Part Three, Chapter Four, Section One
by Dennis Abrams
“The Last Decision” “Many saw Pyotr Stepanovich that morning; those who did recall that he was extremely excited.” A visit to Gaganov’s, “where a house full of visitors had gathered who talked much and hotly about the events that had just transpired. Pyotr talked most of all and made himself heard.” “…a garrulous student with a hole in his head.” Pyotr reports on Yulia: her personal opinions about people, “that Yulia Mikhailovna knew the whole of Stavrogin’s secret and that she herself had conducted the whole intrigue,” that she had done Pyotr “a bad turn,” because he himself had been in love with Lizaveta, yet he had “almost” taken Lizaveta to Stavrogin. Pyotr insists he had only befriended Yulia because she had offered him free food and drink, “and I’m not to blame if I was invited there.” The group believes him: “…how is he to blame for Yulia Mikhailovna’s follies? On the contrary, it appears he tried to stop her…” At 2:00, the news spreads that Stavrogin has left for Petersburg. Pyotr’s odd reaction as he ran out of Gaganov’s, “But who could have left him out,” A quick visit to Yulia, “I supposed he simply frightened her with a threat of complicity in case she decided to ‘talk.'” Pyotr’s designs. A visit to the apartment of Ensign Erkel (the visiting officer who had sat at the meeting at Virginsky’s with a pencil and notebook), where the five-member cell is waiting. Erkel’s ability to sit silently for ten evenings in a row, his beauty, his intelligence, and while not a member of the fivesome, “He simply bowed down before Pyotr Stepanovich, whom he had met not long before.” “Our people were excited. They had been struck by the events of the past night, and, it seems, had gone cowardly.” The unexpected events of the night before. Their resolve to ask Pyotr for an explanation, and, if necessary, to break up the fivesome in order to find “a new secret society for the propaganda of ideas.” Pyotr arrives late and noticed “at once by their faces that they were ‘rebellious.'” Liputin, speaking for the fivesome, says that they’re “not at all afraid to smash heads…It’s not at all because we’re afraid, but if there’s one who acts and the rests are mere pawns, then the one may bungle it, and all will get caught.” What relation to the common cause do Stavrogin’s ‘little intrigues’ have? Pyotr turns the tables, blaming Liputin for not sending Lebyadkin away; Liputin argues that the poetry was Pyotr’s idea, and that he had ordered the sending away to be stopped. “You’re mistaken and have shown stupidity and self-will.” Pyotr shows Liputin Lebyadkin’s letter to Lembke, proving that he was a “dangerous man.” Pytor: “Permit me to know why you were so good to set fire to the town with permission.” Denials. Pyotr points out that two days earlier, Tolkachenko was “inciting Fomka Zavyalov in the ‘Forget-me-not,’ (I was sitting under the table. Don’t worry, gentleman, I know all your steps.”) To prove his point, Pyotr tells Liputin that “three days ago you pinched your wife all over at midnight, in your bedroom, as you were going to bed,” causing Liputin to turn pale. (Liputin’s maid was Pyotr’s spy.) Shigalyov rambles, before getting to the point: “We have already seen the scandals, seen the discontent of the populations, been present and taken part in the fall of a local administration, and, finally, with our own eyes, we have seen a fire. What then, are you displeased with? Isn’t this your program? What can you accuse us of?” “‘Of self-will!’ Pytor Stepanovich shouted furiously. ‘While I am here, you dare not act without my permission.'” Pyotr warns the fivesome that a denunciation will be made, and they all will be seized. They initially blame Stavrogin, surprising Pyotr “How…why Stavrogin?…Eh…the devil…it’s Shatov!” Pyotr’s plan to dispose of Shatov by luring him to the place where the secret printing press was buried and “taking care of it there.” Worries from the fivesome that “since it’s…a new adventure of the same sort…it will strike people’s minds too much.” Pyotr explains that it’s all covered by Kirillov’s planned suicide, “Tomorrow, after Shatov, I’ll dictate a note to him saying that the cause of death was himself…it may even be possible to dictate another thing or two to Kirillov, ab out the tracts, for example, and maybe partly about the fire.” “Doubts were raised. The story seemed fantastic.” Shigalyov worries, “What if she suddenly changes his mind, and doesn’t want to…One way or another he’s still a madman, so the hope is an uncertain one.” Pyotr says he’ll bring Liputin with him to warn him a day ahead as promised, Liputin can then return and report on the meeting’s success, adding that they can do as the please, but will pay the consequences. Everybody agrees to the plan.
My last few posts have been fairly long, so I’ll keep this one short. Dostoevsky, now that he has all (at least I think all) in his grasp, in not easing his control, not relenting. We have Liza, somewhere; Stepan wandering down the road, Yulia being threatened by Pytor, the plans for Shatov and Kirillov, Pyotr putting out fires everywhere, manipulating the crowd at Gaganov’s, the fivesome, demonstrating his absolute power (“I was sitting under the table.”) over them…pretty amazing.
I did really love the description of poor Ensign Erkel:
“He did not belong to the fivesome; our people supposed he had special instructions of some sort and from somewhere, purely along executive lines. It is now known that he had no instructions, and that he hardly even understood his position. He simply bowed down before Pytor Stepnaovich, whom he had met not long before. Had he met some prematurely depraved monster who under some socio-romantic pretext egged him on to found a band of robbers and ordered him, as a test, to kill and rob the first peasant he came upon, he could certainly have gone and obeyed.”
What better example of Pyotr’s uncanny skills…
Part Three, Chapter Four, Sections 2-3