The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Chapter 5

A Laceration in the Drawing-Room

BUT in the drawing-room the conversation was already over. Katerina Ivanovna was greatly excited, though she looked resolute. At the moment Alyosha and Madame Hohlakov entered, Ivan Fyodorovitch stood up to take leave. His face was rather pale, and Alyosha looked at him anxiously. For this moment was to solve a doubt, a harassing enigma which had for some time haunted Alyosha. During the preceding month it had been several times suggested to him that his brother Ivan was in love with Katerina Ivanovna, and, what was more, that he meant “to carry her off from Dmitri. Until quite lately the idea seemed to Alyosha monstrous, though it worried him extremely. He loved both his brothers, and dreaded such rivalry between them. Meantime, Dmitri had said outright on the previous day that he was glad that Ivan was his rival, and that it was a great assistance to him, Dmitri. In what way did it assist him? To marry Grushenka? But that Alyosha considered the worst thing possible. Besides all this, Alyosha had till the evening before implicitly believed that Katerina Ivanovna had a steadfast and passionate love for Dmitri; but he had only believed it till the evening before. He had fancied, too, that she was incapable of loving a man like Ivan, and that she did love Dmitri, and loved him just as he was, in spite of all the strangeness of such a passion.

But during yesterday’s scene with Grushenka another idea had struck him. The word “lacerating,” which Madame Hohlakov had just uttered, almost made him start, because half waking up towards daybreak that night he had cried out “Laceration, laceration,” probably applying it to his dream. He had been dreaming all night of the previous day’s scene at Katerina Ivanovna’s. Now Alyosha was impressed by Madame Hohlakov’s blunt and persistent assertion that Katerina Ivanovna was in love with Ivan, and only deceived herself through some sort of pose, from “self-laceration,” and tortured herself by her pretended love for Dmitri from some fancied duty of gratitude. “Yes,” he thought, “perhaps the whole truth lies in those words.” But in that case what was Ivan’s position? Alyosha felt instinctively that a character like Katerina Ivanovna’s must dominate, and she could only dominate someone like Dmitri, and never a man like Ivan. For Dmitri might — at last submit to her domination “to his own happiness” (which was what Alyosha would have desired), but Ivan — no, Ivan could not submit to her, and such submission would not give him happiness. Alyosha could not help believing that of Ivan. And now all these doubts and reflections flitted through his mind as he entered the drawing-room. Another idea, too, forced itself upon him: “What if she loved neither of them — neither Ivan nor Dmitri?”

It must be noted that Alyosha felt as it were ashamed of his own thoughts and blamed himself when they kept recurring to him during the last month. “What do I know about love and women and how can I decide such questions?” he thought reproachfully, after such doubts and surmises. And yet it was impossible not to think about it. He felt instinctively that this rivalry was of immense importance in his brothers’ lives and that a great deal depended upon it.

“One reptile will devour the other,” Ivan had pronounced the day before, speaking in anger of his father and Dmitri. So Ivan looked upon Dmitri as a reptile, and perhaps long done so. Was it perhaps since he had known Katerina Ivanovna? That phrase had, of course, escaped Ivan unawares yesterday, but that only made it more important. If he felt like that, what chance was there of peace? Were there not, on the contrary, new grounds for hatred and hostility in their family? And with which of them was Alyosha to sympathise? And what was he to wish for each of them? He loved them both, but what could he desire for each in the midst of these conflicting interests? He might go quite astray in this maze, and Alyosha’s heart could not endure uncertainty, because his love was always of an active character. He was incapable of passive love. If he loved anyone, he set to work at once to help him. And to do so he must know what he was aiming at; he must know for certain what was best for each, and having ascertained this it was natural for him to help them both. But instead of a definite aim, he found nothing but uncertainty and perplexity on all sides. “It was lacerating,” as was said just now. But what could he understand even in this “laceration”? He did not understand the first word in this perplexing maze.

Seeing Alyosha, Katerina Ivanovna said quickly and joyfully to Ivan, who had already got up to go, “A minute! Stay another minute! I want to hear the opinion of this person here whom I trust absolutely. Don’t go away,” she added, addressing Madame Hohlakov. She made Alyosha sit down beside her, and Madame Hohlakov sat opposite, by Ivan.

“You are all my friends here, all I have in the world, dear friends,” she warmly, in a voice which quivered with genuine tears of suffering, and Alyosha’s heart warmed to her at once. “You, Alexey Fyodorovitch, were witness yesterday of that abominable scene, and saw what I did. You did not see it, Ivan Fyodorovitch, he did. What he thought of me yesterday I don’t know. I only know one thing, that if it were repeated to-day, this minute, I should express the same feelings again as yesterday — the same feelings, the same words, the same actions. You remember my actions, Alexey Fyodorovitch; you checked me in one of them” . . . (as she said that, she flushed and her eyes shone). “I must tell you that I can’t get over it. Listen, Alexey Fyodorovitch. I don’t even know whether I still love him. I feel pity for him, and that is a poor sign of love. If I loved him, if I still loved him, perhaps I shouldn’t be sorry for him now, but should hate him”

.Her voice quivered and tears glittered on her eyelashes. Alyosha shuddered inwardly. “That girl is truthful and sincere,” he thought, “and she does not love Dmitri any more.”

“That’s true, that’s true,” cried Madame Hohlakov.

“Wait, dear. I haven’t told you the chief, the final decision I came to during the night. I feel that perhaps my decision is a terrible one — for me, but I foresee that nothing will induce me to change it — nothing. It will be so all my life. My dear, kind, ever-faithful and generous adviser, the one friend I have in the world, Ivan Fyodorovitch, with his deep insight into the heart, approves and commends my decision. He knows it.”

“Yes, I approve of it,” Ivan assented, in a subdued but firm voice.

“But I should like Alyosha, too (Ah! Alexey Fyodorovitch, forgive my calling you simply Alyosha), I should like Alexey Fyodorovitch, too, to tell me before my two friends whether I am right. I feel instinctively that you, Alyosha, my dear brother (for are a dear brother to me),” she said again ecstatically, taking his cold hand in her hot one, “I foresee that your decision, your approval, will bring me peace, in spite of all my sufferings, for, after your words, I shall be calm and submit — I feel that.”

“I don’t know what you are asking me,” said Alyosha, flushing. “I only know that I love you and at this moment wish for your happiness more than my own! . . . But I know nothing about such affairs,” something impelled him to add hurriedly.

“In such affairs, Alexey Fyodorovitch, in such affairs, the chief thing is honour and duty and something higher — I don’t know what but higher perhaps even than duty. I am conscious of this irresistible feeling in my heart, and it compels me irresistibly. But it may all be put in two words. I’ve already decided, even if he marries that — creature,” she began solemnly, “whom I never, never can forgive, even then I will not abandon him. Henceforward I will never, never abandon him!” she cried, breaking into a sort of pale, hysterical ecstasy. “Not that I would run after him continually, get in his way and worry him. Oh, no! I will go away to another town — where you like — but I will watch over him all my life — I will watch over him all my life unceasingly. When he becomes unhappy with that woman, and that is bound to happen quite soon, let him come to me and he will find a friend, a sister . . . Only a sister, of course, and so for ever; but he will learn at least that that sister is really his sister, who loves him and has sacrificed all her life to him. I will gain my point. I will insist on his knowing me confiding entirely in me, without reserve,” she cried, in a sort of frenzy. “I will be a god to whom he can pray — and that, at least, he owes me for his treachery and for what I suffered yesterday through him. And let him see that all my life I will be true to him and the promise I gave him, in spite of his being untrue and betraying me. I will — I will become nothing but a means for his happiness, or — how shall I say? — an instrument, a machine for his happiness, and that for my whole life, my whole life, and that he may see that all his life! That’s my decision. Ivan Fyodorovitch fully approves me.”

She was breathless. She had perhaps intended to express her idea with more dignity, art and naturalness, but her speech was too hurried and crude. It was full of youthful impulsiveness, it betrayed that she was still smarting from yesterday’s insult, and that her pride craved satisfaction. She felt this herself. Her face suddenly darkened, an unpleasant look came into her eyes. Alyosha at once saw it and felt a pang of sympathy. His brother Ivan made it worse by adding:

“I’ve only expressed my own view,” he said. “From anyone else, this would have been affected and over-strained, but from you — no. Any other woman would have been wrong, but you are right. I don’t know how to explain it, but I see that you are absolutely genuine and, therefore, you are right.”

“But that’s only for the moment. And what does this moment stand for? Nothing but yesterday’s insult.” Madame Hohlakov obviously had not intended to interfere, but she could not refrain from this very just comment.

“Quite so, quite so,” cried Ivan, with peculiar eagerness, obviously annoyed at being interrupted, “in anyone else this moment would be only due to yesterday’s impression and would be only a moment. But with Katerina Ivanovna’s character, that moment will last all her life. What for anyone else would be only a promise is for her an everlasting burdensome, grim perhaps, but unflagging duty. And she will be sustained by the feeling of this duty being fulfilled. Your life, Katerina Ivanovna, will henceforth be spent in painful brooding over your own feelings, your own heroism, and your own suffering; but in the end that suffering will be softened and will pass into sweet contemplation of the fulfilment of a bold and proud design. Yes, proud it certainly is, and desperate in any case, but a triumph for you. And the consciousness of it will at last be a source of complete satisfaction and will make you resigned to everything else.”

This was unmistakably said with some malice and obviously with intention; even perhaps with no desire to conceal that he spoke ironically and with intention.

“Oh, dear, how mistaken it all is!” Madame Hohlakov cried again.

“Alexey Fyodorovitch, you speak. I want dreadfully to know what you will say!” cried Katerina Ivanovna, and burst into tears. Alyosha got up from the sofa.

“It’s nothing, nothing!” she went on through her tears. “I’m upset, I didn’t sleep last night. But by the side of two such friends as you and your brother I still feel strong — for I know you two will never desert me.”

“Unluckily I am obliged to return to Moscow — perhaps to-morrow — and to leave you for a long time — and, unluckily, it’s unavoidable,” Ivan said suddenly.

“To-morrow — to Moscow!” her face was suddenly contorted; “but — but, dear me, how fortunate!” she cried in a voice suddenly changed. In one instant there was no trace left of her tears. She underwent an instantaneous transformation, which amazed Alyosha. Instead of a poor, insulted girl, weeping in a sort of “laceration,” he saw a woman completely self-possessed and even exceedingly pleased, as though something agreeable had just happened.

“Oh, not fortunate that I am losing you, of course not,” she collected herself suddenly, with a charming society smile. “Such a friend as you are could not suppose that. I am only too unhappy at losing you.” She rushed impulsively at Ivan, and seizing both his hands, pressed them warmly. “But what is fortunate is that you will be able in Moscow to see auntie and Agafya and to tell them all the horror of my present position. You can speak with complete openness to Agafya, but spare dear auntie. You will know how to do that. You can’t think how wretched I was yesterday and this morning, wondering how I could write them that dreadful letter — for one can never tell such things in a letter . . . Now it will be easy for me to write, for you will see them and explain everything. Oh, how glad I am! But I am only glad of that, believe me. Of course, no one can take your place. . . . I will run at once to write the letter,” she finished suddenly, and took a step as though to go out of the room.

“And what about Alyosha and his opinion, which you were so desperately anxious to hear?” cried Madame Hohlakov. There was a sarcastic, angry note in her voice.

“I had not forgotten that,” cried Katerina Ivanovna, coming to a sudden standstill, “and why are you so antagonistic at such a moment?” she added, with warm and bitter reproachfulness. “What I said, I repeat. I must have his opinion. More than that, I must have his decision! As he says, so it shall be. You see how anxious I am for your words, Alexey Fyodorovitch . . . But what’s the matter?”

“I couldn’t have believed it. I can’t understand it!” Alyosha cried suddenly in distress.

“He is going to Moscow, and you cry out that you are glad. You said that on purpose! And you begin explaining that you are not glad of that but sorry to be — losing a friend. But that was acting, too — you were playing a part as in a theatre!”

“In a theatre? What? What do you mean?” exclaimed Katerina Ivanovna, profoundly astonished, flushing crimson, and frowning.

“Though you assure him you are sorry to lose a friend in him, you persist in telling him to his face that it’s fortunate he is going,” said Alyosha breathlessly. He was standing at the table and did not sit down.

“What are you talking about? I don’t understand.”

“I don’t understand myself. . . . I seemed to see in a flash . . . I know I am not saying it properly, but I’ll say it all the same,” Alyosha went on in the same shaking and broken voice. “What I see is that perhaps you don’t love Dmitri at all . . . and never have, from the beginning. . . . And Dmitri, too, has never loved you . . . and only esteems you. . . . I really don’t know how I dare to say all this, but somebody must tell the truth . . . for nobody here will tell the truth.”

“What truth?” cried Katerina Ivanovna,and there was an hysterical ring in her voice.

“I’ll tell you,” Alyosha went on with desperate haste, as though he were jumping from the top of a house. “Call Dmitri; I will fetch him and let him come here and take your hand and take Ivan’s and join your hands. For you’re torturing Ivan, simply because you love him — and torturing him, because you love Dmitri through ‘self-laceration’-with an unreal love — because you’ve persuaded yourself.”

Alyosha broke off and was silent.

“You . . . you . . . you are a little religious idiot — that’s what you are!” Katerina Ivanovna snapped. Her face was white and her lips were moving with anger.

Ivan suddenly laughed and got up. His hat was in his hand.

“You are mistaken, my good Alyosha,” he said, with an expression Alyosha had never seen in his face before — an expression of youthful sincerity and strong, irresistibly frank feeling. “Katerina Ivanovna has never cared for me! She has known all the time that I cared for her — though I never said a word of my love to her — she knew, but she didn’t care for me. I have never been her friend either, not for one moment; she is too proud to need my friendship. She kept me at her side as a means of revenge. She revenged with me and on me all the insults which she has been continually receiving from Dmitri ever since their first meeting. For even that first meeting has rankled in her heart as an insult — that’s what her heart is like! She has talked to me of nothing but her love for him. I am going now; but, believe me, Katerina Ivanovna, you really love him. And the more he insults you, the more you love him — that’s your ‘laceration.’ You love him just as he is; you love him for insulting you. If he reformed, you’d give him up at once and cease to love him. But you need him so as to contemplate continually your heroic fidelity and to reproach him for infidelity. And it all comes from your pride. Oh, there’s a great deal of humiliation and self-abasement about it, but it all comes from pride. . . . I am too young and I’ve loved you too much. I know that I ought not to say this, that it would be more dignified on my part simply to leave you, and it would be less offensive for you. But I am going far away, and shall never come back. . . . It is for ever. I don’t want to sit beside a ‘laceration.’ . . . But I don’t know how to speak now. I’ve said everything. . . . Good-bye, Katerina Ivanovna; you can’t be angry with me, for I am a hundred times more severely punished than you, if only by the fact that I shall never see you again. Good-bye! I don’t want your hand. You have tortured me too deliberately for me to be able to forgive you at this moment. I shall forgive you later, but now I don’t want your hand. Den Dank, Dame, begehr ich nicht,”6 he added, with a forced smile, showing, however, that he could read Schiller, and read him till he knew him by heart — which Alyosha would never have believed. He went out of the room without saying good-bye even to his hostess, Madame Hohlakov. Alyosha clasped his hands.

6 Thank you, madam, I want nothing.

“Ivan!” he cried desperately after him. “Come back, Ivan! No, nothing will induce him to come back now!” he cried again, regretfully realising it; “but it’s my fault, my fault. I began it! Ivan spoke angrily, wrongly. Unjustly and angrily. He must come back here, come back,” Alyosha kept exclaiming frantically.

Katerina Ivanovna went suddenly into the next room.

“You have done no harm. You behaved beautifully, like an angel,” Madame Hohlakov whispered rapidly and ecstatically to Alyosha. “I will do my utmost to prevent Ivan Fyodorovitch from going.”

Her face beamed with delight, to the great distress of Alyosha, but Katerina Ivanovna suddenly returned. She had two hundred-rouble notes in her hand.

“I have a great favour to ask of you, Alexey Fyodorovitch,” she began, addressing Alyosha with an apparently calm and even voice, as though nothing had happened. “A week — yes, I think it was a week ago — Dmitri Fyodorovitch was guilty of a hasty and unjust action — a very ugly action. There is a low tavern here, and in it he met that discharged officer, that captain, whom your father used to employ in some business. Dmitri Fyodorovitch somehow lost his temper with this captain, seized him by the beard and dragged him out into the street and for some distance along it, in that insulting fashion. And I am told that his son, a boy, quite a child, who is at the school here, saw it and ran beside them crying and begging for his father, appealing to everyone to defend him, while everyone laughed. You must forgive me, Alexey Fyodorovitch, I cannot think without indignation of that disgraceful action of his . . . one of those actions of which only Dmitri Fyodorovitch would be capable in his anger . . . and in his passions! I can’t describe it even. . . . I can’t find my words. I’ve made inquiries about his victim, and find he is quite a poor man. His name is Snegiryov. He did something wrong in the army and was discharged. I can’t tell you what. And now he has sunk into terrible destitution, with his family — an unhappy family of sick children, and, I believe, an insane wife. He has been living here a long time; he used to work as a copying clerk, but now he is getting nothing. I thought if you . . . that is I thought . . . I don’t know. I am so confused. You see, I wanted to ask you, my dear Alexey Fyodorovitch, to go to him, to find some excuse to go to them — I mean to that captain — oh, goodness, how badly I explain it! — and delicately, carefully, as only you know how to” (Alyosha blushed), “manage to give him this assistance, these two hundred roubles. He will be sure to take it. . . . I mean, persuade him to take it. . . . Or, rather, what do I mean? You see it’s not by way of compensation to prevent him from taking proceedings (for I believe he meant to), but simply a token of sympathy, of a desire to assist him from me, Dmitri Fyodorovitch’s betrothed, not from himself. . . . But you know. . . . I would go myself, but you’ll know how to do it ever so much better. He lives in Lake Street in the house of a woman called Kalmikov. . . . For God’s sake, Alexey Fyodorovitch, do it for me, and now . . . now I am rather . . . tired . . . Good-bye!”

She turned and disappeared behind the portiere so quickly that Alyosha had not time to utter a word, though he wanted to speak. He longed to beg her pardon, to blame himself, to say something, for his heart was full and he could not bear to go out of the room without it. But Madame Hohlakov took him by the hand and drew him along with her. In the hall she stopped him again as before.

“She is proud, she is struggling with herself; but kind, charming, generous, “she exclaimed, in a half-whisper. “Oh, how I love her, especially sometimes, and how glad I am again of everything! Dear Alexey Fyodorovitch, you didn’t know, but I must tell you, that we all, all — both her aunts, I and all of us, Lise, even — have been hoping and praying for nothing for the last month but that she may give up your favourite Dmitri, who takes no notice of her and does not care for her, and may marry Ivan Fyodorovitch — such an excellent and cultivated young man, who loves her more than anything in the world. We are in a regular plot to bring it about, and I am even staying on here perhaps on that account.”

“But she has been crying — she has been wounded again,” cried Alyosha.

“Never trust a woman’s tears, Alexey Fyodorovitch. I am never for the women in such cases. I am always on the side of the men.”

“Mamma, you are spoiling him,” Lise’s little voice cried from behind the door.

“No, it was all my fault. I am horribly to blame,” Alyosha repeated unconsoled, hiding his face in his hands in an agony of remorse for his indiscretion.

“Quite the contrary; you behaved like an angel, like an angel. I am ready to say so a thousand times over.”

“Mamma, how has he behaved like an angel?” Lise’s voice was heard again.

“I somehow fancied all at once,” Alyosha went on as though he had not heard Lise, “that she loved Ivan, and so I said that stupid thing. . . . What will happen now?”

“To whom, to whom?” cried Lise. “Mamma, you really want to be the death of me. I ask you and you don’t answer.”

At the moment the maid ran in.

“Katerina Ivanovna is ill. . . . She is crying, struggling . . . hysterics.”

“What is the matter?” cried Lise, in a tone of real anxiety. “Mamma, I shall be having hysterics, and not she!”

“Lise, for mercy’s sake, don’t scream, don’t persecute me. At your age one can’t know everything that grown-up people know. I’ll come and tell you everything you ought to know. Oh, mercy on us! I am coming, I am coming. . . . Hysterics is a good sign, Alexey Fyodorovitch; it’s an excellent thing that she is hysterical. That’s just as it ought to be. In such cases I am always against the woman, against all these feminine tears and hysterics. Run and say, Yulia, that I’ll fly to her. As for Ivan Fyodorovitch’s going away like that, it’s her own fault. But he won’t go away. Lise, for mercy’s sake, don’t scream! Oh, yes; you are not screaming. It’s I am screaming. Forgive your mamma; but I am delighted, delighted, delighted! Did you notice, Alexey Fyodorovitch, how young, how young Ivan Fyodorovitch was just now when he went out, when he said all that and went out? I thought he was so learned, such a savant, and all of a sudden he behaved so warmly, openly, and youthfully, with such youthful inexperience, and it was all so fine, like you. . . . And the way he repeated that German verse, it was just like you! But I must fly, I must fly! Alexey Fyodorovitch, make haste to carry out her commission, and then make haste back. Lise, do you want anything now? For mercy’s sake, don’t keep Alexey Fyodorovitch a minute. He will come back to you at once.”

Madame Hohlakov at last ran off. Before leaving, Alyosha would have opened the door to see Lise.

“On no account,” cried Lise. “On no account now. Speak through the door. How have you come to be an angel? That’s the only thing I want to know.”

“For an awful piece of stupidity, Lise! Goodbye!”

“Don’t dare to go away like that!” Lise was beginning.

“Lise, I have a real sorrow! I’ll be back directly, but I have a great, great sorrow!

And he ran out of the room.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:49