“At Tikhon’s,” Section One
by Dennis Abrams
“Nikolai Vsevolodovich did not sleep that night…” His customary wake-up at 9:30, morning cup of coffee. Leaving the house, a crowd of fifty or more men cross his path, “Shhpigulin workers.” The gates of our Savior-St. Yefimi-Bogordosky monastery, on the outskirts of town. Feeling for something in his side pocket. Escorted into the two-storied monastery. Brought to Father Tikhon, “Nikolai Vsevolodovich entered a small room, and at almost the same moment there appeared in the doorway of the adjoining room a tall and lean man of about fifty-five, in a simple household cassock, who looked as if he were somewhat ill, with a vague smile and a strange, as if shy glance. Tikhon’s story. Rumors that he’s a ‘tippler,” but, according to the narrator, ‘this last is decidedly nonsense…he simply had a chronic rheumatic condition in his legs and now and then some nervous spasms. Father Tikhon’s lack of respect in the monastery. His two rooms, the strange furnishings — an expensive carpet and straw mats, prints of secular and mythological subjects, “The library, they say, had also been assembled in a much too varied and contrasting way: alongside the writings of great Christian hierarchs and ascetics, there were theatrical writings ‘and maybe even worse.'” Stavrogin’s inner anxiety, “It looked as if he had resolved upon something extraordinary and unquestionable but at the same time almost impossible for him. Silence. Tikhon, “looked down somehow bashfully and even with some unnecessary and ridiculous smile. This instantly aroused loathing in him; he wanted to get up and leave, the more so as Tikhon, in his opinion, was decidedly drunk.” Had Tikhon met Stavrogin four years earlier? Tikhon looks at Stavrogin and sees his mother’s features — had she been coming on a regular basis? Tikhon knows about the slap, and about the duel. Stavrogin tells Tikhon he doesn’t know why he came. Is Stavrogin unwell? Stavrogin, suddenly, tells Tikhon that “he was subject, especially at night, to hallucinations of a sort; how he sometimes saw or felt near him some malicious being, scoffing and ‘reasonable,’…’ Tikhon agrees with Stavrogin that he should see a doctor. A year of seeing visions — Tikhon questions whether he’s actually seen a demon. Tikhon allows that while it is more likely an illness, “Demons undoubtedly exist, but the understanding of them can vary greatly.” Does Tikhon believe in God? Does he believe that he can tell a mountain to move and it will? Is it possible to believe in a demon without believing in God? Tikhon: “…total atheism is more respectable than worldly indifference…A complete atheist stands on the next-to-last upper step to the most complete faith (he may or may not take that step), while the indifferent one has no faith, apart from a bad fear.” The Apocalypse. “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write…” Professions of love, Stavrogin’s anger at having said ‘I love you.” Stavrogin resists having anyone pry into his soul. Is he there to reveal a secret? “You are struck that the Lamb loves the cold one better than the merely lukewarm one…You do not want to be merelylukewarm. I feel that you are in the grip of an extraordinary intention, perhaps a terrible one. If so, I implore you, do not torment yourself and tell me everything you’ve come with.” Stavrogin takes some printed pages, “intended for distribution” from his side pocket, and gives them to Tikhon to read.
I hesitate to comment on this section until we get further into it, but I’d like to share this, from Konstantin Mochulsky’s “Dostoevsky: His Life and Work”
“This omitted chapter is the culmination of Stavrogin’s tragedy and Dostoevsky’s loftiest artistic creation. The struggle for faith with disbelief, which grows through the duration of the whole novel, here attains its most extreme tension. the opposition of the two ideas is embodied in the encounter of two personalities — the atheist Stavrogin and the mystic Tikhon. The enigmatic hero’s secret is revealed, and the resolution, which we have so long awaited with anxiety and excitement, strikes us by its unexpectedness. Stavrogin irritably and mockingly tells Tikhon about his hallucinations: he, of course, does not believe in the apparitionst and realizes that it is a disease. Tikhon answers seriously: ‘Devils do exist beyond doubt, but the understanding of them can be greatly varied.” Then Stavrogin loses his self-possession and betrays himself. With diabolic pride he declares to Tikhon: ‘I will tell you seriously and insolently: I do believe in the devil, I do believe, canonically, in a personal one, not in an allegory, and I have no need to inquire of anyone, this is the whole thing.’
Yes, this is the whole thing: Stavrogin canonically believes in the devil, without believing in God; the proud and strong spirit, God-like in his grandeur, has renounced the Creator and closed himself off in selfness. He desired to be by himself — ‘to express his self-will.’ ‘If there is no God, I am God,’ said Kirillov. Stavrogin has realized this: he is God in his unlimited power and freedom. But in the experience of man-godhood the strong personality finds not triumph, but defeat. His power is purposeless, for there is no point of its application, his freedom is empty since it is the freedom of indifference. Stavrogin is a lie and slave to the ‘father of lies’ — the devil. The god-like personality is split into two countenances; there appears a double — ‘a nasty, little imp, one of those who have miscarried’; free God in necessarily replaced by faith in the devil. Stavrogin falls into demonic possession, practical satanism. It is his ‘credo‘: ‘I believe canonically in the devil.’ Opposed to it is Tikhon’s confession of faith. To the apostate’s question whether he believes in God: Tikhon answers, ‘I believe,…And let me not be ashamed of Your Cross, Lord…’
Two forces, the greatest in the world — faith and disbelief, God and the devil — have clashed. This instant of blinding luster has been prepared by the whole action of the novel; for this instant it was also written.”
The remainder of “At Tikhon’s” is 23 pages — too long for one day’s reading. I’ll break my synopsis and analysis up over the next two days, but for Tuesday’s reading, let’s take it from the start of Section Two, through the end of Stavrogin’s printed pates, page 705 in the hardcover edition of the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation.