The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Chapter 7

An Historical Survey

“THE medical experts have striven to convince us that the prisoner is out of his mind and, in fact, a maniac. I maintain that he is in his right mind, and that if he had not been, he would have behaved more cleverly. As for his being a maniac, that I would agree with, but only in one point, that is, his fixed idea about the three thousand. Yet I think one might find a much simpler cause than his tendency to insanity. For my part I agree thoroughly with the young doctor who maintained that the prisoner’s mental faculties have always been normal, and that he has only been irritable and exasperated. The object of the prisoner’s continual and violent anger was not the sum itself; there was a special motive at the bottom of it. That motive is jealousy!”

Here Ippolit Kirillovitch described at length the prisoner’s fatal passion for Grushenka. He began from the moment when the prisoner went to the “young person’s” lodgings “to beat her” — “I use his own expression,” the prosecutor explained — “but instead of beating her, he remained there, at her feet. That was the beginning of the passion. At the same time the prisoner’s father was captivated by the same young person — a strange and fatal coincidence, for they both lost their hearts to her simultaneously, though both had known her before. And she inspired in both of them the most violent, characteristically Karamazov passion. We have her own confession: ‘I was laughing at both of them.’ Yes, the sudden desire to make a jest of them came over her, and she conquered both of them at once. The old man, who worshipped money, at once set aside three thousand roubles as a reward for one visit from her, but soon after that, he would have been happy to lay his property and his name at her feet, if only she would become his lawful wife. We have good evidence of this. As for the prisoner, the tragedy of his fate is evident; it is before us. But such was the young person’s ‘game.’ The enchantress gave the unhappy young man no hope until the last moment, when he knelt before her, stretching out hands that were already stained with the blood of his father and rival. It was in that position that he was arrested. ‘Send me to Siberia with him, I have brought him to this, I am most to blame,’ the woman herself cried, in genuine remorse at the moment of his arrest.

“The talented young man, to whom I have referred already, Mr. Rakitin, characterised this heroine in brief and impressive terms: ‘She was disillusioned early in life, deceived and ruined by a betrothed, who seduced and abandoned her. She was left in poverty, cursed by her respectable family and taken under the protection of a wealthy old man, whom she still, however, considers as her benefactor. There was perhaps much that was good in her young heart, but it was embittered too early. She became prudent and saved money. She grew sarcastic and resentful against society.’ After this sketch of her character it may well be understood that she might laugh at both of them simply from mischief, from malice.

“After a month of hopeless love and moral degradation, during which he betrayed his betrothed and appropriated money entrusted to his honour, the prisoner was driven almost to frenzy, almost to madness by continual jealousy — and of whom? His father! And the worst of it was that the crazy old man was alluring and enticing the object of his affection by means of that very three thousand roubles, which the son looked upon as his own property, part of his inheritance from his mother, of which his father was cheating him. Yes, I admit it was hard to bear! It might well drive a man to madness. It was not the money, but the fact that this money was used with such revolting cynicism to ruin his happiness!”

Then the prosecutor went on to describe how the idea of murdering his father had entered the prisoner’s head, and illustrated his theory with facts.

“At first he only talked about it in taverns — he was talking about it all that month. Ah, he likes being always surrounded with company, and he likes to tell his companions everything, even his most diabolical and dangerous ideas; he likes to share every thought with others, and expects, for some reason, that those he confides in will meet him with perfect sympathy, enter into all his troubles and anxieties, take his part and not oppose him in anything. If not, he flies into a rage and smashes up everything in the tavern. (Then followed the anecdote about Captain Snegiryov.) Those who heard the prisoner began to think at last that he might mean more than threats, and that such a frenzy might turn threats into actions.”

Here the prosecutor described the meeting of the family at the monastery, the conversations with Alyosha, and the horrible scene of violence when the prisoner had rushed into his father’s house just after dinner.

“I cannot positively assert,” the prosecutor continued, “that the prisoner fully intended to murder his father before that incident. Yet the idea had several times presented itself to him, and he had deliberated on it — for that we have facts, witnesses, and his own words. I confess, gentlemen of the jury,” he added, “that till to-day I have been uncertain whether to attribute to the prisoner conscious premeditation. I was firmly convinced that he had pictured the fatal moment beforehand, but had only pictured it, contemplating it as a possibility. He had not definitely considered when and how he might commit the crime.

“But I was only uncertain till to-day, till that fatal document was presented to the court just now. You yourselves heard that young lady’s exclamation, ‘It is the plan, the programme of the murder!’ That is how she defined that miserable, drunken letter of the unhappy prisoner. And, in fact, from that letter we see that the whole fact of the murder was premeditated. It was written two days before, and so we know now for a fact that, forty-eight hours before the perpetration of his terrible design, the prisoner swore that, if he could not get money next day, he would murder his father in order to take the envelope with the notes from under his pillow, as soon as Ivan had left. ‘As soon as Ivan had gone away’ — you hear that; so he had thought everything out, weighing every circumstance, and he carried it all out just as he had written it. The proof of premeditation is conclusive; the crime must have been committed for the sake of the money, that is stated clearly, that is written and signed. The prisoner does not deny his signature.

“I shall be told he was drunk when he wrote it. But that does not diminish the value of the letter, quite the contrary; he wrote when drunk what he had planned when sober. Had he not planned it when sober, he would not have written it when drunk. I shall be asked: Then why did he talk about it in taverns? A man who premeditates such a crime is silent and keeps it to himself. Yes, but he talked about it before he had formed a plan, when he had only the desire, only the impulse to it. Afterwards he talked less about it. On the evening he wrote that letter at the Metropolis tavern, contrary to his custom he was silent, though he had been drinking. He did not play billiards, he sat in a corner, talked to no one. He did indeed turn a shopman out of his seat, but that was done almost unconsciously, because he could never enter a tavern without making a disturbance. It is true that after he had taken the final decision, he must have felt apprehensive that he had talked too much about his design beforehand, and that this might lead to his arrest and prosecution afterwards. But there was nothing for it; he could not take his words back, but his luck had served him before, it would serve him again. He believed in his star, you know! I must confess, too, that he did a great deal to avoid the fatal catastrophe. ‘To-morrow I shall try and borrow the money from everyone,’ as he writes in his peculiar language,’ and if they won’t give it to me, there will be bloodshed.’”

Here Ippolit Kirillovitch passed to a detailed description of all Mitya’s efforts to borrow the money. He described his visit to Samsonov, his journey to Lyagavy. “Harassed, jeered at, hungry, after selling his watch to pay for the journey (though he tells us he had fifteen hundred roubles on him — a likely story), tortured by jealousy at having left the object of his affections in the town, suspecting that she would go to Fyodor Pavlovitch in his absense, he returned at last to the town, to find, to his joy, that she had not been near his father. He accompanied her himself to her protector. (Strange to say, he doesn’t seem to have been jealous of Samsonov, which is psychologically interesting.) Then he hastens back to his ambush in the back gardens, and then learns that Smerdyakov is in a fit, that the other servant is ill — the coast is clear and he knows the ‘signals’ — what a temptation! Still he resists it; he goes off to a lady who has for some time been residing in the town, and who is highly esteemed among us, Madame Hohlakov. That lady, who had long watched his career with compassion, gave him the most judicious advice, to give up his dissipated life, his unseemly love-affair, the waste of his youth and vigour in pot-house debauchery, and to set off to Siberia to the gold mines: ‘that would be an outlet for your turbulent energies, your romantic character, your thirst for adventure.’”

After describing the result of this conversation and the moment when the prisoner learnt that Grushenka had not remained at Samsonov’s, the sudden frenzy of the luckless man worn out with jealousy and nervous exhaustion, at the thought that she had deceived him and was now with his father, Ippolit Kirillovitch concluded by dwelling upon the fatal influence of chance. “Had the maid told him that her mistress was at Mokroe with her former lover, nothing would have happened. But she lost her head, she could only swear and protest her ignorance, and if the prisoner did not kill her on the spot, it was only because he flew in pursuit of his false mistress.

“But note, frantic as he was, he took with him a brass pestle. Why that? Why not some other weapon? But since he had been contemplating his plan and preparing himself for it for a whole month, he would snatch up anything like a weapon that caught his eye. He had realised for a month past that any object of the kind would serve as a weapon, so he instantly, without hesitation, recognised that it would serve his purpose. So it was by no means unconsciously, by no means involuntarily, that he snatched up that fatal pestle. And then we find him in his father’s garden — the coast is clear, there are no witnesses, darkness and jealousy. The suspicion that she was there, with him, with his rival, in his arms, and perhaps laughing at him at that moment — took his breath away. And it was not mere suspicion, the deception was open, obvious. She must be there, in that lighted room, she must be behind the screen; and the unhappy man would have us believe that he stole up to the window, peeped respectfully in, and discreetly withdrew, for fear something terrible and immoral should happen. And he tries to persuade us of that, us, who understand his character, who know his state of mind at the moment, and that he knew the signals by which he could at once enter the house.” At this point Ippolit Kirillovitch broke off to discuss exhaustively the suspected connection of Smerdyakov with the murder. He did this very circumstantially, and everyone realised that, although he professed to despise that suspicion, he thought the subject of great importance.

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