“Sentimental, tender, and kindly Erkel was perhaps the most unfeeling of the murderers who gathered against Shatov, and, having no personal hatred, could be present at his murder without batting an eye.”

Demons
Part Three, Chapter Five, Sections 1-2
by Dennis Abrams

“A Traveler” “The catastrophe with Liza and the death of Marya Timofeevna produced an overwhelming impression on Shatov.” The narrator notes that he had seen Shatov that morning, and “he seemed to me as if here were not in his right mind.” Shatov views the corpses. “…and I can say positively that there was a certain moment at dusk when he wanted to get up, go, and — declare all. What this all was — he himself well knew.” Pyotr’s correct guess about Shatov, his disdain for “all this ‘trash,’ and for Shatov especially. Shatov’s “tearful idiocy.” At the same time when the fivesome was waiting at Erkel’s for Pyotr: Shatov, with a headache and a chill, “was lying stretched out on his bed, in the dark, without a candle, tormented by perplexity, angry, deciding and then unable to decide finally, and anticipating with a curse that anyhow it would all lead nowhere.” His nightmare, on his bed, tangled up in ropes, unable to move. An unexpected knock at the door — the return of his wife, Marya Shatov. Paying for the cab. Mrs. Shatov, ill and soaking wet. Mrs. Shatov is appalled at Shatov’s living conditions, “‘I was told you lived badly, but still I didn’t think it was like this,’ she said squeamishly.” Mrs. Shatov tells Shatov that she’s not there to resume their marriage, “…don’t think I’ve come back to resume any of the former foolishness,” but to look for work. Mrs. Shatov’s eyes flash at the mention of “blackguards.” Shatov’s pleasure at having Marya back, “This strong and rough man, his fur permanently bristling, was suddenly all softness and brightness.” Shatov offers to pawn his revolver to get money for firewood and tea, but goes to Kirillov first, who gives him hot tea, bread, veal, and a rouble in cash. “Kirillov! If…if you could renounce your terrible fantasies and drop your atheistic ravings…oh, what a man you’d be, Kirillov!” Marya goes to sleep. Erkel comes to call on Shatov, telling him that “You have a press that does not belong to you, and for which you are accountable, as you know yourself. I was told to demand that you hand it over tomorrow, at exactly seven o’clock in the evening, to Liputin. Furthermore, I was told to inform you that nothing else will ever be demanded of you,” adding that Pyotr will not be there, he’s leaving town that morning. “‘Just as I thought,’ Shatov whispered furiously and struck himself on the hip with his fist, ‘he ran away, the dog!'” Shatov attacks Erkel for getting in so deep with Pyotr and the group, calling him a “boy…such a silly boy,” and a “Little fool.” What kind of fool was Erkel? “Erkel was the sort of ‘little fool’ whose head lacked only the chief sense; he had no king in his h ead, but of lesser, subordinate sense he had plenty, even to the point of cunning. Fanatically, childishly devoted to the ‘common cause,’ and essentially to Pyotr Verkhovensky, he acted on his instructions…” Erkel realizes that the return of Shatov’s wife “alone saved the ‘blackguards’ from Shatov’s intention, and at the same time helped them to ‘get rid’ of him…” Mrs. Shatov’s pain, Shatov preaches God despite not believing. Shatov’s complete and utter lack of understanding, before she asks him “But can’t you see that I’m in labor?”

1. For those of you who don’t remember, three years earlier, Shatov had gone abroad as a kind of a “babysitter” with the family of a Russian merchant, there had also been a governess who was thrown out for “free thoughts,” Shatov had chased after her and married her in Geneva: “They lived together for about three weeks, and then parted as free people not bound by anything; also, of course, because of poverty.”

2. I wondered, as I read today’s reading whether, when Dostoevsky was writing “Instead of An Introduction,” he had planned to bring Mrs. Shatov back at this point, or whether it was a more spontaneous decision. Any thoughts?

3. I found myself liking Mrs. Shatov…

4. And I loved this line about Erkel, really brilliant I thought: “Sentimental, tender, and kindly Erkel was pewrhaps the most unfeeling of the murders who gathered against Shatov, and, having no personal hatred, could be present at his murder without batting an eye.”

I thought this look at “Atheism and Orthodoxy” in Demons, at Stavrogin and Kirillov, and Stavrogin and Shatov, from the website http://thelectern.blogspot.com/2010/06/v2.html was well worth reading:

Part 2: Atheism versus Orthodoxy
In which we describe the philosophical debate in the novel, reveal the existence of a missing chapter! and explain why Dostoevskyists get worked up about it

In the early stages of composing the novel Dostoevsky wrote to Maikov: The fundamental idea that has tormented me, consciously and unconsciously, all my life long …is the question of the existence of God.

In Demons, the dialectic between faith and atheism takes place in conversations between Stavrogin and Kirilov, and between Stavrogin and Shatov.

Kirilov the suicidalist puts forward the argument for atheism with great cogency and force. Shatov, the Slavophile puts forward the argument for faith in Orthodoxy, expressing many of Dostoevsky’s known views. Stavrogin, the mysterious ‘strong personality’ acts as a conduit for both sides in the debate; his own position is highly enigmatic, as we shall see.

Kirilov plans to commit suicide, and thereby aid the revolutionaries by taking on himself all their crimes, admitting to them in a suicide letter. He is only waiting for a signal from Pyotr Verkhovensky.

His reasons for suicide are related to his atheism: “I can’t understand how an atheist could know that there is no God and not kill himself on the spot. To recognise that there is no God and not to recognise at the same instant that one is God oneself is an absurdity, else one would certainly kill oneself. If you recognise it you are sovereign, and then you won’t kill yourself but will live in the greatest glory. But one, the first, must kill himself, for else who will begin and prove it? So I must certainly kill myself, to begin and prove it.”

He then gives the strongest argument for atheism perhaps Dostoevsky had so far penned: “Listen to a great idea: there was a day on earth, and in the midst of the earth there stood three crosses. One on the Cross had such faith that he said to another, ‘To-day thou shalt be with me in Paradise.’ The day ended; both died and passed away and found neither Paradise nor resurrection. His words did not come true. Listen: that Man was the loftiest of all on earth, He was that which gave meaning to life. The whole planet, with everything on it, is mere madness without that Man. There has never been any like Him before or since, never, up to a miracle. For that is the miracle, that there never was or never will be another like Him. And if that is so, if the laws of nature did not spare even Him, have not spared even their miracle and made even Him live in a lie and die for a lie, then all the planet is a lie and rests on a lie and on mockery. So then, the very laws of the planet are a lie and the vaudeville of devils. What is there to live for?”

For Kirilov, suicide is the only freedom one has left: “I am killing myself to prove my independence and my new terrible freedom”.

Kirilov develops the same ideas expressed in Ippolit Ivolgin’s ‘Necessary Explanation’ in The Idiot, and like Ippolit, he seeks death as the price for his atheism.

Shatov asserts a belief in the Russian Christ, making explicit the link between Christianity and nationalism for the first time in Dostoevsky’s published works. “He who is not Orthodox, cannot be Russian.”

Stavrogin accuses him of reducing God to a mere “attribute of nationality”. “On the contrary”, exclaims Shatov, “I raise the nation up to God. … the nation is the body of God….If a great nation does not believe that it alone is able and called to resurrect and save everyone with its truth, then it at once ceases to be a great nation and becomes just ethnographic material.”

It is Russia’s mission to save the world: “The only god-bearing nation is the Russian nation.”

Shatov attacks Roman Catholicism in much the same terms that Prince Myshkin had in The Idiot: “Atheism is after all healthier than Catholicism”. According to Shatov, the Roman Christ succumbed to the third temptation of the devil, and was granted an earthly kingdom, “proclaimed the antichrist, and ruined the whole Western world.”

Shatov expresses his belief that a new generation will spring forth from Russia, one that renounces Western rationalism, and that embraces the Russian God through peasant labour- anticipating the ‘movement to the people’ of the summer of 1874, at the height of the Popularist movement, when young intellectuals did precisely that.

Now, we enter the realm of controversy when we try to disentangle Shatov’s ‘literary’ arguments as the novel’s representative Slavophile from the actual ‘philosophical’ arguments that Dostoevsky himself held. This is very problematic; and Dostoevskyists have thrown caution (and theoretical rigour) to the wind in their attempts to claim the character’s religious views for those of the author’s.

The text indeed warns against this, when Shatov says: Do you really regard me as such a fool who cannot even tell, whether his words now are old, decrepit rubbish, ground up in all the Slavophile mills of Moscow, or a completely new word, the last word, the word of renewal and resurrection. Many of Shatov’s ideas are standard Slavophile stuff.

Moreover, the situation is further complicated by the fact that in this conversation, Shatov is reporting a letter that he had written much earlier to Stavrogin, which Stavrogin had not bothered to read. In this letter, Shatov had attempted to remind Stavrogin of conversations they had had many years previously in Europe, and which Shatov had never forgotten. In other words, Shatov is actually quoting back at him views expressed originally by Stavrogin himself, which the latter man has come to repudiate, but which Shatov himself has come to believe in.

It is never adequately clarified in the conversation which views are actually Stavrogin’s and which are Shatov’s; it is never very clear which views either man now holds, and which views he now rejects: like real conversations, things are never tidied up, but left hanging while the dialogue digresses and circulates, while emotional storms come and go, and while each character tries to achieve a different outcome from the interview.

Shatov reminds Stavrogin of his previous view: “But wasn’t it you who told me that if someone proved to you mathematically that the truth is outside Christ, you would better agree to stay with Christ than with the truth. Did you say that?” Stavrogin neither confirms nor denies this, but raises a different point.

This view is one that Dostoevsky himself held – in fact Shatov quotes verbatim from Dostoevsky’s famous letter of 1854 to Fonvizina here. However, Stavrogin says in this conversation, that he now no longer believes in any of the things he did formerly: “If I had belief, I would no doubt repeat it now as well, I wasn’t lying, speaking as a believer.”

Stavrogin has lost his faith, while Shatov remains uncertain about his: “I believe in Russia, I believe in Orthodoxy, I believe in the body of Christ…” Shatov babbled frenziedly. Stavrogin persists in this line of questioning: “But in God? In God?” “I… I will believe in God,” Shatov equivocates. Not a muscle moved in Shatov’s face. Shatov looked at him defiantly, as if he wanted to burn him with his eyes. “But I didn’t tell you I don’t believe at all,” he hedges.

This is likely to be the position closest to Dostoevsky’s own at this time.

————

Thursday’s Reading:

Part Three, Chapter Five, Sections Three-Six

Enjoy.

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