Part One, Chapter Four, Sections 1-4
by Dennis Abrams
Anton Lavrentievich (the narrator) goes to visit Lizaveta bringing Shatov with him. Also in attendance are her mother and Mavriky Nikolaevich, they are all sitting in the drawing room, arguing. Lizaveta’s mother’s “legs were swollen, and for several days she had done nothing but wax capricious and find fault with others,despite the fact that she had always been slightly afraid of Liza. The old lady’s confusion. Who is the Englishman? Who is the professor? The nasty old dog Zemirka. Mama leaves, Liza tells Anton to talk with Mavriky while she speaks to Shatov. Lizaveta’s proposal to Shatov: It’s a literary undertaking — to bring the facts of a whole year, assembled from newspapers, magazines, together in one book, but “the choice could be limited to events that more or less expressed the personal moral life of the people, the personality of the Russian people at a given moment…Everyone should want to buy it, the book should become a household item.” Shatov: “So the result would be something with a tendency,k a selection of facts with a certain tendency…” Does selecting facts reflect a tendency? Lizaveta will support it financially and offers to go 50/50 with Shatov. Lizaveta tells Shatov that she had heard about him from both Pyotr Stepanovich (Stepan’s son) and Nikolai Vsevolodovich (Stavrogin) in Switzerland. Liza learns that Shatov lives in the same house as Lebyadkin. Shatov thinks, “Why don’t you choose someone else for this business, I won’t be of any use to you.” A drunken love letter (complete with poem and an offer to denounce Stavrogin with documents that could send him to Siberia) from Captain Lebyadkin to Liza. Anton and Shatov agree that Lebyadkin is “a drunk man and a scoundrel.” Liza wants to start her own press, says that Pyotr Stepanovich told her that Shatov could run a press “and was familiar with the business.” “Shatov…changed countenance. He stood there for a few more seconds and then suddenly walked out of the room…Shatov suddenly returned…’I won’t be your collaborator, I have no time.’ Mavriky calls Shatov “A remarkably strange man.” Lizaveta insists that Anton set up a meeting between her and Lebyadkin’s lame sister. The narrator’s desire to help her. Anton goes to visit Shatov to ask him to help — already there is Kirillov as well as “another gentleman I was half acquainted with, a certain Shigalyov, the brother of Virginsky’s wife…Never in my live have I seen a more grim, gloomy, glowering face on a man. He looked as if he were expecting the destruction of the world, and not just sometime, according to prophecies which might not be fulfilled, but quite definitely, round about morning, the day after tomorrow, at ten twenty-five sharp.” His unnaturally large ears. Upon leaving, Shigalyov tells Shatov, “Remember you’re obliged to report.” Shatov’s response: “I spit on your reports, and the devil if I’m obliged to anybody.” Atheists and liberal lackeys. Shatov’s four months in America, “in order to try the life of the American worker for ourselves, and thus by personal experience to test on ourselves the condition of man in his hardest social position.” Exploitation and abuse in America. “Not only that: when they asked us to pay a dollar for something worth a penny, we paid it, not just with pleasure, but even with enthusiasm. We praised everything: spiritualism, lynching, six-shooters, hoboes.” To get home from Russia, Shatov was sent one hundred roubles by Stavrogin, who, rumor had it, had had a liaison with Shatov’s wife (although after she had left him). Shatov offers to take Anton to meet Lebyadkin’s sister.
A few brief observations…
1. I am struck more then ever by the theatricality of Dostoevsky’s novels — people entering and leaving rooms, purposeful statements before departing (and the next scene begins)…
2. Lizaveta’s literary idea — isn’t is really a kind of almanac?
3. Lebyadkin’s letter: I loved the near incomprehensibility of lines like “Even the very club of human kindness towards big cattle in Petersburg of high society, rightly commiserating with the dog and the horse, scorns the brief infusorian, not mentioning it all, because it has not grown big enough.” What?
4. Which reminds me of something I meant to mention yesterday. While reading Kirillov’s discussion of suicide, I was struck by how awkward the use of language and sentence structure seemed to be. It was only later that it is mentioned that Kirillov spoke Russian awkwardly — nice translation job. But then, one of the things, I think, that makes Dostoevsky what he was is his use of voice as a way of demonstrating character.
5. I like the way that the narrator doesn’t always seem to know what is going on (in the same way that the unnamed narrator in The Idiot didn’t always know exactly what had happened either). Shatov’s response to Lizaveta’s request the he run the printing press, Shigalyov’s “Remember, you’re obliged to report,” Lebyadkin’s threat to destroy have Stavrogin sent to Siberia, Liza’s need to meet Lebyadkin’s lame sister..there’s more going on than meets the eye.
6. Who didn’t love the description of Shigalyov as quoted in today’s headline?
7. And finally…Shatov and Kirillov in America investigating working conditions? “We praised everything: spiritualism, lynching, six-shooters, hoboes.” Love it.
Part One, Chapter Four, Sections 5-7