The Possessed

by Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Chapter VIII - Ivan the Tsarevitch

They had gone. Pyotr Stepanovitch was about to rush back to the meeting to bring order into chaos, but probably reflecting that it wasn’t worth bothering about, left everything, and two minutes later was flying after the other two. On the way he remembered a short cut to Filipov’s house. He rushed along it, up to his knees in mud, and did in fact arrive at the very moment when Stavrogin and Kirillov were coming in at the gate.

“You here already?” observed Kirillov. “That’s good. Come in.”

“How is it you told us you lived alone,” asked Stavrogin, passing a boiling samovar in the passage.

“You will see directly who it is I live with,” muttered Kirillov. “Go in.”

They had hardly entered when Verhovensky at once took out of his pocket the anonymous letter he had taken from Lembke, and laid it before Stavrogin. They all then sat down. Stavrogin read the letter in silence.

“Well?” he asked.

“That scoundrel will do as he writes,” Verhovensky explained. “So, as he is under your control, tell me how to act. I assure you he may go to Lembke to-morrow.”

“Well, let him go.”

“Let him go! And when we can prevent him, too!”

“You are mistaken. He is not dependent on me. Besides, I don’t care; he doesn’t threaten me in any way; he only threatens you.”

“You too.”

“I don’t think so.”

“But there are other people who may not spare you. Surely you understand that? Listen, Stavrogin. This is only playing with words. Surely you don’t grudge the money?”

“Why, would it cost money?”

“It certainly would; two thousand or at least fifteen hundred. Give it to me to-morrow or even to-day, and to-morrow evening I’ll send him to Petersburg for you. That’s just what he wants. If you like, he can take Marya Timofyevna. Note that.”

There was something distracted about him. He spoke, as it were, without caution, and he did not reflect on his words. Stavrogin watched him, wondering.

“I’ve no reason to send Marya Timofyevna away.”

“Perhaps you don’t even want to,” Pyotr Stepanovitch smiled ironically.

“Perhaps I don’t.”

“In short, will there be the money or not?” he cried with angry impatience, and as it were peremptorily, to Stavrogin. The latter scrutinised him gravely. “There won’t be the money.”

“Look here, Stavrogin! You know something, or have done something already! You are going it!”

His face worked, the corners of his mouth twitched, and he suddenly laughed an unprovoked and irrelevant laugh.

“But you’ve had money from your father for the estate,” Stavrogin observed calmly. “Maman sent you six or eight thousand for Stepan Trofimovitch. So you can pay the fifteen hundred out of your own money. I don’t care to pay for other people. I’ve given a lot as it is. It annoys me.…” He smiled himself at his own words.

“Ah, you are beginning to joke!”

Stavrogin got up from his chair. Verhovensky instantly jumped up too, and mechanically stood with his back to the door as though barring the way to him. Stavrogin had already made a motion to push him aside and go out, when he stopped short.

“I won’t give up Shatov to you,” he said. Pyotr Stepanovitch started. They looked at one another.

“I told you this evening why you needed Shatov’s blood,” said Stavrogin, with flashing eyes. “It’s the cement you want to bind your groups together with. You drove Shatov away cleverly just now. You knew very well that he wouldn’t promise not to inform and he would have thought it mean to lie to you. But what do you want with me? What do you want with me? Ever since we met abroad you won’t let me alone. The explanation you’ve given me so far was simply raving. Meanwhile you are driving at my giving Lebyadkin fifteen hundred roubles, so as to give Fedka an opportunity to murder him. I know that you think I want my wife murdered too. You think to tie my hands by this crime, and have me in your power. That’s it, isn’t it? What good will that be to you? What the devil do you want with me? Look at me. Once for all, am I the man for you? And let me alone.”

“Has Fedka been to you himself?” Verhovensky asked breathlessly.

“Yes, he came. His price is fifteen hundred too.… But here; he’ll repeat it himself. There he stands.” Stavrogin stretched out his hand.

Pyotr Stepanovitch turned round quickly. A new figure, Fedka, wearing a sheep-skin coat, but without a cap, as though he were at home, stepped out of the darkness in the doorway. He stood there laughing and showing his even white teeth. His black eyes, with yellow whites, darted cautiously about the room watching the gentlemen. There was something he did not understand. He had evidently been just brought in by Kirillov, and his inquiring eyes turned to the latter. He stood in the doorway, but was unwilling to come into the room.

“I suppose you got him ready here to listen to our bargaining, or that he may actually see the money in our hands. Is that it?” asked Stavrogin; and without waiting for an answer he walked out of the house. Verhovensky, almost frantic, overtook him at the gate.

“Stop! Not another step!” he cried, seizing him by the arm. Stavrogin tried to pull away his arm, but did not succeed. He was overcome with fury. Seizing Verhovensky by the hair with his left hand he flung him with all his might on the ground and went out at the gate. But he had not gone thirty paces before Verhovensky overtook him again.

“Let us make it up; let us make it up!” he murmured in a spasmodic whisper.

Stavrogin shrugged his shoulders, but neither answered nor turned round.

“Listen. I will bring you Lizaveta Nikolaevna to-morrow; shall I? No? Why don’t you answer? Tell me what you want. I’ll do it. Listen. I’ll let you have Shatov. Shall I?”

“Then it’s true that you meant to kill him?” cried Stavrogin.

“What do you want with Shatov? What is he to you?” Pyotr Stepanovitch went on, gasping, speaking rapidly. He was in a frenzy, and kept running forward and seizing Stavrogin by the elbow, probably unaware of what he was doing. “Listen. I’ll let you have him. Let’s make it up. Your price is a very great one, but … Let’s make it up!”

Stavrogin glanced at him at last, and was amazed. The eyes, the voice, were not the same as always, or as they had been in the room just now. What he saw was almost another face. The intonation of the voice was different. Verhovensky besought, implored. He was a man from whom what was most precious was being taken or had been taken, and who was still stunned by the shock.

“But what’s the matter with you?” cried Stavrogin. The other did not answer, but ran after him and gazed at him with the same imploring but yet inflexible expression.

“Let’s make it up!” he whispered once more. “Listen. Like Fedka, I have a knife in my boot, but I’ll make it up with you!”

“But what do you want with me, damn you?” Stavrogin cried, with intense anger and amazement. “Is there some mystery about it? Am I a sort of talisman for you?”

“Listen. We are going to make a revolution,” the other muttered rapidly, and almost in delirium. “You don’t believe we shall make a revolution? We are going to make such an upheaval that everything will be uprooted from its foundation. Karmazinov is right that there is nothing to lay hold of. Karmazinov is very intelligent. Another ten such groups in different parts of Russia—and I am safe.”

“Groups of fools like that?” broke reluctantly from Stavrogin.

“Oh, don’t be so clever, Stavrogin; don’t be so clever yourself. And you know you are by no means so intelligent that you need wish others to be. You are afraid, you have no faith. You are frightened at our doing things on such a scale. And why are they fools? They are not such fools. No one has a mind of his own nowadays. There are terribly few original minds nowadays. Virginsky is a pure-hearted man, ten times as pure as you or I; but never mind about him. Liputin is a rogue, but I know one point about him. Every rogue has some point in him.… Lyamshin is the only one who hasn’t, but he is in my hands. A few more groups, and I should have money and passports everywhere; so much at least. Suppose it were only that? And safe places, so that they can search as they like. They might uproot one group but they’d stick at the next. We’ll set things in a ferment.… Surely you don’t think that we two are not enough?”

“Take Shigalov, and let me alone.…”

“Shigalov is a man of genius! Do you know he is a genius like Fourier, but bolder than Fourier; stronger. I’ll look after him. He’s discovered ‘equality’!”

“He is in a fever; he is raving; something very queer has happened to him,” thought Stavrogin, looking at him once more. Both walked on without stopping.

“He’s written a good thing in that manuscript,” Verhovensky went on. “He suggests a system of spying. Every member of the society spies on the others, and it’s his duty to inform against them. Every one belongs to all and all to every one. All are slaves and equal in their slavery. In extreme cases he advocates slander and murder, but the great thing about it is equality. To begin with, the level of education, science, and talents is lowered. A high level of education and science is only possible for great intellects, and they are not wanted. The great intellects have always seized the power and been despots. Great intellects cannot help being despots and they’ve always done more harm than good. They will be banished or put to death. Cicero will have his tongue cut out, Copernicus will have his eyes put out, Shakespeare will be stoned—that’s Shigalovism. Slaves are bound to be equal. There has never been either freedom or equality without despotism, but in the herd there is bound to be equality, and that’s Shigalovism! Ha ha ha! Do you think it strange? I am for Shigalovism.”

Stavrogin tried to quicken his pace, and to reach home as soon as possible. “If this fellow is drunk, where did he manage to get drunk?” crossed his mind. “Can it be the brandy?”

“Listen, Stavrogin. To level the mountains is a fine idea, not an absurd one. I am for Shigalov. Down with culture. We’ve had enough science! Without science we have material enough to go on for a thousand years, but one must have discipline. The one thing wanting in the world is discipline. The thirst for culture is an aristocratic thirst. The moment you have family ties or love you get the desire for property. We will destroy that desire; we’ll make use of drunkenness, slander, spying; we’ll make use of incredible corruption; we’ll stifle every genius in its infancy. We’ll reduce all to a common denominator! Complete equality! ‘We’ve learned a trade, and we are honest men; we need nothing more,’ that was an answer given by English working-men recently. Only the necessary is necessary, that’s the motto of the whole world henceforward. But it needs a shock. That’s for us, the directors, to look after. Slaves must have directors. Absolute submission, absolute loss of individuality, but once in thirty years Shigalov would let them have a shock and they would all suddenly begin eating one another up, to a certain point, simply as a precaution against boredom. Boredom is an aristocratic sensation. The Shigalovians will have no desires. Desire and suffering are our lot, but Shigalovism is for the slaves.”

“You exclude yourself?” Stavrogin broke in again.

“You, too. Do you know, I have thought of giving up the world to the Pope. Let him come forth, on foot, and barefoot, and show himself to the rabble, saying, ‘See what they have brought me to!’ and they will all rush after him, even the troops. The Pope at the head, with us round him, and below us—Shigalovism. All that’s needed is that the Internationale should come to an agreement with the Pope; so it will. And the old chap will agree at once. There’s nothing else he can do. Remember my words! Ha ha! Is it stupid? Tell me, is it stupid or not?”

“That’s enough!” Stavrogin muttered with vexation.

“Enough! Listen. I’ve given up the Pope! Damn Shigalovism! Damn the Pope! We must have something more everyday. Not Shigalovism, for Shigalovism is a rare specimen of the jeweller’s art. It’s an ideal; it’s in the future. Shigalov is an artist and a fool like every philanthropist. We need coarse work, and Shigalov despises coarse work. Listen. The Pope shall be for the west, and you shall be for us, you shall be for us!”

“Let me alone, you drunken fellow!” muttered Stavrogin, and he quickened his pace.

“Stavrogin, you are beautiful,” cried Pyotr Stepanovitch, almost ecstatically. “Do you know that you are beautiful! What’s the most precious thing about you is that you sometimes don’t know it. Oh, I’ve studied you! I often watch you on the sly! There’s a lot of simpleheartedness and naïveté about you still. Do you know that? There still is, there is! You must be suffering and suffering genuinely from that simple-heartedness. I love beauty. I am a nihilist, but I love beauty. Are nihilists incapable of loving beauty? It’s only idols they dislike, but I love an idol. You are my idol! You injure no one, and every one hates you. You treat every one as an equal, and yet every one is afraid of you—that’s good. Nobody would slap you on the shoulder. You are an awful aristocrat. An aristocrat is irresistible when he goes in for democracy! To sacrifice life, your own or another’s is nothing to you. You are just the man that’s needed. It’s just such a man as you that I need. I know no one but you. You are the leader, you are the sun and I am your worm.”

He suddenly kissed his hand. A shiver ran down Stavrogin’s spine, and he pulled away his hand in dismay. They stood still.

“Madman!” whispered Stavrogin.

“Perhaps I am raving; perhaps I am raving,” Pyotr Stepanovitch assented, speaking rapidly. “But I’ve thought of the first step! Shigalov would never have thought of it. There are lots of Shigalovs, but only one man, one man in Russia has hit on the first step and knows how to take it. And I am that man! Why do you look at me? I need you, you; without you I am nothing. Without you I am a fly, a bottled idea; Columbus without America.”

Stavrogin stood still and looked intently into his wild eyes.

“Listen. First of all we’ll make an upheaval,” Verhovensky went on in desperate haste, continually clutching at Stavrogin’s left sleeve. “I’ve already told you. We shall penetrate to the peasantry. Do you know that we are tremendously powerful already? Our party does not consist only of those who commit murder and arson, fire off pistols in the traditional fashion, or bite colonels. They are only a hindrance. I don’t accept anything without discipline. I am a scoundrel, of course, and not a socialist. Ha ha! Listen. I’ve reckoned them all up: a teacher who laughs with children at their God and at their cradle is on our side. The lawyer who defends an educated murderer because he is more cultured than his victims and could not help murdering them to get money is one of us. The schoolboys who murder a peasant for the sake of sensation are ours. The juries who acquit every criminal are ours. The prosecutor who trembles at a trial for fear he should not seem advanced enough is ours, ours. Among officials and literary men we have lots, lots, and they don’t know it themselves. On the other hand, the docility of schoolboys and fools has reached an extreme pitch; the schoolmasters are bitter and bilious. On all sides we see vanity puffed up out of all proportion; brutal, monstrous appetites.… Do you know how many we shall catch by little, ready-made ideas? When I left Russia, Littre’s dictum that crime is insanity was all the rage; I come back and I find that crime is no longer insanity, but simply common sense, almost a duty; anyway, a gallant protest. ‘How can we expect a cultured man not to commit a murder, if he is in need of money.’ But these are only the first fruits. The Russian God has already been vanquished by cheap vodka. The peasants are drunk, the mothers are drunk, the children are drunk, the churches are empty, and in the peasant courts one hears, ‘Two hundred lashes or stand us a bucket of vodka.’ Oh, this generation has only to grow up. It’s only a pity we can’t afford to wait, or we might have let them get a bit more tipsy! Ah, what a pity there’s no proletariat! But there will be, there will be; we are going that way.…”

“It’s a pity, too, that we’ve grown greater fools,” muttered Stavrogin, moving forward as before.

“Listen. I’ve seen a child of six years old leading home his drunken mother, whilst she swore at him with foul words. Do you suppose I am glad of that? When it’s in our hands, maybe we’ll mend things … if need be, we’ll drive them for forty years into the wilderness.… But one or two generations of vice are essential now; monstrous, abject vice by which a man is transformed into a loathsome, cruel, egoistic reptile. That’s what we need! And what’s more, a little ‘fresh blood’ that we may get accustomed to it. Why are you laughing? I am not contradicting myself. I am only contradicting the philanthropists and Shigalovism, not myself! I am a scoundrel, not a socialist. Ha ha ha! I’m only sorry there’s no time. I promised Karmazinov to begin in May, and to make an end by October. Is that too soon? Ha ha! Do you know what, Stavrogin? Though the Russian people use foul language, there’s nothing cynical about them so far. Do you know the serfs had more self-respect than Karmazinov? Though they were beaten they always preserved their gods, which is more than Karmazinov’s done.”

“Well, Verhovensky, this is the first time I’ve heard you talk, and I listen with amazement,” observed Stavrogin. “So you are really not a socialist, then, but some sort of … ambitious politician?”

“A scoundrel, a scoundrel! You are wondering what I am. I’ll tell you what I am directly, that’s what I am leading up to. It was not for nothing that I kissed your hand. But the people must believe that we know what we are after, while the other side do nothing but ‘brandish their cudgels and beat their own followers.’ Ah, if we only had more time! That’s the only trouble, we have no time. We will proclaim destruction.… Why is it, why is it that idea has such a fascination. But we must have a little exercise; we must. We’ll set fires going.… We’ll set legends going. Every scurvy ‘group’ will be of use. Out of those very groups I’ll pick you out fellows so keen they’ll not shrink from shooting, and be grateful for the honour of a job, too. Well, and there will be an upheaval! There’s going to be such an upset as the world has never seen before.… Russia will be overwhelmed with darkness, the earth will weep for its old gods.… Well, then we shall bring forward … whom?”


“Ivan the Tsarevitch.”


“Ivan the Tsarevitch. You! You!”

Stavrogin thought a minute.

“A pretender?” he asked suddenly, looking with intense surprise at his frantic companion. “Ah! so that’s your plan at last!”

“We shall say that he is ‘in hiding,’” Verhovensky said softly, in a sort of tender whisper, as though he really were drunk indeed. “Do you know the magic of that phrase, ‘he is in hiding’? But he will appear, he will appear. We’ll set a legend going better than the Skoptsis’. He exists, but no one has seen him. Oh, what a legend one can set going! And the great thing is it will be a new force at work! And we need that; that’s what they are crying for. What can Socialism do: it’s destroyed the old forces but hasn’t brought in any new. But in this we have a force, and what a force! Incredible. We only need one lever to lift up the earth. Everything will rise up!”

“Then have you been seriously reckoning on me?” Stavrogin said with a malicious smile.

“Why do you laugh, and so spitefully? Don’t frighten me. I am like a little child now. I can be frightened to death by one smile like that. Listen. I’ll let no one see you, no one. So it must be. He exists, but no one has seen him; he is in hiding. And do you know, one might show you, to one out of a hundred-thousand, for instance. And the rumour will spread over all the land, ‘We’ve seen him, we’ve seen him.’

“Ivan Filipovitch the God of Sabaoth,* has been seen, too, when he ascended into heaven in his chariot in the sight of men. They saw him with their own eyes. And you are not an Ivan Filipovitch. You are beautiful and proud as a God; you are seeking nothing for yourself, with the halo of a victim round you, ‘in hiding.’ The great thing is the legend. You’ll conquer them, you’ll have only to look, and you will conquer them. He is ‘in hiding,’ and will come forth bringing a new truth. And, meanwhile, we’ll pass two or three judgments as wise as Solomon’s. The groups, you know, the quintets—we’ve no need of newspapers. If out of ten thousand petitions only one is granted, all would come with petitions. In every parish, every peasant will know that there is somewhere a hollow tree where petitions are to be put. And the whole land will resound with the cry, ‘A new just law is to come,’ and the sea will be troubled and the whole gimcrack show will fall to the ground, and then we shall consider how to build up an edifice of stone. For the first time! We are going to build it, we, and only we!”

* The reference is to the legend current in the sect of Flagellants.—Translator’s note. “Madness,” said Stavrogin.

“Why, why don’t you want it? Are you afraid? That’s why I caught at you, because you are afraid of nothing. Is it unreasonable? But you see, so far I am Columbus without America. Would Columbus without America seem reasonable?”

Stavrogin did not speak. Meanwhile they had reached the house and stopped at the entrance.

“Listen,” Verhovensky bent down to his ear. “I’ll do it for you without the money. I’ll settle Marya Timofyevna to-morrow!… Without the money, and to-morrow I’ll bring you Liza. Will you have Liza to-morrow?”

“Is he really mad?” Stavrogin wondered smiling. The front door was opened.

“Stavrogin—is America ours?” said Verhovensky, seizing his hand for the last time.

“What for?” said Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, gravely and sternly.

“You don’t care, I knew that!” cried Verhovensky in an access of furious anger. “You are lying, you miserable, profligate, perverted, little aristocrat! I don’t believe you, you’ve the appetite of a wolf!… Understand that you’ve cost me such a price, I can’t give you up now! There’s no one on earth but you! I invented you abroad; I invented it all, looking at you. If I hadn’t watched you from my corner, nothing of all this would have entered my head!”

Stavrogin went up the steps without answering.

“Stavrogin!” Verhovensky called after him, “I give you a day … two, then … three, then; more than three I can’t—and then you’re to answer!”

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