“But wasn’t it you who told me that if someone proved to you mathematically that the truth is outside Christ, you would better agree to say with Christ than with the truth?”

Part Two, Chapter One, Sections 6-7; Chapter Two, Sections 1-2
by Dennis Abrams

“Night” continued. Leaving his talk with Kirillov, Stavrogin stops to visit Shatov who lets him, then locks the door from the inside. “You’ve been tormenting me, he said, looking down…why didn’t you come?” His revolver. Answering Stavrogin’s questions, Shatov says he didn’t hit him because of the liaison Stavrogin had had with his wife, and not because of the gossip about Stavrogin and Shatov’s sister, Darya Pavlovna. Stavrogin’s confession: It’s true: Marya Timofeevna Lebyadkin is my lawful wife, married to me in Petersburg about four and a half years ago.” Shatov admits he hit Stavrogin “For your fall…for the lie…It was for your having meant so much in my life…” Stavrogin’s warning to Shatov: “Owning to certain circumstances, I was obliged to choose this hour, today, to come and warn you that it’s possible you will be killed.” Stavrogin knows this “Because I, too, belong to them, as you do, and am a member of their society, as you are.” Shatov has broken with the “society,” and so is seen as a possible threat of betrayal. Shatov pays back the hundred roubles Stavrogin had sent to America. Stavrogin: “But what you don’t seem to know yet is that these gentlemen have no intention of parting with you.” Stavrogin warns that Verkhovensky (Petrusha) might be eavesdropping, that Lebyadkin was keeping watch on Shatov, as was Kirillov, “as for agents, they have a lot of them, some who don’t even know they’re serving the society. you’ve always been watched.” Pyotr Verkhovensky has returned home to resolve Shatov’s case. Shatov insists he has not been an informer. Shatov wonders how Stavrogin got involved in the ‘society,’ “…how could you mix yourself in with such shameless, giftless, lackeyish absurdity!” Stavrogin: “…in a strict sense I don’t belong to this society at all, never did belong, and have far more right than you to leave them.” The society, “They have connections with the Internationale; they’ve succeed in placing agents in Russia, they’ve even stumbled onto a rather original method…” “Verkhovensky is an enthusiast.” Stavrogin plans to announce his marriage publicly within the next few days. Marya Timofeevna is a virgin. Shatov has been thinking constantly about Stavrogin. Shatov’s six page letter to Stavrogin from America. Stavrogin gives Shatov an additional 30 minutes of his time. Shatov demands to be respected. Shatov and Stavrogin discuss God, Russia, Slavophils, the evil of Roman Catholicism, (“…atheism is, after all, healthier than Roman Catholicism.”), Orthodoxy, evil and beauty and good, reason and science, Stavrogin’s capacity for crime, and much more (this section will be discussed below the synopsis). Shatov, “Won’t I kiss your footprints when you’ve gone? I cannot tear you out of my heart, Nikolai Stavrogin!” “‘I’m sorry I cannot love you, Shatov,’ Nikolai Vsevolodovich said coldly.” Can God be acquired by labor? Shatov tells Stavrogin to visit Tikhon, “a former bishop, retired for reasons of health.” Stavrogin says he won’t come to Shatov anymore.

Stavrogin continues his rounds. Walking in the rain, approaching the bridge crossing the river, he is approached by Fedka the Convict. Fedka tells Stavrogin that he has heard a lot about him, “it’s like I’m before the True One…” Fedka has been waiting four nights on the bridge in hopes of meeting Stavrogin, learning from Lebyadkin that he’d eventually be crossing the bridge at night. Stavrogin refuses to give money to Fedka, “…i won’t give you a kopeck, don’t meet me on the bridge or anywhere else from now on, I don’t and won’t have any need of you, and if you refuse to obey — I’ll tie you up and hand you over to the police!” Fedka thanks Stavrogin for having “warmed an orphan under your umbrella, and for that alone I’ll thank you till my dying day.” Was Fedka necessary to Stavrogin? Was he working in secret from Pyotr Stepanovich? Stavrogin and Lebyadkin, who has been awaiting to hear his fate. Lebyadkin has not been drinking for eight days. Marya Timofeevna is waiting for Stavrogin. “It was obvious that Captain Lebyadkin, though he had stopped drinking, was still far from being in a harmonious state. Something incoherent, dazed, something damaged and crazy, as it were, finally settles for good into such long-term drunkards…” Stavrogin acknowledges that Lebyadkin hasn’t changed in four years: “It must be true that the whole second half of a man’s life is most often made up only of habits accumulated during the first half.” Lebyadkin wants to bequeath his skin “for a drum, to the Akholinsk infantry regiment,…I want to bequeath my skeleton to the academy, on condition, that a label be pasted to its forehead unto ages of ages, reading: ‘Repentant Freethinker.'” His poem, “In Case If She Broke Her Leg.” Lebyadkin wants to go to Petersburg, wants money from Stavrogin, and hints at the family disgrace that Marya Timofeevna’s marriage is being kept secret. Stavrogin vows no more money for Lebyadkin, telling him that the marriage, based on a drunken bet, will be revealed publicly. How Lebyadkin got involved with the ‘society.’. Why Lebyadkin won’t be allowed to go to Petersburg. Will he be cast off like an old, worn-out boot? Lebyadkin is ordered to remain on the porch while Stavrogin visits Marya Timofeevna. “Take the umbrella. Your umbrella…am I worth it? Every man is worth an umbrella. At one stroke you define the minimum of human rights.” Lebyadkin is sure he is being cheated and lied to. What is he to do?

Wow. It feels like, with the main characters seemingly in place, that the book is beginning to take off like a rocket.

1. Stavrogin’s marriage? Thoughts?

2. I was stuck by the adoration that Stavrogin seems to inspire — from Shatov, from Fedka the Convict who refers to him as the “True One.”

3. And finally, from Joseph Frank, an interesting and I think essential look at the fascinating talk? debate? discussion? between Shatov and Stavrogin:

“The dialogue with Kirillov is followed by a parallel scene with Shatov, and here again Dostoevsky uses some of his most cherished convictions to dramatize Stavrogin’s ‘masks.’ Just as Stavrogin had inspired Kirillov with an atheistic humanism based on the supremacy of reason and the Man-god, so he has inspired Shatov, at the same time, with a Slavophilism founded on the very opposite principle. ‘Reason had never had the power to define good and evil.’ Shatov declares, repeating Stavrogin’s teaching, ‘or even to distinguish between good and evil, even approximately; on the contrary, it has always mixed them up in a disgraceful and pitiful way; science has even given the solution by the fist.’ The distinction between right and wrong, as the Slavophils had argued, comes only from the irrational, only from religion and faith. ‘There has never been a nation without a religion, that is, without an idea of good and evil.’ And since, for a Russian, religion can only mean Orthodox Christianity, Stavrogin had affirmed that ‘a man who was not Orthodox could not be a Russian.’ Here, growing directly out of Stavrogin’s preachments, is the metaphysical-religions essence of the two ideologies that succeeded the Russian Byronism of the 1830s.

The relation between Shatov and Stavrogin is much more complex, and much more difficult to describe accuragely, than that between Stavrogin and Kirillov. Kirillov’s attempt literally to incarnate the Man-god can lead only to self-destruction; he thus expresses the demonic and Luciferian side of Stavrogin’s personality (but in a morally elevated form). Shatov, on the other hand, represents the need that is impelling him to acknowledge and repent his crimes. Moreover, the effect of Stavrogin on Shatov has been the very opposite of what occurred with Kirillov; he helped Shatov to break with his radical past and imbued him with the messianic idea of the Russians as a ‘god=bearing’ people destined to regenerate the world. Stavrogin’s influence has thus led Shatov along the path that Dostoevsky certainly considered that of salvation, but the symbolic pattern of the book requires that his path also be blocked by the fatality of Stavrogin’s doom.

Dostoevsky wishes to emphasize the need for convictions to be grounded in sincere religious faith. Shatov’s ideas echo those of Danilevsky, who had, in Dostoevsky’s view, reduced Orthodoxy simply to a national faith and thus betrayed the universal religious mission of the Russian Christ. Indeed, Dostoevsky now felt that even the old Slavophilism of Khomiakov and Kireevsky, for all its overt religiosity, was still an artificial, Western-imported substitute for the spontaneity of the people’s faith. ‘The Slavophil,’ Dostoevsky wrote in his notes, identifying such a doctrine with Danilevsky, ‘thinks that he can manage solely thanks to the natural attributes of the Russian people, but without Orthodoxy one will not manage at all, no attributes will do anything if the world has lost faith.’ On the same page, in a speech not included in the text, Shatov calls Slavophilism ‘an aristocratic whim’ and then adds: ‘They [the Slavophils] will never be able to believe directly.’ This idea was finally assigned to Stepan Trofimovich, who says much the same thing — and here he certainly speaks for the author — when he declares that ‘Shatov believes by forcing himself to, like a Moscow Slavophil.’ Hence Stavrogin and his pupil Shatov, for all their Slavophilism and Russian nationalism, cannot muster the simple and unquestioning faith that would infuse their ideas with the inner life of true emotional commitment.

Stavrogin thus here again inspired a mutilated version of the truth that falls short of its grounding in religious faith, even though he knows abstractly that such faith is the only means of rescue from the chaos of his unlimited freedom. Shatov diagnoses the malady afflicting Stavrogin (and himself) in a key speech that helps to explain how Dostoevsky saw them both:

‘You’re an atheist [Shatov says] because you’re a nobleman’s son, the last nobleman’s son. You’ve lost the distinction between good and evil because you’ve cased to know your people. A new generation is coming, straight from the heart of the people, and you will know nothing of it, neither you nor the Verkhovenskys, father and son, not I, because I am also a nobleman’s son, I, the son of your serf-lackey Pahka.’

On the symbolic level of the book, this can only mean that all the ideologies deriving from Stavrogin — whether liberal or radical Westernism in its political or metaphysical-religious form, or Slavophilism of whatever tint or shading — are equally tainted with the original sin of their birth among a Western-educated ‘aristocracy’ totally divorced from the people. All are doomed to be swept away by an authentically Russian culture springing from the people’s faith.

Stavrogin’s personal behavior oin these scenes also makes it clear that he will never be able to achieve the total abandonment of self necessary for a religious conversion. Even with Shatov, whom he comes to warn about the impending danger of his possible murder and to whom he is closer than anyone in the book except Darya Shatova, he cannot confess the truth about…He denies that he has…just as he had lied earlier about his marriage to Marya Lebyadkina. And he refused to answer when Shatov poses the question that has to be clarified in his visit to Tikhon: ‘Is it true that you saw no distinction between some brutal obscene action and any great exploit, even the sacrifice of life for the good of humanity? Is it true that you have found identical beauty, equal enjoyment, in both extremes?” Shatov displays the same insight that Tikhon would later exhibit when he diagnoses the motives for his marriage to Marya: ‘You married through a passion for martyrdom, from a craving for remorse, through moral sensuality.’ The first two impulses in Stavrogin, genuinely moral, are always crippled and distorted by the third, which stems fro hims enjoyment of the outrageously perverse, shocking, and sheerly gratuitous manifestations of his absolute self-will.”

Monday’s Reading:

Part Two, Chapter Two, Sections 3-4


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8 Responses to “But wasn’t it you who told me that if someone proved to you mathematically that the truth is outside Christ, you would better agree to say with Christ than with the truth?”

  1. Minnikin says:

    I really liked the very short section that introduced Fedka the Convict (Chapter Two, Sections 1). It touches on an aspect of Dostoevsky that has already been discussed: the art of translation. You really get the sense that Pevear and Volokhonsky have worked hard to translate the subtleties of the rhythms and cadences (and mistakes!) of speech that Dostoevsky was keen to record and that was maybe missed by earlier translators like Constance Garnett.

    What you get then, are ‘wrong’ phrases like ”astrominer” and “planids”; the lovely reference to Fedka’s mother, “…an old woman, God love her, growing right into the ground…”; as well as genuinely astute and insighful obsevations, “…it’s very easy for Pyotr Stepanovich to live in the world, because he imagines a man and then lives with him the way he imagined him”.


    • You’re right on that…that’s why I like their translations so much, they somehow feel closer to Dostoevsky than any other translation I’ve read. They did a nice thing similar to this, with Kirillov’s awkwardness in Russian translated to an awkwardness in English.

  2. Lynn Rios says:

    I continue to be intrigued by the ongoing examination and comparison of theologies. Far from being just black and white, it seems that before the story is complete, every possible shade of gray will be exposed.

    • For Dostoevsky it was all (at least seemingly, sometimes it seems that he doesn’t quite believe the argument he’s making) about Christianity, and Russian Christianity at that, although he was more than happy to present opposing viewpoints…

  3. Carter Irvin says:

    i feel so lost without reading this book but you do bring up interesting theories on theologies. There isn’t just one answer — like Lynn said there is a ton of grey.

  4. Denis first of all you’re a pretty good writer it’s obvious you read a lot with you vocabulary you use. What made you want to make a blog all about Fyodor Dostoyevsky and his work? Everyone has their why, what is yours?

    • Good question. I’ve been a reader since I was three, a writer since I was a lot older than that. My first literary blog was done, as this one is, in conjunction with the website Publishing Perspectives. I was about to start rereading the six volumes of Marcel Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time,” and the publisher asked me if I’d be interested in blogging about it, and leading an online reading group. So for a year, I read Proust, shared my thoughts and what I learned about the books as we went along, and my fellow readers did the same. I discovered I enjoyed doing a literary blog — it forced me to read in much great depth and more slowly than I would on my own, force me to think about what I was reading more, and force me to explore the range of literary criticism to see what others felt about the same books. As our Proust reading drew to a close, I knew I wanted to do another one, threw some possibilities out to the group, and by consensus, we decided that Dostoevsky’s four major novels gave us the kind of reading experience we wanted.

      I’ll soon be pondering what to do next. My first impulse is to do Shakespeare — all the plays, in the order in which it is thought they are written, so we can explore his development as a writer, while at the same time avoiding the potential pitfall of doing all the comedies at one time, or all the tragedies. I’m of course open to suggestions from the group…maybe Melville? At any rate, that is my why.


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