“The most difficult thing in life is to live and not lie…and…and…and not believe one’s own lies, yes, yes, that’s precisely it!”

Demons
Part Three, Chapter Seven, Section Two
by Dennis Abrams

“The Last Peregrination of Stepan Trofimovich” “You see, my friend — you will allow me to call you my friend, n’est-ce pas?” Sofya notes that Stepan i s unwell, but he insists, “I just need to wrap myself up…it seems to me that I am almost happy, and the one to blame for it is — you. Happiness is unprofitable for me, because I immediately set about forgiving all my enemies…” Stepan suggests that he help Sofya sell her Bibles, “The people are religious…but they still don’t know the Gospel. I will expound it to them…Oh, let’s first of all forgive all and always…Let’s hope that we, too, will be forgiven. Yes, because we are guilty one and all before each other. All are guilty!” Stepan’s pleasure at Sofya’s manners. “I can’t live without a woman near, but simply near…” Stepan’s fever. Stepan falls asleep, dreams “that he had some gaping jaws with teeth in a dream and had found it very repulsive.” A stop at the four-roomed cottage, the owner, ” a tall and sturdy woman of about forty with very black hair and all but a moustache…” Stepan’s need for a whole room for himself. A discussion about what food can be served — Stepan wants fish soup and roast chicken. Stepan and Sofya on the sofa — Sofya warns him that because the town is isolated, and the ferry only comes every three days, visitors get wildly overcharged but Stepan begs her to stop, “…our whole future is ahead of us, and you…you make me fear for the future.” Stepan tells Sofya his interpretation of the story of his life: his childhood, an hour letter getting to his two marriages; the narrator interjects “There was something truly lofty for him here and to use the newest language, almost a struggle for existence. He saw before him her whom he had already pre-elected for his future path, and he was hastening to initiate her, so to speak. His genius must no longer remain a secret to her…[but] she hardly understood him at all, even in the most capital of things. An increasing fogginess in Stepan’s narrative: his dissertation on how nobody had ever understood him, of Varvara “a most lovely brunette,” whose husband died “because he felt unworthy of her love, giving way to his rival…”This was something lofty, something so fine that not even once in our lives did we declare it.” The blonde who owed everything to the brunette who also loved Stepan, “And so all three of them, languishing in mutual magnanimity, were silent like this for twenty years, withdrawn into themsleves, “Oh, what a passion it was, oh, what a passion!” he kept exclaiming, gasping in the most genuine rapture.” But at last he had run away, and then, “in some sort of inflammation of the brain, he began explaining to Sofya Matveevna what must be the significance of their meeting that day.” Sofya’s embarrassment, her tears when he attempted to get down his knees before her. Sofya tears herself away and during the night Stepan “had an attack of that cholerine so well known to me and to all his friends — the usual outcome with him of any nervous strain or moral shock.” Sofya’s sleepless night. Stepan felt better early the next morning, calls Sofya his “savior,” and says, “What I told you earlier was all lies — for glory, for magnificence, out of ileness — all, all, to the last word, oh, blackguard, blackguard!” Stepan’s hysterical self-condemnation. He remembers and worries about Lizaveta, and about Varvara Petrovna. Two more frightful days follow: Stepan is too ill to go on the steamer, Sofya remains with him. Stepan asks Sofya to read to him from the Gospel: “It’s a long time since I’ve read it…in the original. Otherwise someone may ask and I’ll make a mistake; one must also be prepared, after all.” Sofya reads the Sermon on the Mount. Stepan admits that he’s “…been lying all my life. Even when I was telling the truth.” Stepan refuses to allow Sofya to send for a doctor. Sofya opens the Gospel to read a selection by chance, it falls to the story of the angel of the church in Laodiciea. “The words of Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot! Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.” Stepan: “I never knew that great place! Do you hear: sooner cold, sooner cold than lukewarm, than only lukewarm. Oh, I’ll prove it to them.” Sofya vows never to leave Stepan. The unhappiness of the proprietors, Sofya learns it will be too expensive to send for a doctor. Stepan asks that one more passage be read, from Luke, regarding the demons that entered into the swine and they all drowned, “You must read it to me; I’ll tell you why afterwards. I want to recall it literally. I need it literally.” Sonya reads. “…you see, it’s exactly like our Russia. These demons who come out of a sick man and enter into swine — it’s all the sores, all the miasmas, all the uncleaness, all the big and little demons accumulated in our great and dear sick man, in our Russia, for centuries, for centuries…and I, perhaps, first, at the head, and we will rush, insane and raging, from the cliff down into the sea, and all be drowned, and good riddance to us, because that’s the most we’re fit for.” Stepan becomes delirious and loses consciousness, Sofya sits beside him and weeps, when finally, on the third day, “someone’s carriage clattered at the front door and a great hubbub arose in the house.”

As you might recall, we’ve already come across the “angel of Laodecia” story in Dostoevsky’s censored chapter, “At Tikhon’s” which Stavrogin requests that the monk/seer read to him. R.M. Davison, in his essay on Stepan Trofimovich Verkhovensky’s role in Demons notes,

“When Dostoevsky knew that it was not going to be possible to publish ‘Stavrogin’s Confession’ in the serial version, he transferred the section about the angel of Laodicea from the ‘Confession’ to ‘The Final Journey of Stepan Trofimovich.’ The uncertainty about the identify of the person to whom the words of the biblical quotation apply is reflected in Chrirkov’s observation that Stepan Trofimovich ‘on the threshold of death looks back over his whole life and sees these words as referring to himself. But in a much greater degree these words refer to the central figure of the novel [Stavrogin]. The conclusion must be that Stepan Trofimovich is a double of Stavrogin and that the theme of the older man as the father of two spiritually wayward sons (Pyotr and Stavrogin) is less important in terms of literary construction than the theme of Stavrogin as a nebulous central character who is represented on the good side by Stepan Trofimovich and on the bad side by Peter Stepanovich. Obviously there are similarities here to Raskolnikov flanked by Sonia and Svidrigailov…”

Davison goes to point out that in the absence of Father Tikhon, the burden of representing the “good” falls on Stepan:

“Is his character fitted to carrying such a burden? In general, he is weak, unsuccessful, and pathetic; these features link him with the other good characters, Sonia and Myshkin, though less so with Zosima. He has, however, more specified qualifications. the final journey in search of truth, and anything else that may occur to his fevered mind, emphasizes the similarity between Stepan Trofimovich and Don Quixote. He also entertains the high flown and altogether that his relationship to Mrs. Stavrogin is that of a knight to his lady. Chirkov observes: ‘The characters of Stepan Trofimovich is a new and original embodiment…of the theme and type of Don Quixote….The narrator…constantly mocks Stepan Trofimovich as a poseur. But then Don Quixote is also constantly adopting poses.’ One will recall that Dostoevsky explicitly took Don Quixote as one of the models for Myshkin, his most extensive portrayal of a good character. It is also Chirkov who indicates the other specifically good characteristic of Stepan Trofimovich when he says that the most essential thing about him ‘is precisely the childish (in the best sense of the word). At the beginning of the chapter ‘Prince Harry’ the narrator describes the close and friendly relationship of equals between Stepan Trofimovich and Stavrogin because the older man ‘was himself a child’; later in the same section the narrator says, in connection with Stepan Trofimovich’s role as tutor to Dasha Shatova and Liza Tushina: ‘I will repeat again: It is astonishing how children became attached to him.’ Since this point is made so emphatically, we need not hesitate to see the similarities to Myshkin’s relationship with the children in Switzerland, together with his own childlike character; and similarities to Alesha Karamazov’s relationship with the group of boys.

The ideological function that this quixotic and childlike man fulfills, the burden of the good he bears, and teh positive message he formulates are principally to be found in the closing sections of the novel when he runs away to find Russia. It may legitimately be objected that he has been in Russia for a considerable time. This is true, but, in his foolishly intellectual fashion, he has been in Russia and not of it; now he runs away into the countryside in the rain, kneels down and gets his knees wet, thus baptizing himself with the sacred soil…”

And finally, this from Steiner,

“But now [Stepan] is wandering, homeless and ill, and the agents of grace lie in wait for him on the road. First, Sofya Matveyevna reads the Sermon on the Mount. Then, opening the book at random, she begins the famous passage from Revelation: ‘And unto the angel of the church of the Laodicieans…’ It culminates in the words: ‘and thou knowest not that thou are wretched and miserable, and poor and blind, and naked.’ ‘That too…and that’s in your book too!’ exclaims the old liberal. As death draws near, he asks Sofya to read to him the passage ‘about the pigs.’ It is the parable from the eighth chapter of Luke. [NOTE: It is also the as the narrator points out, ‘the same passage I have placed as an epigraph to my chronicle.’] In it the vast energies and thematic range of [Demons are wholly concentrated. It is both epigraph and epilogue. With the clarity of delirium — a signally Dostoevskyan condition — Stepan Trofimovich interprets the words of the evangelist in the light of Russian experience. The devils shall enter the swine:

‘They are we, we and those…and Petrusha and les autres avec lui (and the others with him)…and I perhaps at the head of them, and we shall cast ourselves down, possessed and raving, from the rocks into the sea, and we shall all be drowned…’

the political foresight and dramatic propriety are Dostoevsky’s but the governing myth, the shaping image, stems from the New Testament.

It might be argued that Dostoevsky infringed ‘the rules of the game,’ that he amplified and solemnized the impact of his novels through the use of Biblical citations and analogues. But in fact he heightened the risks of artistic failure. A strong quotation can destroy a weak text; in order to incorporate a scriptural passage and give it pertinence, a narrative design must per se be of great firmness and nobility. The quotation brings with it a train of echoes and is overlaid with previous interpretations and usages. These will obscure or corrode the effect which the novelist is aiming at unless this effect is inherently spacious and dynamic. Thus Demons can sustain the weight of its majestic epigraph, and when the words of Luke are invoked a second time, they have acquired a special resonance through their use in the novel.”

Wednesday’s Reading:

Part Three, Chapter Seven, Section Three

Enjoy.

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One Response to “The most difficult thing in life is to live and not lie…and…and…and not believe one’s own lies, yes, yes, that’s precisely it!”

  1. Ken Thompson says:

    I love your summaries and the story.

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