“At Tikhon’s” conclusion
by Dennis Abrams
“The reading took about an hour.” Tikhon cautiously asks if corrections can be made in the document — “to touch up the style a little.” Stavrogin vows he won’t be moved from his intentions to publish the document. “This thought is a great thought, and there is no way to express a Christian thought more fully. Repentance cannot go any further than the astonishing deed you are contemplating, if only…If only there is indeed repentance and indeed a Christian thought.” Is Stavrogin portraying himself coarser than he really is? Is he “posturing?” Stavrogin’s “document comes straight from the need of a mortally wounded heart…But it is if you already hate beforehand all those who will read what is described here and are challenging them to battle. If you are not ashamed to confess the crime, why are you ashamed of repentance?” Father Tikhon is “horrified at this great idle force being spent deliberately on abomination,” but realizes that many sin in the same way, “The whole world is filled with all these horror. But you have felt the whole depth of it…” Tikhon says that there can be no greater or more terrible crime than Stavrogin’s “act with the maiden.” Stavrogin objects to “putting a yardstick to it.” Stavrogin questions whether he’s actually suffered as much as the document indicates, or whether he’s “heaped too many lies on [himself.} Stavrogin indicates that by making public the document, “I’ll make them hate me even more,” leading Tikhon to respond, “…their hatred will evoke yours, and, hating, it will be easier for you if you were to accept their pity?” When will Stavrogin carry out his intention? Stavrogin says it would make things easier if Tikhon would forgive him; Tikhon answer, “And you me, as well…For my sins both voluntary and involuntary. In sinning each man sins against all, and each man is at least partly guilty for another’s sin. there is no isolated sin. And I am a great sinner, perhaps more than you are.” Could Stavrogin accept “universal pity?” Their hatred? Their laughter? Is Tikhon “a terribly odd man?” Tikhon questions the document’s form, “Even the form of this truly great repentance has something ridiculous in it. Oh, do not believe that you will not win!..Even this form will win (he pointed to the pages), only if you sincerely accept the beating and the spitting.” “The uncomlieness will kill it…there are crimes that are truly uncomely.” The ridiculousness of”kissing the dirty girl’s foot.” “Listen, Father Tikhon: I want to forgive myself, and that is my chief goal, my whole goal!,,,That is why I am seeking boundless suffering, seeking it in myself.” “If you believe that you can forgive yourself and can attain to this forgiveness in this world, then you believe everything! Tikhon exclaimed rapturously…’God will forgive your unbelief, for you venerate the Holy Spirit without knowing him.” Stavrogin starts to leave, Tikhon has a request, that he not make publish the document, “You are in the grip for martyrdom and self-sacrifice; conquer this desire as well,s et aside your pages and your intention — and then you will overcome everything. You will put to shame all your pride and your demon! You will win, you will attain freedom…” Tikhon continues suggesting that Stavrogin put himself under obedience to an elder, a hermit and monk, “You needn’t be in a monastery, you needn’t take vows, just be a novice secretly, unapparently, it may even be done so that you live entirely in the world.” As Stavrogin gets up to leave, “I see…I see as in reality…that you, poor lost youth, have never stood do close to the most terrible crime as at this moment.” Stavrogin agrees that he might not make his ‘confession publish, “I may not be able to endure it, and in my spite I’ll commit a new crime…I’ll put it off.” Tikhon tells Stavrogin that he might, an hour before making the document publish, “throw yourself into a new crime as a way out, only to avoid publishing these pages.” “Cursed psychologist!”
Much to say, to question:
1. It is interesting to note that the word “confession” is never used.
2. Minihan points out that,
“Dasha predicted to Stavrogin: ‘The moment you believe in your demon, you are lost.’ He believed and boldly declared this. And he knows that hereafter he is doomed. But still he does not admit that he is vanquished, seeks salvation, not believing in it; he gives Tikhon his confession to read. ‘The basic thought of the document is a strange, sincere need of punishment, need of a cross, of all the people’s chastisement. And meanwhile this need of a cross is nonetheless in a man who does not believe in the cross.’ The confession tells about his rape of the young girl Matryosha and of her suicide. The transgressor did not experience any repentance and here for the first time in his life understood his ‘man-godhood.’ Having denied God, he has put himself beyond God’s law — in limitless freedom. ‘I don’t know and don’t feel evil and good, and not only because I have lost the sensation, but I know that there is no evil or good (and this I have found agreeable), but only a certain prejudice: I can be free from every prejudice, but if I attain this freedom, then I am lost.’ Freedom beyond the confines of good and evil is pure demonism. Later on there is related the vision of the golden age and of the Fall (its symbol: a tiny, reddish spider). With minor changes, this entire account is transposed into Versilov’s dream in A Raw Youth. Tikhon calls the hero to humility and faith: he will be saved, if he overcomes his pride. And suddenly, filled with inspiration, the prelate prophesies: ‘no, not after its publication, but even before publication, a day, an hour, perhaps, before the great step, you’ll rush to a new crime, as a way out, and will commit it solely to avoid the publication of these pages on which now you insist.’ In frenzy, Stavrogin pronounces ‘damned psychologist,’ and runs out of the monastery.
Dostoevsky called Christ the ‘everlasting ideal of beauty.’ the man-god, revolting against the God-man, strives to substitute one ideal of beauty with another. Stavrogin is a handsome man, but his beauty recalls a mask. He is a refined gentleman, his fascination is irresistible, his movements and gestures are full of elegance; but in all this there is something repulsive. In the scene with Tikhon his false, deceitful beauty is unmasked: Tikhon is struck not only by the ‘dreadfulness’ of the confession’s matter, but also by the disharmony of its style. ‘But is it not possible to make some corrections in the document?’ he asks Stavrogin. ‘Why?’ the latter is perplexed. ‘I wrote it sincerely.’ ‘It might be somewhat in the manner.’ The style of the confession in its verbal slovenliness reflects the spiritual decomposition of its author. The prelate surprises Stavrogin with his remark about the ‘document.’ The latter expected horror, confusion, indignation. Tikhon appraises the confession aesthetically: it is not beautiful. He fears that its ‘ugliness will kill it’ and that the proud sinner will not be able to bear his readers’ laughter. the Antichrist’s ‘beauty’ is illusory. Spiritual vision uncovers its unseemliness. Stavrogin’s secret is disclosed: he is ‘a lie and the father of lies.’ Everything in him is a lie — his beauty, his strength, his yearning for an heroic feat, his grandeur. the ‘confession’ is shameful and unseemly; it contains the disgusting rape of a pitiable young girl.
‘Its ugliness will kill it,’ predicts Tikhon. This takes place quickly. In our eyes Stavrogin is already dead — Tikhon has torn from the pretender the pompous mantle of Ivan the Tsarevich, the mask of demonic beauty.”
And this from George Steiner:
“The antimonies in the role of Stavrogin are baffling. He is a ‘traitor in the sight of Christ,’ affirms Ivanov, but ‘he is also disloyal to Satan.’ His plane of action would appear to lie, in the most literal sense outside human mortality. In imagining him, Dostoevsky may have succumbed to an ancient and desperate suspicion. If God is the creator of the universe, He is by the same token of entirety the creator of evil. If all grace is encompassed in His being, so is all inhumanity. Stavrogin does not incarnate this sombre mythology at all points in the novel. But his actions and his relevance to the symbolic placing of Marya Timofeyevna and Marya Shatov preclude the notion that he represents a scheme of pure malignity or a straightforward portrayal of the Prince of Darkness. There seems to be moments in the novel in which Stavrogin conveys to us a tragic apprehension of the duality of God. To use the language of the alchemists (with its appropriateness to the logic of myth and of poetry), we may read in the figure of Stavrogin a tetragrammaton, an occult cipher expressing or invoking a revelation of the attributes of God. Dostoevsky’s censors and critics were quick to note that his official theodicy — the metaphysics of freedom argued by Alyosha Karamazov — failed to give an adequate answer to Ivan Karamazov’s fierce recital of the horrors and evils of the world. I wonder whether Dostoevsky’s final answer, the ‘more real’ of his meaning, may not be found in Stavrogin, in the hint that evil and the violation of human values are inseparable from the universality of God.
Few figures in literature draw us closer to the limits of understanding. None persuades us more forcibly that the consoling distinctions between good and evil, between the sacred and the monstrous, are of human contrivance and restricted application. Stavrogin exemplifies Kierkegaard’s belief that the categories of morality and of religion may not be identical — that they may, indeed, be bewilderingly different. As one considers Stavrogin, one comes to marvel at Dostoevsky’s nerve — taking nerve to signify constancy of vision into an abyss of thought or that faculty which moved Dante to proceed through the flames of hell though, as legend has it, they darkened his skin.”
I want to know what you think. What is your reading of Stavrogin? How exactly do you see him and Dostoevsky’s accomplishment in ‘creating’ him?”
Part Two, Chapter Nine