“Yes, knife! you have a knife in your pocket. You thought I was asleep, but I saw it: tonight, as you came in, you pulled out your knife!”

Part Two, Chapter Two, Sections 3-4
by Dennis Abrams

“Night” Continued and Concluded. Stavrogin, continuing his rounds, visits the woman we now know is his wife, Marya Timofeevna. Her room, the icon with an icon lamp, the table with the deck of cards, the little mirror, the song book, a sweet roll — and now in addition two picture books — one of extracts from travel writings, one of light didactic tales, “mostly about knights.” When Stavrogin enters, she is reclining on the sofa, asleep; after a time she felt his gaze on her woke up and sat up straight, he got a look, perhaps stern, perhaps loathing on his face, “Perhaps this look was excessively stern, perhaps it expressed loathing, even a malicious delight in hear fear — unless the half-awake Marya Timofeevna was simply imagining it — but suddenly after almost a minute-long pause, the poor woman’s face took on an expression of complete horror; spasms ran across it, she raised her hands, shaking them, and suddenly began to cry, exactly like a frightened child; another moment and she would have screamed.” Why does she call him Prince? Bad dreams. Marya’s recollection of the gathering at Varvara Ivanovna’s. Her use of “him.” “‘His’ mother.” Her life with Lebyadkin. Why should she go back to the convent, “It’s too late for me to begin a third life.” The Stavrogin sitting with Marya vs. “him.” Her refusal to look at him and then finally, “hm…you’ve grown fatter.” Marya asks Stavrogin to go out and come in again, “All these five years I’ve only been imagining how he would come in.” Stavrogin tells Marya to collect herself, “You’re not completely mad, after all!” before telling her that he plans to announce their marriage the next day, and offers to take her to Switzerland, where he’ll stay with her, read to her, but “realize that it will be so all your life, in one place, and the place is a gloomy one.” Marya accuses Stavrogin of killing “him.” “Whom do you take me for?” he jumped from his seat… “Who knows who you are or where you popped up from?” Was he hired by the Countess? “You look very much like him, you do, maybe you might be his relative — sly people! Only mine is a bright falcon and a prince, and you are a brown owl and a little merchant! Mine will bow to God if he wishes, and won’t if he doesn’t, and you have had your face slapped by Shatushka…And why did you get scared then, as you walked in? Who frightened you then?…Away impostor!…I am my prince’s wife, your knife doesn’t frighten me!” Her dream of a knife; Stavrogin bolts. Coming back to the bridge, muttering “A knife, a knife!” he is approached by Fedka. Stavrogin erupts, seizes Fedka by the scruff of the neck, “and, with all his pent-up anger, dashed him against the bridge as hard as he could.” Fedka pulls a knife, but puts it away on Stavrogin’s orders. Fedka and the church robbery, killing the beadle who had assisted him, “I sinned, I lightened his load for him.” “Kill more, steal more,” — Stavrogin’s words to Fedka, “That’s the same thing Pyotr Stepanovich advises me…” Fedka tells of seeing Lebyadkin, passed out, money spilling out of his pockets. Stavrogin tosses roubles to Fedka.

From Joseph Frank, completing his analysis of the scenes we’ve been reading concerning Stavrogin’s rounds:

“Stavrogin’s next visit, to the Lebyadkins, completes the sequence unmasking Stavrogin as an ‘impostor.’ Marya Lebyadkin, Stavrogin’s virginal wife, is one of Dostoevsky’s most poetic and enigmatic creations. Childish and mentally feeble, unable to distinguish between objective reality and her dreams and desires, she yet pierces through the ‘mask’ of Stavrogin with a clairvoyance that recalls Prince Myshkin and foreshadows Father Zosima. Her sense of the sacredness of the cosmos, her affirmation that ‘the Mother of God is the great mother, the damp earth,’ who brings joy to men when they ‘water the earth with [their] tears a foot deep,’ evokes the esoteric, heretical lore of certain sects of the raskolniki, who mingled their Christianity with remnants of pre-Christian paganism.

Marya represents Dostoevsky’s vision of the primitive religious sensibility of the Russian people, who continued to feel a mystic union between the Russian soil and ‘the Mother of God.’ The debasement and pathos of her condition, however, reveal Dostoevsky’s ambiguity about the raskolniki and their sectarian offshoots; he tended to see them as a precious reservoir of Old Russian values, but kept his distance from their sometimes theologically suspect extremes. At one point, Dostoevsky had thought of using Golubov, an Old Believer returned to Orthodoxy, as a positive source of moral inspiration. In this context, Marya’s poignant longing for a ‘prince’ who would not be ashamed to acknowledge her as his own takes on historical-symbolic meaning. Her false and unconsummated marriage to Stavrogin surely indicates that no true union is possible between the Christian Russian people and the embodied essence of godless Russian Europeanism.

Symbolically again, it is entirely appropriate that Marya should finally unmask Stavrogin and label him unequivocally an ‘impostor.’ Whatever confusion may exist in her mind, her demented second sight, like that traditionally posessed by a ‘holy fool’ (yurodivy), has now pierced through to his ultimate incapacity for true selflessness. ‘As soon as I saw your mean face when I fell and you picked me up — it was as if a worm had crawled into my heart,’ she says; ‘it’s not he I thought to myself, not he! My falcon would never have been ashamed of me in front of a young society lady!’ Stavrogin starts with rage and terror when she prophetically alludes to his ‘knife,’ that is, his lurking desire to have her murdered (on which Peter Verkhovensky hopes to capitalize). And while she reads his innermost soul, she also speaks for the Russian people in assigning him his true historical-symbolic dimension. He is not the ‘prince,’ not the genuine Lord and Ruler of Russia, but only Grishka Otrepeyev, ‘cursed in seven cathedrals,’ the impious and sacrilegious ‘impostor’ and ‘false pretneder’ — Ivan the Tsarevich — that Peter Verkhovensky wishes to use to betray and mislead the hapless Russian people.”

And since I’ve had a couple of requests for this, and we seem to be at a stage in the book where the major characters have been introduced, I’m going to try and give you a kind of “cheat sheet” describing the major characters and their relations to each other — at least to the best of my understanding.

Stepan Trofimovich Verkhovensky, the has been married twice, but is currently a widower. During his first marriage he and his wife conceived one child, Pyotr Stephanovich, who was given to his aunts to be raised. Stephan takes very little interest in raising his son and instead uses the money set aside for his son in order to repay his own debts. Supposedly forced to live in exile because of his political belief, Stepan has constant financial problems, squanders his money and lacks any entrepreneurial skills or real initiative. Stepan is able to manage a meager income through tutoring younger students and lecturing at local universities. His lectures contain ideas that are considered non-Russian and elucidate Western values and seem to lead directly to the more destructive ideas of the next generation (Petrusha, Kirillov, Stavrogin, etc.) Teaching is a profession that he greatly enjoys and values, while allowing him to evince his intelligence, but has given him little deference within his community. His inability to maintain financial stability causes him to become dependent on Varvara. Dostoevsky uses the framework of Stepan’s relationships to weave in the other major characters. His relationship with Varvara Petrovna, his employer and patroness is an odd one — he claims to have been in love with her for twenty years, yet at the same time there seems to be hints that he is gay. Her attempt to marry him off to her ward Darya seems to have caused a rupture in their relationship.

Varvara Petrovna: is a wealthy widow with one son, Nikolai Vsevolodovich. She is regarded as an active participant in local politics, the queen bee of the province, and is recognized as a woman with high social standing. She assists Stepan financially and tries to mold him into her own creation, selecting his wardrobe, giving him an allowance, and most importantly allowing him to hold weekly meetings with his circle friends, which she financially sponsors. This is done mostly for the sake of Stepan who truly enjoys the conversation and exposure to the social life of the town. During the weekly meetings they discuss issues relating to local current affairs or sometimes simply humankind in general. Varvara’s position in the province seems to be under threat by the new governor’s wife, and her worries about her son forced her into a failed attempt to pressure Stepan into marrying her ward Darya.

Nikolai Stavrogin: son of Varvara Petrovna, is a former student of Stepan. After traveling and studying abroad he returns home, where his mother provides him with anything he desires, but he never fully takes advantage of his opportunities. The local women find Stavrogin extremely desirable, but his obnoxious behavior gives him little credibility. His ridiculous actions include: pulling a high social standing man, (Pavel Pavlovich Gaganov, whose son, Artemy Pavlovich will later challenge Stavrogin to a duel) by the nose at a local club, kissing another man’s wife at their own party, and biting the ear of the governor. His wild antics cause him to be diagnosed with insanity. Therefore, Varvara sends Stavrogin abroad once again in hopes of curing him and also to reestablish her social standing after her son’s uncivil conduct. He secretly marries Marya Timofeevna Lebyadkin on a bet and has affairs with numerous women. He is an indifferent member of the ‘society’, but Pyotr tries to get him to assume a position of leadership. (See At Tikhon’s” for more on Stavrogin).

Pyotr Stepanovich, the son of Stepan is the leader of the ‘society’. His arrogance and deceiving ways are apparent, but overlooked by the community. He is never at a loss of words and is very effective in speaking clearly and saying what people want to hear. This aspect of his personality is seen in his ability to downplay the events that have occurred in Part I. All of his actions have significant meaning to his cause, but very few people are aware of his motives at this point. He is able to quickly and effectively establish himself as a regular part of the social setting, winning the devotion of the governor’s wife by playing the fool. He has been sent home to the province to determine whether or not Shatov needs to be eliminated.

Shatov: is a former student who was expelled from school due to an unknown scandal. He was tutored by Stepan and from his childhood was greatly indebted to Varvara — he had been born her serf before the emancipation. A one time radical socialist, Shatov converts to a Slavophil and believer in the Russian Christ.. He is married, but separated to the governess of his former merchant. Shatov is a member of the ‘society”, who wants to quite the group, but fails. (See “Notes on Shatov and Kirillov” for more).

Kirillov (Alexi Nilych) is an atheist and engineer who supports the revolutionary movement and is a member of the ‘society.’ He appears to be kind and sincere, but is a fervent nihilist. He is willing to sacrifice himself in a Christ-like way to help free the world or for the ‘society’ whenever they call upon him. He is obsessed with his belief that man can only stop living in fear of death when he rejects that fear to such an extent that he is willing to kill himself without any care. A man who can do this becomes the true God in Kirillov’s view

Liputin: is a known liberal and has a reputation, perhaps undeserved of an atheist. He thrives on the subject of gossip in the meetings held by Stepan, which was the major reason for his attendance. Liputin is also heavily involved within Pyotr’s organization.

Virginsky: is a self-taught, well educated man. He is a liberal of pure heart, but according to Stepan simply jumped on the liberal bandwagon. He also is a member of the ‘society.’

Lebyadkin: is a stranger to the town, but won the heart of Virginsky’s wife and quickly moved into their house. His intelligence is questionable and his convictions even more so. He is a drunkard who beats his sister and has a poor reputation within the community.

Fedka the Convict; once a serf belonging to Pyotr, he is a fugitive from Siberia. He is willing to murder for money and the group uses his services.

Darya(Dasha): is Shatov’s sister, is treated by Varvara as her own daughter. Dasha is altruistic and possesses a gentle nature. Her character is comparable to that of Sonya in Crime and Punishment in that she comes across meager and timid, but with a hidden strength very pure in heart. She was willing to marry Stepan because Varvara had asked her to.

Liza (Lizaveta Tushina) becomes engaged to Mavriky Nikolaevitch, but is fatally attracted to Stavrogin. Sheis the daughter of the Drozdovs and a relative of the governor’s wife. Liza has many connections, great wealth, and is extremely beautiful, catching the eye of many of the book’s male characters. Liza was a student of Stepan as a young girl.

Marya Timofeyevna: is a cripple who is the sister of Lebyadkin and secretly married to Stavrogin and the sister of Lebyadkin. She is abused and mentally unstable while at the same time appearing to be clairvoyant and a kind of religious mystic.

I think that covers it. If anyone has any questions or comments…let me know.

Tuesday’s Reading:

Part Two, Chapter Three, Sections 1-4


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One Response to “Yes, knife! you have a knife in your pocket. You thought I was asleep, but I saw it: tonight, as you came in, you pulled out your knife!”

  1. Eddie Chism says:

    Dennis, thanks for the cheat sheet! I basically had kept track of who everyone was, but you still reminded me of some facts about each of them.

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