“We are not in a mincing lady’s boudoir; we are, as it were, two abstract beings in a balloon, who have met in order to speak out the truth.”

Part Two, Chapter Ten
by Dennis Abrams

“Filibusters: A Fatal Morning” “The event that occurred on our way was also of a surprising sort.” [AN HOUR BEFORE THE NARRATOR AND STEPAN ARRIVE…] A crowd of workers, delegates from the Shpigulin factory, perhaps seventy in number, march through town, attracting much attention. Their purpose? “to go the governor and…seek justice from him against the owner’s manager, who, while closing down the factory, had brazenly cheated them all — a fact no longer open to any doubt.” Other theories? They weren’t delegates but merely the most resentful. They were not simple rioters but “decidedly political ones…aroused by none other than the anonymous leaflets.” But, “whether or not there was any influence or instigation is not known precisely.” In the narrator’s ‘opinion,’ no leaflets were read. The love of the Russian people for having a talk with ‘the general’ himself. The narrator is ‘fully convinced’ that Pyotr, Liputin, perhaps even Fedka” had spoken with “no more than two or three, or say, five.” Fedka’s involvement with the fire that took place three days later. “Be that as it may, the whole crowd of workers finally arrived at the little square in front of the governor’s house, and lined up decorously and silently.” Lined up, hats off — 30 minutes before Lembke’s arrival. “The police made their appearance at once…” The “workers stood there like a flock of sheep at a fence.” Nonsensical stories about the event: Did Lembke start fighting when he arrived? Were there soldiers with bayonets? Was a telegraph message sent to bring in the Cossacks? Were barrels of water brought from the firehouse and used to drench the people? The narrator’s unresolved question: “how did it come about that a mere, that is an ordinary crowd of petitioners — seventy men, it’s true — should be turned, right from the first go, from the first step, into a riot that threatened to shake the foundations?” Did Ilya Ilyich present the crowd to von Lembke “in this light?” Ilya Ilyich using Lembke. “But I am convinced that poor Andrei Antonovich would not have wished for a riot even for the sake of distinguishing himself.” His innocence before meeting Yulia. The narrator “knows almost certainly” that it was the events of that morning that send Lembke to a hospital in Switzerland. Yulia had been giving him the silent treatment; his explosion the night before — his knowledge that people are laughing at him because she is ‘leading him by the nose,’ that he had accepted the post because of her ambition, ‘two centers’ cannot work, his humiliation, his slip-up admitting his jealousy of Pyotr Stepanovich, “he shouted thyat he would abolish the woman question, that he would smoke out the little spirit, that he would forbid this absurd subscription fete for the governesses…that first thing tomorrow he would chase any governess he met out of the province ‘with a Cossack, ma’am!'” Yulia admits that she had known of “criminal designs” but that it was “all foolishness,” and that she had matters under control. Lembke threatens to have Pyotr arrested, “put him in fetters, and dispatch him to the fortress, or — or I myself, right in your eyes, will jump out the window!” Yulia’s long peals and laughter, like something out of French theater. Lembke’s bad night. The next morning (the morning of the ‘riot’), Lembke wakes, remembers everything, races out to speak to Yulia, discovers she has gone to Varvara Petrovna Stavrogin’s to look at the site for the future fete, “His soul yearned after Yulia Mikhailovna — only to look at her, to be near her for five minutes…” The message from Candide “Everything is the best in the best of all possible worlds.” Racing to Skvoreshniki, a quick stop for flowers. Learning of the riot, he races back to town. Lembke’s screaming, ‘Hat’s off,’ flowers still in his hand. “It was like coasting down a hill at the winter carnival; can a sled that is already going down stop in the middle of the hillside?” “The riot was as evident to him as the kibitkas had been earlier to Stepan Trofimovich.” Pyotr agitating the crowd. Lembke calls for birch rods. “However, only two men were punished in all, I think, not even three; I insist on that.” The invention of the thrashing of the old woman. The subscription on her behalf. As they arrive at the square, Stepan gives the narrator the slip and “Following my instinct, I rushed at once to look for him in the most dangerous place; for some reason I had a presentiment that his sled had also shot off downhill.” Stepan at the center of the event, about to be grabbed when Lembke sees him in the crowd, waves Filibusterov away, and the narrator drags Stepan to safety. The narrator wants to leave, Stepan insists on going in to the governor’s house, “He had the look of a man who has doomed himself to something like a certain death for the fatherland. Ten minutes of waiting. Lembke enters with the police chief, and is confronted by Stepan who wants to know why he was subjected to a ‘house search.’ Lembke is reminded that Stepan was a professor, “Yo-o-outh!…That, my very dear sir, I will not allow…It’s a swoop upon society, my dear sir, a seafaring swoop, filibusterism…” Stepan tells Lembke that he will speaking at his wife’s fete the next day, but according to Lembke, “There will be no fete. I will not allow your fete…” A brief power struggle. “I remember about you, however; was it you were were tutor in the house of General Stavrogin’s widow?…And in the course of twenty years you have been a hotbed of all that has no accumulated…all the fruit…Beware, however, my dear sir, beware: the direction of your thinking is known…Your lectures, my dear sir, I cannot allow, I cannot, sir.” Stepan points out that it’s not a ‘lecture, but a reading, something literary, but in any case, he declines to read — and why, again, were his books seized? Learning that it was Blum who seized Stepan’s books, Lembke changes and apologizes. Lembke reveals his deep unhappiness, moving Stpean. Yulia and company arrive. Yulia is briefly embarrassed to learn about Pyotr’s role in the ‘riot,’ but it’s Lembke who will have to “pay for it.” Varvara “may” have been worried about Stepan. Yulia begins by “reckoning” with Andrei Antonovich, approaching Stepan, “showering him with the most flattering grreetings…Not a single hint at the morning search; just as though she still knew nothing.” Yulia ignores Lembke. Yulia’s blunder (aided by Karmazinov). Stepan’s dislike for Karmazinov. “And yet I’ve never been on close terms with that irritable old woman…” Yulia’s salon fills up. Varvara’s attempts to appear indifferent, but the narrator sees her “glancing hatefully at Karmazinov or wrathfully at Stepan Trofimovich — wrathful beforehand, wrathful out of jealousy, out of love…” Lizaveta was also there along with Mavriky Nikolaevich, Yulia’s usual crowd of “young ladies and half-licentious young men,” plus a “visiting and much mincing Pole, some German doctor…and finally some very young princeling from Petersburg,” much valued by Yulia. Stepan does Varvara proud with his remark, “and as one finds more monks than reason everywhere!” Karmazinov and the new drainpipe. At Yulia’s fete, Karmazinov plans to read his newest piece, “Merci,” in which he announces that he will write no more. Stavrogin enters. Stepan informs Yulia that he will not be reading at her event. Pyotr enters the room, loudly announcing that after the day’s events, Stepan will not be able to resist speaking, “Wait and see how he starts denouncing the Socialists now!” “But here a most unexpected circumstance occurred.” von Lembke, who had not been in the room, hears Pyotr’s voice, pushes his way in, knowing Lyamshin aside, and grabbed Stepan’s hand, “squeezing it as hard as he could in his own. ‘Enough, the filibusters of our time are ascertained. Not a word more. Measures have been taken…” Everyone senses that something was not well, Yulia turns pale. Leaving the room, Lembke trips on the rug and nearly falls, walks out the door followed by Yulia. On her return, Yulia attempts to reassure the crowd that Lembke was agitated, but that the fete would still take place the next day. Lizaveta confronts Stavrogin regarding letters she had been receiving from Lebaydkin, threatening to reveal “secrets.” Stavrogin responds, “Yes, I have the misfortune to be this man’s relation. I am the husband of his sister, nee Lebyadkin, soon now it will be for five years…” The look of horror on Varvara Petrovna’s face. Stavrogin looks at her, “smiled with boundless haughtiness,” and walks out of the room. Lizaveta nearly rushes out after Stavrogin but catches herself and slowly walks out, followed by Mavriky Nikolaevich. The uproar in the town — Varvara “locked herself in her town house, and Nikolai Vsevolodovich, it was said, drove straight to straight to Skvoreshniki without seeing his mother.” Stavrogin sends for the narrator, bewailing the horror of the marriage, abusing Karmazinov, and preparing for the next day’s reading, “I have moved from my place of twenty-five years and suddenly set out — where, I do not know, but I have set out…”

1. I’m struck by the way Dostoevsky structured the scene: setting up the seventy petitioners outside of the governor’s palace, the governor’s arrival, then going back to the night before to show us exactly what had happened between him and Yulia.

2. I was also struck by the sheer…pleasurable theatricality of Dostoevsky. The way he loves to bring his characters together in a big scene (Proust does the same thing, of course, but with such different effect), have them spill some piece of information, have them lurch from their chairs, run out of the room…(does anyone in Proust EVER run out of a room?)…resolving partially what had happened previously and setting us nicely for the fete that is to come.

3. And finally, I’m struck, yet again, by how much the narrator doesn’t really know. “…whether or not there was any influence or instigation is still not known precisely…’ “And that is why I am fully convinced that although Pyotr Stepanovich, Liputin, perhaps someone as well, perhaps even Fedka, had been shuttling among the factory workers earlier (since there exist quite firm indications of this circumstances, and had talked with them, it was certainly with no more than two or three, or say five, only as a trial…” “But if Fedka had actually managed to lure them over…” “But I confess, an unresolved question still remains for me…” “I would suppose…” “But I am convinced that…” “I know almost positively…” “It is known to me from rumors of a most intimate sort…” “Whether Yulia Mikhailovna was punishing her husband for his recent blunders and his jealous envy…or was indignant at his criticizing her behavior…or was angry at his dumb and senseless jealousy…” “I even think it was certainly not so…” “I imagine that on his way…” “However, only two men were punished in all, i think, not even three; I insist on that.” …and may even have become worried.” “Again I repeat: it seems to me…”

By giving us this level of uncertainty as to events, Dostoevsky, I think, not only forces us to question everything that is being said, but forces to, in effect, “fill in the blanks” ourselves, to determine for ourselves what we feel happened. Or, could have happened. Or might have happened if “this” or “that” had happened. As in our own lives.

Monday’s Reading:

Part Three, Chapter One, Sections 1 and 2


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4 Responses to “We are not in a mincing lady’s boudoir; we are, as it were, two abstract beings in a balloon, who have met in order to speak out the truth.”

  1. Minnikin says:

    A minor point perhaps but did anybody find it odd/peculiar/funny that the word ‘Filibuster’ was personified in the police officer character, Vassily Ivanovich Filibusterov (page 443)?

  2. OK, here’s the only comment I’ve been able to find, from Pevear’s introduction to his translation:

    “The narrator, too, though he claims that ‘as a chronicler, I limit myself to presenting events in an exact way, exactly as they occurred,’ is capable of all sorts of little jokes, as if language were mocking itself: someone, for instance, finds a ‘florin on the floor’; there is ‘Virginsky…overpowering the maiden’; there is the governor’s wife, ‘obliged to get up from her bed of rest, in indignation and in curls’; there is the ‘fat but tea-bypassed monk from the monastery’; there is Officer Filibusterov, whose name alone sends the governor finally out of his mind. These voices and details make for the delight as well as the difficulty of translating Dostoevsky.”

    So, is Pevear indicating that the name “Filibusterov” is just one of the narrator’s little jokes? If so…the book is even more ‘modern’ than I had imagined…

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