The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Chapter 9

The Devil. Ivan’s Nightmare

I AM NOT a doctor, but yet I feel that the moment has come when I must inevitably give the reader some account of the nature of Ivan’s illness. Anticipating events I can say at least one thing: he was at that moment on the very eve of an attack of brain fever. Though his health had long been affected, it had offered a stubborn resistance to the fever which in the end gained complete mastery over it. Though I know nothing of medicine, I venture to hazard the suggestion that he really had perhaps, by a terrible effort of will, succeeded in delaying the attack for a time, hoping, of course, to check it completely. He knew that he was unwell, but he loathed the thought of being ill at that fatal time, at the approaching crisis in his life, when he needed to have all his wits about him, to say what he had to say boldly and resolutely and “to justify himself to himself.”

He had, however, consulted the new doctor, who had been brought from Moscow by a fantastic notion of Katerina Ivanovna’s to which I have referred already. After listening to him and examining him the doctor came to the conclusion that he was actually suffering from some disorder of the brain, and was not at all surprised by an admission which Ivan had reluctantly made him. “Hallucinations are quite likely in your condition,” the doctor opined, ‘though it would be better to verify them . . . you must take steps at once, without a moment’s delay, or things will go badly with you.” But Ivan did not follow this judicious advice and did not take to his bed to be nursed. “I am walking about, so I am strong enough, if I drop, it’ll be different then, anyone may nurse me who likes,” he decided, dismissing the subject.

And so he was sitting almost conscious himself of his delirium and, as I have said already, looking persistently at some object on the sofa against the opposite wall. Someone appeared to be sitting there, though goodness knows how he had come in, for he had not been in the room when Ivan came into it, on his return from Smerdyakov. This was a person or, more accurately speaking, a Russian gentleman of a particular kind, no longer young, qui faisait la cinquantaine,19 as the French say, with rather long, still thick, dark hair, slightly streaked with grey and a small pointed beard. He was wearing a brownish reefer jacket, rather shabby, evidently made by a good tailor though, and of a fashion at least three years old, that had been discarded by smart and well-to-do people for the last two years. His linen and his long scarf-like neck-tie were all such as are worn by people who aim at being stylish, but on closer inspection his linen was not overclean and his wide scarf was very threadbare. The visitor’s check trousers were of excellent cut, but were too light in colour and too tight for the present fashion. His soft fluffy white hat was out of keeping with the season.

19 Fiftyish.

In brief there was every appearance of gentility on straitened means. It looked as though the gentleman belonged to that class of idle landowners who used to flourish in the times of serfdom. He had unmistakably been, at some time, in good and fashionable society, had once had good connections, had possibly preserved them indeed, but, after a gay youth, becoming gradually impoverished on the abolition of serfdom, he had sunk into the position of a poor relation of the best class, wandering from one good old friend to another and received by them for his companionable and accommodating disposition and as being, after all, a gentleman who could be asked to sit down with anyone, though, of course, not in a place of honour. Such gentlemen of accommodating temper and dependent position, who can tell a story, take a hand at cards, and who have a distinct aversion for any duties that may be forced upon them, are usually solitary creatures, either bachelors or widowers. Sometimes they have children, but if so, the children are always being brought up at a distance, at some aunt’s, to whom these gentlemen never allude in good society, seeming ashamed of the relationship. They gradually lose sight of their children altogether, though at intervals they receive a birthday or Christmas letter from them and sometimes even answer it.

The countenance of the unexpected visitor was not so much good-natured, as accommodating and ready to assume any amiable expression as occasion might arise. He had no watch, but he had a tortoise-shell lorgnette on a black ribbon. On the middle finger of his right hand was a massive gold ring with a cheap opal stone in it.

Ivan was angrily silent and would not begin the conversation. The visitor waited and sat exactly like a poor relation who had come down from his room to keep his host company at tea, and was discreetly silent, seeing that his host was frowning and preoccupied. But he was ready for any affable conversation as soon as his host should begin it. All at once his face expressed a sudden solicitude.

“I say,” he began to Ivan, “excuse me, I only mention it to remind you. You went to Smerdyakov’s to find out about Katerina Ivanovna, but you came away without finding out anything about her, you probably forgot-”

“Ah, yes.” broke from Ivan and his face grew gloomy with uneasiness. “Yes, I’d forgotten . . . but it doesn’t matter now, never mind, till to-morrow,” he muttered to himself, “and you,” he added, addressing his visitor, “I should have remembered that myself in a minute, for that was just what was tormenting me! Why do you interfere, as if I should believe that you prompted me, and that I didn’t remember it of myself?”

“Don’t believe it then,” said the gentleman, smiling amicably, “what’s the good of believing against your will? Besides, proofs are no help to believing, especially material proofs. Thomas believed, not because he saw Christ risen, but because he wanted to believe, before he saw. Look at the spiritualists, for instance. . . . I am very fond of them . . . only fancy, they imagine that they are serving the cause of religion, because the devils show them their horns from the other world. That, they say, is a material proof, so to speak, of the existence of another world. The other world and material proofs, what next! And if you come to that, does proving there’s a devil prove that there’s a God? I want to join an idealist society, I’ll lead the opposition in it, I’ll say I am a realist, but not a materialist, he he!”

“Listen,” Ivan suddenly got up from the table. “I seem to be delirious . . . I am delirious, in fact, talk any nonsense you like, I don’t care! You won’t drive me to fury, as you did last time. But I feel somehow ashamed . . . I want to walk about the room. . . . I sometimes don’t see you and don’t even hear your voice as I did last time, but I always guess what you are prating, for it’s I, I myself speaking, not you. Only I don’t know whether I was dreaming last time or whether I really saw you. I’ll wet a towel and put it on my head and perhaps you’ll vanish into air.”

Ivan went into the corner, took a towel, and did as he said, and with a wet towel on his head began walking up and down the room.

“I am so glad you treat me so familiarly,” the visitor began.

“Fool,” laughed Ivan, “do you suppose I should stand on ceremony with you? I am in good spirits now, though I’ve a pain in my forehead . . . and in the top of my head . . . only please don’t talk philosophy, as you did last time. If you can’t take yourself off, talk of something amusing. Talk gossip, you are a poor relation, you ought to talk gossip. What a nightmare to have! But I am not afraid of you. I’ll get the better of you. I won’t be taken to a mad-house!”

“C’est charmant, poor relation. Yes, I am in my natural shape. For what am I on earth but a poor relation? By the way, I am listening to you and am rather surprised to find you are actually beginning to take me for something real, not simply your fancy, as you persisted in declaring last time-”

“Never for one minute have I taken you for reality,” Ivan cried with a sort of fury. “You are a lie, you are my illness, you are a phantom. It’s only that I don’t know how to destroy you and I see I must suffer for a time. You are my hallucination. You are the incarnation of myself, but only of one side of me . . . of my thoughts and feelings, but only the nastiest and stupidest of them. From that point of view you might be of interest to me, if only I had time to waste on you-”

“Excuse me, excuse me, I’ll catch you. When you flew out at Alyosha under the lamp-post this evening and shouted to him, ‘You learnt it from him! How do you know that he visits me?’ You were thinking of me then. So for one brief moment you did believe that I really exist,” the gentleman laughed blandly.

“Yes, that was a moment of weakness . . . but I couldn’t believe in you. I don’t know whether I was asleep or awake last time. Perhaps I was only dreaming then and didn’t see you really at all-”

“And why were you so surly with Alyosha just now? He is a dear; I’ve treated him badly over Father Zossima.”

“Don’t talk of Alyosha! How dare you, you flunkey!” Ivan laughed again.

“You scold me, but you laugh — that’s a good sign. But you are ever so much more polite than you were last time and I know why: that great resolution of yours-”

“Don’t speak of my resolution,” cried Ivan, savagely.

“I understand, I understand, c’est noble, c’est charmant, you are going to defend your brother and to sacrifice yourself . . . C’est chevaleresque.”

“Hold your tongue, I’ll kick you!”

“I shan’t be altogether sorry, for then my object will be attained. If you kick me, you must believe in my reality, for people don’t kick ghosts. Joking apart, it doesn’t matter to me, scold if you like, though it’s better to be a trifle more polite even to me. ‘Fool, flunkey!’ what words!”

“Scolding you, I scold myself,” Ivan laughed again, “you are myself, myself, only with a different face. You just say what I am thinking . . . and are incapable of saying anything new!”

“If I am like you in my way of thinking, it’s all to my credit,” the gentleman declared, with delicacy and dignity.

“You choose out only my worst thoughts, and what’s more, the stupid ones. You are stupid and vulgar. You are awfully stupid. No, I can’t put up with you! What am I to do, what am I to do?” Ivan said through his clenched teeth.

“My dear friend, above all things I want to behave like a gentleman and to be recognised as such,” the visitor began in an access of deprecating and simple-hearted pride, typical of a poor relation. “I am poor, but . . . I won’t say very honest, but . . . it’s an axiom generally accepted in society that I am a fallen angel. I certainly can’t conceive how I can ever have been an angel. If I ever was, it must have been so long ago that there’s no harm in forgetting it. Now I only prize the reputation of being a gentlemanly person and live as I can, trying to make myself agreeable. I love men genuinely, I’ve been greatly calumniated! Here when I stay with you from time to time, my life gains a kind of reality and that’s what I like most of all. You see, like you, I suffer from the fantastic and so I love the realism of earth. Here, with you, everything is circumscribed, here all is formulated and geometrical, while we have nothing but indeterminate equations! I wander about here dreaming. I like dreaming. Besides, on earth I become superstitious. Please don’t laugh, that’s just what I like, to become superstitious. I adopt all your habits here: I’ve grown fond of going to the public baths, would you believe it? and I go and steam myself with merchants and priests. What I dream of is becoming incarnate once for all and irrevocably in the form of some merchant’s wife weighing eighteen stone, and of believing all she believes. My ideal is to go to church and offer a candle in simple-hearted faith, upon my word it is. Then there would be an end to my sufferings. I like being doctored too; in the spring there was an outbreak of smallpox and I went and was vaccinated in a foundling hospital — if only you knew how I enjoyed myself that day. I subscribed ten roubles in the cause of the Slavs! . . . But you are not listening. Do you know, you are not at all well this evening? I know you went yesterday to that doctor . . . well, what about your health? What did the doctor say?”

“Fool!” Ivan snapped out.

“But you are clever, anyway. You are scolding again? I didn’t ask out of sympathy. You needn’t answer. Now rheumatism has come in again-”

“Fool!” repeated Ivan.

“You keep saying the same thing; but I had such an attack of rheumatism last year that I remember it to this day.”

“The devil have rheumatism!”

“Why not, if I sometimes put on fleshly form? I put on fleshly form and I take the consequences. Satan sum et nihil humanum a me alienum puto.”20

20 I am Satan, and deem nothing human alien to me.

“What, what, Satan sum et nihil humanum . . . that’s not bad for the devil!”

“I am glad I’ve pleased you at last.”

“But you didn’t get that from me.” Ivan stopped suddenly, seeming struck. “That never entered my head, that’s strange.”

“C’est du nouveau, n’est-ce pas?”21 This time I’ll act honestly and explain to you. Listen, in dreams and especially in nightmares, from indigestion or anything, a man sees sometimes such artistic visions, such complex and real actuality, such events, even a whole world of events, woven into such a plot, with such unexpected details from the most exalted matters to the last button on a cuff, as I swear Leo Tolstoy has never invented. Yet such dreams are sometimes seen not by writers, but by the most ordinary people, officials, journalists, priests. . . . The subject is a complete enigma. A statesman confessed to me, indeed, that all his best ideas came to him when he was asleep. Well, that’s how it is now, though I am your hallucination, yet just as in a nightmare, I say original things which had not entered your head before. So I don’t repeat your ideas, yet I am only your nightmare, nothing more.”

21 It’s new, isn’t it?

“You are lying, your aim is to convince me you exist apart and are not my nightmare, and now you are asserting you are a dream.”

“My dear fellow, I’ve adopted a special method to-day, I’ll explain it to you afterwards. Stay, where did I break off? Oh, yes! I caught cold then, only not here but yonder.”

“Where is yonder? Tell me, will you be here long. Can’t you go away?” Ivan exclaimed almost in despair. He ceased walking to and fro, sat down on the sofa, leaned his elbows on the table again and held his head tight in both hands. He pulled the wet towel off and flung it away in vexation. It was evidently of no use.

“Your nerves are out of order,” observed the gentleman, with a carelessly easy, though perfectly polite, air. “You are angry with me even for being able to catch cold, though it happened in a most natural way. I was hurrying then to a diplomatic soiree at the house of a lady of high rank in Petersburg, who was aiming at influence in the Ministry. Well, an evening suit, white tie, gloves, though I was God knows where and had to fly through space to reach your earth. . . . Of course, it took only an instant, but you know a ray of light from the sun takes full eight minutes, and fancy in an evening suit and open waistcoat. Spirits don’t freeze, but when one’s in fleshly form, well . . . in brief, I didn’t think, and set off, and you know in those ethereal spaces, in the water that is above the firmament, there’s such a frost . . . at least one can’t call it frost, you fancy, 150 degrees below zero! You know the game the village girls play — they invite the unwary to lick an axe in thirty degrees of frost, the tongue instantly freezes to it and the dupe tears the skin off, so it bleeds. But that’s only in 30 degrees, in 150 degrees I imagine it would be enough to put your finger on the axe and it would be the end of it . . . if only there could be an axe there.”

“And can there be an axe there?” Ivan interrupted, carelessly and disdainfully. He was exerting himself to the utmost not to believe in the delusion and not to sink into complete insanity

“An axe?” the guest interrupted in surprise.

“Yes, what would become of an axe there?” Ivan cried suddenly, with a sort of savage and insistent obstinacy.

“What would become of an axe in space? Quelle idee! If it were to fall to any distance, it would begin, I think, flying round the earth without knowing why, like a satellite. The astronomers would calculate the rising and the setting of the axe; Gatzuk would put it in his calendar, that’s all.”

“You are stupid, awfully stupid,” said Ivan peevishly. “Fib more cleverly or I won’t listen. You want to get the better of me by realism, to convince me that you exist, but I don’t want to believe you exist! I won’t believe it!”

“But I am not fibbing, it’s all the truth; the truth is unhappily hardly ever amusing. I see you persist in expecting something big of me, and perhaps something fine. That’s a great pity, for I only give what I can-”

“Don’t talk philosophy, you ass!”

“Philosophy, indeed, when all my right side is numb and I am moaning and groaning. I’ve tried all the medical faculty: they can diagnose beautifully, they have the whole of your disease at their finger-tips, but they’ve no idea how to cure you. There was an enthusiastic little student here, ‘You may die,’ said he, ‘but you’ll know perfectly what disease you are dying of!’ And then what a way they have of sending people to specialists! ‘We only diagnose,’ they say, ‘but go to such-and-such a specialist, he’ll cure you.’ The old doctor who used to cure all sorts of disease has completely disappeared, I assure you, now there are only specialists and they all advertise in the newspapers. If anything is wrong with your nose, they send you to Paris: there, they say, is a European specialist who cures noses. If you go to Paris, he’ll look at your nose; I can only cure your right nostril, he’ll tell you, for I don’t cure the left nostril, that’s not my speciality, but go to Vienna, there there’s a specialist who will cure your left nostril. What are you to do? I fell back on popular remedies, a German doctor advised me to rub myself with honey and salt in the bath-house. Solely to get an extra bath I went, smeared myself all over and it did me no good at all. In despair I wrote to Count Mattei in Milan. He sent me a book and some drops, bless him, and, only fancy, Hoff’s malt extract cured me! I bought it by accident, drank a bottle and a half of it, and I was ready to dance, it took it away completely. I made up my mind to write to the papers to thank him, I was prompted by a feeling of gratitude, and only fancy, it led to no end of a bother: not a single paper would take my letter. ‘It would be very reactionary,’ they said, ‘none will believe it. Le diable n’existe point.22 You’d better remain anonymous,’ they advised me. What use is a letter of thanks if it’s anonymous? I laughed with the men at the newspaper office; ‘It’s reactionary to believe in God in our days,’ I said, ‘but I am the devil, so I may be believed in.’ ‘We quite understand that,’ they said. ‘Who doesn’t believe in the devil? Yet it won’t do, it might injure our reputation. As a joke, if you like.’ But I thought as a joke it wouldn’t be very witty. So it wasn’t printed. And do you know, I have felt sore about it to this day. My best feelings, gratitude, for instance, are literally denied me simply from my social position.”

22 The devil does not exist.

“Philosophical reflections again?” Ivan snarled malignantly.

“God preserve me from it, but one can’t help complaining sometimes. I am a slandered man. You upbraid me every moment with being stupid. One can see you are young. My dear fellow, intelligence isn’t the only thing! I have naturally a kind and merry heart. ‘I also write vaudevilles of all sorts.’ You seem to take me for Hlestakov grown old, but my fate is a far more serious one. Before time was, by some decree which I could never make out, I was predestined ‘to deny’ and yet I am genuinely good-hearted and not at all inclined to negation. ‘No, you must go and deny, without denial there’s no criticism and what would a journal be without a column of criticism?’ Without criticism it would be nothing but one ‘hosannah.’ But nothing but hosannah is not enough for life, the hosannah must be tried in the crucible of doubt and so on, in the same style. But I don’t meddle in that, I didn’t create it, I am not answerable for it. Well, they’ve chosen their scapegoat, they’ve made me write the column of criticism and so life was made possible. We understand that comedy; I, for instance, simply ask for annihilation. No, live, I am told, for there’d be nothing without you. If everything in the universe were sensible, nothing would happen. There would be no events without you, and there must be events. So against the grain I serve to produce events and do what’s irrational because I am commanded to. For all their indisputable intelligence, men take this farce as something serious, and that is their tragedy. They suffer, of course . . . but then they live, they live a real life, not a fantastic one, for suffering is life. Without suffering what would be the pleasure of it? It would be transformed into an endless church service; it would be holy, but tedious. But what about me? I suffer, but still, I don’t live. I am x in an indeterminate equation. I am a sort of phantom in life who has lost all beginning and end, and who has even forgotten his own name. You are laughing — no, you are not laughing, you are angry again. You are for ever angry, all you care about is intelligence, but I repeat again that I would give away all this superstellar life, all the ranks and honours, simply to be transformed into the soul of a merchant’s wife weighing eighteen stone and set candles at God’s shrine.”

“Then even you don’t believe in God?” said Ivan, with a smile of hatred.

“What can I say? — that is, if you are in earnest-”

“Is there a God or not?” Ivan cried with the same savage intensity.

“Ah, then you are in earnest! My dear fellow, upon my word I don’t know. There! I’ve said it now!”

“You don’t know, but you see God? No, you are not someone apart, you are myself, you are I and nothing more! You are rubbish, you are my fancy!”

“Well, if you like, I have the same philosophy as you, that would be true. Je pense, donc je suis,23 I know that for a fact; all the rest, all these worlds, God and even Satan — all that is not proved, to my mind. Does all that exist of itself, or is it only an emanation of myself, a logical development of my ego which alone has existed for ever: but I make haste to stop, for I believe you will be jumping up to beat me directly.”

23 I think, therefore I am.

“You’d better tell me some anecdote!” said Ivan miserably.

“There is an anecdote precisely on our subject, or rather a legend, not an anecdote. You reproach me with unbelief; you see, you say, yet you don’t believe. But, my dear fellow, I am not the only one like that. We are all in a muddle over there now and all through your science. Once there used to be atoms, five senses, four elements, and then everything hung together somehow. There were atoms in the ancient world even, but since we’ve learned that you’ve discovered the chemical molecule and protoplasm and the devil knows what, we had to lower our crest. There’s a regular muddle, and, above all, superstition, scandal; there’s as much scandal among us as among you, you know; a little more in fact, and spying, indeed, for we have our secret police department where private information is received. Well, this wild legend belongs to our middle ages — not yours, but ours — and no one believes it even among us, except the old ladies of eighteen stone, not your old ladies I mean, but ours. We’ve everything you have, I am revealing one of our secrets out of friendship for you; though it’s forbidden. This legend is about Paradise. There was, they say, here on earth a thinker and philosopher. He rejected everything, ‘laws, conscience, faith,’ and, above all, the future life. He died; he expected to go straight to darkness and death and he found a future life before him. He was astounded and indignant. ‘This is against my principles!’ he said. And he was punished for that . . . that is, you must excuse me, I am just repeating what I heard myself, it’s only a legend . . . he was sentenced to walk a quadrillion kilometres in the dark (we’ve adopted the metric system, you know): and when he has finished that quadrillion, the gates of heaven would be opened to him and he’ll be forgiven-”

“And what tortures have you in the other world besides the quadrillion kilometres?” asked Ivan, with a strange eagerness.

“What tortures? Ah, don’t ask. In old days we had all sorts, but now they have taken chiefly to moral punishments — ‘the stings of conscience’ and all that nonsense. We got that, too, from you, from the softening of your manners. And who’s the better for it? Only those who have got no conscience, for how can they be tortured by conscience when they have none? But decent people who have conscience and a sense of honour suffer for it. Reforms, when the ground has not been prepared for them, especially if they are institutions copied from abroad, do nothing but mischief! The ancient fire was better. Well, this man, who was condemned to the quadrillion kilometres, stood still, looked round and lay down across the road. ‘I won’t go, I refuse on principle!’ Take the soul of an enlightened Russian atheist and mix it with the soul of the prophet Jonah, who sulked for three days and nights in the belly of the whale, and you get the character of that thinker who lay across the road.”

“What did he lie on there?”

“Well, I suppose there was something to lie on. You are not laughing?”

“Bravo!” cried Ivan, still with the same strange eagerness. Now he was listening with an unexpected curiosity. “Well, is he lying there now?”

“That’s the point, that he isn’t. He lay there almost a thousand years and then he got up and went on.”

“What an ass!” cried Ivan, laughing nervously and still seeming to be pondering something intently. “Does it make any difference whether he lies there for ever or walks the quadrillion kilometres? It would take a billion years to walk it?”

“Much more than that. I haven’t got a pencil and paper or I could work it out. But he got there long ago, and that’s where the story begins.”

“What, he got there? But how did he get the billion years to do it?”

“Why, you keep thinking of our present earth! But our present earth may have been repeated a billion times. Why, it’s become extinct, been frozen; cracked, broken to bits, disintegrated into its elements, again ‘the water above the firmament,’ then again a comet, again a sun, again from the sun it becomes earth — and the same sequence may have been repeated endlessly and exactly the same to every detail, most unseemly and insufferably tedious-”

“Well, well, what happened when he arrived?”

“Why, the moment the gates of Paradise were open and he walked in; before he had been there two seconds, by his watch (though to my thinking his watch must have long dissolved into its elements on the way), he cried out that those two seconds were worth walking not a quadrillion kilometres but a quadrillion of quadrillions, raised to the quadrillionth power! In fact, he sang ‘hosannah’ and overdid it so, that some persons there of lofty ideas wouldn’t shake hands with him at first — he’d become too rapidly reactionary, they said. The Russian temperament. I repeat, it’s a legend. I give it for what it’s worth, so that’s the sort of ideas we have on such subjects even now.”

“I’ve caught you!” Ivan cried, with an almost childish delight, as though he had succeeded in remembering something at last. “That anecdote about the quadrillion years, I made up myself! I was seventeen then, I was at the high school. I made up that anecdote and told it to a schoolfellow called Korovkin, it was at Moscow. . . . The anecdote is so characteristic that I couldn’t have taken it from anywhere. I thought I’d forgotten it . . . but I’ve unconsciously recalled it — I recalled it myself — it was not you telling it! Thousands of things are unconsciously remembered like that even when people are being taken to execution . . . it’s come back to me in a dream. You are that dream! You are a dream, not a living creature!”

“From the vehemence with which you deny my existence,” laughed the gentleman, “I am convinced that you believe in me.”

“Not in the slightest! I haven’t a hundredth part of a grain of faith in you!”

“But you have the thousandth of a grain. Homeopathic doses perhaps are the strongest. Confess that you have faith even to the ten-thousandth of a grain.”

“Not for one minute,” cried Ivan furiously. “But I should like to believe in you,” he added strangely.

“Aha! There’s an admission! But I am good-natured. I’ll come to your assistance again. Listen, it was I caught you, not you me. I told you your anecdote you’d forgotten, on purpose, so as to destroy your faith in me completely.”

“You are lying. The object of your visit is to convince me of your existence!”

“Just so. But hesitation, suspense, conflict between belief and disbelief — is sometimes such torture to a conscientious man, such as you are, that it’s better to hang oneself at once. Knowing that you are inclined to believe in me, I administered some disbelief by telling you that anecdote. I lead you to belief and disbelief by turns, and I have my motive in it. It’s the new method. As soon as you disbelieve in me completely, you’ll begin assuring me to my face that I am not a dream but a reality. I know you. Then I shall have attained my object, which is an honourable one. I shall sow in you only a tiny grain of faith and it will grow into an oak-tree — and such an oak-tree that, sitting on it, you will long to enter the ranks of ‘the hermits in the wilderness and the saintly women,’ for that is what you are secretly longing for. You’ll dine on locusts, you’ll wander into the wilderness to save your soul!”

“Then it’s for the salvation of my soul you are working, is it, you scoundrel?”

“One must do a good work sometimes. How ill-humoured you are!”

“Fool! did you ever tempt those holy men who ate locusts and prayed seventeen years in the wilderness till they were overgrown with moss?”

“My dear fellow, I’ve done nothing else. One forgets the whole world and all the worlds, and sticks to one such saint, because he is a very precious diamond. One such soul, you know, is sometimes worth a whole constellation. We have our system of reckoning, you know. The conquest is priceless! And some of them, on my word, are not inferior to you in culture, though you won’t believe it. They can contemplate such depths of belief and disbelief at the same moment that sometimes it really seems that they are within a hair’s-breadth of being ‘turned upside down,’ as the actor Gorbunov says.”

“Well, did you get your nose pulled?”

“My dear fellow,” observed the visitor sententiously, “it’s better to get off with your nose pulled than without a nose at all. As an afflicted marquis observed not long ago (he must have been treated by a specialist) in confession to his spiritual father — a Jesuit. I was present, it was simply charming. ‘Give me back my nose!’ he said, and he beat his breast. ‘My son,’ said the priest evasively, ‘all things are accomplished in accordance with the inscrutable decrees of Providence, and what seems a misfortune sometimes leads to extraordinary, though unapparent, benefits. If stern destiny has deprived you of your nose, it’s to your advantage that no one can ever pull you by your nose.’ ‘Holy father, that’s no comfort,’ cried the despairing marquis. ‘I’d be delighted to have my nose pulled every day of my life, if it were only in its proper place.’ ‘My son,’ sighs the priest, ‘you can’t expect every blessing at once. This is murmuring against Providence, who even in this has not forgotten you, for if you repine as you repined just now, declaring you’d be glad to have your nose pulled for the rest of your life, your desire has already been fulfilled indirectly, for when you lost your nose, you were led by the nose.’

“Fool, how stupid!” cried Ivan.

“My dear friend, I only wanted to amuse you. But I swear that’s the genuine Jesuit casuistry and I swear that it all happened word for word as I’ve told you. It happened lately and gave me a great deal of trouble. The unhappy young man shot himself that very night when he got home. I was by his side till the very last moment. Those Jesuit confessionals are really my most delightful diversion at melancholy moments. Here’s another incident that happened only the other day. A little blonde Norman girl of twenty — a buxom, unsophisticated beauty that would make your mouth water — comes to an old priest. She bends down and whispers her sin into the grating. ‘Why, my daughter, have you fallen again already?’ cries the priest: ‘O Sancta Maria, what do I hear! Not the same man this time, how long is this going on? Aren’t you ashamed!’ ‘Ah, mon pere,’ answers the sinner with tears of penitence, ‘Ca lui fait tant de plaisir, et a moi si peu de peine!’24 Fancy, such an answer! I drew back. It was the cry of nature, better than innocence itself, if you like. I absolved her sin on the spot and was turning to go, but I was forced to turn back. I heard the priest at the grating making an appointment with her for the evening — though he was an old man hard as flint, he fell in an instant! It was nature, the truth of nature asserted its rights! What, you are turning up your nose again? Angry again? I don’t know how to please you-”

24 Ah, my father, this gives him so much pleasure, and me so little pain!

“Leave me alone, you are beating on my brain like a haunting nightmare,” Ivan moaned miserably, helpless before his apparition. “I am bored with you, agonisingly and insufferably. I would give anything to be able to shake you off!”

“I repeat, moderate your expectations, don’t demand of me ‘everything great and noble,’ and you’ll see how well we shall get on,” said the gentleman impressively. “You are really angry with me for not having appeared to you in a red glow, with thunder and lightning, with scorched wings, but have shown myself in such a modest form. You are wounded, in the first place, in your asthetic feelings, and, secondly, in your pride. How could such a vulgar devil visit such a great man as you! Yes, there is that romantic strain in you, that was so derided by Byelinsky. I can’t help it, young man, as I got ready to come to you I did think as a joke of appearing in the figure of a retired general who had served in the Caucasus, with a star of the Lion and the Sun on my coat. But I was positively afraid of doing it, for you’d have thrashed me for daring to pin the Lion and the Sun on my coat, instead of, at least, the Polar Star or the Sirius. And you keep on saying I am stupid, but, mercy on us! I make no claim to be equal to you in intelligence. Mephistopheles declared to Faust that he desired evil, but did only good. Well, he can say what he likes, it’s quite the opposite with me. I am perhaps the one man in all creation who loves the truth and genuinely desires good. I was there when the Word, Who died on the Cross, rose up into heaven bearing on His bosom the soul of the penitent thief. I heard the glad shrieks of the cherubim singing and shouting hosannah and the thunderous rapture of the seraphim which shook heaven and all creation, and I swear to you by all that’s sacred, I longed to join the choir and shout hosannah with them all. The word had almost escaped me, had almost broken from my lips . . . you know how susceptible and aesthetically impressionable I am. But common sense — oh, a most unhappy trait in my character — kept me in due bounds and I let the moment pass! For what would have happened, I reflected, what would have happened after my hosannah? Everything on earth would have been extinguished at once and no events could have occurred. And so, solely from a sense of duty and my social position, was forced to suppress the good moment and to stick to my nasty task. Somebody takes all the credit of what’s good for Himself, and nothing but nastiness is left for me. But I don’t envy the honour of a life of idle imposture, I am not ambitious. Why am I, of all creatures in the world, doomed to be cursed by all decent people and even to be kicked, for if I put on mortal form I am bound to take such consequences sometimes? I know, of course, there’s a secret in it, but they won’t tell me the secret for anything, for then perhaps, seeing the meaning of it, I might bawl hosannah, and the indispensable minus would disappear at once, and good sense would reign supreme throughout the whole world. And that, of course, would mean the end of everything, even of magazines and newspapers, for who would take them in? I know that at the end of all things I shall be reconciled. I, too, shall walk my quadrillion and learn the secret. But till that happens I am sulking and fulfil my destiny though it’s against the grain — that is, to ruin thousands for the sake of saving one. How many souls have had to be ruined and how many honourable reputations destroyed for the sake of that one righteous man, Job, over whom they made such a fool of me in old days! Yes, till the secret is revealed, there are two sorts of truths for me — one, their truth, yonder, which I know nothing about so far, and the other my own. And there’s no knowing which will turn out the better. . . . Are you asleep?”

“I might well be,” Ivan groaned angrily. “All my stupid ideas — outgrown, thrashed out long ago, and flung aside like a dead carcass you present to me as something new!”

“There’s no pleasing you! And I thought I should fascinate you by my literary style. That hosannah in the skies really wasn’t bad, was it? And then that ironical tone a la Heine, eh?”

“No, I was never such a flunkey! How then could my soul beget a flunkey like you?”

“My dear fellow, I know a most charming and attractive young Russian gentleman, a young thinker and a great lover of literature and art, the author of a promising poem entitled The Grand Inquisitor. I was only thinking of him!”

“I forbid you to speak of The Grand Inquisitor,” cried Ivan, crimson with shame.

“And the Geological Cataclysm. Do you remember? That was a poem, now!”

“Hold your tongue, or I’ll kill you!”

“You’ll kill me? No, excuse me, I will speak. I came to treat myself to that pleasure. Oh, I love the dreams of my ardent young friends, quivering with eagerness for life! ‘There are new men,’ you decided last spring, when you were meaning to come here, ‘they propose to destroy everything and begin with cannibalism. Stupid fellows! they didn’t ask my advice! I maintain that nothing need be destroyed, that we only need to destroy the idea of God in man, that’s how we have to set to work. It’s that, that we must begin with. Oh, blind race of men who have no understanding! As soon as men have all of them denied God — and I believe that period, analogous with geological periods, will come to pass — the old conception of the universe will fall of itself without cannibalism, and, what’s more, the old morality, and everything will begin anew. Men will unite to take from life all it can give, but only for joy and happiness in the present world. Man will be lifted up with a spirit of divine Titanic pride and the man-god will appear. From hour to hour extending his conquest of nature infinitely by his will and his science, man will feel such lofty joy from hour to hour in doing it that it will make up for all his old dreams of the joys of heaven. Everyone will know that he is mortal and will accept death proudly and serenely like a god. His pride will teach him that it’s useless for him to repine at life’s being a moment, and he will love his brother without need of reward. Love will be sufficient only for a moment of life, but the very consciousness of its momentariness will intensify its fire, which now is dissipated in dreams of eternal love beyond the grave’ . . . and so on and so on in the same style. Charming!”

Ivan sat with his eyes on the floor, and his hands pressed to his ears, but he began trembling all over. The voice continued.

“The question now is, my young thinker reflected, is it possible that such a period will ever come? If it does, everything is determined and humanity is settled for ever. But as, owing to man’s inveterate stupidity, this cannot come about for at least a thousand years, everyone who recognises the truth even now may legitimately order his life as he pleases, on the new principles. In that sense, ‘all things are lawful’ for him. What’s more, even if this period never comes to pass, since there is anyway no God and no immortality, the new man may well become the man-god, even if he is the only one in the whole world, and promoted to his new position, he may lightheartedly overstep all the barriers of the old morality of the old slaveman, if necessary. There is no law for God. Where God stands, the place is holy. Where I stand will be at once the foremost place . . . ‘all things are lawful’ and that’s the end of it! That’s all very charming; but if you want to swindle why do you want a moral sanction for doing it? But that’s our modern Russian all over. He can’t bring himself to swindle without a moral sanction. He is so in love with truth-”

The visitor talked, obviously carried away by his own eloquence, speaking louder and louder and looking ironically at his host. But he did not succeed in finishing; Ivan suddenly snatched a glass from the table and flung it at the orator.

“Ah, mais c’est bete enfin,”25 cried the latter, jumping up from the sofa and shaking the drops of tea off himself. “He remembers Luther’s inkstand! He takes me for a dream and throws glasses at a dream! It’s like a woman! I suspected you were only pretending to stop up your ears.”

25 But after all, that’s stupid.

A loud, persistent knocking was suddenly heard at the window. Ivan jumped up from the sofa.

“Do you hear? You’d better open,” cried the visitor; “it’s your brother Alyosha with the most interesting and surprising news, I’ll be bound!”

“Be silent, deceiver, I knew it was Alyosha, I felt he was coming, and of course he has not come for nothing; of course he brings ‘news,’” Ivan exclaimed frantically.

“Open, open to him. There’s a snowstorm and he is your brother. Monsieur sait-il le temps qu’il fait? C’est a ne pas mettre un chien dehors.”26

26 Does the gentleman know the weather he’s making? It’s not weather for a dog.

The knocking continued. Ivan wanted to rush to the window, but something seemed to fetter his arms and legs. He strained every effort to break his chains, but in vain. The knocking at the window grew louder and louder. At last the chains were broken and Ivan leapt up from the sofa. He looked round him wildly. Both candles had almost burnt out, the glass he had just thrown at his visitor stood before him on the table, and there was no one on the sofa opposite. The knocking on the window frame went on persistently, but it was by no means so loud as it had seemed in his dream; on the contrary, it was quite subdued.

“It was not a dream! No, I swear it was not a dream, it all happened just now!” cried Ivan. He rushed to the window and opened the movable pane.

“Alyosha, I told you not to come,” he cried fiercely to his brother. “In two words, what do you want? In two words, do you hear?”

“An hour ago Smerdyakov hanged himself,” Alyosha answered from the yard.

“Come round to the steps, I’ll open at once,” said Ivan, going to open the door to Alyosha.

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