Part One, Chapter Three, Sections 5-7
by Dennis Abrams
“Someone Else’s Sins” continued. The meeting between Stepan, the narrator, Liputin, and Kirillov is just about to break up. Liputin mentions that Captain Lebyadkin has returned, and has been beating his sister “the crazy one” with a quirt, “a real Cossack quirt, sir, every day, morning and evening,” upsetting Kirillov so much he has moved to another wing of the house. Why is Stepan so frightened by Lebyadkin’s return? The seduction of Lebyadkin’s sister. Kirillov accuses Liputin of babbling too much. Liputin tells Stepan that the day before, Varvara had summoned him for a private meeting, deeply upsetting Stepan. The narrator: “I instantly recalled [Stepan’s] surmise that Liputin not only knew more about our situation than we did, but even knew something that we ourselves would never know.” Liputin’s delight at being able to tell the story. At the meeting, Varvara questions Liputin about her son, Nikolai Vsevolodovich Stavrogin, “Tell me, frankly and straightforwardly, how did you…how did you find Nikolai Vsevolodovich then…how did you regard him generally…what opinion were you able to form of him…and do you have of him now?…Nikolai Vsevolodovich has experienced certain misfortunes and many upheavals in his life. Al this…I am not talking about madness — that could never be…But there could be something strange, peculiar, a certain turn of thought an inclination toward certain views…” Varvara promises her undying gratitude to Liputin. A discussion that Liputin is sharing the news of a conversation he promised Varvara he would keep secret. An acknowledgment that there is “something strange” about Stavrogin. “Crazy, very intelligent, but maybe also crazy.” Liputin and Kirillov quarrel. The narrator: “It occurred to me that Liputin had brought this Alexi Nilych to us precisely so as to draw him into the conversation he wanted through a third person — a favorite maneuver.” Liputin reports he told Varvara that he cannot vouch for her son’s character. Gossip. “Today he shakes your hand, and tomorrow, for no reason at all, to repay your hospitality, he slaps your face in front of a whole honorable gathering, the moment he pleases.” Was Mademoiselle Lebyadkin a victim of Stavrogin’s passions? The missing seven hundred roubles. “It’s nothing for His Excellency to disgrace the noblest girl or to defame another man’s wife, just in that mishap with me, sir!” Kirillov runs out of the room saying “It will all be made clear, but I can no longer…it’s baseless…and enough, enough!” Liputin follows. Stepan gets ready to leave, preparing to go to speak to Varvara, and whispers to the narrator, “I really cannot marry ‘someone else’s sins!” Did Stepan believe this before, or did Liputin put the thought in his head? Stepan believe that Varvara’s despotic act was caused by a “desperate wish to paint over the aristocratic peccadilloes of her priceless Nicolas by a marriage with an honorable man?” The narrator tries to stop him from going to Varvara’s telling him, “I’ll explain everything to you!” On their way there, they meet Lizaveta Nikolaevna who is riding with Mavriky Nikolaevich. Liza berates Stepan for not visiting her. “Who will comfort me?” Stepan’s lies as a tutor. A kiss on the forehead. Stepan goes home, ten minutes later Lizaveta arrives bearing flowers. The good looks of Mavriky Nikolaevich, the beauty of Lizaveta Nikola. The dislike of many in the town for Lizaveta. The power of her dark burning eyes, she appeared, “as a conqueror, to conquer.” The portrait of a twelve-year old Lizaveta, hanging on Stepan’s wall with daggers and swords. The narrator blushes when Lizaveta asks “you’re Stepan Trofimovich’s confidant, aren’t you?” “Ah, forgive me, please, I used the completely wrong word — not funny at all, but just…However, why be ashamed of being a wonderful man?” Lizaveta knows about the upcoming nuptials. Lizaveta asks about Shatov, in Stepan’s description, “He’s a local dreamer. He’s the best and most irascible man in the world.” Lizaveta discusses hiring Shatov (who speaks three languages) as her assistant. Stepan: ‘Oh, I am guilty, all too guilty before you, and…before everyone, everyone.”
Interesting developments. Obviously, Kirillov is going to be a major character, Lizaveta is going to be trouble of some kind (dark burning eyes don’t allow for anything else), I’m still not sure what Liputin is up to or why Stepan is afraid of him and feeling “lost.” And…am I the only one getting the feeling that Stepan is gay? The scene where Lizaveta describes the narrator as Stepan’s confidant, leading to blushing, Lizaveta apologizing for not using the “right” word… Anyone else?
And to start the week off, this from Colin Wilson in The Outsider, discussing the real-life inspiration for Demons
“Its original idea sprang from the ‘Netchaev affair.’ Netchaev was an anarchist-nihilist who undoubtedly deserves to be the subject of a detailed biography. Where anarchism was concerned he was a fanatical idealist; apart from this, his personal character was as base and immoral as anything in criminal history. His intrigues show him to have been as degraded as Lacenaire, and he was as ruthless and brutal as any Nazi thug. Yet his life shows an extraordinary, perverted heroism. There is even a story that he helped to plan the assassination of Alexander II while he was imprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortress (Russia’s ‘Devil’s Island’), and that when his associates asked whether they should concentrate on rescuing him or on killing the Tsar, he answered without hesitation, ‘Remove the oppressor.’ The oppressor was removed, and Netchaev died of scurvy in the prison.
Netchaev, the ‘tiger cub’ , was one of the world’s most remarkable deceivers; he tried to build up a vast revolutionary movement solely on lies, bluff and play-acting. He deceived everybody (including the arch-revolutionaries Bakunin and Herzen) and might easily, with a little more luck, intrigued his way to absolute dictatorship of Russia (which was obviously his ideal).
The affair that provided the plot of [Demons led to Netchaev’s downfall. In Moscow, posing as the representative of a certain ‘European Revolutionary Alliance’, Netchaev organized small groups of students and disillusioned ex-Army officers into ‘revolutionary committees’. A student named Ivanov was suspect of planning to betray them, and was murdered by Netchaev, with the complicity of the ‘group.’ The murder was soon discovered; arrests followed. Netchaev escaped to Switzerland, then to England, while the affair occupied the front pages of Russia’s newspapers. Later, Netchaev, with misplaced confidence in the authorities’ short memory, walked back into the lion’s mouth, and ended in the Peter and Paul Fortress.
Another interesting point was utilized in the novel. It transpired in the trials that a certain student who intended to kill himself had agreed to await the convenience of the ‘European Revolutionary Alliance,’ and was to leave a death note in which he would take responsibility for any crimes the ‘Alliance’ cared to saddle him with. Out of this episode came the conception of Kirillov…one of the most important treatments of the Outsider theme in Dostoevsky.”
And finally, in case you were wondering who Lacenaire was:
Pierre François Lacenaire (20 December 1800, Francheville, Rhône – 9 January 1836, Paris) was a famous French poet and murderer.
Upon finishing his education with excellent results, Lacenaire joined the army, eventually deserting in 1829 at the time of the expedition to the Morea. He became a crook and was in and out of prison, which was, as he called it, his “criminal university”. Whilst in prison, Lacenaire recruited two henchmen, Victor Avril and François Martin, and wrote a song, “Petition of a Thief to a King his Neighbor”, as well as “The Prisons and the Penal Regime” for a journal.
In the months between the beginning of his trial for a double murder and his execution, he wrote Memoirs, Revelations and Poems, and during the trial he fiercely defended his crime as a valid protest against social injustices, turning the judicial proceedings into a theatrical event and his cell into a salon. He made a lasting impression on the age and on several writers such as Balzac and Dostoevsky (see below)
Lacenaire also appears in the classic French film Children of Paradise (1945), where his stance as a loner and a rebel is stressed. In the film, he refers to himself as a bold criminal and a social rebel, but his actual criminal activities mostly stay outside the story.
 In literature and film
* Baudelaire called Lacenaire “one of the heroes of modern life”.
* His hand, severed after death, was the subject of a poem by Théophile Gautier.
* Dostoevsky read about Lacenaire’s case and it inspired him to write Crime and Punishment, in which Raskolnikov’s crime was a copy of Lacenaire’s almost down to the last detail.
* Philosopher Michel Foucault believed Lacenaire’s notoriety among Parisians marked the birth of a new kind of lionized outlaw (as opposed to the older folk hero), the bourgeois romantic criminal, and eventually to the detective and true crime genres of literature.
* Lacenaire is portrayed in the epic movie Les Enfants du Paradis (1945) — Children of Paradise in English — directed by Marcel Carné.
* There is a French film called Lacenaire (1990) starring Daniel Auteuil.
Part One, Chapter Three, Sections 8-10 (to the end of the chapter)