Part Six, Chapters Five and Six
by Dennis Abrams
Svidrigailov attempts to get away from Raskolnikov. Raskolnikov goes with him to his building in order to visit Sonya, who is not at home. Svidrigailov asks Raskolnikov to elaborate on what he’d heard through the wall, “Perhaps I’m a thoroughly backward man and unable to understand anything. Explain, my dear, for God’s sake! Enlighten me with the latest principles.” Svidrigailov halfheartedly tells Raskolnikov to go the police and confess, “But if you’re convinced that one cannot eavesdrop at doors, but can go around whacking old crones with whatever comes to hand, to your heart’s content, then leave quickly for America somewhere!” Svidrigailov offers money. Svidrigailov pretends to be taking a carriage to Yelagin Island, assuaging Raskolnikov’s concerns who walks away, followed thereafter by Svidrigailov, who meets Dunya on the bridge. Svidrigailov cajoles Dunya to come to his apartment, urging her “not to forget that a rather curious secret of your beloved brother’s is entirely in my hands.” The isolated situation of Svidrigailov’s apartment. Svidrigailov’s eyes, “shining with the same flame that had once so frightened Dunechka.” Svidrigailov tells Dunya that her brother is a murderer. Could he be a thief? An explanation of Raskolnikov’s reasons: “He seems to have imagined that he, too, was a man of genius — that is, he was sure of it for a time. He suffered greatly, and suffers still, from the thought that though he knew how to devise the theory, he was unable to step over without hesitation and therefore is not a man of genius. Now that, for a vain young man, is truly humiliating, especially in our age…” “Russian people are generally broad people, Avdotya Romanovna, broad as their land, and greatly inclined to the fantastic, the disorderly, but it’s disastrous to be broad without special genius.” Realizing that Sonya will not soon be returning, Dunya nearly faints. The locked door. Svidrigailov offers to save Raskolnikov, to take him abroad, to take her and her mother abroad, if… Svidrigailov proclaims his love his willingness to do anything for Dunya, but when she screams for help, “A spiteful and mocking smile was forcing itself to his still trembling lips.” Svidrigailov torments Dunya: “You just mentioned ‘force,’ Avodtya Romanovna. If it’s to be force, you can judge for yourself that I’ve taken measures…Sofya Semyonovna is not at home; the Kaperaumovs are very far, five locked doors away. Finally, I am at least twice as strong as you are, and besides, I have nothing to fear, because you cannot complain afterwards either: you really won’t want to betray your brother, will you? Besides, no one will believe you: why on earth should a girl go alone to a single man’s apartment. So that even if you sacrifice your brother, you still won’t be able to prove anything: force is very difficult to prove, Avodtya Romanovna.” Dunya pull out a pistol that had once belonged to Marfa Petrovna, who, she claims, was poisoned by Svidrigailov. Dunya had never looked so beautiful. A shot fired, grazing Svidrigailov’s scalp. A second shot misfires. Svidrigailov steps within two steps from her, “Dunya realized that he would rather die then let her go,” and throws the pistol aside much to Svidrigailov’s surprise. “It was as if something had all at once been lifted from his heart, and perhaps not just the burden of mortal fear — which, besides, he had hardly felt at that minute. It was a deliverance from another, more sorrowful and gloomy feeling, the full force of which he himself would have been unable to define.” Realizing she will never love him, after a struggle within himself Svidrigailov allows Dunya to leave, puts the revolver into his pocket, and walks out.
Svidrigailov buys drinks for Katya and the organ grinder, and settles a fight. Rainstorms. A visit to Sonya: Svidrigailov gives her notes worth three thousand roubles, telling her that Raskolnikov has two choices left: a gun to the head or Siberia, and she’ll need the money when she goes with him to Siberia. Svidrigailov tells Sonya he’s going off to America. A visit to his fiancee to deliver bank notes worth fifteen thousand roubles in silver. A stop at a a hotel: his closet, tea and veal, the ragamuffin. Wallpaper. A fight in the closet next door — Svidrigailov eavesdrops and peeks in through a crack. The garden. Images of Dunya. A mouse attracted by the veal, “What nastiness!” Looking out the window into the darkness, “but reveries rose one after another, fragments of thoughts with no beginning, no end, no connection.” A lovely landscape, roses, a luxurious cottage “in the English style,” a silk lined coffin, the young girl lying in it, “The girl was a suicide — by drowning. She was only fourteen, but hers was already a broken heart, and it destroyed itself, insulted by an offense that had horrified and astonished this young girl’s consciousness, that had covered her angelically pure soul with undeserved shame, and tore from her a last cry of despair, not heeded but insolently defiled in the black night, in the darkness, in the cold, in the damp thaw, while the wind was howling.” Svidrigailov comes to his senses. Water is rising in the streets. Going down the hotel corridor, Svidrigailov finds a five year old girl, crying and hiding from her mother. He brings her to his room, puts her in bed, wraps her up in a blanket, and watches, horrified, as she turns from an innocent into ‘the face of a scarlet woman, the insolent face of a woman for sale…” Another dream. Walking the bleak, cold, rainy streets. The Jew in the watchtower. “I’m off to foreign lands, brother…To America.” Svidrigailov put the revolver to his right temple and pulls the trigger.
Wow…that was a dramatic couple of chapters.
1. I was struck by this from Svidrigailov: What we have is — how shall I express it for you — a theory of sorts; it’s the same as if I should find, for example, that an isolated evildoing is permissible if the main purpose is good. A single evil and a hundred good deeds! It’s also offensive for a young man of merit and measureless vanity to know that if he had, for example, a mere three thousand or so, his whole career, the whole future in terms of his life’s purpose, would shape itself differently — and yet the three thousand aren’t there.” Is he talking about himself or Raskolnikov? How alike are they?
2. And Svidrigailov’s discussion of using “force,” and how nobody would believe Dunya…how modern a conversation did that feel?
3. And of course, for all the similarities between Raskolnikov and his sister…she can’t (or won’t) kill, even in self-defense.
4. And in the end, Svidrigailov ends up in a tiny closet, “with a single window; a very dirty bed, a simple painted table, and a chair took up almost all the space..” just like Raskolnikov.
5. What is it with Dostoevsky and wallpaper? “…and the shabby wallpaper was so dusty and tattered that, while it was still possible to guess its color (yellow), the pattern was no longer discernible.” Is there a single room we’ve entered in Crime and Punishment in which the wallpaper wasn’t described?
6. Svidrigailov’s dreams. Brilliant. And the horror film twist in the second dream…how brilliant was that?
7. In fact, in both of these chapters, Dostoevsky demonstrates his mastery of building and maintaining narrative tension, whether it’s between two people, Svidrigailov and Dunya, or just Svidrigailov and his demons.
8. Suicide equals going to America?
And Joseph Frank’s take on Svidrigailov, from his book, Dostoevsky: A Writer in his Time
“In this final section, Raskolnikov’s attention turns toward Svidrigailov. Svidrigailov’s past is wrapped in a cloud of atrocious rumors, and he was, as Raskolnikov concludes, ‘evidently depraved, undoubtedly cunning and deceitful, possibly malignant.’ Raskolnikov refuses to see any connection between Svidrigailov’s sinister past and his own crimes and believes — what is of course true — that ‘their very evil-doing is not of the same kind.’ All the same, we see him ‘hastening to Svidrigailov’ and somehow ‘expecting something new from him, directions, a way out.’ Svidrigailov, after all, is the only person who knows that Raskolnikov is guilty and has not urged him to confess: indeed, he seems completely unconcerned, amused rather than shocked, and it is through this cynicism that Raskolnikov feels he might perhaps offer ‘a way out.’ For all his assumed indifference to morality, however, Svidrigailov’s rebuff at the hands of Dunya snaps the last thread attaching him to existence, and this scene is followed by the last hours before his suicide, during which the ‘cellar rats’ of his own past swim out of his subconscious in various dreams. For him there is no natural innocence left in the world; everything he touches turns into the corruption of unashamed vice. With this awareness of his living damnation, Svidrigailov shoots himself.
Svidrigailov’s mockingly provocative account of his sexual philanderings had revolted Raskolnikov, and his well-aimed sneers at Raskolnikov’s reproaches had brought home to the murderer that he had lost any right to distinguish himself morally from his shameless interlocutor…”
And finally, this interesting look at Svidrigailov from one of my favorite critics, Harold Bloom:
“Svidrigailov may have been intended as Raskolnikov’s foil, but he got away from Dostoevsky, and runs off with the book, even as old Karamazov nearly steals the greater work away from the extraordinary Dmitri. Raskolnikov is to pure a Promethean or devil to be interested in desire, unless the object of desire be metaphysical freedom and power. He is a kind of ascetic Gnostic, while Svidrigailov is a libertine Gnostic, attempting to liberate the sparks upward. If Raskolnikov portrays the madness of the Promethean will, then Svidrigailov is beyond the will, as he is beyond the still-religious affirmations of atheism. He lives (if that can be the right word) a negativity that Raskolnikov is too much himself to attain. Raskolnikov killed for his own sake, he tells Sonia, to test his own strength. Svidrigailov is light years beyond that, on the way downwards and outwards into the abyss, his foremother and forefather.”
Part Six, Chapters Seven and Eight