“Shameful and stupid, horrid and shameful!” Nekhludoff kept saying to himself, as he walked home along the familiar streets. The depression he had felt whilst speaking to Missy would not leave him. He felt that, looking at it externally, as it were, he was in the right, for he had never said anything to her that could be considered binding, never made her an offer; but he knew that in reality he had bound himself to her, had promised to be hers. And yet to-day he felt with his whole being that he could not marry her.
“Shameful and horrid, horrid and shameful!” he repeated to himself, with reference not only to his relations with Missy but also to the rest. “Everything is horrid and shameful,” he muttered, as he stepped into the porch of his house. “I am not going to have any supper,” he said to his manservant Corney, who followed him into the dining-room, where the cloth was laid for supper and tea. “You may go.”
“Yes, sir,” said Corney, yet he did not go, but began clearing the supper off the table. Nekhludoff looked at Corney with a feeling of ill-will. He wished to be left alone, and it seemed to him that everybody was bothering him in order to spite him. When Corney had gone away with the supper things, Nekhludoff moved to the tea urn and was about to make himself some tea, but hearing Agraphena Petrovna’s footsteps, he went hurriedly into the drawing-room, to avoid being seen by her, and shut the door after him. In this drawing-room his mother had died three months before. On entering the room, in which two lamps with reflectors were burning, one lighting up his father’s and the other his mother’s portrait, he remembered what his last relations with his mother had been. And they also seemed shameful and horrid. He remembered how, during the latter period of her illness, he had simply wished her to die. He had said to himself that he wished it for her sake, that she might be released from her suffering, but in reality he wished to be released from the sight of her sufferings for his own sake.
Trying to recall a pleasant image of her, he went up to look at her portrait, painted by a celebrated artist for 800 roubles. She was depicted in a very low-necked black velvet dress. There was something very revolting and blasphemous in this representation of his mother as a half-nude beauty. It was all the more disgusting because three months ago, in this very room, lay this same woman, dried up to a mummy. And he remembered how a few days before her death she clasped his hand with her bony, discoloured fingers, looked into his eyes, and said: “Do not judge me, Mitia, if I have not done what I should,” and how the tears came into her eyes, grown pale with suffering.
“Ah, how horrid!” he said to himself, looking up once more at the half-naked woman, with the splendid marble shoulders and arms, and the triumphant smile on her lips. “Oh, how horrid!” The bared shoulders of the portrait reminded him of another, a young woman, whom he had seen exposed in the same way a few days before. It was Missy, who had devised an excuse for calling him into her room just as she was ready to go to a ball, so that he should see her in her ball dress. It was with disgust that he remembered her fine shoulders and arms. “And that father of hers, with his doubtful past and his cruelties, and the bel-esprit her mother, with her doubtful reputation.” All this disgusted him, and also made him feel ashamed. “Shameful and horrid; horrid and shameful!”
“No, no,” he thought; “freedom from all these false relations with the Korchagins and Mary Vasilievna and the inheritance and from all the rest must be got. Oh, to breathe freely, to go abroad, to Rome and work at my picture!” He remembered the doubts he had about his talent for art. “Well, never mind; only just to breathe freely. First Constantinople, then Rome. Only just to get through with this jury business, and arrange with the advocate first.”
Then suddenly there arose in his mind an extremely vivid picture of a prisoner with black, slightly-squinting eyes, and how she began to cry when the last words of the prisoners had been heard; and he hurriedly put out his cigarette, pressing it into the ash-pan, lit another, and began pacing up and down the room. One after another the scenes he had lived through with her rose in his mind. He recalled that last interview with her. He remembered the white dress and blue sash, the early mass. “Why, I loved her, really loved her with a good, pure love, that night; I loved her even before: yes, I loved her when I lived with my aunts the first time and was writing my composition.” And he remembered himself as he had been then. A breath of that freshness, youth and fulness of life seemed to touch him, and he grew painfully sad. The difference between what he had been then and what he was now, was enormous — just as great, if not greater than the difference between Katusha in church that night, and the prostitute who had been carousing with the merchant and whom they judged this morning. Then he was free and fearless, and innumerable possibilities lay ready to open before him; now he felt himself caught in the meshes of a stupid, empty, valueless, frivolous life, out of which he saw no means of extricating himself even if he wished to, which he hardly did. He remembered how proud he was at one time of his straightforwardness, how he had made a rule of always speaking the truth, and really had been truthful; and how he was now sunk deep in lies: in the most dreadful of lies — lies considered as the truth by all who surrounded him. And, as far as he could see, there was no way out of these lies. He had sunk in the mire, got used to it, indulged himself in it.
How was he to break off his relations with Mary Vasilievna and her husband in such a way as to be able to look him and his children in the eyes? How disentangle himself from Missy? How choose between the two opposites — the recognition that holding land was unjust and the heritage from his mother? How atone for his sin against Katusha? This last, at any rate, could not be left as it was. He could not abandon a woman he had loved, and satisfy himself by paying money to an advocate to save her from hard labour in Siberia. She had not even deserved hard labour. Atone for a fault by paying money? Had he not then, when he gave her the money, thought he was atoning for his fault?
And he clearly recalled to mind that moment when, having caught her up in the passage, he thrust the money into her bib and ran away. “Oh, that money!” he thought with the same horror and disgust he had then felt. “Oh, dear! oh, dear! how disgusting,” he cried aloud as he had done then. “Only a scoundrel, a knave, could do such a thing. And I am that knave, that scoundrel!” He went on aloud: “But is it possible?”— he stopped and stood still —“is it possible that I am really a scoundrel? . . . Well, who but I?” he answered himself. “And then, is this the only thing?” he went on, convicting himself. “Was not my conduct towards Mary Vasilievna and her husband base and disgusting? And my position with regard to money? To use riches considered by me unlawful on the plea that they are inherited from my mother? And the whole of my idle, detestable life? And my conduct towards Katusha to crown all? Knave and scoundrel! Let men judge me as they like, I can deceive them; but myself I cannot deceive.”
And, suddenly, he understood that the aversion he had lately, and particularly to-day, felt for everybody — the Prince and Sophia Vasilievna and Corney and Missy — was an aversion for himself. And, strange to say, in this acknowledgement of his baseness there was something painful yet joyful and quieting.
More than once in Nekhludoff’s life there had been what he called a “cleansing of the soul.” By “cleansing of the soul” he meant a state of mind in which, after a long period of sluggish inner life, a total cessation of its activity, he began to clear out all the rubbish that had accumulated in his soul, and was the cause of the cessation of the true life. His soul needed cleansing as a watch does. After such an awakening Nekhludoff always made some rules for himself which he meant to follow forever after, wrote his diary, and began afresh a life which he hoped never to change again. “Turning over a new leaf,” he called it to himself in English. But each time the temptations of the world entrapped him, and without noticing it he fell again, often lower than before.
Thus he had several times in his life raised and cleansed himself. The first time this happened was during the summer he spent with his aunts; that was his most vital and rapturous awakening, and its effects had lasted some time. Another awakening was when he gave up civil service and joined the army at war time, ready to sacrifice his life. But here the choking-up process was soon accomplished. Then an awakening came when he left the army and went abroad, devoting himself to art.
From that time until this day a long period had elapsed without any cleansing, and therefore the discord between the demands of his conscience and the life he was leading was greater than it had ever been before. He was horror-struck when he saw how great the divergence was. It was so great and the defilement so complete that he despaired of the possibility of getting cleansed. “Have you not tried before to perfect yourself and become better, and nothing has come of it?” whispered the voice of the tempter within. “What is the use of trying any more? Are you the only one? — All are alike, such is life,” whispered the voice. But the free spiritual being, which alone is true, alone powerful, alone eternal, had already awakened in Nekhludoff, and he could not but believe it. Enormous though the distance was between what he wished to be and what he was, nothing appeared insurmountable to the newly-awakened spiritual being.
“At any cost I will break this lie which binds me and confess everything, and will tell everybody the truth, and act the truth,” he said resolutely, aloud. “I shall tell Missy the truth, tell her I am a profligate and cannot marry her, and have only uselessly upset her. I shall tell Mary Vasilievna . . . Oh, there is nothing to tell her. I shall tell her husband that I, scoundrel that I am, have been deceiving him. I shall dispose of the inheritance in such a way as to acknowledge the truth. I shall tell her, Katusha, that I am a scoundrel and have sinned towards her, and will do all I can to ease her lot. Yes, I will see her, and will ask her to forgive me.
“Yes, I will beg her pardon, as children do.” . . . He stopped —-“will marry her if necessary.” He stopped again, folded his hands in front of his breast as he used to do when a little child, lifted his eyes, and said, addressing some one: “Lord, help me, teach me, come enter within me and purify me of all this abomination.”
He prayed, asking God to help him, to enter into him and cleanse him; and what he was praying for had happened already: the God within him had awakened his consciousness. He felt himself one with Him, and therefore felt not only the freedom, fulness and joy of life, but all the power of righteousness. All, all the best that a man could do he felt capable of doing.
His eyes filled with tears as he was saying all this to himself, good and bad tears: good because they were tears of joy at the awakening of the spiritual being within him, the being which had been asleep all these years; and bad tears because they were tears of tenderness to himself at his own goodness.
He felt hot, and went to the window and opened it. The window opened into a garden. It was a moonlit, quiet, fresh night; a vehicle rattled past, and then all was still. The shadow of a tall poplar fell on the ground just opposite the window, and all the intricate pattern of its bare branches was clearly defined on the clean swept gravel. To the left the roof of a coach-house shone white in the moonlight, in front the black shadow of the garden wall was visible through the tangled branches of the trees.
Nekhludoff gazed at the roof, the moonlit garden, and the shadows of the poplar, and drank in the fresh, invigorating air.
“How delightful, how delightful; oh, God, how delightful” he said, meaning that which was going on in his soul.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00