The Insulted and the Injured, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Chapter V

AND so the Ichmenyevs moved to Petersburg. I am not going to describe my meeting with Natasha after our long separation. All those four years I had never forgotten her. No doubt I did not myself quite understand the feeling with which I recalled her, but when we saw each other again I realized that she was destined to be my fate. For the first days after their arrival I kept fancying that she had not developed much in those four years but was just the same little girl as she had been at our parting. But afterwards I detected in her every day something new of which I had known nothing, as though it had been intentionally concealed, as though the girl were hiding herself from me — and what a joy there was in this discovery.

After moving to Petersburg the old man was at first irritable and gloomy. Things were going badly with him. He was indignant, flew into rages, was immersed in business documents, and had no thoughts to spare for us. Anna Andreyevna wandered about like one distraught, and at first could comprehend nothing. Petersburg alarmed her. She sighed and was full of misgivings, she wept for her old surroundings, for Ichmenyevka, worried at the thought that Natasha was grown up and that there was no one to think about her, and she lapsed into strange confidences with me for lack of a more suitable recipient of them.

It was not long before their arrival that I finished my first novel, the one with which my literary career began, and being a novice I did not know at first what to do with it. I said nothing about it at the Ichmenyevs. They almost quarrelled with me for leading an idle life, that is, not being in the service and not trying to get a post. The old man bitterly and irritably reproached me, from fatherly solicitude, of course. I was simply ashamed to tell him what I was doing. But how was I to tell them straight out that I did not want to enter the service, but wanted to write novels? And so I deceived them for the time, saying that I had not found a post, and that I was looking for one as hard as I could. Nikolay Sergeyitch had no time to go into it. I remember that one day Natasha, overhearing our conversation, drew me aside mysteriously and besought me with tears to think of my future. She kept questioning me and trying to discover what I was doing, and when I refused to tell my secret even to her, she made me swear that I would not ruin myself by being an idler and a loafer. Though I did not confess what I was doing even to her, I remember that for one word of approval from her of my work, of my first novel, I would have given up all the most flattering remarks of the critics and reviewers which I heard about myself afterwards. And then at last my novel came out. Long before its appearance there was a lot of talk and gossip about it in the literary world. B. was as pleased as a child when he read my manuscript. No! If I was ever happy it was not in the first intoxicating moment of my success, but before I had ever read or shown anyone my manuscript; in those long nights spent in exalted hopes and dreams and passionate love of my work, when I was living with my fancies, with the characters I had myself created, as though they were my family, as though they were real people; I loved them, I rejoiced and grieved with them, and sometimes shed genuine tears over my artless hero. And I cannot describe how the old people rejoiced at my success, though at first they were awfully surprised. How strange it seemed to them!

Anna Andreyevna, for instance, could not bring herself to believe that the new writer who was being praised by everyone was no other than the little Vanya who had done this and that and the other, and she kept shaking her head over it. The old man did not come round for some time, and at the first rumour of it was positively alarmed; he began to talk of the loss of my career in the service, of the immoral behaviour of authors in general. But the new reports that were continually coming, the paragraphs in the papers, and finally some words of praise uttered about me by persons whom he revered and trusted forced him to change his attitude. When he saw that I suddenly had plenty of money and heard how much money one might get for literary work, his last doubts vanished. Rapid in his transitions from doubt to full enthusiastic faith, rejoicing like a child at my good fortune, he suddenly rushed to the other extreme and indulged in unbridled hopes and most dazzling dreams of my future. Every day he was imagining a new career, new plans for me, and what did he not dream of in those plans! He even began to show me a peculiar respect of which there had been no trace before. But, I remember, doubt sometimes assailed and perplexed him suddenly, often in the midst of the most enthusiastic fancies.

“A writer, a poet. It seems strange somehow. . . . When has a poet made his way in the world, risen to high rank? They’re only scribbling fellows after all, not to be relied upon.”

I noticed that such doubts and delicate questions presented themselves more frequently at dusk (how well I remember all these details and all that golden time!). Towards dusk my old friend always became nervous, susceptible and suspicious. Natasha and I knew that and were always prepared to laugh at it beforehand. I remember I tried to cheer him up by telling him tales of Sumarokov’s being made a general, of Derzhavin’s having been presented with a snuff-box full of gold pieces, of how the Empress herself had visited Lomonossov; I told him about Pushkin, about Gogol.

“I know, my boy, I know all that,” the old man replied, though perhaps it was the first time he had heard these stories. “Hm! Well, Vanya, anyway I’m glad your stuff isn’t poetry. Poetry is nonsense, my boy; don’t you argue, but believe an old man like me; I wish you nothing but good. It’s simple nonsense, idle waste of time! It’s for schoolboys to write poetry; poetry brings lots of you young fellows to the madhouse. . . . Granting Pushkin was a great man, who would deny it! Still, it’s all jingling verse and nothing else. Something in the ephemeral way. . . . Though indeed I have read very little of it. . . . Prose is a different matter. A prose writer may be instructive — he can say something about patriotism, for instance, or about virtue in general. . . . Yes! I don’t know how to express myself, my boy, but you understand me; I speak from love. But there, there, read!” he concluded with a certain air of patronage, when at last I had brought the book and we were all sitting at the round table after tea, “read us what you’ve scribbled; they’re making a great outcry about you! Let’s hear it! Let’s hear it!”

I opened the book and prepared to read. My novel had come from the printers only that day, and having at last got hold of a copy, I rushed round to read it to them.

How vexed and grieved I was that I could not read it to them before from the manuscript, which was in the printer’s hands! Natasha positively cried with vexation, she quarrelled and reproached me with letting other people read it before she had. . . . But now at last we were sitting round the table. The old man assumed a particularly serious and critical expression. He wanted to judge it very, very strictly “to make sure for himself.” Anna Andreyevna, too, looked particularly solemn; I almost believe she had put on a new cap for the reading. She had long noticed that I looked with boundless love at her precious Natasha; that I was breathless and my eyes were dim when I addressed her, and that Natasha, too, looked at me as it were more kindly than before. Yes! At last the time had come, had come at the moment of success, of golden hopes and perfect happiness, all, all had come, at once. The old lady had noticed, too, that her husband had begun to praise me excessively, and seemed to look at his daughter and me in a peculiar way. . . . And all at once she took fright; after all, I was not a count, nor a lord, nor a reigning prince, nor even a privy councillor, young and handsome with an order on his breast. Anna Andreyevna did not stop halfway in her wishes.

“The man’s praised,” she thought about me, “but there’s no knowing what for. An author, a poet. . . . But what is an author after all?”

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