“Every extremely shameful, immeasurably humiliating, mean, and, above all, ridiculous position I have happened to get into in my life has always aroused in me, along with boundless wrath, an unbelievable pleasure.”

Demons
“At Tikhon,” Stavrogin’s ‘confession’
by Dennis Abrams

“The print was indeed foreign — three printed pages of ordinary, small-format stationery, sewn together. “From Stavrogin” His surprising spelling errors, “it is apparent that the author is above all not a writer.” ‘FROM STAVROGIN’: In Petersburg in the year 186-, ‘giving myself over to debauchery in which I found no pleasure. His three apartments: one a rooming house with board and service where Marya Lebyadkin lived, plus two others rented for the purposes of intrigues: in one of them he received a lady in love with him, and in the other the lady’s maid. His desire to bring the two together. The house on Gorokhovy Street, where he would meet the maid. His room, rented from some Russian tradespeople — the husband was almost always away, the wife, who cut up and remade new clothes out of old ones, also frequently gone, and their daughter about fourteen years old, but still a child, named Matryosha. “The mother loved her, but used to beat her often…” The house is now gone, but the events “happened in June. The house was a light blue color. Stavrogin’s missing penknife, Matryosha blamed, “The woman went wild…rushed for the broom, pulled some twigs from it, and whipped the girl so that she raised welts on her, right in front of me.” Matryosha’s whimpering. But before that had happened, Stavrogin had found the penknife and decided not to say anything, ‘so that [Matryosha] would get a birching. I decided it on it instantly: such moments always take my breath away.” Stavrogin is aroused, finds an “unbelievable pleasure,” by his most shameful, humiliating, mean, and ridiculous acts. “It was not meanness that I loved (here my reason was completely sound), but I liked the intoxication from the tormenting awareness of my baseness.” Slapped twice in his life. “Yet if that Frenchman abroad, the vicomte who slapped me and whose lower jaw I shot off for it, had seized my hair and pulled me down, I would have felt intoxication and perhaps not even wrath. So it seemed to me then.” His power to subdue his recklessness, “I am convinced that I could life my whole life as a monk, despite the animal sensuality I am endowed with and which I have always provoked. His love of masturbation, yet “I stopped at the moment I decided I wanted to, in my seventeenth year. I am always master of myself when I want to be.” The penknife thrown away in the street. A wait of two days. His earlier theft of thirty-two roubles from an official in the other rooming house, his only theft. His return to Gorokhovy Street. Matryosha sewing, singing. Geraniums in the window, “the sun was shining terribly brightly. Stavrogin kisses her hand, looks into her eyes. Her fright. Stavrogin kisses her hands, her face and her feat. “Her whole face flushed with shame.” His whispers to her. An occurrence Stavrogin will never forget: “the girl threw her arms around my neck and suddenly began kissing me terribly herself. Her face expressed admiration. I almost got up and left — so unpleasant was it in such a tiny child — out of pity. But I overcame the sudden sensation and stayed. Her embarrassment when it was over, “she covered her face with her nands and stood in the corner motionlessly, turned to the wall.” Stavrogin gets into a fight at a pot-house. Return to Gorokhovy Street, her terrible fear. Stavrogin’s fear, the possibility of hard labor, “I was really frightened and really felt fear, I do not know why, for the first time in my life — a very tormenting sensation….I came to hate her so much that I decided to kill her. My chief hatred was at the remembrance of her smile.” Rage, chill, fever, fear, “but I no longer hated the girl…I observed that strong fear drives out hatred and vengeful feeling.” Fun with the maid at Gorokhovy Street. His decision to leave Petersburg. Matryosha’s sickness. His offer to get her a doctor. Return to Gorokhovy Street. Matryosha: “Her face was as if dried up and her head must have been hot…Her eyes had grown big…She suddenly began shaking her head rapidly at me, as people do whey they reproach every much, and suddenly she raised her little fist at me and began threatening me with it from where she stood…There was despair in her face, such as was impossible to see on the face of a child. Her walk to the window, her steps going down the stairs, and going into a “tiny shed, like a chicken coop.” Stavrogin’s ‘strange thought…Of course, it was impossible to believe a fleeting thought.” The fly, the tailor’s song, the tiny red spider on a geranium leaf. Twenty minutes later, “My guess was assuming the shape of a probability. But I decided to wait another quarter of an hour.” Covering up all signs he had been there, Stavrogin leaves, looks into a crack in the shed’s door, “At last I made out what I needed…I wanted to be sure.” Back at the other boarding house, drinking tea and playing cards, three hours later, Stavrogin learns that Matryosha had killed herself, and goes back to Gorokhovy Street. Her mother’s hysterics, the police, “I was hardly inconvenienced, though they did ask the appropriate questions.” One week later Stavrogin moves out of Gorokhovy Street. Bored with his life. “Once the danger was past, I all but completely forgot the incident on Gorokhovy Street, like everything else then, except that for some time I remembered spitefully how I had turned coward.” Venting his spite. To maim his life, although for a year he had been contemplating shooting himself, he decides to marry Marya Timofeevna, “not yet crazy then, but simply an ecstatic idiot, and secretly madly in love with me…The thought of Stavrogin marrying such a last being tickled my nerves. Nothing uglier could be imagined…” After the wedding, Stavrogin returns home to visit his mother. [It is on this visit that he pulls Gaganov’s nose, etc., and is deemed ‘ill.’] His four years abroad. The photograph of the girl who looked like Matryosha. Forgetting the photograph on a mantlepiece. His dream in Dresden: “The Golden Age,” “A wondrous dream, a lofty delusion! The most incredible vision of all that have ever been, to which mankind throughout its life has given all its forces, for which it has sacrificed everything, for which prophets have died on crosses and been killed, without which people do not want to live and cannot even die.” Matryosha enters the dream, “wasted and with feverish eyes, exactly as when she had stood on my threshold and, shaking her head, had raised her tiny little fist at me! And nothing had ever seemed so tormenting to me!” He sat until nightfall, “Is this what is called remorse of conscience or repentance? I do not know, and I cannot tell to this day.” Although Stavrogin doesn’t hate the memory of the act itself, the image is unbearable, “This is what I cannot bear, because since then it appears to me almost every day. It does not appear on its own, but I myself evoke it, and cannot help evoking it, even though I cannot live with it.” Other memories: the woman who dies, the duels which resulted in the deaths of two innocent men, a poisoning. Stavrogin’s control of his will. Falling in love with Lizaveta in Switzerland, his temptation to commit bigamy. His decision to print three hundred copies of his ‘confession,” and when the time comes to send them to the police, local authorities, to the editorial offices of all the newspapers, and to his acquaintances in Petersburg and in Russia.

I’m not quite sure what to say after that. Powerful and completely disturbing — it’s not surprising that Dostoevsky was forced to remove it from his manuscript. I’ll have more to say tomorrow.

Wednesday’s Reading:

The rest of “At Tikhon’s”

Enjoy.

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2 Responses to “Every extremely shameful, immeasurably humiliating, mean, and, above all, ridiculous position I have happened to get into in my life has always aroused in me, along with boundless wrath, an unbelievable pleasure.”

  1. Megan says:

    Hello, just stumbled across your blog in my monthly (sometimes weekly) search for anything new related to this phenomenal novel.

    Like your comment at the end of this post, I don’t know where to begin! There’s so much to say! I’ve read this book 4 times now and each time, I get a little more insight into the enigma that is Nikolai Stavrogin — the most powerful literary figure I’ve ever been acquainted with. And that’s it! It stops at an acquaintance. I still can’t figure him out. The only thing I do know is that he’s the consistently ambiguous which seems almost paradoxical.

    My initial thoughts were: psychopath, anti-social, ultimate nihilist. I tend to have a false admiration and sympathy for said types and I wonder if my own personal feelings play into my attempts at understanding Stavrogin. I think these are adjectives that he might be proud of, in reference to himself…but only sometimes and outwardly. He seems so utterly afraid of being close to anyone for fear of future humiliation, or rather, someone using his mind/thoughts against him. In a constant existential crisis, he craves to maintain control and know the answers to (well, to put it bluntly) the universe. He’s searched and traveled far and wide, literally as well as metaphorically. I read an interesting article last year that brought up quasi-Freudian abandonment issues with Varvara Stavrogin. We don’t get too much insight into his childhood, but it appears Nikolai is in a constant battle with Varvara for attention. Now that he’s older and his influence can be felt amongst society, she’s paying a huge price…

    So much time and interest spent on a literary character. Kudos to Dostoevsky for creating such a haunting figure. Though, with almost all of the characters in Demons, they seem to have written themselves. They’re loud, obnoxious, heart-wrenching and real more often than not. Dostoevsky was the one who was possessed. It’s still my opinion that this is his greatest work (especially in this day and age) and I would love to see it discussed more or required for school reading as often as Crime & Punishment.

    Looking forward to reading more of your posts!

    • Megan: I’m glad you found us, and glad you feel the same way about Demons as I do. FYI, we’ll be starting our reading of The Brothers Karamazovin about month. I hope you’ll be able to join us!

      Dennis

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