only to fond mothers. Liza was in the calash with the Prince.... I shall
never forget that meeting! The old Ozhógins were sitting on the back
seat of the calash, the Prince and Liza in front. She was paler than
usual; two pink streaks were barely discernible on her cheeks. She was
half-turned toward the Prince; supporting herself on her outstretched
right hand (she was holding her parasol in her left), and wearily
bending her head, she was gazing straight into his face with her
expressive eyes. At that moment she was surrendering herself utterly to
him, trusting him irrevocably. I did not have a chance to get a good
look at his face,—the calash dashed past too swiftly,—but it seemed to
me that he also was deeply moved.
The third time I saw her was in church. Not more than ten days had
elapsed since the day when I had encountered her in the calash with the
Prince, not more than three weeks since my duel. The business on account
of which the Prince had come to O*** had long been finished; but he
still deferred his departure; he reported in Petersburg that he was ill.
In the city, people were expecting every day a formal proposal on his
part to Kiríla Matvyéevitch. I myself was only waiting for this last
blow, in order to retire forever. The town of O*** had grown loathsome
to me. I could not sit still at home, and from morning till night I
dragged myself about the suburbs. One grey, wet day, as I was returning
from a stroll which had been cut short by the rain, I stepped into the
church. The evening service was only just beginning, there were very few
people present; I looked about me, and suddenly, near a window, I
descried a familiar profile. At first I did not recognise it; that pale
face, that extinct glance, those sunken cheeks—could it be the same
Liza whom I had seen two weeks before? Enveloped in a cloak, with no hat
on her head, illuminated from one side by a cold ray of light, which
fell through the broad window of white glass, she was staring immovably
at the ikonostásis, and, apparently, making a violent effort to pray,
striving to escape from some sort of dejected rigidity. A fat,
red-cheeked page with yellow cartridge-cases on his breast was
standing behind her, with his hands clasped behind his back, and staring
with sleepy surprise at his mistress. I shuddered all over; I started to
go to her, but stopped short. A torturing foreboding gripped my breast.
Liza never stirred until the very end of vespers. All the congregation
departed, a chanter began to sweep out the church, and still she did not
stir from her place. The page approached her, and touched her gown; she
glanced round, passed her hand over her face, and went away. I escorted
her, at a distance, to her house, then returned home.
"She is ruined!" I exclaimed, as I entered my room.
Being a man, I do not know to this day what was the nature of my
sensations then. I remember that, folding my arms, I flung myself on the
divan, and riveted my eyes on the floor; but I did not know why, only,
in the midst of my grief, I seemed to be pleased at something.... I
would not have admitted that on any account, if I were not writing for
myself.... I really had been tortured by painful, terrible forebodings
.... and, who knows, perhaps I should have been disconcerted if they had
not been fulfilled. "Such is the human heart!" some middle-aged Russian
teacher would exclaim at this point, in an expressive voice, raising on
high his thick forefinger adorned with a carnelian ring. But what care
we for the opinion of a Russian teacher with an expressive voice, and a
carnelian ring on his finger?
Be that as it may, my forebodings had turned out to be correct. The news
suddenly spread through the town that the Prince had taken his
departure, in consequence, nominally, of an order from Petersburg; that
he had gone away without having made any proposal of marriage either to
Kiríla Matvyéevitch or to his spouse, and that Liza would continue to
mourn his perfidy to the end of her days. The Prince's departure had
been entirely unexpected, because, as late as the evening before, his
coachman, according to the assertions of my servant, had not in the
least suspected his master's intention. This news threw me into a fever.
I immediately dressed myself, was on the point of running to the
Ozhógins'; but after thinking the matter over, I concluded that it would
be decorous to wait until the following day. However, I lost nothing by
remaining at home. That evening there ran in to see me a certain
Pandopipópulo, a Greek on his travels, who had accidentally got stranded
in O***, a gossip of the first magnitude, who, more than any one else,
had seethed with indignation against me for my duel with the Prince. He
did not even give my servant time to announce him, but fairly forced
his way into my room, shook me vigorously by the hand, made a thousand
excuses for his conduct, called me a model of magnanimity and
fearlessness, depicted the Prince in the blackest colours, did not spare
the old Ozhógins, whom Fate had, in his opinion, justly punished; he
gave a hit at Liza also in passing, and ran off, after kissing me on the
shoulder. Among other things, I learned from him that the Prince, en
vrai grand seigneur, on the eve of his departure, had replied coldly to
a delicate hint from Kiríla Matvyéevitch, that he had not intended to
deceive any one and was not thinking of marrying; had risen, and made
his bow, and that was the last they had seen of him....
On the following day, I betook myself to the Ozhógins'. The blear-eyed
footman, at my appearance, sprang from the bench in the anteroom with
lightning-like swiftness; I ordered him to announce me. The lackey
hastened off, and immediately returned: "Please enter," said he; "I am
ordered to invite you in." I entered Kiríla Matvyéevitch's study....
March 30. A frost.
So, then, I entered Kiríla Matvyéevitch's study. I would give a good
deal to any one who could have shown me my own face at the moment when
that worthy official, hastily wrapping his Bukhará dressing-gown round
him, stepped forward to meet me with outstretched hands. I must have
fairly radiated an atmosphere of modest triumph, patronising sympathy,
and limitless magnanimity.... I felt that I was something in the nature
of Scipio Africanus. Ozhógin was visibly embarrassed and depressed,
avoided my eye, and shifted from foot to foot where he stood. I also
noticed that he talked in an unnaturally-loud manner, and altogether
expressed himself very indefinitely;—indefinitely, but with fervour,
did he beg my pardon, indefinitely alluded to the departed visitor,
added a few general and indefinite remarks about the deceitfulness and
instability of earthly blessings, and suddenly, becoming conscious of a
tear in his eye, he hastened to take a pinch of snuff, probably with the
object of deluding me as to the cause which was making him weep.... He
used green Russian snuff, and every one knows that that plant makes even
old men shed tears, athwart which the human eye peers forth dimly and
senselessly for the space of several minutes.
As a matter of course I treated the old man very cautiously, inquired
after the health of his wife and daughter, and at once turned the
conversation artfully on the interesting question of rotation of crops.
I was dressed as usual; but the feeling of soft decorum and gentle
condescension which filled my breast, afforded me a festive and fresh
sensation, as though I were wearing a white waistcoat and a white
neckcloth. One thing disturbed me: the thought of meeting Liza again....
At last Ozhógin himself proposed to conduct me to his wife. That good,
but stupid woman, on beholding me, at first became frightfully
embarrassed; but her brain was incapable of preserving one and the same
impression for long together, and therefore she speedily recovered her
equanimity. At last I saw Liza.... She entered the room....
I had expected that I should find in her an abashed, penitent sinner,
and had already in advance imparted to my face the most cordial and
encouraging expression.... Why should I lie? I really loved her and
thirsted for the happiness of forgiving her, of putting out my hand to
her; but, to my unspeakable amazement, in reply to my significant bow,
she laughed coldly, remarked carelessly: "Ah? so it 's you?" and
immediately turned away from me. Her laugh appeared to me forced, it is
true, and, in any case, was ill-suited to her dreadfully emaciated
face.... But, nevertheless, I had not expected such a reception.... I
stared at her in astonishment.... What a change had taken place in her!
Between the former child and this woman there was nothing in common. She
seemed to have grown taller, to have drawn herself up straighter; all
her features, especially her lips, seemed to have acquired a more
defined outline .... her gaze had become more profound, more firm, and
dark. I sat with the Ozhógins until dinner; she rose, left the room and
returned to it, calmly replied to questions, and deliberately took no
heed of me. I could see that she wished to make me feel that I was not
worthy even of her anger, although I had come near killing her lover. At
last I lost patience: a malicious hint broke from my lips.... She
shuddered, darted a swift glance at me, rose, and, walking to the
window, said in a voice which trembled slightly: "You can say anything
you like, but you must know that I love that man and shall always love
him, and do not consider him to blame toward me in the slightest degree,
on the contrary ...." Her voice broke with a tinkle, she paused ....
tried to control herself, but could not, and burst into tears and left
the room.... The elder Ozhógins grew confused.... I shook hands with
both of them, sighed, cast a glance upward, and went away.
I am too weak, there is too little time left to me, I am not in a
condition to describe with my former minuteness this new series of
torturing meditations, firm intentions, and other fruits of the
so-called inward conflict, which started up in me after the renewal of
my acquaintance with the Ozhógins. I did not doubt that Liza still loved
and would long love the Prince .... but, being a man tamed now by
circumstances and who had resigned himself to his fate, I did not even
dream of her love: I merely desired her friendship, I wanted to win her
confidence, her respect, which, according to the assertions of
experienced persons, is regarded as the most trustworthy foundation for
happiness in marriage..... Unhappily, I had lost sight of one rather
important circumstance—namely, that Liza had hated me ever since the
day of the duel. I learned this too late.
I began to frequent the Ozhógins' house as of yore. Kiríla Matvyéevitch
was more cordial to me and petted me more than ever. I even have cause
to think that at the time he would have gladly given me his daughter,
although I was not an enviable match: public opinion condemned him and
Liza, and, on the other hand, extolled me to the skies. Liza's treatment
of me did not change: she maintained silence most of the time, obeyed
when she was bidden to eat, displayed no outward signs of grief, but,
nevertheless, she wasted away like a candle. I must do justice to Kiríla
Matvyéevitch: he spared her in every possible way; old Madame Ozhógin
merely bristled up as she looked at her poor child. There was only one
man whom Liza did not avoid, although she did not talk much to him,
namely, Bizmyónkoff. The old Ozhógins treated him sternly, even roughly;
they could not pardon him for having acted as second; but he continued
to come to their house, as though he did not notice their disfavour.
With me he was very cold, and,—strange to say!—I felt afraid of him,
as it were. This state of things lasted for about a fortnight. At last,
after a sleepless night, I made up my mind to have an explanation with
Liza, to lay bare my heart before her; to tell her that, notwithstanding
the past, notwithstanding all sorts of rumours and gossip, I should
regard myself as too happy if she would favour me with her hand, would
restore to me her trust. I really, without jesting, imagined that I was
exhibiting, as the compendiums of literature put it, an unprecedented
example of magnanimity, and that she would give her consent out of sheer
amazement. In any case, I wanted to clear up the situation with her, and
escape, definitively, from my state of uncertainty.
Behind the Ozhógins' house lay a fairly spacious garden, terminating in
a linden coppice, neglected and overgrown. In the middle of this coppice
rose an old arbour in the Chinese style; a board fence separated the
garden from a blind-alley. Liza sometimes strolled for hours at a time
alone in this garden. Kiríla Matvyéevitch knew this and had given orders
that she was not to be disturbed, and kept a watch over her: "Let her
grief wear itself out," he said. When she was not to be found in the
house, it was only necessary to ring a small bell on the porch at
dinner-time, and she immediately presented herself, with the same
obdurate taciturnity on her lips and in her gaze, and some sort of
crumpled leaf in her hand. So, one day, observing that she was not in
the house, I pretended that I was making ready to depart, took leave of
Kiríla Matvyéevitch, put on my hat, and emerged from the anteroom into
the courtyard, and from the courtyard into the street, but instantly,
with extraordinary swiftness, slipped back through the gate and made my
way past the kitchen into the garden. Luckily, no one espied me. Without
pausing long to think, I entered the grove with hasty steps. Before me,
on the path, stood Liza. My heart began to beat violently in my breast.
I stopped short, heaved a deep sigh, and was on the point of approaching
her, when all of a sudden, without turning round, she raised her hand
and began to listen.... From behind the trees, in the direction of the
blind-alley, two knocks rang out clearly, as though some one were
tapping on the fence. Liza clapped her hands, a faint squeaking of the
wicket-gate became audible, and Bizmyónkoff emerged from the coppice. I
promptly hid myself behind a tree. Liza turned silently toward him....
Silently he drew her arm through his, and both walked softly along the
path. I stared after them in astonishment. They halted, looked about
them, disappeared behind the bushes, appeared again, and finally entered
the arbour. This arbour was circular in shape, a tiny little building,
with one door and one small window; in the centre was to be seen an old
table with a single leg, overgrown with fine green moss; two faded
little plank divans stood at the sides, at some distance from the damp
and dark-hued walls. Here, on unusually hot days, and that once a year,
and in former times, they had been in the habit of drinking tea. The
door would not shut at all; the frame had long ago fallen out of the
window and, catching by one corner, dangled mournfully, like the wounded
wing of a bird. I stole up to the arbour and cautiously glanced through
a crack of the window. Liza was sitting on one of the little divans,
with drooping head; her right hand lay on her lap; Bizmyónkoff was
holding the left in both his hands. He was gazing at her with sympathy.
"How do you feel to-day?"—he asked her, in a low voice.
"Just the same!"—she replied;—"neither better nor worse.—Emptiness,
frightful emptiness!"—she added, dejectedly raising her eyes.
Bizmyónkoff made no reply.
"What think you," she went on;—"will he write to me again?"
"I think not, Lizavéta Kiríllovna!"
She remained silent for a while.
"And, in fact, what is there for him to write about? He told me
everything in his first letter. I could not be his wife; but I was
happy ... not for long.... I was happy...."
Bizmyónkoff lowered his eyes.
"Akh,"—she went on with animation;—"if you only knew how loathsome
that Tchulkatúrin is to me!... It always seems to me that I can see
..... his blood ... on that man's hands." (I writhed behind my crack.)
"However,"—she added thoughtfully;—"who knows,—perhaps had it not
been for that duel .... Akh, when I beheld him wounded, I immediately
felt that I was all his."
"Tchulkatúrin loves you,"—remarked Bizmyónkoff.
"What do I care for that? Do I need any one's love?..." She paused, and
added slowly: ... "except yours. Yes, my friend, your love is
indispensable to me: without you I should have perished. You have helped
me to endure terrible moments...."
She ceased.... Bizmyónkoff began to stroke her hand with paternal
tenderness. "There 's no help for it, there 's no help for it, Lizavéta
Kiríllovna,"—he repeated, several times in succession.
"Yes, and now,"—she said dully,—"I think I should die if it were not
for you. You alone sustain me; moreover, you remind me .... For you know
everything. Do you remember how handsome he was that day?.... But
forgive me: it must be painful for you...."
"Speak, speak! What do you mean? God bless you!"—Bizmyónkoff
interrupted her. She squeezed his hand.
"You are very kind, Bizmyónkoff,"—she went on:—"you are as kind as an
angel. What am I to do? I feel that I shall love him until I die. I have
forgiven him, I am grateful to him. May God grant him happiness! May God
give him a wife after his own heart!"—And her eyes filled with
tears.—"If only he does not forget me, if only he will now and then
recall his Liza to mind. Let us go out,"—she added, after a brief
Bizmyónkoff raised her hand to his lips.
"I know,"—she began with warmth,—"every one is blaming me, every one
is casting stones at me now. Let them! All the same, I would not
exchange my unhappiness for their happiness ... no! no!... He did not
love me long, but he did love me! He never deceived me: he did not tell
me that I was to be his wife; I myself never thought of such a thing.
Only poor papa hoped for that. And now I am still not utterly unhappy:
there remains to me the memory, and however terrible the consequences
may be .... I am stifling here .... it was here that I saw him for the
last time.... Let us go out into the air."
They rose. I barely managed to leap aside and hide behind a thick
linden. They came out of the arbour and, so far as I was able to judge
from the sound of their footsteps, went off into the grove. I do not
know how long I had been standing there, without stirring from the spot,
absorbed in a sort of irrational surprise, when suddenly the sound of
footsteps became audible again. I started and peered cautiously from my
ambush. Bizmyónkoff and Liza were returning by the same path. Both were
greatly agitated, especially Bizmyónkoff. He had been weeping,
apparently. Liza halted, gazed at him, and uttered the following words
distinctly: "I consent, Bizmyónkoff. I would not have consented, had you
merely wished to save me, to extricate me from a frightful position; but
you love me, you know all—and you love me; I shall never find a more
trustworthy, faithful friend. I will be your wife."
Bizmyónkoff kissed her hand; she smiled sadly at him, and went to the
house. Bizmyónkoff dashed into the thicket, and I went my way. As
Bizmyónkoff had probably said to Liza precisely what I had intended to
say to her, and as she had given him precisely the answer which I had
hoped to hear from her, there was no necessity for my troubling myself
further. A fortnight later she married him. The old Ozhógins were glad
to get any bridegroom.
Well, tell me now, am not I a superfluous man? Did not I play in the
whole of that affair the part of a superfluous man? The rôle of the
Prince .... as to that, there is nothing to be said; the rôle of
Bizmyónkoff also is comprehensible .... But I? Why was I mixed up in
it?... what a stupid, fifth wheel to the cart I was!... Akh, 't is
bitter, bitter!... So now, as the stevedores on the Volga say:
"Heave-ho! heave-ho!"—one more little day, then another, and
nothing will be either bitter or sweet to me any more.
Things are bad. I write these lines in bed. The weather has changed
suddenly since yesterday. To-day is hot—almost a summer day. Everything
is thawing, crumbling, and streaming. There is an odour of ploughed
earth in the air: a heavy, powerful, oppressive odour. The steam is
rising everywhere. The sun is fairly beating, fairly blazing down. I am
in a bad way. I feel that I am decomposing.
I started out to write a diary, and instead of that, what have I done? I
have narrated one incident out of my own life. I have been babbling,
sleeping memories have waked up and carried me away. I have written
leisurely, in detail, as though I still had years before me; and now,
lo, there is no time to continue. Death, death is advancing. I can
already hear its menacing crescendo... Time 's up.... Time 's up!...
And where 's the harm? Does it make any difference what I have told? In
the presence of death all the last earthly vanities disappear. I feel
that I am quieting down; I am becoming more simple, more clear. I have
acquired sense, but too late!... 'T is strange! I am growing still—'t
is true, and, nevertheless, I am overcome with dread. Yes, I am overcome
with dread. Half-leaning over the voiceless, yawning gulf, I shudder, I
turn aside, with eager attention I gaze about in all directions. Every
object is doubly dear to me. I cannot gaze my fill at my poor, cheerless
room, as I bid farewell to every tiny fleck on my walls! Sate yourselves
for the last time, ye eyes of mine! Life is withdrawing; it is flowing
evenly and softly away from me, like the shore from the glances of the
traveller by sea. The aged, yellow face of my nurse, bound up in a dark
kerchief, the hissing samovár on the table, the pot of geranium in front
of the window, and thou, my poor dog, Trésor, the pen wherewith I indite
these lines, my own hand, I see you now .... there you are, there.... Is
it possible .... to-day perhaps ... I shall see you no more? 'T is
painful for a living being to part with life! Why dost thou fawn on me,
poor dog? Why dost thou lean thy breast against my bed convulsively
tucking under thy short tail, and never taking from me thy kind, sad
eyes? Art thou sorry for me? Dost thou already feel instinctively that
thy master will soon be no more? Akh, if I could also pass in review
mentally all the objects in my room! I know that these memories are
cheerless and insignificant, but I have no others. Emptiness, frightful
emptiness! as Liza said.
Oh, my God! My God! Here I am dying.... My heart capable of love, and
ready to love, will soon cease to beat... And can it be that it will be
silenced forever, without having even once tasted of happiness, without
having a single time swelled beneath the sweet burden of joy? Alas! 't
is impossible, impossible, I know... If at least now, before my
death—and death, nevertheless, is a sacred thing, for it elevates every
being—if some charming, sad, friendly voice were to sing over me the
parting song of my own woe, perhaps I might become reconciled to it. But
to die is stupid, stupid...
I believe I am beginning to rave.
Farewell life, farewell my garden, and you, my lindens! When summer
comes, see that you do not forget to cover yourselves with flowers from
top to bottom .... and may good people lie in your fragrant shade, on
the cool grass beneath the lisping murmur of your leaves, lightly
agitated by the breeze. Farewell, farewell! Farewell everything, and
Farewell, Liza! I have written these two words—and have almost laughed.
That exclamation seems bookish. I seem to be composing a sentimental
novel, and ending up a despairing letter....
To-morrow is the first of April. Can it be that I shall die to-morrow?
That would be rather indecorous even. However, it befits me...
How the doctor did gabble to-day....
'T is over. Life is ended. I really shall die to-day. It is hot out of
doors ... almost stifling .... or is it that my chest is already
refusing to breathe? My little comedy has been played through. The
curtain is falling.
In becoming annihilated, I shall cease to be superfluous...
Akh, how brilliant that sun is! Those powerful rays exhale eternity...
Farewell, Teréntievna!... This morning, as she sat by the window, she
fell to weeping .... perhaps over me ... and perhaps, because she
herself must die before long also. I made her promise "not to hurt"
It is difficult for me to write.... I drop my pen... 'T is time! Death
is already drawing near with increasing rumble, like a carriage by night
on the pavement: it is here, it is hovering around me, like that faint
breath which made the hair of the prophet stand upright on his head...
I am dying... Live on, ye living.
And may the young life play
At the entrance of the grave,
And Nature the indifferent
With beauty beam forever!
Note of the Editor.
—Under this last line there is the profile of
a head with a large crest-curl and moustache, with eyes en face
and ray-like eyelashes; and under the head some one has written the
The abov manuscript has been read
And the Contints Thereof Bin Approved
By Pyetr Zudotyéshin
M M M M
My Dear Sir.
But as the chirography of these lines does not in the least agree
with the chirography in which the remainder of the note-book is
written, the editor considers himself justified in concluding that
the above-mentioned lines were added afterward by another person;
the more so, as it has come to his (the editor's) knowledge that
Mr. Tchulkatúrin really did die on the night of April 1-2, 18.., in
his natal estate—Ovétchi Vódy.