Part Six, Chapter Three
by Dennis Abrams
“He was hurrying to Svidrigailov.” Raskolnikov’s boundless moral fatigue. What was Svidrigailov’s hidden power over Raskolnikov? Did Svidrigailov still have designs on Dunya? Raskolnikov decides that if he does, “‘Then I will kill him,’ he thought, in cold despair.” Raskolnikov finds himself walking through the Haymarket onto —sky Prospect — why? The tavern. Svidrigailov seen through the window, a pipe in his teeth, “This struck him terribly, to the point of horror.” Pretending not to see each other. Svidrigailov calls him up — an open bottle of champagne, a half-filled glass, an organ grinder and Katya. Is it a miracle that Raskolnikov found Svidrigailov — Svidrigailov claims he told Raskolnikov the name of the tavern and directions to get there — “The address got stamped automatically in your memory. So you turned here automatically, strictly following my directions without knowing it yourself. I had no hope that you understood me as I was telling it to you then.” Raskolnikov believes he’s being followed. Is Svidrigailov dangerous to Raskolnikov? “‘Each of us takes his own steps,’ Raskolnikov said glumly and impatiently.” Has Svidrigailov been “wooing” Raskolnikov? A sharper, not a gambler. Hoping for depravity, “In this depravity there’s at least something permanent, even based on nature, and not subject to fantasy, something that abides in the blood like a perpetually burning coal, eternally inflaming, which for a long time, even with age, one may not be able to extinguish so easily. Wouldn’t you agree that it’s an occupation of sorts?” Raskolnikov declares depravity is a disease. Ghosts. “‘What a fanfaron you are, really!’ Raskolnikov said with some loathing.” Svidrigailov urges Raskolnikov to stay, “I’ll tell you something. Shall I tell you how a woman, to put in your style, was ‘saving me? This will even be an answer to your first question, because the person is your sister. May I tell you? It’ll kill some time…even in such a bad and empty man as I am, Avdotya Romanovna can inspire nothing but the deepest respect.”
What an odd chapter. I find the conversations between Raskolnikov and Svidrigailov somewhat disconcerting — I’m not quite certain how to read them. Is Svidrigailov just playing games with Raskolnikov? Did he actually give him directions to the tavern? What’s he doing with Dunya?
I do now have a new favorite word — fanfaron — a braggart, a boaster.
More from Colin Wilson’s The Outsider
‘The spiritual nature of man forbids the killing of the last and most harmful of men: it means the loss of one’s essential humanity…it is a crime no higher end can justify. Our neighbour is more precious than any abstract notion…That is the Christian conception and it is Dostoevsky’s’
Now, this is a convenient simplification that completely obscures the real meaning of the novel. Raskolnikov rejects this point of view and there is no evidence that Dostoevsky accepts it. Dostoevsky does notstate: ‘Murder is wrong because the Christian conception of the sacredness of human life is right.’ His theme is far more subtle; and although it is true that his final conclusions are Christian, it would be downright dishonesty to accept Berdyaev’s short-cut to them. It would involve the assumption that Dostoevsky created Raskolnikov as Shakespeare created Iago, to be a pure villain: we should then agree with Berdyaev: ‘There is no humanitarianism in Raskolnikov, who is cruel and without pity” whereas in point of fact, a glance at almost any page of Crime and Punishment will show u s that this is nonsense. The central theme of Crime and Punishment is pity; pity is Raskolnikov’s undoing. the idea that obsesses him is Van Gogh’s ‘Misery will never end’. From the beginning of the book, all the situations are devised to drive this home: the drunken Marmeladov (who enjoys suffering like the beetle-man) and his starving family; the dream of the horse being beaten to death; the long recital of woes in the letter from Raskolnikov’s mother; there are even little episodes that have no relation to the plot, but were interposed simply to intensify the picture of human suffering: the young girl who has been drugged and seduced, the woman who tries to drown herself as Raskolnikov leans on the bridge. To add to all this, there are Raskolnikov’s humiliations: his poverty, his landlady dunning for rent, etc. And underneath all this, even more fundamental, there is the beetle-man’s problem: What is worth doing?
For the beetle-man, the problem was complicated by his emotional anaemia: he thinks much more than he enjoys or suffers. Raskolnikov is a little better off: the world’s misery unites his whole being with a mixed feeling of revolt and pity. Particularly, his feeling about ‘lower forms of life’ (Lawrence’s detestation) are unambiguous — about vile old pawnbrokresses, for instance. He is a dissatisfied man and therefore a dangerous man. There is human misery, and he asks himself the question: What can be done about it? His healthy-minded answer is: ‘You can do nothing as you are.’ And why? Because as he is he suffers from all the Outsider’s disabilities; he is aware of his strength, but has no idea of how to u se it; he thinks instead of acting.
He is not quite such a fool and neurotic as the beetle-man. Nevertheless, he is over-sensitive, and he over-estimates his own callousness. Besides which, he has intended to kill only the old woman; when he is interrupted, he has to kill her sister too. Later two painters are accused of the crime and there is a possibility they may be executed; in which case he will have committed four murders. All this contributes to his breakdown. Finally, the last indignity, the murders do not alter his life; he derives no benefit from them. With two murders to his credit, possibly four, he is back where he started…
Part Six, Chapter Four