Part Two, Chapter Three, Sections 1-4
by Dennis Abrams
“The Duel” “The next day, at two o’clock in the afternoon, the proposed duel took place.” Gaganov’s “indomitable desire to fight at all costs.” His inability to understand Stavrogin. Stavrogin has to make the challenge. Gaganov, “…for some reason he was embarrassed to admit his secret motive — that is, simply a morbid hatred of Stavrogin for the family insult of four years ago.” Is Stavrogin a coward? Stavrogin is goaded into challenging Gaganov. Gaganov and his second, Mavriky Nikolaevich Drozcov meet with Kirillov; Stavrogin’s apologies are not accepted — the rules for the duel are agreed to, “Only one addition was made, albeit a very cruel one — namely, that if nothing decisive occurred at the first shots they would begin over again; if it ended with nothing the second time, they would begin a third time.” “three times are possible, but four absolutely not.” Gaganov and Mavriky Nikolaevfich arrive at the place in a carriage; Stavrogin and Kirillov on horseback. Kirillov had never before ridden a horse. Gaganov takes offense that they hadn’t come in a carriage, “implying that his enemies therefore hoped for success, since they did not even assume the need for a carriage in case a wounded man had to be transported.” Preparations: “Mavriky Nikolaevich was melancholy and preoccupied. Kirillov…was perfectly calm and indifferent…Nikolai Vsevolodovich was paler than usual…but the most remarkable one at that moment was Artemy Pavlovich.” Gaganov: “He was a man of large stature, white-skinned, well-fed, as simple folk say, almost flabby, with thin blond hair, some thirty-three years old, and perhaps even handsome of feature.” Retired as colonel because of the family ‘disgrace.” His feeling of being dishonored. His wealth. “He was one of those strange but still surviving nobleman who greatly value the antiquity and purity of their noble lineage and are all too seriously interested in it. At the same time he could not bear Russian history, and regarded Russian customs in general as somewhat swinish.” His silence, his gift for eloquence. His anxiety that the duel might not take place after all. Kirillov makes the offer once again to reconcile, an offer taken up by Mavriky Nikolaevich. Gaganov’s fury — so angry he’s stomping his foot and spraying spittle at the thought of the duel not happening. First round: Gaganov shoots and seemingly misses; Stavrogin points the pistol high, fires almost without aiming. The little finger on Stavrogin’s right hand had been grazed. Gaganov’s fury: “I declare…that this man…fired into the air on purpose…deliberately…Another offense! He wants to make the duel impossible!” “I have the right to fire any way I want, as long as it according to the rules,” Nikolai Vsevolodovich declared firmly. Does Stavrogin have the right not to aim at his opponent? Second round: Again Gaganov misses, Stavrogin aims slightly lower, a few feet above Gaganov’s hat and misses, “but now nothing could reassure Gaganov.” The third round: Gaganov is so upset that “his hands were trembling too much for a good shot. Stavrogin stood with his pistol lowered and motionlessly waited for him to fire.” The shot knocks Stavrogin’s beaver hat off his head, piercing the crown of the hat. Stavrogin examines his hat, then “gave a start, looked at Gaganov, turned away, and this time without any delicacy fired off into the woods. The duel was over. Gaganov stood as if crushed.” Stavrogin and Kirillov gallop of silently. Has Gaganov been offended again? Is Stavrogin seeking a burden? Kirillov: “If the burden is light for me because of my nature, then maybe the burden is heavier for you because of your nature. Nothing to be much ashamed of, only a little.” Arriving home while Varvara is absent, Stavrogin tells the valet Alexi Yegorovich not to allow Darya to visit him, that he is unable to receive her, and will send for her when the time comes. When Alexei leaves, Darya appears on the threshold of Stavrogin’s room. Stavrogin and Dasha agree that it’s time to break off their relationship, even though Dasha is “still so certainly expecting an end.” Stavrogin replies that “Nothing in the world ever ends,” to which Dasha says “Here there will be an end. Call me then; I’ll come…” Dasha knows about Stavrogin’s marriage, wonders when it will be announced. Stavrogin: I won’t ruin the insane ones, neither the one nor the other, but it seems I will ruin the sane one: I’m so mean and vile…” Dasha knows that at the end it will be her alone remaining with Stavrogin, “Nothing you do can ever ruin me, and you know it better than anyone else…” Stavrogin and ghosts: “Yesterday on the bridge, one little demon offered to put a knife into Lebyadkin and Marya Timofeevna for me, to do away with my lawful marriage and cover the traces. He asked for three roubles down, but let me know plainly that the whole operation would cost not less than fifteen hundred.” Was the money Stavrogin threw to Fedka a down payment? Stavrogin denies he has a dark spirit, “He’s simply a nasty, scrofulous little demon with a runny nose, a failure.” Stavrogin realizes that even if he goes “shopping at Fedka’s,” Dasha will still come when he needs her, “A sick-nurse! Hm!…however, that may be just what I need.”
THAT was impressive.
1. How funny was the duel, specifically Gaganov’s mounting fury at Stavrogin’s refusal to properly shoot at him. Or his fury at Stavrogin and Kirillov’s arrival on horseback? Was anyone else surprised that Kirillov had never “mounted a horse before?”
2. When Kirillov talks about the different burdens that he and Stavrogin carries — was he referring to the burden of life itself? The fact that he has the freedom (or at least so he thinks?) to leave this life by suicide which Stavrogin can’t? Was his refusal to shoot a refusal to take a life? A desire for his own death?
3. The Darya and Stavrogin relationships adds a whole new level to the proceedings…so she knows about Marya, she’ll be there with him at ‘the end”…
4. Fedka offered to kill Lebyadkin and Marya? Did anyone else get that?
5. And finally, I’m going to finish up with Joseph Frank’s last words on this section:
“How justly Marya has seen into Stavrogin becomes even clearer when he throws his wallet to Fedka the convict in the solitary darkness of the storm-tossed night…giving way once again to the temptation of evil. His inner defeat is dramatized again in his duel with Gaganov, when he strives to achieve self-mastery and to avoid useless bloodshed, but his arrogant and contemptuous manner only enflames the uncontrollable hatred of his opponent all the more. The truly good Kirillov, ready to give his life for humankind, tries to explain to Stavrogin that moral self-conquest means a total suppression of egoism and the patient acceptance of any humiliation, even the most unjust and insupportable. ‘Bear your burden,’ he says. ‘Or else there’s no merit.’ But Stavrogin cannot bear the burden of good, whatever his desire to do so, becuase his irrepressible egoism continues to stand in the way.
This crucial sequence of scenes is climaxed by Stavrogin’s unexpected meeting with Darya Shatova, an episode that, in the book text, is about a page and a half shorter than the earlier magazine section. The section that Dostoevsky cut contained Stavrogin’s admission that he was haunted by hallucinations and ‘devils,’ which he knew were only parts of himself; but his self-absorption indicates that he is beginning to believe in their reality. This menace of madness was meant to motivate the visit to Tikhon but became superfluous and incomprehensible without the confession chapter. One passage of the variant, however, helps to reconstruct the original historical-symbolic meaning of Dostoevsky’s conception. Stavrogin tells Darya that he has begun to be obsessed with a new ‘devil,’ very different from those in the past (as represented by Kirillov and Shatov): ‘Yesterday he was stupid and insolent. he’s a thickheaded seminarian filled with the self-satisfaction of the 1860s, with the…background, soul, and mentality of a lackey, fully persuaded of his irresistible beauty…Nothing could be more repulsive! I was furious that my own devil could put on such a debating mask.’ It is clear that Dostoevsky intended to make Stavrogin as much responsible for the devils of the 1860s as Stepan Trofimovich, if not indeed more so, because of his disdainful collaboration with Pyotr.”
Note: The section that Frank refers to describing Stavrogin’s visit to Tikhon, titled “At Tikhon’s” was removed from Demons by Dostoevsky’s editor, who considered it to be too obscene for publication. It originally followed Chapter Eight in Part Two, and although Dostoevsky made alterations to the manuscript to account for its absence, it is, I think, vital to our understanding of Dostoevsky’s intentions. It is included as the appendix in the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation, and we will read it at the appropriate time.
Part Two, Chapter Four, Sections 1-2