Almost six months have passed since that scene, much has happened, much has completely changed, and a new life has begun for me since then. . . . But I must settle what I have left doubtful in my story.
To me at least, the first question at the time, and long afterwards was: how Versilov could have brought himself to act in concert with a man like Lambert, and what were his objects in doing so? Little by little, I have arrived at an explanation of a sort; to my thinking, at those moments, that is, all that last day and the day before, Versilov can have had no definite aim, and I believe, indeed, he did not reflect on the matter at all, but acted under the influence of a whirlwind of conflicting emotions. But the theory of actual madness I cannot accept, especially as he is not in the least mad now. But the “second self” I do accept unquestionably. What is a second self exactly? The second self, according to a medical book, written by an expert, which I purposely read afterwards, is nothing else than the first stage of serious mental derangement, which may lead to something very bad. And in that scene at my mother’s, Versilov himself had with strange frankness described the “duality” of his will and feelings. But I repeat again: though that scene at mother’s and that broken ikon were undoubtedly partly due to the influence of a real “second self,” yet I have ever since been haunted by the fancy that there was in it an element of a sort of vindictive symbolism, a sort of resentment against the expectations of those women, a sort of angry revolt against their rights and their criticism. And so hand in hand with the “second self” he broke the ikon, as though to say “that’s how your expectations will be shattered!” In fact, even though the “second self” did come in, it was partly simply a whim. . . . But all this is only my theory; it would be hard to decide for certain.
It is true that in spite of his adoration for Katerina Nikolaevna, he had a deep-rooted and perfectly genuine disbelief in her moral qualities. I really believe that he waited outside the door then, to see her humiliated before Lambert. But did he desire it, if even he waited for it? Again I repeat: I firmly believe that he had no desire, no intention even. He simply wanted to be there, to rush in afterwards, to say something, perhaps to insult, perhaps even to kill her. . . . Anything might happen then; but when he came with Lambert he had no idea what would happen. I may add that the revolver was Lambert’s and that he himself came unarmed. Seeing her proud dignity, and above all, exasperated by Lambert’s blackguardliness in threatening her, he dashed in — and only then went mad. Did he mean to shoot her at that instant? In my opinion he did not know what he was doing, but he certainly would have shot her if we had not thrust aside his hand.
His wound proved to be not a fatal one, and it healed, but he was ill in bed rather a long time, at mother’s, of course.
Now as I am writing these lines it is the middle of May, an exquisite spring day, and our windows are open. Mother is sitting beside him: he strokes her cheeks and hair and gazes into her face with tender emotion. Oh, this is only the half of the old Versilov, he never leaves mother’s side now, and will never leave her again. He has even gained the “gift of tears,” as Makar Ivanovitch, of precious memory, said in his story about the merchant. I fancy, however, that Versilov has a long life before him. With us he is perfectly good-natured and candid as a child, though he never loses his sense of proportion and self-control, and does not talk too freely. All his intellect and his moral nature have remained unchanged, though all his ideal side has become more marked. I may say frankly that I have never loved him so much as now, and I regret that I have neither time nor space to say more about him.
I will, however, tell one recent anecdote about him (and there are many). He had quite recovered by Lent, and in the sixth week declared that he would fast and take the sacrament. He had not taken the sacrament for thirty years or more I believe. Mother was delighted; they began preparing Lenten dishes, rather expensive, dainty ones, however. In the next room I heard him on Monday and Tuesday chanting to himself “The Bridegroom cometh,” and he was delighted with the verses and the chant. He spoke beautifully of religion several times during those days; but on Wednesday the fast suddenly came to an end. Something suddenly irritated him, some “amusing contrast,” as he expressed it, laughing; he disliked something in the exterior of the priest, in the surroundings; whatever it was, he returned and said with a gentle smile: “My friends, I love God, but I am not fitted for that.” The same day roast beef was served at dinner.
But I know that even now mother often sits beside him, and in a low voice, with a gentle smile, begins to talk to him of the most abstract subjects: now she has somehow grown DARING with him, but how this has come to pass I don’t know. She sits beside him and speaks to him usually in a whisper. He listens with a smile, strokes her hair, kisses her hand, and there is the light of perfect happiness in his face. He sometimes has attacks that are almost like hysterics. Then he takes her photograph, the one he kissed that evening, gazes at it with tears, kisses it, recalls the past, gathers us all round him, but at such moments he says little.
Katerina Nikolaevna he seems to have completely forgotten and has never once mentioned. Nothing has been said of marriage with my mother so far, either. They did think of taking him abroad for the summer; but Tatyana Pavlovna strongly opposed it, and he did not desire it himself. They will spend the summer at a villa, in some country place in the neighbourhood of Petersburg. By the way we are all still living at the expense of Tatyana Pavlovna. One thing I will add: I am dreadfully sorry that I have several times in this narrative allowed myself to take up a disrespectful and superior attitude in regard to Versilov. But as I wrote I imagined myself precisely at each of the moments I was describing. As I finish my narrative and write the last lines, I suddenly feel by the very process of recalling and recording, I have re-educated myself. I regret a great deal I have written, especially the tone of certain sentences and pages, but I will not cross them out or correct a single word.
I have stated that he never says one word of Katerina Nikolaevna; but I really believe that he is quite cured of his passion. Of her I never speak except sometimes to Tatyana Pavlovna, and then in secret. Katerina Nikolaevna is now abroad; I saw her before she went away, and visited her several times. Since she has been abroad I have received two letters from her, and have answered them. But of what was in her letter and what we discussed I will say nothing; that is another story, a quite NEW story, and perhaps it is still in the future; indeed there are some things of which I say nothing even to Tatyana Pavlovna, but enough of that. I will only add that she is not married, and that she is travelling, with the Pelistchevs. Her father is dead and she is the richest of widows. At this moment she is in Paris.
Her rupture with Büring took place very quickly, and as it were of itself, that is, extremely naturally. I will describe it, however.
On the morning of that terrible scene, the pock-marked man to whom Trishatov and his tall friend had gone over, succeeded in letting Büring know of the proposed crime. This was how it happened. Lambert still tried to persuade him to work with him, and, when he gained possession of the letter, he told him all the details of the undertaking, up to the very last moment, that is, when Versilov suggested the trick to get rid of Tatyana Pavlovna. But at the last moment the pock-marked man, who had more sense than the rest, and foresaw the possibility of a serious crime being committed, preferred to betray Lambert. He reckoned upon Büring’s gratitude as something more secure than the fantastic plan made by Lambert, who was clumsy and hotheaded, and by Versilov, who was almost mad with passion. All this I learned afterwards from Trishatov. I know nothing, by the way, of Lambert’s relations with the pock-marked man, and I cannot understand why Lambert could not have acted without him. A question of far more interest for me is why Lambert needed Versilov when, having the letter in his possession, he might perfectly well have dispensed with the latter’s assistance. The answer is clear to me now. Versilov was of use to Lambert from his knowledge of all the circumstances; moreover, if their plans miscarried, or some accident happened, Lambert reckoned on throwing all responsibility on Versilov. And since the latter did not want money, Lambert thought his help very opportune.
But Büring did not arrive in time. When he reached the scene of action an hour later, Tatyana Pavlovna’s flat wore a very different aspect. Five minutes after Versilov had fallen on the carpet, covered with blood, Lambert, whom we all believed to be dead, raised his head and got up. He looked about him with amazement, quickly grasped the position, went into the kitchen without saying a word, put on his coat, and disappeared for ever. The document he left on the table. I have heard that he was not seriously ill but only slightly indisposed afterwards; the blow from the revolver had stunned him and drawn blood, but had done no further harm.
Meanwhile Trishatov had run for the doctor; but before the doctor arrived, Versilov, too, returned to consciousness, though before that Tatyana Pavlovna succeeded in bringing Katerina Nikolaevna to herself and taking her home. And so when Büring ran in upon us he found in Tatyana Pavlovna’s flat only me, the doctor, Versilov, and my mother, who had been fetched by Trishatov, and though still ill, had come in haste, beside herself with anxiety. Büring stared at us with amazement, and as soon as he learned that Katerina Nikolaevna had gone home he went off to see her without saying another word to us.
He was perturbed; he saw clearly that now scandal and gossip were almost inevitable. The affair did not make any great scandal, however. The pistol-shot could not be concealed, it is true; but the chief facts remained almost unknown. All that was discovered by the investigation that was made was that a certain V., a man passionately in love, though almost fifty and with a family, had declared his feelings to the young lady, a person worthy of the highest respect, who did not share his sentiments, and in a sudden access of madness had shot himself. Nothing more than this came out, and in that form the story even got into the papers, no names being mentioned but only initials. I know that Lambert was not troubled in any way.
Nevertheless Büring was alarmed. To make matters worse he chanced to learn of the interview between Katerina Nikolaevna and Versilov two days before the catastrophe. This enraged him, and he rather incautiously ventured to observe to Katerina Nikolaevna that after that he was not surprised that such extraordinary adventures could happen to her. Katerina Nikolaevna refused him on the spot, without anger, but without hesitation. All her preconceived ideas of the judiciousness of marrying such a man vanished like smoke. Possibly she had seen through him long before, and perhaps the shock she had been exposed to had changed some of her views and feelings. But of that again I will say nothing. I will only add that Lambert made his escape to Moscow, and that I have heard he got into trouble over something there. Trishatov I have lost sight of since that day, though I am still trying to track him; he vanished after the death of his friend “le grand dadais,” who shot himself.
I have mentioned the death of the old prince Nikolay Ivanovitch. The good-natured, kindly old man died not long after his adventure. His death took place, however, quite a month later in his bed at night, from a stroke. I never saw him again after the day he was in my flat. I was told that during that month he became far more rational, more tender in his manner even, he ceased to be apprehensive, shed no more tears, and did not once utter a word about Anna Andreyevna. All his affection was centred on his daughter. On one occasion, a week before his death, Katerina Nikolaevna suggested inviting me to entertain him, but he actually frowned: I simply state this fact without trying to explain it. His estate turned out to be in good order at his death, and he left a very considerable fortune as well. A third of this fortune was by his will divided between his innumerable goddaughters but it struck every one as strange, that there was no mention of Anna Andreyevna in his will at all; her name was omitted. But I know for a fact that a few days before his death, the old man summoned his daughter and his friends, Pelistchev and Prince V., and instructed Katerina Nikolaevna, in view of the possibility of his speedy decease, to set aside out of his fortune sixty thousand roubles for Anna Andreyevna. He expressed his wishes briefly, clearly and precisely, not indulging in a single exclamation or explanation. After his death, and when his affairs were put in order, Katerina Nikolaevna, through her lawyer, informed Anna Andreyevna that the sixty thousand roubles were at her disposal; but drily, with no unnecessary words, Anna Andreyevna declined the money: she refused to accept it in spite of every assurance that this had been the old prince’s desire. The money still lies waiting for her, and Katerina Nikolaevna still hopes to induce her to change her mind; but this will never happen of that I am positive, for I am now one of Anna Andreyevna’s closest and most intimate friends. Her refusal made rather a stir, and people talked about it. Her aunt, Madame Fanariotov, who had been annoyed at first by her scandalous affair with the old prince, suddenly took a different view of it, and, after she refused the money, made her a solemn assurance of her respect. Her brother, on the other hand, quarrelled with her finally on account of it. But though I often go to see Anna Andreyevna, I cannot say that we ever discuss anything very intimate; we never refer to the past; she is very glad to see me, but talks to me chiefly of abstract subjects. Among other things, she has told me that she is firmly resolved to go into a convent; that was not long ago; but I don’t believe this, and look upon it simply as an expression of bitterness.
But what is really tragic is what I have to tell of my sister Liza’s fate. That is real unhappiness. What are all my failures beside her bitter lot? It began with Prince Sergay Petrovitch’s dying in the hospital before his trial. He died before Prince Nikolay Ivanovitch. Liza was left to face the world with her unborn child. She did not shed tears and was outwardly calm, she became gentle and resigned; but all her old fire seemed to have vanished for ever. She helped mother meekly, nursed Andrey Petrovitch through his illness, but became very silent and never seemed to notice anyone or anything, as though nothing mattered to her, as though she were simply passing by. When Versilov was better, she began to sleep a great deal. I used to take her books, but she did not read; she became terribly thin. I did not dare to try to comfort her, though I often went in to her intending to; but in her presence I could not approach her, and I found no words to speak to her. It went on like this till something terrible happened: she fell down our stairs; she did not fall far, only three steps, but it brought on a miscarriage, and she was ill all the rest of the winter. Now she is on her feet again, but her health has been shaken and it will be a long time before she is strong. She is still dreamy and silent with us, but she has begun to talk with mother a little. These last few days we have had bright, clear spring sunshine, and I am all the while inwardly recalling that sunny morning last autumn, when she and I walked along the street, both full of joy and hope and love for one another. Alas, what has happened since then? I don’t complain, for me a new life has begun, but for her? Her future is a problem, and I cannot look at her even now without pain.
Three weeks ago I did succeed, however, in interesting her with news of Vassin. He was released at last and is now at liberty. That judicious person gave, so I am told, the most precise explanation and the most interesting information which completely cleared his character in the eyes of those on whom his fate depended. Moreover his celebrated manuscript turned out to be no more than a translation from the French, upon which he had intended to write an article for a magazine. He is now in the X. province, and his stepfather, Stebelkov, is still in prison on the same charge, which I hear grows more extensive and complicated as it goes on. Liza heard the news of Vassin with a strange smile, and even observed that that was just what was sure to have happened to him. But she was evidently pleased, no doubt that Prince Sergay’s action had not brought worse harm to Vassin. Of Dergatchev and his friends I have nothing to say here.
I have finished. Perhaps some reader may care to know: what has become of my “idea,” and what is the new life that is beginning for me now, to which I refer so mysteriously? But that new life, that new way which is opening before me is my “idea,” the same as before, though in such a different form, that it could hardly be recognised. But I cannot enter into that in this story, that is something quite different. My old life has passed away completely, and the new is just beginning. But I will add one essential matter: Tatyana Pavlovna, a true and dear friend to me, pesters me almost every day with exhortations to enter the university: “When you’ve taken your degree,” she says, “then you can consider the position, but now you must finish your studies.” I must confess I am considering her suggestion, but I don’t know how I shall decide. Among other objections I have urged that I have not the right to continue my studies, as it is my duty now to work to maintain mother and Liza; but she offers to undertake this, and she says her means are sufficient to do so all the time I am at the university. I have determined at last to ask the advice of some one. Looking about me, I have chosen that some one carefully and critically. I have fixed on Nikolay Semyonovitch, my former tutor in Moscow, the husband of Marie Ivanovna. Not so much that I need advice about anything, but I feel an irresistible longing to hear the opinion of this outsider, who is a rather coldly egoistic, but undoubtedly clever man. I have sent him my whole manuscript, asking him to keep it secret from every one, especially Tatyana Pavlovna, because I have not shown it to any one so far. The manuscript came back to me a fortnight later, and with it a rather long letter. From this letter I make a few extracts, as I find in them a certain general view and something that may be explanatory. Here are the extracts.
“ . . . You could never have employed your leisure time more profitably, my ever precious Arkady Makarovitch, than in writing this autobiography! You have given yourself, so to say, an unflinching account of your first stormy, perilous steps on the path of life. I quite believe that you may by this exposition have to a great extent ‘re-educated yourself,’ to use your own expression. I shall not, of course, venture upon the smallest criticism: though every page makes one reflect . . . for instance, the circumstance, that you so long and so obstinately retained possession of the ‘document’— is highly characteristic. . . . But that is only one remark out of hundreds, which I permitted myself. I greatly appreciate also, the fact of your deciding to confide to me, and apparently to me alone, ‘the secret of your idea,’ to use your own expression. But your request that I should give you my opinion on that ‘idea’ I must resolutely refuse: to begin with, it would be out of place in a letter, and secondly, I am not prepared to give an answer off-hand; I must ruminate upon it further. I will only observe that your ‘idea’ is distinguished by originality, whereas young men of the present generation, for the most part, throw themselves into ready-made ideas, of which there is always an ample provision, and which are a source of danger. Your idea, for instance, did at any rate save you for the time from the ideas of Messrs. Dergatchev and Co., certainly less original than yours. Finally I am absolutely in agreement with that honoured lady, Tatyana Pavlovna, whom I had till now failed to esteem as she deserves, though I know her personally. Her plan that you should enter the university will be of the greatest possible benefit for you. Study and life will undoubtedly in three or four years widen the horizon of your ideas and aspirations, and if after the university you still desire to return to your ‘idea,’ there will be nothing to prevent it.
“Now allow me, though you have not requested it, to give you frankly some thoughts and impressions that have occurred to my mind while perusing your extremely candid ‘autobiography.’ Yes, I agree with Andrey Petrovitch, that one might well feel anxiety about you and your SOLITARY YOUTH. And there are more than a few lads like you, and there really is always a danger of their talents leading them astray, either into secret sensuality, or a latent desire for lawlessness. But this thirst for lawlessness proceeds most frequently, perhaps, from a latent craving for discipline and ‘seemliness’—(I am using your own words). Youth is pure, just because it is youth. Perhaps in these precocious impulses of madness, there lie concealed a craving for discipline and a search for truth, and whose fault is it that some young people of to-day see that truth and that discipline in such stupid and ridiculous things, that one cannot imagine how they can believe in them! I may mention, by the way, that in the recent past, a generation ago at most, such interesting lads were not so much to be pitied, for in those days they almost always ended by successfully attaching themselves to our most highly cultivated class and merging into it and even if they did at the onset recognise their own lack of order and consistency, the lack of nobility even in their family surroundings, the lack of an ancestral tradition, and of fine finished forms of social life, it was a gain for them, for they consciously strove towards all this and thereby learned to prize it. Nowadays the position is somewhat different, for there is scarcely anything the young can attach themselves to.
“I will explain by comparison, or, so to say, by analogy. If I had been a Russian novelist and had talent I should certainly have chosen my heroes from the old nobility, because only in that type of cultivated Russian is it possible to find at least that outward semblance of fine order and aesthetic beauty so necessary in a novel to produce an artistic effect on the reader. I am not joking when I say this, although I am not a nobleman myself, as you are indeed aware. Pushkin selected the subject for his future novels from the ‘Traditions of the Russian Family,’ and believe me that everything beautiful we have had so far is to be found therein. Everything that has been brought to some sort of perfection, anyway. I don’t say this because I am accepting unconditionally the truth and justness of that beauty; but at least there were completely worked out forms of honour and duty which have never existed anywhere in Russia except in the nobility, even in the most rudimentary shape. I speak as a calm man seeking calm.
“Whether that honour was a good thing, and whether that duty was a true one — is a secondary question. What to my mind is of most consequence is the finality of the forms and the existence of some sort of order, not prescribed from above, but developed from within. Good heavens, what matters most of all for us is to have any sort of order of our own! All hopes for the future and, so to say, restfulness of outlook lie in our having something at last built up, instead of this everlasting destruction, instead of chips flying in all directions, rubbish and disorder which has led to nothing for two hundred years.
“Don’t accuse me of Slavophilism; I only say this from misanthropy, for my heart is heavy! Something is happening to us to-day and in the recent past, the very opposite of what I have imagined above. It is not that the worthless attach themselves to the highest stratum of society, but, on the contrary, with light-hearted haste, fragments are torn from what is fine and noble and thrown into one mass with the lawless and the envious. And there have been many instances of fathers and heads of what have been cultured families, laughing at what their children perhaps would have liked to believe in. What is more, they eagerly display to their children their spiteful pleasure at the sudden licence to be dishonest, which they have all at once deduced, wholesale, from something. I am not speaking of the true progressives, dear Arkady Makarovitch, but only of that rabble, so numerous it seems, of whom it has been said ‘grattez le Russe et vous verrez le Tatare,’ and believe me there are by no means so many true liberals, true and noble friends of humanity among us, as we have imagined.
“But all this is theorising; let us come back to our supposed novelist. The position of our novelist in this case would be perfectly definite; he could not write in any other form but the historical, for there is no fine type in our day, and if there were remnants of it left they would not, according to the prevalent ideas of the day, have retained their beauty. Oh! and in historical form it is possible to depict a multitude of extremely attractive and consolatory details! It is possible so to fascinate the reader indeed that he will take the historical picture for the possible and the actual. Such a work, if executed with great talent, would belong not so much to Russian literature as to Russian history.
“It would be a picture artistically worked out of the Russian ideal, having a real existence so long as it was not guessed that it was an ideal. The grandson of those heroes who have been depicted in a picture of a Russian family of the upper middle cultivated class during three generations, side by side with and in connection with Russian history — that descendant of his forefathers would not be depicted in his modern type except in a somewhat misanthropic solitary and distinctly melancholy aspect. He is even bound to appear a somewhat strange figure, so that the reader might from the first glance recognise him as one retreating from the field of action, and might be convinced there was no field of action left for him. A little further and even that misanthrope, that grandson of heroes, will disappear entirely; new characters will appear, unknown to us as yet, and a new ideal; but what sort of characters? If they are without beauty, then the Russian novel is impossible in the future. But alas! will the novel be the only thing impossible?
“I will not pursue this further, but will hasten back to your manuscript. Consider, for instance, both the families of M. Versilov (for this once I will venture to be quite open). I won’t enlarge on Andrey Petrovitch himself; but he is anyway of a good old family. He is a nobleman of ancient lineage, and at the same time a Parisian communard. He is a true poet and loves Russia, yet denies her absolutely. He is without any sort of religion, but yet almost ready to die for something indefinite, to which he cannot give a name, but in which he fervently believes, like a number of Russian adherents of European civilisation of the Petersburg period of Russian history. But enough of him. As for his legitimate family, I won’t discuss his son, and indeed, he is not worthy of the honour. All who have eyes know what upstarts like that come to in Russia, and what they bring others to as well. Then his daughter, Anna Andreyevna — she is surely a girl of strong character? A figure on the scale of the Mother Abbess Mitrofania, not that I mean to predict anything criminal — which would be unjust on my part.
“If you can assure me, Arkady Makarovitch, that that family is an exceptional phenomenon it will rejoice my heart. But would it not be on the contrary a truer conclusion, that a multitude of unquestionably aristocratic Russian families are with irresistible force passing in masses into exceptional families and mingling with them in the general lawlessness and chaos. A typical example of such an exceptional family is sketched by you in your manuscript. Yes, Arkady Makarovitch, you are A MEMBER OF AN EXCEPTIONAL FAMILY, in contrary distinction to the aristocratic types who have had such a very different childhood and adolescence from yours.
“I must say I should not like to be a novelist whose hero comes of an exceptional family!
“To describe him is an ungrateful task and can have no beauty of form. Moreover these types are in any case transitory, and so a novel about them cannot have artistic finish. One may make serious mistakes, exaggerations, misjudgments. In any case, one would have to guess too much. But what is the writer to do who doesn’t want to confine himself to the historical form, and is possessed by a longing for the present? To guess . . . and make mistakes.
“But such an autobiography as yours might serve as material for a future work of art, for a future picture of a lawless epoch already passed. Oh, when the angry strife of the day has passed, and the future has come, then a future artist will discover beautiful forms for depicting past lawlessness and chaos. Then such autobiographies as yours — so long as they are sincere — will be of use and provide material in spite of their chaotic and fortuitous character . . . they will preserve at any rate some faithful traits by which one may guess what may have lain hidden in the heart of some raw youth of that troubled time — a knowledge not altogether valueless since from raw youths are made up the generations.”
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