Part Six. IV

“You perhaps know (and, incidentally, I told you myself),” Svidrigailov began, “that I was being held in debtors’ prison here, for an enormous sum, and without the least prospect of paying it. There’s no point in detailing how Marfa Petrovna bought me off then; do you know to what degree of stupefaction love can sometimes lead a woman? She was an honest woman, very far from stupid (though completely uneducated). Imagine, then, that this same jealous and honest woman made up her mind, after many terrible frenzies and reproaches, to stoop to a certain sort of contract with me, which she indeed fulfilled throughout our marriage. The thing was that she was considerably older than I and, besides, constantly kept some sort of clove in her mouth. I had enough swinishness in my soul, and honesty of a sort, to announce to her straight off that I could not be completely faithful to her. This admission drove her into a frenzy, but I think she in some way liked my crude frankness: ‘If he announces it beforehand like this, it means he doesn’t want to deceive me’—well, and for a jealous woman that is the primary thing. After many tears, an oral contract was concluded between us along the following lines: first, I would never leave Marfa Petrovna and would always remain her husband; second, I would never go away anywhere without her permission; third, I would never keep a permanent mistress; fourth, in return for this, Marfa Petrovna would allow me to cast an eye occasionally on the serving girls, but not otherwise than with her secret knowledge; fifth, God forbid I should love a woman of our own rank; sixth, if, God forbid, I should perchance be visited by some great and serious passion, I would have to confide it to Marfa Petrovna. With regard to this last point, however, Marfa Petrovna felt rather at ease all the while; she was an intelligent woman and consequently could not look upon me as anything other than a profligate and a skirt-chaser who was incapable of serious love. But an intelligent woman and a jealous woman are two different things, and that’s just the trouble. To make an impartial judgment of some people, one has a priori to renounce certain preconceived opinions and one’s habitual attitude to the people and things that ordinarily surround one. I have the right to trust your judgment more than anyone else’s. Perhaps you’ve already heard a great deal that was ridiculous and absurd about Marfa Petrovna. Indeed, some of her habits were quite ridiculous; but I’ll tell you straight out that I sincerely regret the countless griefs of which I was the cause. Well, and that’s enough, I think, to make a fairly decent oraison funèbre [1] for the most tender wife of a most tender husband. On the occasions when we quarreled, I was silent for the most part and did not become irritated, and this gentlemanliness almost always achieved its purpose; it affected her, and even pleased her; there were occasions when she was even proud of me. But all the same your dear sister was too much for her. And how did it ever happen that she risked taking such a beauty into her house as a governess! I explain it by Marfa Petrovna’s being herself a fiery and susceptible woman, and quite simply falling in love herself—literally falling in love—with your dear sister. And Avdotya Romanovna is a good one, too! I understood very well, at first glance, that things were bad here, and—what do you think?—I decided not even to raise my eyes to her. But Avdotya Romanovna herself took the first step—will you believe that? And will you believe that Marfa Petrovna at first even went so far as to be angry with me for my constant silence about your sister, for being so indifferent to her ceaseless and enamored reports about Avdotya Romanovna? I don’t understand what she wanted! Well, and of course Marfa Petrovna told Avdotya Romanovna all her innermost secrets about me. She had the unfortunate trait of telling decidedly everyone all our family secrets, and of constantly complaining to everyone about me; how could she pass over such a new and wonderful friend? I suppose they even talked about nothing else but me, and no doubt all those dark, mysterious tales that are ascribed to me became known to Avdotya Romanovna…I’ll bet you’ve already heard something of the sort as well?”

“I have. Luzhin even accused you of causing a child’s death. Is it true?”

“Do me a favor, leave all those trivialities alone,” Svidrigailov brushed the question aside, gruffly and with loathing. “If it’s so necessary for you to learn about all that nonsense, I’ll tell you specially some time, but now . . .”

“There was also talk of some servant on the estate, and that you seemed to have been the cause of something.”

“Do me a favor—enough!” Svidrigailov interrupted again with obvious impatience.

“Was that the same servant who came to fill your pipe after his death…the one you told me about yourself?” Raskolnikov was becoming more and more irritated.

Svidrigailov looked intently at Raskolnikov, who thought he saw a spiteful grin flash momentarily, like lightning, in his eyes, but Svidrigailov restrained himself and answered quite politely:

“The very same. I see that you, too, find all this extremely interesting, and will regard it as my duty, when the first occasion offers, to satisfy your curiosity on all points. Devil take it! I see I may actually strike people as a romantic figure. Judge, then, how grateful I must be to the late Marfa Petrovna for having told so many curious and mysterious things about me to your dear sister. I dare not judge the impression, but in any case it was to my advantage. With all the natural loathing Avdotya Romanovna felt for me, and in spite of my ever gloomy and repellent look—in the end she felt pity for me, pity for the lost man. And when a girl’s heart is moved to pity, that is, of course, most dangerous for her. She’s sure to want to ‘save’ him then, to bring him to reason, to resurrect him, to call him to nobler aims, to regenerate him into a new life and new activity—well, everyone knows what can be dreamt up in that vein. I saw at once that the bird was flying into my net on its own, and prepared myself in my turn. You seem to be frowning, Rodion Romanych? Never mind, sir, it all came down to trifles. (Devil take it, I’m drinking too much wine!) You know, from the very beginning I’ve always felt sorry that fate did not grant your sister to be born in the second or third century of our era, as the daughter of some princeling or some other sort of ruler, or a proconsul in Asia Minor. She would undoubtedly have been among those who suffered martyrdom, and would have smiled, of course, while her breast was burned with red-hot iron tongs. She would have chosen it on purpose, and in the fourth or fifth century she would have gone to the Egyptian desert and lived there for thirty years, feeding on roots, ecstasies, and visions.[2] She’s thirsting for just that, and demands to endure some torment for someone without delay, and if she doesn’t get this torment, she may perhaps jump out the window. I’ve heard something about a certain Mr. Razumikhin. He’s said to be a reasonable man (and his name also shows it; he must be a seminarian)[3]—well, then let him take care of your sister. In short, I think I understood her, and count it to my credit. But at the time—that is, at the beginning of our acquaintance—you know yourself that one is always somehow more light-minded and foolish, one’s view is mistaken, one sees the wrong things. Devil take it, why is she so good-looking? It’s not my fault! In short, it began with the most irrepressible sensual impulse in me. Avdotya Romanovna is terribly chaste, to an unseen, unheard-of degree. (Note that; I’m telling it to you as a fact about your sister. She is chaste, possibly, to the point of illness, in spite of all her broad intelligence, and it will do her harm.) There happened to be a certain girl there named Parasha, dark-eyed Parasha, who had just been brought from another village, a serving-girl, whom I had never seen before—very pretty, but incredibly stupid: burst into tears, raised the rooftops with her howling, and the result was a scandal. Once, after dinner, Avdotya Romanovna came specially looking for me alone on a path in the garden, and with flashing eyes demanded that I leave poor Parasha alone. It was almost our first conversation tête-à-tête. I naturally considered it an honor to satisfy her wish, tried to pretend I was struck, embarrassed—well, in short, played my role none too badly. Communications began, secret conversations, sermons, lectures, entreaties, supplications, even tears—would you believe it, even tears!

That’s how strong the passion for propaganda is in some girls! I, of course, blamed it all on my fate, pretended to be hungering and thirsting for light, and, finally, employed the greatest and surest means of conquering a woman’s heart, a means which has never yet failed anyone, which works decidedly on one and all, without exception—the well-known means of flattery. There’s nothing in the world more difficult than candor, and nothing easier than flattery. If there is only the hundredth part of a false note in candor, there is immediately a dissonance, and then—scandal. But with flattery, even if everything is false down to the last little note, it is still agreeable and is listened to not without pleasure; crude though the pleasure may be, it is still a pleasure. And however crude the flattery may be, at least half of it is sure to seem true. And that is so for all levels of development and strata of society. Even a vestal virgin can be seduced by flattery. Not to mention ordinary people. I can’t help laughing when I remember how I once seduced a certain lady who was devoted to her husband, her children, and her own virtues. It was so much fun, and so little work! And the lady was indeed virtuous, in her own way at least. My whole tactic consisted in being simply crushed and prostrate before her chastity at every moment. I flattered her infernally, and as soon as I obtained so much as the squeezing of her hand, or even just a look from her, I would reproach myself for having wrested it from her, because she had resisted, had resisted so much that I would never have gotten so far had I not been so depraved myself; because she, in her innocence, did not foresee any perfidy and succumbed inadvertently, without knowing, without thinking, and so on and so forth. In short, I obtained everything, and my lady remained convinced in the highest degree that she was innocent and chaste and had fulfilled all her duties and obligations, and had been ruined quite accidentally. And how angry she was with me when I declared to her finally that according to my sincere conviction she was seeking pleasure as much as I was. Poor Marfa Petrovna was also terribly susceptible to flattery, and if ever I had wanted, I could, of course, have transferred her entire estate to my name while she was still alive. (However, I’m drinking a terrible amount of wine and babbling away.) I hope you won’t be angry if I now mention that the same effect began to show itself with Avdotya Romanovna. But I was stupid and impatient and spoiled the whole thing myself. Several times even before (and once somehow especially) Avdotya Romanovna had been terribly displeased by the look in my eyes—can you believe it? In short, a certain fire kept flaring up in them more and more strongly and imprudently, which frightened her and in the end became hateful to her. There’s no point in going over the details, but we parted. Here again I was stupid. I began jeering in the crudest way regarding all these propagandas and conversions; Parasha appeared on the scene again, and not only her—in short, Sodom began. Ah, Rodion Romanych, if you’d seen at least once in your life how your dear sister’s eyes can flash at times! It doesn’t matter that I’m drunk now and have already finished a whole glass of wine, I’m telling the truth; I assure you that I used to see those eyes in my dreams; the rustling of her dress finally became unbearable to me. Really, I thought I’d get the falling sickness; I never imagined I could reach such a frenzy. In short, it was necessary to make peace—but it was no longer possible. And can you imagine what I did then? Oh, the degree of stupefaction to which rage can lead a man! Never undertake anything in a rage, Rodion Romanych! Considering that Avdotya Romanovna was essentially a beggar (ah, excuse me, that’s not what I wanted…but isn’t it all the same, if the concept is the same?), in short, that she was living by the work of her own hands, that she was supporting both her mother and you (ah, the devil, you’re scowling again . . .), I decided to offer her all my money (I could have realized as much as thirty thousand even then) on condition that she elope with me, say, here to Petersburg. Naturally, I would swear eternal love, bliss, and so on and so forth. Believe me, I was so smitten that if she’d told me: Stick a knife into Marfa Petrovna, or poison her, and marry me—the thing would have been done at once! But it all ended in the catastrophe you already know about, and you can judge for yourself what a rage I was driven to when I discovered that Marfa Petrovna had procured that meanest of little clerks, Luzhin, and had almost put together a marriage—which would be essentially the same as what I was offering. Right? Right? Am I right? I notice you’ve begun listening rather attentively…an interesting young man…”

Svidrigailov impatiently pounded his fist on the table. He was flushed. Raskolnikov saw clearly that the glass or glass and a half of champagne he had drunk, sipping at it imperceptibly, was having a morbid effect on him, and decided to make use of his chance. He found Svidrigailov very suspicious.

“Well, after that, I’m fully convinced that you had my sister in mind when you came here,” he said to Svidrigailov, directly and without reticence, in order to provoke him even more.

“Eh, come on,” Svidrigailov suddenly seemed to catch himself, “didn’t I tell you…and besides, your sister can’t stand me.”

“That she can’t stand you I’m also convinced of, but that’s not the point now.”

“Are you so convinced of it?” (Svidrigailov narrowed his eyes and smiled mockingly.) “You’re right, she doesn’t love me; but never swear yourself to what has gone on between husband and wife, or between two lovers. There’s always a little corner here that’s always unknown to the whole world and is known only to the two of them. Will you swear that Avdotya Romanovna looked upon me with loathing?”

“I notice from certain words and phrases in your account that you still have your plans and the most immediate intentions on Dunya— vile ones, naturally.”

“What! Did such words and phrases escape me?” Svidrigailov became most naively frightened all at once, paying not the slightest attention to the epithet applied to his intentions.

“Yes, and they’re still escaping you. What, for instance, are you so afraid of? Why are you suddenly so frightened?”

“Me? Afraid and frightened? Frightened of you? It’s rather you who should be afraid of me, cher ami But what drivel…However, I see that I’m drunk; I nearly let things slip again. Devil take wine! Ho, there! Water!”

He grabbed the bottle and hurled it unceremoniously out the window. Filipp brought water.

“That’s all nonsense,” said Svidrigailov, wetting a towel and putting it to his head, “and I can haul you up short and reduce your suspicions to dust with a single word. Do you know, for instance, that I am getting married?”

“You told me that before.”

“Did I? I forgot. But I couldn’t have spoken positively then, because I hadn’t seen the bride yet; it was just an intention. Well, but now I have a bride, and the matter is settled, and if it weren’t for some pressing matters, I’d certainly take you to see them—because I want to ask your advice. Eh, the devil! I only have ten minutes left. See, look at the time; however, I’ll tell you, because it’s an interesting little thing in its own way; my marriage, I mean—where are you going? Leaving again?”

“No, I wouldn’t leave now.”

“Wouldn’t leave at all? We’ll see. I’ll take you there, truly, to show you the bride, only not now; now it will soon be time for you to go. You to the right, and I to the left. Do you know this Resslich? This same Resslich who rents me the room—eh? You hear? No, what are you thinking, the same one they say, about the girl, in the water, in winter—well, do you hear? Do you? Well, so she’s the one who cooked it all up for me; you’re bored like this, she said, amuse yourself a little. And I really am a gloomy, boring man. You think I’m cheerful? No, I’m gloomy: I don’t do any harm, I just sit in the corner; sometimes no one can get a word out of me for three days. And Resslich, that rogue, I’ll tell you, here’s what she has in mind: I’ll get bored, abandon my wife, and leave; then she’ll get the wife and put her into circulation—among our own set, that is, or a little higher up. There’s this paralyzed father, she says, a retired official, sits in a chair and hasn’t moved his legs for three years. There’s also a mother, she says, a reasonable lady, the mother is. The son serves somewhere in the provinces, doesn’t help them. One daughter is married and doesn’t visit; there are two little nephews on their hands (as if their own weren’t enough), and their last daughter’s a schoolgirl, they took her out of school without letting her finish, in a month she’ll be just sixteen, which means in a month she can be married. To me, that is. We went there; it was very funny. I introduced myself: a landowner, a widower, from a notable family, with such-and-such connections, with money— so what if I’m fifty and she’s not sixteen yet? Who’s looking at that? But isn’t it tempting, eh? It’s tempting, ha, ha! You should have seen me talking with the papa and mama! People would have paid just to see me then. She comes out, curtsies—can you imagine, she’s still in a short dress; an unopened bud—she blushes, turns pink as the dawn (they had told her, of course). I don’t know how you feel about women’s faces, but to my mind those sixteen years, those still childish eyes, that timidity, those bashful little tears—to my mind they’re better than beauty, and on top of that she’s just like a picture. Fair hair fluffed up in little curls like a lamb’s, plump little crimson lips, little feet— lovely! … So we got acquainted, I announced that I was in a hurry owing to family circumstances, and the very next day—that is, two days ago—they gave us their blessing. Since then, the moment I come in I take her on my knees and don’t let her get down…Well, she blushes like the dawn, and I kiss her all the time; and the mama naturally impresses upon her that this, you see, is your husband, and it ought to be this way—in short, clever! And this present position, as a fiancé, may in fact be better than that of a husband. It’s what’s called la nature et la vérité![4] Ha, ha! I’ve talked with her a couple of times— the girl is far from stupid; once in a while she gives me a glance on the sly—it burns right through. And you know, she has the face of a Raphael Madonna. Because the Sistine Madonna has a fantastic face, the face of a mournful holy fool, has that ever struck you? Well, hers is the same sort. As soon as they blessed us, the next day, I came with fifteen hundred roubles’ worth: a set of diamonds, another of pearls, and a lady’s silver toilet case—this big—with all kinds of things in it, so that even her Madonna’s face began to glow. I took her on my knees yesterday, but I must have done it too unceremoniously—she became all flushed, tears started, but though she didn’t want to show it, she was all aflame herself. Everyone left for a moment, there were just the two of us, she suddenly threw herself on my neck (the first time on her own), embraced me with her little arms, kissed me, and vowed that she would be an obedient, faithful, and good wife to me, that she would make me happy, that she would spend her whole life on it, every minute of her life, would sacrifice everything, everything, and in return for all that she wished to have only my respect, and she said, ‘I need nothing else, nothing, nothing, no presents!’ You must agree that to hear such a confession, in private, from such a dear sixteen-year-old angel, in a lace dress, with fluffed-up little curls, with a blush of maidenly modesty and tears of enthusiasm in her eyes, you must agree it’s rather tempting. It is tempting, isn’t it? It’s worth something, eh? Well, isn’t it? Well…so, listen…let’s go and see my fiancée…only not now!”

“In short, it’s this monstrous difference in age and development that arouses your sensuality! Can you really get married like that?”

“And why not? Of course. Every man looks out for himself, and he has the happiest life who manages to hoodwink himself best of all. Ha, ha! But who are you to go running full tilt into virtue? Spare me, my dear, I’m a sinful man. Heh, heh, heh!”

“Nevertheless, you provided for Katerina Ivanovna’s children. However…however, you had your own reasons for that…I understand it all now.”

“I like children generally; like them very much,” Svidrigailov guffawed. “In this connection I can even tell you about a most curious episode, which is still going on. On the very day of my arrival, I went to look at all these various cesspools—well, after seven years I really leaped at them! You’ve probably noticed that I’ve been in no rush to get together with my bunch, I mean my former friends and acquaintances. And I’ll do without them for as long as possible. You know, on Marfa Petrovna’s estate I was tormented to death by the memory of all these mysterious places, these little corners where, if you know, you can find quite a lot. Devil take it! The people are drinking, the educated youth are burning themselves up in idleness, in unrealizable dreams and fancies, crippling themselves with theories; Yids come flocking from somewhere, hiding the money away, and the rest of it falls into depravity. This city breathed its familiar breath on me from the first hours. I wound up at a so-called dance hall—a terrible cesspool (but I like my cesspools precisely with a bit of filth)—well, there was a cancan, the like of which is not and never was in my time. Yes, sir, there’s progress there. Suddenly I see a girl of about thirteen, in a lovely dress, dancing with a virtuoso, and with another one vis-à-vis. And her mother is sitting on a chair by the wall. Well, you can imagine what the cancan is! The girl gets embarrassed, blushes, finally feels offended and begins to cry. The virtuoso picks her up and begins twirling her around and performing in front of her; everyone is roaring with laughter and—I love our public, even a cancan public, at such moments—they laugh and shout: ‘That’s the way, serves them right! Shouldn’t bring children here!’ Well, I spit on it, it’s none of my business whether they console themselves logically or not! I immediately picked out my place, sat down next to the mother, and started telling her that I, too, was a visitor, and, oh, what boors they all were here, that they couldn’t recognize true virtue or feel any rightly deserved respect; made it known to her that I had a lot of money; offered to take them home in my carriage; brought them home, became acquainted (they’d just arrived, were subletting some closet from tenants). It was announced to me that she and her daughter could not regard my acquaintance as anything but an honor; I discovered that they had neither stick nor stone, and had come to petition for something in some office; I offered help, money; I discovered that they had gone to the dance hall by mistake, thinking it was a place where they actually taught dancing; I, for my part, offered to contribute to the young lady’s education—French language and dancing lessons. They accepted with delight, considered it an honor, and I’ve kept up the acquaintance…If you like, we can go there—only not now.”

“Stop, stop your mean, vile anecdotes, you depraved, mean, sensual man!”

“Look at our Schiller, what a Schiller, just look at him! Vù va-t-elle la vertu se nicher? [5] And you know, I’ll go on telling you such things on purpose, just to hear your little outcries. Delightful!”

“Isn’t it! And do you think I don’t seem ludicrous to myself right now?” Raskolnikov muttered spitefully.

Svidrigailov was roaring with laughter; finally he called for Filipp, paid, and began getting up. “Oh, am I drunk! Assez causé !”[6]he said. “Delightful!”

“What else but delightful,” Raskolnikov exclaimed, also getting up. “Of course it’s delightful for a played-out profligate to tell about such adventures—with some monstrous intention of the same sort in mind—and under such circumstances besides, and to such a man as me…Quite arousing.”

“Well, in that case,” Svidrigailov replied, even with some surprise, scrutinizing Raskolnikov, “in that case, you’re rather a cynic yourself. Anyway, you’ve got enormous material in you. You can understand a lot, quite a lot. . . well, and you can also do a lot. Well, but enough. I sincerely regret having talked so little with you, but you won’t get away from me…Just wait . . .”

Svidrigailov left the tavern. Raskolnikov walked out after him. Svidrigailov was not very drunk, however; it had gone to his head only momentarily, and the drunkenness was passing off every minute. He was very preoccupied with something, something very important, and was frowning. Some prospect obviously worried and troubled him. In the past few minutes he had also somehow suddenly changed towards Raskolnikov, had become more rude and mocking. Raskolnikov noticed all this and was also alarmed. Svidrigailov became very suspicious to him; he decided to follow him.

They went down to the sidewalk.

“You go right, and I’ll go left, or perhaps vice versa, only—adieu, mon plaisir, [7] see you—gladly—soon!”

And he turned right, towards the Haymarket.

 

[1] “Funeral oration” (French).

[2] Svidrigailov has in mind the early persecutions of Christians, and then the life of St. Mary of Egypt, a fifth-century saint greatly venerated in the Orthodox Church, a former prostitute who converted to Christianity and withdrew to the Egyptian desert where she spent more than forty years in solitude.

[3] Not necessarily a theological student, but generally a poor scholar, probably from a clerical family. Such families often had names (like Razumikhin) derived from words designating Christian virtues.

[4] “Nature and truth” (French). Dostoevsky uses this phrase (compare Thomme de la nature et de la vérité, in Notes from Underground) in ironic reference to the thought of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (see Part Two, note 5).

[5] “Where is virtue going to build her nest?” (French). The playwright Molière (1622-73) is said to have asked this of a beggar who thought he had made a mistake in giving him a gold piece.

[6] “Enough talk!” (French). See Part Two, note 23.

[7] “Good-bye, my pleasure” (French).

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