To the dearest memory of my father Ivan Mikhaïlovitch Saraskin
Twenty years ago, when I was a student at the Literature department, I first read The Possessed, the novel that although it has been reedited after a ten years break, still had a steady stigma of being “reactionary” and “ideological sabotage”, I could never think that I would some day write a book about it.
I, as many of my contemporaries, thought that the system of “the grandiose intellectual cheating” in which lived the country, the people and the culture, was there forever; it seemed that the ideological monolith that weighed down the Russian culture but compelled to “allow” Pushkin and Tolstoy and did not trust Dostoïevski – would remain for the ages of ages.
People say that the man in order not to perish has to find “his own kind”.
The novel Bessy became for me this literary speaking ecological niche where one could live, freely breath and feel as a human being: this book, read in a good moment, built my consciousness, determined choices of my life, helped to survive without being seduced neither by the mirage of official hierarchy nor by the pride of the underground.
By the end the novel brought me to my own kind.
In this book are assembled writings on The Possessed, written long time ago and recently: the “harmless” chapters about the poetics of the novel were conceived at the end of seventieth, “oriental” chapters at the beginning of eightieth, the third, “political” part came together during the last year. Sometimes I felt like giving a broader artistic context of the Dostoïevski’s world, going beyond the limits of one novel – this explains the presence of chapters that exceed the limits of the Possessed itself. The desire, however, to understand the most debatable, the most long-suffering and, according to my deepest convictions, the most important novel of Dostoïevski, demanded many different efforts: to go into the depth of the text – being lead by a line or a word, a date or a name; go from the text –toward artistic analogies and associations, sometimes completely unexpected; to go toward the text and, grown wise with the experience of the real history, to return again to its central idea.
This book certainly does not pretend to close the topic. The real talk about the Possessed only begins: main intellectual shocks and emotional conclusions are still ahead.
For such is the destiny of this great prophetic novel of Dostoïevski: everybody has to learn its lessons starting from zero point. Get even a half-step closer to what Dostoïevski expressed in The Possessed is an enviable lot for the reader and sometimes a real life chance.
I hope that I also have such a chance: after the first reading of the Possessed, in the context of momentary and current issues, in other words from the position of political and social cataclysms, should come the understanding of the Possessed from the point of view of the eternity, as Dostoïevski understood it, from the position of the Christian law.
“The law of human existence consists only in the ability of the man to always worship infinitely great. If people are deprived of infinitely great, they will not live and dye in despair”, with these words on his lips dies Stepan Trofimivich Verkhovenski. “Every man, whoever he is, needs to worship what is the Great Idea, infinite Idea! …
“I…I will believe in God”, scrims the unfortunate, doomed Shatov, the victim of the possessed.
“Listen: this man was the greatest on earth, he is what it exists for, solemnly declares the hymn for Christ Kirillov one minute before his suicide. There are no Dostoïevski’s heroes without the search for God as a goal of existence, of man and of a nation. Even Stavrogin, “the hero-sun” in the Possessed represents, according to the author’s definition a social type of man who although idle, is nevertheless “conscientious and making desperate, convulsive efforts in order to renew himself and to start to believe again …This is a man who does not believe the faith of our believers and who asks for a faith that is full, perfect, other…”
“Do you believe or do you not believe” –this a most important, eternal “Dostoïevski’s” question that demands sooner or later from every man a self-determination, and gives to the Possessed truly Dostoïevskian dimensions.
It is a novel about painful search for God, about ordeals of faith and love, about afflictions of the rebellious spirit – this seems to be the future reading of the Possessed.
I feel a heartfelt, sincere gratitude to my long-term interlocutors, specialists on Dostoïevski with whom I had a chance to discuss momentary as well as eternal in Dostoïevski’s houses of St. Petersburg and Staraja Russa.
I would like to express special gratefulness for his help and support to Y.F. Karjakin whose experience on Dostoïevski is highly instructive.
The World of the novel.
In the context of the exact time.
(The Possessed, the calendar of the fiction)
What is time? Time does not exist;
Time is the relation of being to non-being.
In January 1871, in full swing of the work on the Possessed, Dostoïevski wrote to A. Maïkov: “Have you read Leskov’s novel in “Russian vestnik”? A lot of lies, a lot of devil only knows what, as if it was happening on the moon” (29, book I, 172).
There is steady opinion that has already become a prejudice, that in works of Dostoïevski, with their “fantastic” realism, everything is if it was on the moon: instead of cosmos there is a chaos, instead of order –consecutive disharmony, instead of concrete time and space – eternity in the middle of the universe, instead of developing characters – unchanging images and pulled out of ages moments of their existence, instead of a strict thoughtful construction of a plot and composition – neglect of artistic fiction.
These prejudices are old: Dostoïevski’s contemporaries already had them. “I have completely different ideas about reality and realism than our realists and critics …”, wrote Dostoïevski at the end of 1868. “Tell intelligibly what we, Russians, experienced in our spiritual development in the last ten years ¾ our realists will scrim that this is a fantasy! Nevertheless it is an indigenous, true realism! This is realism but deeper because their realism is superficial …With their realism one cannot explain one hundredth of real facts that took place. And we, with our idealism, even predicted facts. It happened.” (28, book II, 329)
One year after Dostoïevsli started to write the Possessed – the novel that suffered from realists and critics more than all other works of Dostoïevski all together. Attentive, concentrated reading of this particular novel demolishes, however, many habitual stereotypes and refutes old and new-fashioned prejudices.
As actors who come to theatre before a show, characters of the Possessed come one after another to the provincial city where main events of the novel will take place. Shatov returned from abroad one year and a half before these events. Two months before came to the province new governor of the town Lembke, officials Blum and Shigalev and returned from Switzerland general’s wife Stavrogina. Three weeks before the Lebjadkins and Fed’ka the Convict appeared in town, two weeks before came Drozdov family and Daria Shatova, one week before ¾ Yulia Mikhaïlovna and her relative, the writer Karamazinov. Five days before arrived Kirillov and the day when opens the novel-chronicle, main participants, Stavrogin and Petr Verkhovenski, reached the town. Arrivals become more rare later: miss Virginskaja comes from St. Petersburg and ends up, as well as Erkel, at the meeting of “ours”, book-peddler appears in town, young suicide makes a swift pass and Maria Shatova finds her husband.
Let’s take a good look, let’s think about this “meeting” with its unprecedented, even for Dostoïevski, number of characters (22!). What made them take a road? What was their purpose and why did they gather there?
Let’s remember: right after his arrival to Russia Shatov buried the illegal typographical press and sent to Switzerland the letter-declaration where he announced his complete rupture with “Society”. Kirillov returned from abroad in order to perform, on the signal of Petr Verkhovenski, an act of free will ¾ the suicide. Brother and Sister Lebjadkin await from Stavrogin the decision of their fate. Karamazinov is in a hurry selling his property before trouble begins so he can definitely leave Russia. Drozvovs return to their family nest after many years of absence. Lembke couple dreams of accomplishing a brilliant administrative career in their new life. Maria Shatova came to the tiny room on the Bogojavlenskaja Street in order to give birth to the child of Stavrogin. Petr Verkhovenski intends to get money for his property, kill Shatov, gain power over Stavrogin and start “the universal appraisal”. For some mysterious reason that we will try to comprehend, arrives to the town Stavrogin, “terrible new idea is struggling with him too”.
The main thing is clear: the chronicle described the events of the final act of a tragedy first acts of which were played far behind the scene. Characters’ destinies are presented in the last, decisive turn: they will finally have to pay off their old scores.
Results of this show-meeting are truly tragic: thirteen characters die by the end of the chronicle, it means one third of all speaking characters of the Possessed and therefore one third of the novel’s universe.
“As a matter of fact reader-spectator is allowed to witness only the denouement …wrote Anna Akhmatova about Dostoïevski’s novels-tragedies. “Everything: love, hate, betrayal or friendship had already taken place somewhere, beyond limits of the given novel.” Time and space of the novel are filled with mysteries of old encounters
and separations, enigmas of intentions and decisions, puzzles of situations and actions that happened sometime before. What had happened sometimes vaguely glimmers, sometimes clearly oozes and sometimes powerfully invades the present, illuminating pages of the novel with a transparent, ominous light. Expositions of the chronicle, impregnations “from the past” are the heralds of the future catastrophe: an unavoidable, inevitable reckoning for the past.
This past, whether removed or very recent, is far from being always clear and obvious, sometimes it has bearly distinguishable features, and sometimes you do not even suspect the fact of its existence. Special efforts are needed in order to reveal and interpret this “underwater”, invisible part of the whole.
The Past: 1849-1869
Narration of the novel-chronicle contains a great number of temporal marks that indicate year or month, day or hour, minute or instant. These marks register age of characters and events of their past, fix duration of episodes and intervals between them, determine pace, rhythm, speed and direction of time, keeps account of it.
Logical cause and effect relationships of “temporal marks” are so carefully thought out that the possibility to calculate dates of almost all events strictly according to calendar is perfectly realistic. Actually, combined chronology of the Possessed “works” in a way that reader can relay on its almost absolute precision: each event in the novel has only one, unique time and place and does not allow any approximate, “by eye”, definitions.
Chronicle does not fix time in general, past or current, but first of all the exact time. Actually characters themselves passionately search for this exactness. They want to know exactly all the terms in the “temporary” as well as in “eternal” time.
Kirillov affirms that he discovered that he was happy “last week …Wednesday…at night …it was two thirty seven in the morning”. Liputin counts “for sure” when “phalanstera” will happen in the province, Karamazinov inquires Petrusha about the same and the latter reveals the secret: “It will start about the beginning of the next May and everything will be over by St. Peter’s day.” Even the end of the world should start, according to Shigalev’s plans, sometime the day after tomorrow, exactly at ten twenty five.”
Eternal chronology of the Possessed with its numerous and insisting “signals of the exact time” forms an orderly and finished calendar.
Chronicle of the novel contains three main temporary levels. First of all it is the pre-narrative past where developed the prehistory of the events; second it is narrative time itself where take place actions of the novel; third, the post-narrative time that lies between the end of the narrative action and the appearance of the text written by Chronicler.
The most expressively the past appears in the life description of the most respectful Stepan Trofimovitch Verkhovenski.
Chronicler informs that “right at the end of forties”, he [Verkhovenski] “returned from abroad and made a brilliant display as a lecturer at the university”. His university career ended, however, because his poem was arrested in Moscow, and “some huge, anti-natural and anti-state society that counted about thirty people and had almost shaken the social edifice” was discovered in St. Petersburg.
Therefore Stepan Trofimovitch’s hour of triumph coincides with the most important event in Russian life of “the late forties”: the arrest of Petrashevski’s group in April 1849. Here appears and consolidates the first basic date, the beginning of the story in the Possessed, that is distant from it by twenty years.
By confronting this key date with temporary marks in the text we get practically all calendar chain of the prehistory of the chronicle as well as its final link which is the suggested time of the novel’s events: 1869.
In 1849 not only social nut also private life of Stepan Trofimovitch drastically changed: he became the tutor of the son of Varvara Vsevolodna and settled for good in her house. All further details of the biography of Stepan Trofimovitch are narrated in a precise connection with real events in the Russian history.
Therefore we learn that in May 1855, on his way to Crimea, to the army forces, died general Vsevolod Nikolaevich Stavrogin, father of Nikolay Vsevolodovich. This event marks the first big argument between Stepan Trofimovitch and his protectress.
“Once, when came the first rumors about the liberation of peasants and when the whole Russia suddenly rejoiced and was preparing for the revival, precisely in the Fall of 1856, a very important St. Petersburg baron who “was very close to the affair” visited Varvara Petrovna. In this memorable day happened another tiff between Stepan Trofimovitch and Varvara Petrovna”.
“At the end of fifties”, what means, we can be sure, during the winter 1859-1860, Stepan Trofimovitch and Varvara Petrovna went to Moscow and St. Petersburg hoping to “join the movement and show their strength”. “Toward the Lent”, in other words in Spring 1860, everything “blown up like a rainbow soap-bubble”, and, as soon as back home from two capitals, Varvara Petrovna “sent her friend abroad”. Stepan Trofimovich came back to Skvoreshniki the same Fall.
As we see, cited facts in this life description are not so important and therefore Chronicler calls them “anecdotes”. They are not, however, told without purpose. “The trifles of life” that are precisely related to the real historical time allow to define circumstances much more important and essential.
Information about the first spouse of Stepan Trofimovich who “died in Paris after being separated from him for three years and left him a five years old son” allows to ascertain that little Peter was five years old in 1847 since in this year died his mother. Therefore the young Verkhovenski should be 27 years old in 1869. These facts from the father’s past date and unobtrusively draw a line of the history of the son, the ill-fated Petr Stepanovitch Verkhovenski.
In the novel itself he is an inveterate rogue and swindler, ambitious political dealer and murderer. In the prehistory of the chronicle, however, he is an unfortunate orphan who knew neither his mother nor father and who, since he was a baby, lived with “aunts” somewhere in the remotest depths of the provinces; the child “sent by mail” by his father in order to keep him out of sight and robed by his own father as well. It is rather significant that Stepan Trofimovich, who brought up Stavrogin, Dasha and Lisa and guided his young friend Chronicler, never took any part in the education of his own son and saw him only twice in his life.
“Hidden” in Stepan Trofimovich’s biography, childhood and adolescence of his son give to the biography of the latter a new, dramatic nuance and show who had become ten years later a sensitive and God-fearing boy from the “casual family”.
An other episode from the Fall 1860, when Stepan Trofimovich, after his travel abroad, complains to the Chronicler-his confident about his fate as a sponger, seems to be without importance. However, precisely this episode allows to date the first and the earliest in the chronicle conversation of the Chronicler with his elder preceptor.
All details connected with Chronicler are especially precious since the narrator of the Possessed talks very seldom and little about himself; he is the only one character of the chronicle whose age is not indicated at all. Chronicler is sometimes perceived as an “figurative something”, “a specific narrative style dressed by Dostoievski in frock-coat and trousers”.
Anton Lavrentjevich G-v, the narrator of the Possessed has, however, a biography as well but it seems to be overshadowed by the events of other lives.
“I wasn’t born then yet” (it means during the youth of Stepan Trofimovich) says Chronicler about 1849 when the preceptor appeared at the general’s wife house.
Chronicler wasn’t either the witness of the already discussed events of 1855-1856. Therefore he could become the confident of Stepan Trofimovich between 1856 and 1860 or precisely around 1858. This date comes from the following temporary points: in the Fall of 1855 Nicolay Vsevolodovich entered the Lyceum and came home for vocations during the first two years (1856 and 1857). Chronicler, however, saw him only in 1856 when the latter returned home after his St. Petersburg adventures (This time I could see him for the first time, I had never seen him before”). Therefore Chronicler became close to the general’s wife’s household only after her son’s arrival in 1857 and before Stepan Trofimovich’s departure to St. Petersburg and then abroad during the winter 1859-1860. Most likely Chronicler finished gymnasia around 1858: according to the novel he was “a young man of classical education and with connections in the highest society”, had a position (“I serve”) and joined a group of liberal intelligentsia meeting under Stepan Trofimovich’s wing. Hence can be defined the age of Chronicler: in the year of graduation from gymnasia he could be seventeen years old and therefore at the moment when begins the novel (ten years after) he is twenty seven years old, the classical age of “conspirator” according to Dostoievski.
Chronicler, however, is not a conspirator. He is the only one among young people in the novel who is not involved in Peter Verkhovenski’s machinations and one of those few who bravely and openly condemn him. By trying to notice, learn, remember and register everything he achieves a great feat, per haps the work of his life. From this point of view “The Chronicle” represents the truly heroic deed of Chronicler: inquisitive, honest and searching for truth “Russian boy”.
Dostoievski wrote to his brother from Peter and Paul Fortress on December 22 1849: “When I look back to my past and think how much time I had wasted, how much time was lost in delusions, errors, idleness and inability to live; how I did not value it and how many times I sinned against my heart and my spirit, my heart is bleeding” (28, book I, 164). Chronicler, who managed not to waist his time, seems to “correct” “delusions and errors” of young Dostoievski. By looking from the “present” into the “past” the writer felt especially strongly the sense and prize of each and every lived minute since his desire not to waist time represents for him the highest thirst for life.
1865, 1969: two encounters.
Prehistory of the novel represents twenty years (1849-1869) during which the “professor” gradually sank; general’s wife consolidated her fortune; “children”: Petrusha Verkhovenski, Stavrogin, Lisa and Dasha grown up; governors changed in the city and sovereigns in the country; the Crimea war, the great reformation, the Polish uprising and peasants movements took place.
Real historical events as well as Stepan Trofimovich’s biography, complete and consecutive, form a chronological basis that enables to gather and date dispersed and distant details in the text and in biographies of all main characters of the novel.
From this point of view the biography of Nicolay Stavrogin is the most representative: chronology allows to reconstruct an uninterrupted succession of the most important events of his life.
Let’s enumerate them (omitting technical methods of date-determination): 1840 is a year of Stavrogin’s birth; in 1849 begins his home education; from the fall 1855 to the December 1860 he studies in St. Petersburg Liceum; year 1861: military service in Guards and success in the highest society; 1862: duels, court and degradation from the military; 1863: participation in the Polish campaign, promotion to officer and resignation from the army; 1864: St. Petersburg “corners” and the acquaintance with Lebjadkin, Petrusha Verkhovenski and Kirillov; June 1864: the “accident” with Matrjosha; March 1865: the marriage with the Lame; June 1865: his mother’s arrival; Spring 1866: departure from Russia; 1866-1869: life abroad; August 1869: return to Russia.
As we can see the pre-narrative episodes of Stavrogin’s life are put in the context of the concrete space and into strict frame of time: while student in St. Petersburg Liceum from 1855 to 1860, Nicolay Vsevolodovich could have had concrete classmates and his colleagues in St. Petersburg Guards from 1860 to 1861 should have been officers known by their names.
Stavrogin’s prehistory becomes richer and tenser as we get closer to the beginning of the chronicle.
After Nicolay Vsevolodovich left abroad in 1866, he traveled all over Europe, made a journey to Egypt, stood eight hours vespers and matins in Aphon, worshiped holy places in Jerusalem, visited Iceland as a member of some scientific expedition and attended lectures at universities in Germany.
In Summer 1867 Stavrogin bought in Frankfurt a portrait of a girl resembling Matrjosha but forgot it in some hotel; in his confession Nicolay Vsevolodovich admits that he only then remembered the “accident” with Matrjosha for the first time. In the Fall of the same year he commits with Shatov and Kirillov another, this time intellectual sacrilege. Seeing the moral crime first of all in the fact of corrupting two disciples with opposite ideas, one of “neophytes” will accuse him later: “During the same time when you implanted in my heart god and fatherland…per haps during the same days, you poisoned the heart of this …maniac Kirillov. You affirmed in him lie and calumny”. At the end of 1867 Stavrogin’s “experiments” exceeded limits of his personal entertainment as he takes part in the reorganization of Petrusha’s “society” according to a new plan, and writes regulations for it.
The reconstructed calendar of last months preceding the chronicle allows to make even more important semantic discoveries.
In May 1868, after the sinister dream about Matrjosha, Satavrogin begins having horrible hallucinations that gave rise to the idea of penitence and confession. At the end of 1868 he changed citizenship and secretly bought a house in the canton Uri (Switzerland). The events of 1869, that directly lead to the confession, line up in the following way: January ¾ affair with Maria Shatova in Paris; March-April ¾acquaintance with Lisa; middle April ¾ encounter with his mother and Dasha in Paris; May-June ¾ their trip to Switzerland; beginning of July ¾ passion for Lisa and plan of bigamy; middle July ¾ rapprochement with Dasha and rejection of the “rapacious” plan; end of July ¾ urgent departure. These are circumstances of this departure according to the Stavrogin’s confession: “I felt a terrible temptation for the new crime …but I run away on the advice of another girl whom I told almost everything” (11, 23). It appears that right after his oral confession to Dasha and escape, on her advice, to Switzerland, the written text of the document was created, circulated and brought to Russia at the beginning of August.
The story of the poor girl who managed, in a short period of time of her being “at the water-cure”, to bring a “great sinner” to repentance and confession after series of crimes and sacrileges, is worth the most careful attention. The reconstruction of Daria Shatova’s biography in the context of Stavrogin’s prehistory gives to the “past” new and unexpected sense.
In 1869 Varvara Petrovna’s ward, orphan and daughter of a house servant and former serf of Stavrogin’s family is twenty years old. Eight years ago, in 1861 when she was twelve years old, she had been taken to the general’s wife house, exactly during the period when Nikolay Vsevolodovich, after he had graduated from the Liceum, served in St. Petersburg and did not visit his mother during four years. This period was “quiet” in Skvoreshniki; during four years (1861-1865) teachers and governess came to the girl, she received good education and became her patroness’s confident. During exactly these four years Stavrogin had serious trouble: duels, trials and degradation. Naturally Dasha, his mother’s confident, knew about her affairs, efforts and worries.
Stavrogin’s arrival to his mother in July 1865 (when Dasha saw him for the first time) reveals its real meaning only if we know that three months before that (in March 1865) he secretly got married. The fragment from his confession gives an exact idea about his frame of mind at this period: “I was generally very bored of living back then, almost in the state of stupor. In the same manner as I forgot all what happened then, I would completely forget, as soon as danger was over, the accident in Gorokhovaja street (in other words Matrjosha’s death) if I did not angrily remember for some time how scared I was. I took my anger on everybody. In the same time, but without any specific reason, I got an idea of ruining my life as disgustingly as possible. For about a year I thought about the suicide; a better opportunity presented itself. Once, when looking at the lame Maria Timofeevna Lebjadkina, who was sometimes serving in rooms and was not yet insane but simply a gushing idiot secretly crazy about me (as ours have told me), I suddenly decided to marry her. The idea that Stavrogin would marry this lowest creature excited my nerves. One could not imagine anything more hideous” (11,20).
It is clear that Stavrogin’s outrages in the provincial town where “the beast had shown his claws” must have taken place before Dasha’s eyes since she permanently lived in his mother’s house. Even if the novel does not mention it at all, their encounter and close acquaintance are inevitable according to the plot’s logic and are as plausible as the facts from the past specifically mentioned by the Chronicler.
Imperceptibly for the reader and as if by accident, Chronicler put Stavrogin and Dasha under the same roof. For half a year they live in the same house and eat at the same table. It seems that it is during this time that was born the love of the sixteen years old girl for a man standing on the verge of disaster: love-pity and love-sacrifice.
The encounter in Switzerland turned to be a continuation of the old acquaintance: Nicolay Vsevolodovich knew to whom he confided and to whose advice he listened. Stavrogin will write to Dasha in his death letter: “You are this tender and generous creature that I have discovered!”
Therefore the chronology of the novel helps to find episodes lost in its prehistory, liquidate “white spots” in the Chronicler’s story, reconstruct characters’ biographies and line up all the events in their true causal order.
Narrative function of the chronology of the Possessed corrects to the great extend a common idea about the organization of fictional time in Dostoievski’s works. Thus M.M. Bakhtin, who believed that the main categories of Dostoievski’s vision are “not
progression but coexistence and interaction”, and who perceived Dostoievski’s world as unfolded “mainly in space and not in time”, denied the functional importance of the “past” in characters’ lives. “His characters do not remember anything, they do not have biography in a sense of the past and truly lived experience …Therefore in Dostoievski’s novel there is no causality, no genesis, no explanations from the past, milieu influence, education and so on”. The concrete analysis of the fictional chronology of the Possessed reveals that biographies of all main characters of the novel have to be reconstructed in a way that the distant past emerges as a causal factor of the recent, and the present appears as a direct consequence of the past.
Conclusions of those researchers who try to apply Bakhtin’s conception to the novel the Possessed do not confirm either: “Stavrogin’s character does not have a biographical time … the information from Stavrogin’s “biography” given to the reader represents only “moments” and do not compose a whole and one biographical time”.
Continuity of Stavrogin’s biography, brought to light with each and every important life event in it (birth, study, service, marriage, travels and so on), not only exists in the novel but can be exactly dated and thus witness in favor of the narrative importance of the chronology in Dostoievski’s novels. On the other hand this continuity also enlightens “times connection” in the novel where critical and crucial time does not exclude the chronological and sequential one as it is often suggested: “In Dostoievski’s novels detailed chronological back ground (the calendar plan with exactly indicated boundaries between sequences) is actually fictitious, it does not influence the development of events and does not leave any traces. Chronological progressiveness is practically depreciated in the name of the decisive self-exposure of characters.”
To the great extend our calculations are directed to discern the traces that indicate the movement of the chronicle from its prehistory (“the past”) to events of the “present” with all complications and paradoxes this movement implies.
September 12th: the day of amazing coincidences.
Right before the beginning of main events of the chronicle, the calendar does not count years and months anymore but rather weeks and days; and the atmosphere of expectation thickens.
Chronicler begins the narration of the novel’s closest prehistory by a special notice: “I will start with the description of this partly amusing incident with which my chronicle truly begins. At the very end of August Drozdovs finally returned.” Let’s verify Chronicler’s word and take his indication “at the very end of August” literary, as the last day of the month, August 31. Lets line up the chain of events from this date.
“This very day” Varvara Petrovna found out from “Drozdikha” about her son’s tiff with Lisa and wrote a letter asking him to come as soon as possible. “To the morning”, in other words on the 1 of September, her project of match-making Daria and Stepan Trofimovich has matured and she informed both of them in the same day. Dasha agreed immediately but Stepan Trofimovich asked for delay until tomorrow. “Tomorrow”, that is on September 2, he gave his consent; engagement has been scheduled for his next birthday and the wedding two weeks after that. “A week after” (that is on September 9th) Stepan Trofimovich was in a state of confusion and “the next day” (September 10th) he received a letter from Varvara Petrovna that defines calendar dates of the event. “The day after tomorrow, Sunday, she asked Stepan Trofimovich to be at her place precisely at twelve o’clock”.
Therefore, if the calculation is correct, this Sunday has to be September 12th. Here our arguments obtain a “documentary” proof. The calendar of the year 1869 clearly confirms that the supposed Sunday falls on September 12th. Exactly at this date calendar of the “past” and calendar of the “present” cross and confirm each other. Some sort of a “lock” is formed: “the fatal” Sunday can only be September 12th and September 12th falls on Sunday precisely in 1869.
Chronicler informs: “This same Sunday when Stepan Trofimovich’s fate had to be irrevocably decided was one of the most important days of my chronicle. This was a day of surprises, the day of denouements of the past and beginnings of the something new, the day of sharp explanations and even more confusion.”
The fact that instead of two especially invited witnesses of the supposed engagement there were ten uninvited guests seems to be a pure coincidence. “Completely unexpected arrival of Nicolay Vsevolodovich who we expected probably in a month, was strange not only because of its surprise but precisely because of somehow fatal coincidence with the present minute”, defines Chronicler the main event of “the day of amazingly gathered coincidences.”
Are these “accidents” so accidental, “surprises” so surprising and “coincidences” so unexpected from the point of view of the chronicle’s exact calendar?
Yet in Switzerland Nicolay Vsevolodovich promised his mother to come in November. On August 31 Varvara Petrovna begged her son “to come at least one month before the fixed date”. When, however, she saw her son this September Sunday she was very surprised: “I did not expect you at all before one more month, Nicolas!” Therefore Stavrogin’s pre-term appearance is not engendered by his mother’s letter but by something else.
Calendar helps: on September 4th Stepan Trofimovich sent a letter to his former pupil in which he had informed him about his future engagement. Stavrogin left St. Petersburg right after he had received the news (he had just enough time) and appeared in his mother’s salon knowing exactly time and place of the gathering. Petr Verkhovenski, another “unexpected guest”, also appeared there on the instigation of his father: “Leave everything and fly to save me”. The whole gathering is not altogether so unexpected as it seems. The project imposed by Varvara Petrovna on her wards is corrected by reality because it involves interests of all there present.
In the same time the number of guests masks the truly dramatic situation, governed, imperceptibly for others, by two of the “surprisingly” arrived: Stavrogin and Petr Stepanovich (Verkhovenski). The hidden tension of the scene consists precisely in the fact that its accidental (but in fact especially invited) visitors turned to be its play-writers, producers and main actors.
Break the engagement at any price and ruin this marriage in order to keep Dasha for himself ¾ these are secret motives of Stavrogin’s arrival. Petr Verkhovenski’s game is, however, even more complicated and casuistic. Suspecting plot of Stavrogin he watches his every word or gesture and, as soon as he grasps their meaning, immediately takes up Nicolay Vsevolodovich’s party, captures the conversation and leads the scene toward the desired result: the engagement is scandalously broken, the bride is compromised, the groom is disgraced and the hostess is cruelly hurt and insulted.
Victims and witnesses of the intrigue begin to suspect that something was wrong only afterwards: “They are clever; on Sunday they have arranged things…”
The secret plot, however, never existed! The mainspring of Sunday’s intrigue was really known only to Petr Stepanovich: by decoying Stavrogin in the trap of profitable for both of them scandal, he seems to accumulate material for blackmailing. Later Petrusha (Verkhovenski) will show his cards: “I acted exactly so you would notice the whole spring; I tried so hard primarily for you because I wanted to catch and compromise you. I wanted first of all to know to which degree you are afraid”.
Chronicler narrates circumstances of the “fatal” Sunday as an average witness, “not knowing the matter”: “We did not know anything back then and naturally several things seemed very strange to us”. The story of “the day of surprising coincidences” is like a report of the witness from the place and “from the moment” of the event. Chronicler will have four months, however, to think over the facts and, having the final knowledge, elucidate them from the new temporal point of view. Besides the temporal point “then” appears the point “now”: “And now, having described our enigmatic situation …when we did not know anything yet, I will begin to describe the following events of my chronicle with, so to say, knowledge of the matter as it all was revealed and explained now.” The narration from “then” mixes with the story from “now”; “yesterday”, “today” or “tomorrow” meet and cross, the experience of the latest knowledge bares the nerve of the past moments.
Indeed, these narrative zigzags, anticipations, stops and returns to the past compose the chronicle of the Possessed ¾ this astonishing building made of the living, multidimensional and irrevocable time.
From September 12 to October 11
Thirty days from the first day of the chronicle, September 12th, when arrives its main character Nicolaj Stavrogin until his death dated by October 11th, constitute the main fictional time of the Possessed.
Here are dates of main events in the chronicle:
¾ September 12, “fatal Sunday”
¾ night from 20 to 21 September, Stavrogin’s night visits.
¾ September 28th, Petr Verkhovenski’s bustles, the meeting with “ours”; the scene “Ivan-tzarevich”;
¾ September 29th, the search at Stepan Trofimovich’s house, Stavrogin’s visit to Tikhon; public confession about the marriage with Maria Lebjadkina;
¾ September 30th, governess’ festivities, the fire and the murder of brother and sister Lebjadkin;
¾October 1, Stepan Trofimovich’s departure, Lisa’s death, Stavrogin’s departure and arrival of Maria Shatova;
¾ October 2, birth of Maria Shatova’s child and Shatov’s murder;
¾ night of the October 3rd, Kirillov’s suicide;
¾ October 3rd, Petr Verkhovenski’s departure and also departure of Varvara Petrovna looking for Stepan Trofimovich;
¾ October 8th, death of Stepan Trofimovich Verkhovenski;
¾ October 11th, Stavrogin’s suicide.
Enumerated days are marked by special intensity of the described events. None of other days of this month, however, is excluded completely from the narration: some event, even only briefly mentioned, falls on each of them. It is even possible to find out what happened in any of these days to each of the main characters, but this information is dispersed and literary dissolved in the text. What is amazing is that if we put all these microscopic pieces of being together, compose individual chronologies and connect them, “point of time” of each character will find its place in the combined picture of events without any slips or discrepancy.
Lets not tire the reader with details of calculations and abundance of dates, but just affirm that any facts fixed in time are firmly hooked between themselves by the temporal break and assembled in the general framework of chronology. All information concerning days and months is as exact and reliable as the information concerning years.
Here is an especially interesting relationship between two events. Calculating from September 12th we get the date of 29th, in other words the last day of the month, as the date of the search at Stepan Trofimovich’s house. Memory does not betray the Chronicler: “I remember the weather that morning: it was cold, clear but windy September day”. The same calculation concerning the moment of Shatov’s murder gives us the date of October 2. We read in Kirillov’s death letter: “I, Alexej Kirillov …declare that today …October, at night, around eight o’clock, I killed the student Shatov”. It can be easily proved according to the text that these facts (search and murder) are separated by no more than two days and two other important events: festivities for governess’ (the next day after the search) and Lisa’s death (the next day after festivities). It can be concluded that the search could only take place between 28 and 30th September and Shatov’s murder from 1 to 3rd October. Our calculations starting from September 12th receive therefore sufficiently exact confirmation. Temporal marks “September day” and “of October” form another chronological lock.
Threads of time between episodes of the novel interlace in the whole and one tissue. Information about the moment of event, all these numerous “two days after”, “in one day” and “next morning” that sometimes seem even redundant, are actually always necessary. Chronicler’s narration includes the calendar that naturally contains all capricious curves of time.
It is noticed long time ago: “The starting point is always known. The calendar of events is extremely carefully composed and hours are verified”. A modern researcher reasonably supposes: “Dostoievski had a mechanism of internal feeling of time that assured proportionality between axis of action and axis of time. This sort of mechanism almost automatically corrects temporal distribution of events”.
Other questions, however, are also rightful: “What for the author needs so much exactitude and accuracy, why “explosive” moments have to by measured by a sort of chronological machine that counts hours, minutes, even seconds”? What for the writer needs an illusion of complete authenticity of action? It appears that marks of exact time in Dostoievski’s work give the opportunity to reconstruct the exact synchronic picture of events, which does not entirely reveal itself in consecutive narration. Synchrony is not always obvious for some events and episodes: some of them seem to completely fall out from narration and can be reconstructed only after analyzing the whole context.
Since characters of the Possessed live in a unified time system, the system of exact time, the combination of their individual chronologies may give surprising semantic effects and reveal the hidden context, in other words a complementary meaning as if it was hidden in folds of time.
It seems that the phenomena of hidden context is an obligatory attribute of this sort of narrative systems where chronology is, first, exact, second, multidimensional and third, universal, as we observe in the Possessed. Synchrony of events and therefore complementary meaning do not appear if one of these attributes is missing.
…According to other calendars.
Based on the synchronic principle, even brief confrontation of chronology in the Possessed with chronologies in other famous works of Russian literature reveals important differences.
Pushkin wrote in his comment to Eugene Onegin: “We dare to believe that in our novel time is calculated according to the calendar”. In Pushkin’s novel action continues for five and half years and events are dated with precision of year and month to the point that it is sometimes possible to determine an exact day of the event. Containing, between dates, important breaks without any event, the internal chronology of Pushkin’s novel, however, connects temporal points as if they belonged to different characters: July 1821, beginning of Onegin’s travel; Summer 1821, Olga’s marriage; end of January-February 1822, journey of Tatjana and her mother to Moscow; Fall 1822, Tatjana’s marriage. Since Eugene Onegin does not contain any detailed individual chronologies one cannot synchronize events happened to different characters.
Lermontov’s novel Hero of our time that investigate “history of human soul” is constructed, as it is known, in defiance of chronology. Concentric composition of the novel does not reproduce events in their temporal succession but in other, more important for the author order. Hero of our time practically does not have any past; it is not exactly known why he left St. Petersburg and happened to be at water cure. Author was not interested in Pechorin’s formation: it is not known what Pechorin was doing in St. Petersburg during five years after his return from Caucus and before his new arrival to Vladicavcas. Time does not seem to change him: he remains the same in Taman where he was twenty five years old and in Maxim Maximych where he is thirty. None of Pechorin’s life events (except his meeting with smugglers or episode with Vulich) has an exact date or corresponds to the real chronology. It is only possible to determine the season where such or such episode takes place (It is Winter in Fatalist; April and May in Bella) and its duration (around one month and a half in Princess Mary). Therefore temporal factor plays no important role in creation of historically authentic character of 1830.
There are only few approximate indications of time of event in Gogol’s poem The dead souls. We read in the first volume of Gogol’s novel: “As the matter of fact it is necessary to remember that all this took place shortly after the glorious expulsion of French”; this detail allows to place these events twenty years earlier relatively to the date of creation of the novel (1842), in the reign of Alexander I. Officials and residents of the provincial town N where arrived Chichikov, were absorbed in reading of Moscow Gazette and Sons of the Fatherland looking for political news and fearing debarkation of Napoleon from St. Helen’s island (Napoleon died in 1821). “Chamber president knew by heart Jukovski’s Ludmila that still was back then a fresh novelty”; Jukovski’s ballad was written in 1808.
In the same time marks of Alexander I epoch coexist with traits of completely different time: all background, way of life, the collision itself (the practice of pawning serfs in bank) and the preponderance of officials-bureaucrats proves that Chichikov travels in Russia of Nicolas the I.
Traits of the epoch of Alexander I placed in the context of the forties turn out to be an intentional improbability; events form not historical but phantasmagoric picture.
Action of the novel War and Peace begins in July 1805 and ends in December 1820. Fifteen years of life of Tolstoy’s characters unfold against background of universal historical events with which they are most closely connected. This connection actually determines the internal chronology of the novel: all episodes connected with wars, battles and other historical events are dated exactly, literally up to an hour. When, however, the narration deals with characters’ personal lives the chronology can be sufficiently approximate: “in the middle of Winter”, “in Summer”, “in the beginning of Fall” and so on.
The calendar is sometimes intentionally imprecise. Here is one of the “peace” episodes: having lost in cards to Dolohov forty three thousand rubles during Christmas holidays (in the text it is indicated even more precisely: two days after the third day of Christmas, in other words on December 29), Nicolay Rostov “spent two more weeks in Moscow …and …having sent, finally, all forty three thousand and having received Dolohov’s receipt, he left in the end of November in order to catch his regiment.”
Chronology is sometimes respected only in relation to one particular character but does not correspond to life circumstances of other characters. For example a surprising appearance of Andrey Bolkonski, whom everybody considered dead, at his father’s house in this very night from 19 to 20 March 1806, when his son will be born and his wife will die, is almost a miracle. Princess Mary is afraid to believe this miracle: “No, this cannot be, this would be to incredible”. Prince Andrej, seriously wounded in the battle of Austerlitz around twentieth of November 1805 was left to the care of local residents. Four months that took his recovery and the old prince’s search for his son considered missing seem to be a realistic period of time and in this sense the date of prince Andrej’s return is not surprising. The author had to go against the low of nature, however, in order that his character had time to arrive at such an important moment. We remember that the little princess, Andrej Bolkonski’s wife, was heavy and clumsy, wearing a special dress and not going out “because of her pregnancy” already in July 1805 in the salon of Anna Pavlovna Sherer. She gives birth nine months after, in other words in March 1806. It would mean, however, that the condition that was supposed to prevent princess Lisa from going out could not yet be so noticeable and important.
The consecutive chronology of War and Peace as well as of Eugene Onegin is composed of events that happen consecutively to one or another group of characters. The time seems to follow from Sherer’s salon to the prince Andrej’s house, from there to the apartment of Anatol Kuragin, then to the Rostov’s Moscow house and the villa of Pierre Besuhov. Therefore, November-December 1805, for example, are “given” to events that happened to Pierre, Spring 1806 to Bolkonski’s affairs, Summer and Fall 1806 to Rostovs, 1807 and 1808 are practically missing, 1809 is devoted to Andrej Bolkonski and so on.
Cases of synchronization of events in War and Peace are always specifically underlined by author: while Anna Mihailovna Trubetzkaja goes to visit the dying old Besuhov, countess Rostov, while waiting her girl-friend’s return, prepares money for her son’s uniform. Natasha Rostova’s explanation with her mother about Denisov’s proposition of marriage takes place at the same time as the explanation of Nicolaj Rostov with his father about his loss in cards. Or: “While sixth English dance was danced at Rostov’s house …” There is even more synchronization between peace events on one side and war events on the other; however, combinations of “peace” episodes with ones of “war” are almost always conventional because dating of peace events is mostly approximate. Thus, while the prince heroically battled near Austerlitz, Pierre Besuhov inherited huge fortune and married Helene. There is Pierre’s calendar: “ in the beginning of winter 1805-1806” he was invited by Anna Pavlovna Sherer to the party where he felt that he was strongly recommended to Helene. “One month and a half after” the engagement took place and after another “month and a half” the wedding. According to indicated in the text temporal breaks between episodes of acquaintance, engagement and wedding, the wedding itself should be dated by at least end of Winter, by February 1806. Prince Vacilij, however, comes to Bolkonki’s house in order to arrange his son’s marriage with princess Mary already in December 1805. He comes before Helene’s fate was decided. The whole match-making, however, from the beginning to the end, was his own handiwork and it is underlined in the text.
Conventional character of Tolstoy’s “peace” chronology will appear even more obvious if we add that on March 3rd 1806, during the dinner in honor of the prince Bagration (to this moment Pierre would just have time to marry) Dolohov insults Pierre as a clumsy husband of a beautiful woman. It turns out that in March 1806 Dolohov, having returned after military campaign and living in Pierre’s house (in spite of the fact that Pierre is supposed to live still in prince Vasilij’s house) already felt quite at home and seduced Helene (in spite of the fact again that during Dolohov’s visit she could not yet be countess Besuhov).
There are many other cases of time discordance in Tolstoy’s novel but it is not the quantity that matters: chronological principle of War and Peace assures the exactitude of temporal coordinates of historical (mostly military and historical) events only. “Peace” calendar that seems to be coordinated with real chronology is in reality deprived of exact authenticity. Narrative time accelerates or slows down according to author’s will, against its natural course and fulfilling auxiliary functions depending on composition; therefore it has its own, different from real speed and duration. Subservient role of time and lack of coordination in chronology eliminates the question about the objective synchrony of events. When the novel’s author needs such a synchrony he would “arrange” it himself by underlining the fact of synchronization but without any care about the proportionality of time and action.
We observe a completely different way of time representation in the Turgenev’s novel Newness (???) that is especially interesting for us because of it closeness to the Possessed by its theme, atmosphere and time of creation. Newness action takes place at the precisely indicated time. From this point of view the beginning of Turgenev’s novel looks in every detail very much “à la Dostoievski”: “…..”
Detailed textual indications of characters’ age, temporal breaks between events as well as basic dates coordinated with reality give the opportunity to compose, without any effort, the precise internal chronology of the novel.
There are, however, essential differences between time representations in Newness and the Possessed. In Turgenev’s novel time is one-dimensional, it flows as one stream in a strictly defined channel as if it was flowing from one point to another. If the author, having described a scene in a city house, transfers the action into the garden or to country side, nothing, in spite of the fact that some characters would remain in the city house,
is going to happen anymore: the time seems to freeze there. Time flows at every given moment only in the described place as if following “wondering point in space”, like thread after the needle, and it completely depends on change of decorations. It stops at the abandoned point of space like in enchanted castle and returns to life only when the castle becomes again the place of action. In Newness time flows only at the point where action takes place, in the Possessed time flows everywhere.
If both novels can be represented as two film studios the one for Nova would only need one camera in order to film turn by turn scenes that are discussed in the next episode of narration. Hidden cameras installed in the abandoned by the narration places would have nothing to film: there it would be neither light nor action. In the Possessed, on the contrary, it would be necessary to have as many cameras as there are places of action and the film would size plenitude of life everywhere where there are people.
An exclusive importance of time factor in Dostoievski’s “Chronicle” even if compared with his other works (and this is the topic for a special research) can be comprehensively revealed only by larger comparison of this novel with other works of Russian and world literature, especially with those of them that are “pregnant” with time, where time is full of political, ideological and esthetic meaning. From this point of view the comparative analysis of the Possessed with other “chronicles” can be the most promising since there, by virtue of the genre, irreversible and all-conquering run of time is transformed into the organizing principle of the plot. Fictional time in the Possessed, however characteristic of the genre of chronicle, also displays qualitative originality. Exactitude, volume and multidimensional character of the time in this novel contains mysteries and offers surprises.
Surprises of Chronology.
The narration of the Possessed that alternates temporal points of the perception of the happening (“now” and “then”) is intentionally incomplete: Chronicler, even when describing events with “the knowledge of the matter”, cannot seize whole manifest and secret meaning of the past moment. We know that during the same period of time different things in different places happen to characters of the chronicle and the meaning of these things is truly revealed only if their synchrony and symbolic correspondence are taken into account. Sometimes the fact itself is not as important as its synchrony with an other fact; the key for the comprehension of the whole is found precisely in these coincidences.
Pages of the Possessed that describe Shatov’s murder are one of the most terrifying in the novel. All horror of the committed crime can be grasped, however, only if we realize that Shatov perished taken unawares, while hoping for suddenly shining for him happiness.
The whole plot of the preparing crime is directly confronted with truly miraculous appearance of Maria Shatov and the birth of her child. The melody of an extraordinary, inspired and delirious encounter of former spouses and of their gleaming hope for future is accompanied by the obtrusive and every time more and more threatening motive of the diabolic chorus of “ours”. Every narrative moment concerning mother and baby has chronological analogy in the plot of murder. The following events take place synchronically: Maria Shatov’s arrival and the meeting with “ours” (October 1 “around eight o’clock”); troubled dream of sick Maria and Erkel’s visit to Shatov (nine thirty); Shatov’s taking care of his wife and the visit of Verhovenski and Liputin to Kirillov (“after ten and a half”); preparations for delivery and Petrusha’s [Verhovenski] secret plans (night of October 2); birth of the child and the murder of Fed’ka the Convict (early morning October 2). Here we see central points of comparison: precisely in these happy moments when “everything seems to be as if reborn” and when Shatov’s talked about their future life “again and forever” comes Erkel, as an angel of death. “This is the very last step! After that there is a new way and never, never we will think about the old horror!”, in this mood Shatov went to meet his death. The very moment of the murder seems to fix the moment of non-being: it is excluded from the successive chronological order and minutes when the crime took place do not have any temporal parallel.
In the beginning of this fragment Chronicler insistently underlines chronological connection between two lines of events by measuring exact time of most important episodes: Chronicler especially indicates that Maria Shatova arrived “around eight o’clock (precisely in the same moment when ours gathered at Erkel’s place, waited for Petr Stepanovich, were outraged and nervous)”.
Later chronological correspondences become rarer and rarer and finally disappear: tens of pages separate events that took place in the same time and Chronicler ceases to expose their correspondences. Nevertheless, independently from his story, the hidden context of events leads the melody and the accompaniment up to the last, the most sinister accords; the rhythm is given and the reader can himself confront the events: at the same early morning hour panic-stricken Maria, with her new-born in her arms, rushes outside looking for Shatov and Petr Verhovenski departs to St. Petersburg; in the same day Maria Shatova dies and Petr Verhovenski escapes abroad.
Sometimes the calendar of the chronicle helps discovering the hidden context of the most mysterious circumstances.
Why Maria Lebjadkina appeared at the church during the mass thus distorting the whole order of Varvara Petrovna’s meeting? The meeting of the Lame with general’s wife, that had some extraordinary consequences, has no explanations in Chronicler’s story and is therefore perceived as one of the “fatal” coincidences of the ill-starred Sunday. The chronology, however, shows the following: Maria Timofeevna (The Lame) left her house at this very moment when Stavrogin arrived there, directly from the train, from St. Petersburg, what she could not possibly know, arrived to this Philippov’s house where brother and sister Lebjadkin as well as Kirillov rented their places. Obeying, as it seems, her momentary intuitive move and having a presentiment of the danger resulting from her encounter with her husband, she purposely goes to the church in order to seek protection and help from her mother-in-law.
When the last and decisive for Stepan Trofimovich’s fate rendez-vous between him and Varvara Petrovna took place in Skvoreshniki? This very rendez-vous “that she planned a long time ago and announced to her former friend but somehow canceled until now”?
Can such a seemingly unimportant detail actually matter? Lets, however, be cautious in our judgements.
As the chronology shows this rendez-vous took place on September 26, in other words in exactly two weeks after the failed engagement, before this very Sunday September 12. Two weeks, this is the period of time that was supposed, according to Varvara Petrovna’s definition, separate the engagement from the wedding: “It will be soon your birthday …And the wedding two weeks after …” Varvara Petrovna decides to invite Stepan Trofimovich for the final explanation where and when the wedding should have taken place. Reproaches, offences and accusations accumulated during twenty years, argument and rupture in stead of wedding ¾ this is how the rancorous Varvara Petrovna took vengeance on her old friend for his light-mindedness and his too precipitous readiness to marry.
There are even more coincidences, this time according to the evil and tragic irony of fate. This day, September 26, Varvara Petrovna decided to “give a special fiesta here in Scvoreshniki and so invite the whole city again”. Three days after, which means on September 29 she determines the date of the future ball: in two weeks. Two weeks after, however, on October 11th, her son will commit suicide in Scvoreshniki and a day before that she will bring there the body of her poor friend.
This is the result of four holidays in the novel the Possessed: the engagement had turned into the scandal, the ball into the murder and fire, the wedding into the argument and rupture, another “special holiday” into funeral and suicide.
Why Nicolay Vsevolodovich, usually so calm and imperturbable, looked so strange in the after-noon of September 29th in the salon of governor’s wife , right before his public declaration of his secret marriage? Let’s remind: “
It appears that Stavrogin came to the house of Julia Mihailovna Lembke directly from the monastery, from the staretz. Here is the beginning of the chapter “At Tifon’s place”: “
This night is this very night from 28 to 29 of September that came after the meeting with “ours” and Petrusha’s ravings about Ivan-tzarevich.
The succession of events that took place after the sleepless night, that is during the morning and the night of the 29th of September can be traced literally up to an hour. Around seven o’clock in the morning Nicolay Stavrogin fell asleep while still seating on the couch; at nine thirty he was waken up by the old servant Alexej Egorovich; around ten he left home in a hurry and met in the street Spigulin’s delegation (Stepan Trofimovich met the same delegation on his way to governor where he was going in order to complain on the official who made a search in his house); around ten thirty he reached the entrance of the Bogoroditzki monastery.
The reading of the text of the confession began around eleven and “lasted around an hour”. Stavrogin left Tihon “around noon” and appeared at Julia Mihailovna’s place around one o’clock, at this very moment when all the company returned from Scvoreshniki as well as Stepan Trofimovich and the Chronicler gathered at her house. Yet at Tihon’s place Stavrogin forsees the moment that will provoke his confession: “
The terrible provocation and the desperate determination of Lisa who publicly demanded Stavrogin to spare her from the obscene letters of “some captain Lebjadkin” and from “some sort of mysteries”, became this vengeful moment: Nicolay Stavrogin immediately used it and fulfilled his “underground” desire.
The failure of the confession at the staretz’s cell had fatal consequences: all further Stavrogin’s essays will invariably turn into evil and lead to new catastrophes.
Stavrogin’s confession of his secret marriage, made with a pride and “infinite arrogance”, provoked Lisa to flee to Skvoreshniki and gave a free hand to Petrusha. The second confession, made in the morning after the Lebjadkins’ murder( ), pushes Lisa on the street, into the crowd and therefore toward an avoidable death; again, Stavrogin “did not stop murderers”. Stavrogin’ sudden departure and in reality his complete capitulation in the moment when a lot could still be saved, turned to be the next terrible signal: precisely in this day another meeting of “ours” took place, the meeting where Shatov’s (as well as Kirillov’s) fate was decided. Stavrogin knew, for the third time, but did nothing to stop the murderers (even if only ten days ago he warned Shatov about the danger and only three days ago announced to Petrusha: “I will not let you have Shatov”).
During one month of Stavrogin’s time in the novel, he, to whom, it is true, “everything has already happened somewhere before”, lives, however, the whole life: between his intentions, decisions and actions lies the gap of hopes, doubts, “essays”, disillusions and final catastrophe. Every Stavrogin’s step in the novel is conditioned and sometimes even produced by something that happened long time before; every moment of the actual catastrophe and every point of the crisis are loaded with the past and inseparably linked to it. Even the desire to liberate himself from his hateful memories-hallucinations through confession and penitence (the new idea of Stavrogin) inevitably brought Nicolay Vsevolodovich into the rest of “essays”. Therefore the novel livens up all of Stavrogin’s past and not only separate key episodes of it. Phases of Stavrogin’s evolution from the horrible crime (Matrjosha) until “the new idea” (the confession) and from “the new idea” to the suicide are precisely registered by the calendar of the “present” and authentically elucidated by the calendar of the “past”. The confession is only the culmination point of Stavrogin’s search, it is also the most important temporal moment of it. Without the chapter about the confession, without the text of the confession itself and without this fact that Stavrogin was never able to “put to shame his pride and his devil”, that he lost and left the battle field, the whole bacchanal of crimes in the novel would look like almost like a natural disaster.
And yet another strange question. What kind of destiny was prepared for Stavrogin’s confession, or more precisely for its edition, in other words for these three hundred copies that Stavrogin brought to Russia from abroad?
The interest for the edition of the confession and for its traces may appear out of place since Dostoievski had to exclude the chapter about the confession from the novel. Here, however, comes the following question: did Dostoievski exclude only the chapter about the confession or the fact of existence of the confession as a leitmotif of Stavrogin’s being in the novel?
Let’s indicate some particularities of this document. First of all the confession is not an imagined but completely real text: “….”. This text physically exists: Stavrogin, on his way to Tikhon, “….” Second, “pieces of paper” had the precise destination: “ …” Third, the document was supposed to circulate in one way or another. “…” ¾ this Chronicler’s comment accompanying the text of the confession testified, voluntarily or not, that the publication of this document was a fait accompli. This “now” means four months after the events, in other words the moment of creation of the chronicle. Therefore the public proclaiming of the confession (if we judge according to the chapter “In Tihon’s cell”) had to take place shortly after Stavrogin’s death and did not depend on the result of Stavrogin’s conversation with Tihon.
In spite of the fact that the chapter “In Tihon’s cell” is not included in the novel and that the writer had to make changes in parts of the text where there were allusions about Stavrogin’s visit to the staretz, the spirit and the concept of the Stavrogin’s “new idea” remained in the Possessed. At the moment when it was decided to eliminate this chapter two third of the novel was already published. There Stavrogin lives and acts with the idea of the confession on his mind, with its text in the pocket and with its edition in the hiding- place.
Therefore the whole plot with the confession lines up in the following logical raw: the failure of the confession and all connected with it consequences; Stavrogin’s death; circulation of the document during four following months; Chronicler includes the document in the chronicle.
Lets’ reconstruct time and context of events that caused Stavrogin’s abrupt departure from the town. In the evening of September 29th, after the visit to Tihon and the scandalous confession about the marriage, he “went directly to Scvoreshnike, without even seeing his mother”. The next day, September 30th, right after the literary lecture on the governess’ feast, in other words right after four o’clock after noon, Petr Verhovenski brought Lisa to Skvoreshniki, to Stavrogin. Their rendez-vous lasted until the morning of October 1 and the same day, already knowing about Lisa’s death, Stavrogin departs with the twelve o’clock train without saying good-bye to anybody.
Lets’ ask ourselves this question: in case if the text of the confession (its complete edition) existed among the novel’s data, what Stavrogin must have done with it in the moment of his departure? He must certainly have taken it with him. We know that Nicolaj Vsevolodovich will think over his life for 10 more days (from the first to 11th of October) while living “at the sixth station” with post-master known to him from times of his St. Petersburg binges. There will come news about dimensions of the catastrophe that stricken the town. If the text of the confession really existed it would be with Stavrogin during these last days of his life.
Indubitable traces of this text and even the direct allusion about it are found in Stavrogin’s death letter to Dasha: “…”Therefore there is something that contains everything and Nicolay Vsevolodovich announces his last will to his confident Daria Shatova. Therefore Dasha knows not only about the fact of existence of this mysterious everything but also about the place where it is hidden. Nicolaj Vsevolodovich’s letter ends with “I join the address”.
After Stavrogin’s suicide the post-master’s address was the last and the only one thread that could lead the way to the document. If we take into account that the text of the confession became known to Chronicler soon after Nicolaj Vsevolodovich’s death, we should think that Dasha has used the address and published the confession thus fulfilling the will of the deceased.
The thought about after death penitence constantly tempted Stavrogin, he thought about it when he was with Kirillov: “…” This idea is like the escape from the place of crime to another planet: “…..”
Nevertheless neither the escape from the city, to the sixth station, nor the canton Uri did help; he succeed neither in spiting upon “those from there”, nor “upon those from here”. Stavrogin could bring himself to confess to people only after eliminating himself: only dead he was not afraid of the “ugliness” of the penitence.
“Every introduction into the sphere of the meaning passes only through the entrance of chronotopes” thought M.M. Bakhtin. This assumption made by the researcher with no relation to Dostoievski’s work can be applied literally, as we could see, to the Possessed. What is more, the content and the meaning of time and space in Dostoievski are directly proportional to their definition and change.
This fact is still underestimated by researchers. Even Bakhtin wrote about Dostoievski’s chronotope: “…” The researcher, however, added right away: “..”
As we saw in the Possessed, moments of being are not pulled out of the time context, on the contrary, they make one and whole fictional calendar. This makes a perfect sense since the genre of chronicle itself represents a narration with the description of events that are precisely defined in time. Bakhtin himself underlines precisely this dependence of a genre on the chronotope: “…”
“I know for sure, wrote Dostoievski in August 1870, that if I had two or three years for this novel as are used to have Turgenev, Goncharov or Tolstoj, I would have written such a thing that people would still talk about it 100 years after.” Destiny offered him these two-three years: first chapters of the novel-chronicle were sent to the editorial office of “Russian vestnik” in October 1870, the last ones in November 1872. “The whole year I only torn and changed”, writes Dostoievski to N. Strahov on 2 (14) December 1870. “I covered with writing such tons of papers that I even lost the system of reference. I have changed the whole plan not less than 10 times and I wrote the first part over again”.
“System of reference” continues to upset the writer two years later: “I will have to work terribly a lot in St. Petersburg. I demanded from them my old manuscripts in order to look them over … awfully a lot needs to be changed and this work is so slow”.
Fictional calendar of the Possessed, its internal, scrupulously precise chronology full of mysteries and surprises represents one of indubitable proves of immense work of the artist who created a master-piece of grandiose dimensions and filigree details. The writer needed a perfectly organized and faultless memory almost on the verge of human capacities as well as a powerful imagination in order to assemble hundreds of isolated moments and thousands of separated and torn threads-signals in one, mobile and living tissue of time. What a great sense of rhythm, measure and harmony he must have had in order to create, undiscernibly and imperceptibly, lives of his characters in this clot of time and to keep for each of them the individual temporal stream caring all its separate drops. He must have had a virtuosity in mastering lows of time in order to discern profound meaning in the disordered chaos of events and behind single impressions and to find a key for “the revealing of invisible things”.
“To do it so …” (rough copies)
It exists the great happiness of the researcher: that is when it becomes possible to verify your perception of the work with the idea of the artist contained in materials outside of the work itself. Preparation materials for the novel The Possessed that reflect main stages of the writer’s work on the novel, contain not only variations of scenes and episodes, characters and circumstances as well as development of plot, composition, and intrigue but also multiple nota bene, special notes and indications and original keys for the author’s “secrets”. These materials allow us to see how, according to which internal lows, artistic thought is transformed into the word, plot’s schema into fiction, indications into scenes and images and plans into the novel.
One of Dostoievski’s notes about the character of Petr Verhovenski expresses one fundamental quality of narration in the Possessed: “The whole description and the whole development of Nechaev consists in the fact that reader cannot see anything in the beginning but some strange and amusing features. Not to do like other novelists, it means not to declare from the beginning that this is an unusual man. On the contrary, to hide him and open him only gradually and by strong artistic lines.”
In his rough copies made for himself Dostoievski scrupulously developed all subtleties and stratagems of the intrigue and all nuances of human relationship; there he has no mysteries and no coincidences because all accidents and surprises are carefully thought over and weighted on the most precise, pharmaceutical and jewelry balance. Only after having weighted and measured he hides everything under the cover of the mystery. “The most important, wrote Dostoievski, is the special tone of the story, then everything is saved. This tone consists in the absence of explanations about Nechaev and the Prince (that means Petr Verhovenski and Stavrogin). Nechaev begins with slanders and banalities but the Prince opens up gradually in actions and without any explanations. There are always explanations only about Stepan Trofimivich, as if he was a hero”. “Lets readers themselves make an effort”, this is how Dostoievski defines the principle of writer-reader co-creation in his “Notebooks”.
“This special tone of the story” defined the evident, confused the unclear and suspected mysteries everywhere. Honest and objective chronicle, however, contained exact references for any investigations, researches and discoveries: this was the developed by Dostoievski manner of narration in the novel the Possessed.
If the calendar is so precise, the chronicle so irreproachable and if everything “matches” in the text it is only because this “special” narrative tone with its “faking” intonation and “well made” negligence was preceded by the immense preliminary work of time calculation. It appears that the exactitude and detailed description of temporal references and Dostoievski’s rare sense of time manifested in the Possessed are the result of author’s special efforts. In February 1870 the writer already thinks over the chronological schema of the Possessed: “Chronology. The action takes place in September …The Prince came to town the day the novel begins.” (11, 94-95. Here it is, the 12 of September!).
Therefore Dostoievski deliberately chose the time of novel’s action, it was himself who set up the time clock, fixed its work and controlled possible dysfunction. All dates of the chronicle are strictly bound by the author to concrete episodes. As soon as situation changed, in other words as soon as one of fictional elements would fall out or appear in the plot, time moved as well.
The content of Notebooks written for the Possessed proves that Dostoievski’s creative process represents the least of all “black magic”, “mystics” and “alchemist experience”.
Dostoievski combines exceptional sense of time and artistic intuition with preliminary calculation of all “what”, “how”, “where”, “when”, “why” and “what for”. Thus time and place, causes and effects, motives and resolutions are interdependent and thought over in all minutest details; fatal coincidences and mysterious circumstances are especially prepared. For example we remember that the fact of the first encounter of Dasha and Stavrogin, logically ensuing from their biographies, is not indicated in the novel. Why? We may think that the author did it on purpose. In the rough copy of February 26 1870 we read: “To do so that the Prince would never an explanation with the Ward. Never. Even as a child he was always excessively proud… He knew long time ago, however, that she loved him” (11, 114).
“To do so that” is a formula-signal indicating a conscious literary device. Dostoievski tries the most important scenes and repetitions of the plot in tens of variations; he examines and discusses qualities of each element of the intrigue. In rough copies author’s plan is completely uncovered and secret springs that will be hidden in the novel, are clearly defined. A notice about Stavrogin’s (now Swiss citizen) trip to Russia represents such an example: “The Prince went to the Archbishop. He only comes to Russia in order to publish his confession. If he cannot make this decision, then Uri” (11, 153).
The goal of Stavrogin’s unexpected appearance on the “fatal” Sunday is clearly defined as well: “The Prince to the Ward: “I came in order to stop it, I did not want you to marry him. Wait for me, I will tell you later”. And she obediently waits.” (11, 174).
The motive of Stavrogin’s death letter-confession to Dasha is also revealing: “Forgive me. Per haps I am actually crazy. I am leaving you everything” (11, 135). According to Dostoievski’s plan Dasha, as we can see, really became executor of Stavrogin’s will and inherited “everything”.
In final lines of the rough copy of novel’s last chapter (“Epilogue”) there are lines later taken out by the author: “Some writings nobody knew about were found after Nicolaj Vsevolodovich. I am looking for them very hard. (Per haps I will find them and then, if it is possible…Finis”) (12, 108). It is obvious that the fate of Stavrogin’s writings after their author’s death remains in writer’s field of vision: it is according to his plan that these “writings” were supposed to finally get to the Chronicler who would bring the whole affair to the conclusion. By including “this document literally” in the chronicle Chronicler could assure its widest publication.
Preliminary materials for the Possessed clearly refute not only the myth about Dostoievski’s “black magic” but the myth about his “artistic neglect” as well. Time in the Possessed becomes the main and the most reliable witness: causes, motivations and underlying reasons of events are kept in its hiding-places. The exact chronology of the novel-chronicle and hidden in it “additional” information reveal how eloquent time can be.
Commune of Paris …in 1869?
Lets come back, however, to the events of thirty days in the chronicle.
We tried to show (and the text of the novel provides enough proves for this) that the action of the Possessed (from September 12 to October 11th) is connected to the real historical time, that means to the calendar year 1869. What other year could Dostoievski take as the reference for the action of his novel if he started to work on it in January 1870 and reflected there the events that only recently took place? It is obvious that for the first readers of the Possessed the action of the novel about the political murder was naturally connected with the events of 1869.
Nevertheless there are, all of the sudden, some facts that dismiss this apparently harmonious and accomplished chronological construction.
1. During the visit to governor Lembke (September 28) Petr Verkhovenski explains the origin of the poem entitled “Pure man” in the following manner: “…” Obviously Petrusha’s words are nothing but flagrant and gross lie but one detail attracts attention: where “deceased Hertzen” comes from? In September 1869 Hertzen was still safe and sound and died only on 9 (21) January 1870 after being ill for three days. Does it mean that novel’s events actually correspond to latest September, precisely to September 1870?
2. In the same day, after the visit to Lembke, Petr Verhovenski came over to the “great writer” Karmazinov and asked him one very interesting question: “…” Karmazinov came to the town one week before the beginning of the chronicle, in other words in the beginning of September. Precisely in September not of 1869 but of 1870 French capital was enduring a siege, it in the middle of the Franco-Prussian war. Germans surrounded Paris already on September 19th and during next few months (Winter 1870-1871) cold, famine and epidemic raged the city. Therefore, according to the logic of historical calendar, the arrival of Karmazinov fearing epidemic in French capital, cannot take place in Fall of 1869, it can only be possible in the Fall of 1870 ¾ neither earlier, nor later.
3. During one of the meetings in the salon of Julia Mihailovna Lembke that took place on September 24th, Ljamshin performed a musical play, supposedly his own, with funny title “Franco-Prussian war” where formidable sounds of “La Marseilles” oddly mixed with bourgeois German waltz “My dear Augustin”. Chronicler describes his impressions of last sounds of the play in the following way: “…”
In September of 1869, however, Franco-Prussian war has not even started yet. The government of Napoleon III officially declared war to Prussia only on July 19th 1870 and on September 19th during negotiations with Bismark, French minister Jules Favres proposed to make peace in exchange of the territorial unity of France.
As we know, Bismark declined this proposition and Prussian troops made a siege of Paris. Piece treaty was only signed in May 1871 and it was Bismark’s treaty according to which Prussia got Alsace, Eastern Lorraine and a huge contribution. Therefore “Jules Favres could not cry of Bismark’s chest and give up “everything, everything” before the Spring 1871, thus the September when Ljamshin plaid his musical improvisation about European events has to be moved from 1869 or 1870 to 1871.
4. While giving a speech during literary lectures at governess’ feast day (September 30th), Stepan Trofimovich Verhovenski pronounces inspired words about beauty, Shakespeare and Raphael. In polemic ardor against “utilitarian” “esthete” Stepan Trofimovich wittingly asks: “…” Lets leave aside the essence of the polemics which has a long prehistory, and pay attention to just one word “petroley” (this is a Russified form of French word “petrole” meaning oil or gasoline). What is gasoline doing here and what can this pan “Raphael or pertoley” possibly mean? In the context of 1869 such a comparison is meaningless and certainly witless. “Petroleishiki” (gasoline people) was the name used in Russian and Western European press for members of the Commune of 1871 who were accused of burning the residence of the emperor Napoleon III, Tuileris Palace, which really burned down in May 1871 during street battles between commune’s partisans and the army of Tiers’s government.
Therefore historical horizon of the Possessed characters’ included events exceeding limits of 60, absorbed facts and realities of European tragedy: Franco-Prussian war and Paris Commune, and was based on sources of information related to the beginning of new decade, in other words to 70.
In many aspects characters of the novel-chronicle actually are people of seventies. One of them, theoretician and nihilist Shigalev declares it directly himself: “…” In addition we have to say that the novel which has hundreds of various temporary marks lacks a direct indication of the year ¾ Chronicler remains silent about this date replacing it every time by some very precise but indirect references.
Therefore, if the chronology of the “present” in the Possessed is limited by Fall months of 1869, how the reality of the latest period, events of Russian and European life of the beginning of seventies, could penetrate into the text? How to connect the main date of the chronicle resulting from calculation of the calendar time with historical facts exceeding its limits? Even if we doubt the year 1869 as the date when the novel’s action took place, we would not be able to transfer this date either to 1870, or to 1871 since when one event could only happen no later than September 1870 another could only happen no earlier than September 1871. An attempt to interpret the calendar of The Possessed according to the real historical chronology inevitably leads to the dead-end, into the trap and in some sort of a “time machine”.
Indeed, novel’s characters who come to a middle Russian provincial town in September already knowing about Hertzen’s death, beginning and end of Franco-Prussian war and declaration and fall of Paris Commune have been traveling in Europe, still peaceful Europe, only few weeks before! Varvara Petrovna Stavrogina with Daria Shatova, Drozdov’s family, Nicolaj Vsevolodovich and other travelers and adventurers cross, without any difficulty, borders of European countries that are not yet in war. Amazing paradox: in the beginning of the novel Karmazinov arrives from Europe where there is no trace of war but in the middle of the novel, while being in Russia, he talks about possible historical consequences of war and political crisis.
What kind of mystery is hidden by these strange “anachronisms” and these amazing journeys in time?
Shadow of the future.
Lets’ turn again to the history of creation of the Possessed. When Dostoievski, captivated by the subject of ideological murder that just has taken place, began to systematically work on the novel (January-February 1870) he counted to finish it very quickly. In spring 1870, however, his certainty about finishing quickly transforms into anguish and doubts and in summer his intention changes radically and instead of political pamphlet Dostoievski creates a novel-tragedy.
According to the primary agreement Dostoievski was supposed to present the large part of the text to “Pusskij Vestnik” already in June 1870. Precisely the first part of the text was the most difficult for Dostoievski. Only in Fall, on 7 (19) October 1870 the first half of the first part of the novel (first chapter “Instead of preface” and the second chapter “Prince Harry. Engagement”) where it is the question of characters’ traveling abroad and their return to Russia, was finally sent to Katkov. Precisely these two “historical” chapters contained main chronological references connecting present to past. The biggest part of these chapters’ text was already written in August 1870 and even if the war has just started in Europe the action of the novel and its atmosphere, defined yet before the war, were naturally based on September before the war ¾ this is why characters of the Possessed return home from the peaceful Europe.
Dostoievski’s hope to quickly finish the novel for “Russkij vestnik” have not been realized. Writing and publishing took three long years during which many things changed in the world as well as in the life of the writer himself. Turning points in European and universal history, Dostoievski’s return to Russia after a four years long absence, new Russian impressions and Nechaev’s trial (that opened on July 1871, one week before Dostoievski’s arrival), all these events became part of the cognizance of the creator of the Possessed and the reality of the novel that examines the most crucial issues of modern times.
Dostoievski’s letters of this period strike by the intensity of spiritual work interpreting processes that take place in the world and by quick and extremely uneasy reaction on these processes. Openly sympathizing with France Dostoievski lives in Germany where he sees what Prussian military spirit is all about and where he rebels against the vandalism of even the most educated Germans: “One completely white as snow and very influential scientist screamed the other day: “Paris muss bombardiert sein!” (29, book I, 162).
In spite of his intensive work on the novel, in spite of being in a hurry and in spite of endless modifications of its text Dostoievski is nevertheless “receptive” to all events in Russia and Europe. “It is been already three years that I am assiduously reading all political newspapers, in other words the majority of them” (29, book I, 146), sais Dostoievski. Another citation: “I read three Russian newspapers per day and I also receive two journals (29, book I, 115). Everything that interested Dostoievski in current politics and social life and that he could find in the latest issues of newspapers would immediately go into his letters and note-books and would be reflected in the novel.
For example the murder of the landlord von Son in St. Petersburg den took place in the beginning of 1870 and was discussed in January newspapers. Already in the end of January the fact about von Son is included in the plan of one of the monologues in rough copies. Rough copies contain the writer’s reactions to many other “latest” (relatively to the action time in the novel) events: Victor Hugo’s speech on the opening of Peace Congress in Losagne (September 1869), Vatican ecumenical council that declaring infallibility of Pope (December 8th 1869-October 20th 1870), events and consequences of Franco-Prussian war and Paris Commune ¾ for Dostoievski all these subjects are the most burning, the most vital and the most “damned”.
Dostoievski was especially anxious about Russian news. In May-June 1870 the first in Russia massive strike of workers of St. Petersburg paper factory took place ¾ precisely this strike would become the prototype of “Spigulin’s affair”. Documents of Nechaev’s trial published when half of the novel was already written, became the most important source of Petr Verhovenski’s character as well as of characters of his myrmidons.
The novel not only absorbed impressions of political events, it is full of latest literary news as well. On the top of usual and stabilized impressions from Pushkin, Gogol, Hertzen, Chernyshevski, Turgenev, Nekrassov and Tshedrin the novel contains reminiscences from just read, just published books, articles and publications. For example the novel of Victor Hugo “The man who laughs” published in 1869 is lying on the table of Stepan Trofimovich (Verhovenski). “History of one city” by Saltykov-Tshedrin published in 1869-1870 and concluding the Glupov’s epic, effectively functions in Chronicler’s story about his province’s leaders: “…”
Sometimes, in case when the new impression is not determined yet, the response to the reading is hidden and disguised. Petr Verhovenski criticizes the novel of governor Lembke that he just has read: “…” Something very familiar appears in this judgement. What sort of novel did Lembke write?
The context of the time when The Possessed were created would gives an answer: the novel’s author just read War and Peace since Tolstoy’s epic was published in December 1869. Dostoievski’s impression from Tolstoy’s great work was enormous but nevertheless the author of the Possessed, while arguing with literary critic Strahov, refuses to declare War and Peace “new word” in literature: “…all this is a landlord’s literature. It already said everything it had to say” (29, book I, 216).
“The “more” and the more consciously Dostoievski wanted to respond to Tolstoy, “less” conspicuously would he do it and more hidden whould be his respond”, suggests a researcher who studied cross-lines between The Possessed and War and Peace.
It seems that in this manner certain part of Dostoievski’s respond to Tolstoy, the part we are interested in, happened to be so hidden that had remained unnoticed until now. Petr Verhovenski reproduces Dostoievski’s reasoning in his polemics with Strahov (about landlords’ literature) and slightly parodies them when criticizing the novel of governor Lembke that strongly resembles, in Verhovenski’s brief retelling, Tolstoy’s Childhood. According to Verhovenski-literary critic, Lembke’s novel is full of poetic atmosphere and happiness of childhood, family and everyday life of aristocratic residences and from this point of view seems to imitate already known literary examples.
The speed of Dostoievski’s reaction to current events is sometimes simply incredible. At the very end of the first part of the novel, in the scene when Shatov slaps Stavrogin in the face, Nicolay Vsevolodovich is compared to the Decembrist Lunin who “…” It is known now that the source of this characteristic of Lunin was “The rebuff” of Decembrist Svistunov that had been published in the February issue of “Russkij arhiv” in 1871. This scene from the end of the first part of The Possessed was however already published in the forth, that means April issue of “Russkij Vestnik” of the same 1871 and was sent for publication even earlier ¾ in the third part of March.
That means that Dostoievski, who received the February issue of “Ruskij arhiv” in the beginning of March, has already read it in the middle of the month, noticed an interesting article and in couple of days could use it in one of the most dramatic scenes of the novel.
Lets talk about something else for a while and look at the spatial references of The Possessed. The duel between Stavrogin and Gaganov takes place in Brykovo, in the small suburban grove situated between Stavrogin’s estate Scvoreshniki and Shpigulin’s factory. Scvoreshniki had its topographical prototype ¾ the estate of the Moscow Agrarian Academy with its big park, three ponds and a grotto where, according to Nechaev’s order, was killed the student of this academy I. Ivanov (in the novel Shatov). Spigulin’s factory was in reality St. Petersburg cotton mill and the real Brykovo was a small birch wood behind the grove in Dostoievski’s parents’ estate near Moscow that the writer remembered from his childhood impressions: family members actually called this little wood “Fedia’s grove”. Also, if we take into account that the prototype of the provincial city where the action of the Possessed takes place was Tver’, then it appears that just one scene of the duel combines at least four real landscapes: Moscow, Moscow suburbs, Tver’ and St. Petersburg.
Fictional space made of various fragments (like a portrait made with features of different faces) is however an ordinary maneuver in literature. The reader may actually ignore “prototypes” of spatial references as well as details of the montage ¾ in this case ignorance would not disturb the general perception of the novel.
That is a quite different matter when it concerns paradoxes of time. The reader should realize that the exact and detailed chronology of the Possessed does not fix the real, historical time but conventional and fictional one. This is why characters of the novel take freedom to cross the borders of September-October 1869 and respond to events of three following years, exactly those years when the novel was created. Dostoievski, who scrupulously verified almost every instant of the novel’s episodes according to clock, courageously transgresses temporal limits and, almost unnoticeably for the reader, fills them up with the new reality, with current events and latest news.
Therefore the historical experience of characters of the novel The Possessed and of its first readers coincided completely: they had an unique opportunity to comprehend “future consequences of the current events”.
Three years of Dostoievski’s life full of events of universal importance fully entered the novel: its characters (and readers!) lived all these years together with the author. New knowledge and new experience, personal as well as historical, illuminate the tiny “piece” of time in the novel The Possessed.
“Life is a gift, life is happiness…”Dostoievski realized this truth already in 1849, precisely in this day of December 22 when he was standing on the Semenovski square: “I have already been dead, I have lived three quarters of an hour with this idea, I was near this last moment and now I live for a second time!” (28, book I, 163). Precisely at that moment came to Dostoievski this great dream about an era when “each minute could be a century of happiness”. Having reached the limits of the last moment when he had no more than one minute left Dostoievski experienced, while still in this life, the condition “when time will be no more”. It appears that the new understanding of time came to Dostoievski during these last moments: “Now, by changing my life I am reborn in a new form” (28, book I, 164). Here we find the source of Dostoievski’s personal and philosophical attitude toward time: Time is the relation of being to non being” (7, 161).
This is why limits of the passing, fixing moment are too narrow for Dostoievski and his natural desire is not to stop the run of time but to break the limits of the already outworn day.
The fictional time in the Possessed fixes not only the present action ¾ the future shadows it as well. Therefore the novel attached to current events and appealing to the “today” that has not yet become the past, appears as “timeless”.
While working on the Possessed in May 1869 Dostoievski shared with A.N. Majkov his dearest dream “to reconstruct …all Russian history by marking in it those of its points and moments where this history would appear as concentrated and as if all of the sudden expressed as a whole. In thousand years there are probably ten of these “all expressing” moments. Grab these moments and tell …everybody and everyone but not as a simple chronicle, no, but as a loving poem … Tell, however, without selfishness, without personal commentaries but naively, as naively as possible, so that only the ardent love for Russia would spout and nothing else …I would not stop at any fantasy”, affirms the writer.
Everything amazingly blends in The Possessed, in this chronicle of twenty years and thirty days: the chronicle of the historical epoch and the loving poem, naïve story telling and the ardent love for Russia, boiling fantasy and the strict historicity of thought. The moment of time represented in The Possessed appeared to Dostoievski as one of these “all representing” moments. Therefore it is no coincidence that precisely this novel (more than any other work) earned (glued to it now) the definition the “novel-warning” or “the novel-prophecy”.
Fictional Calendar of the novel The Possessed
Chapter one. Instead of the preface: some details 1849-1860
from the biography of the very respected Stepan
I. [His failed career] 1849, 1869
III. [Quarrels] 1849-1869
IV. [Two stories] 1855, 1856, 1866, 1869
V. [Black melancholy] 1849, 1869, 1859
VI. [In St. Petersburg] Winter 1859-1860
VII. [Abroad] 1860: May, June, July and August.
VIII. [The lull] 1860-1869
IX. [The circle of liberals] 1860-1869; 1861; 1864 and 1868
Chapter two. Prince Harry. The marriage proposal
I. [General’s wife’s son] 1849-1865: 1849; 1855; 1860; 1863
II. [The beast showed his claws] December 1865-January 1866
III. [Explanation. Delirium tremens] January 1866-April 1866
IV. [Dreams about Nicolas] April 1866-April 1869;
V. Stepan Trofimovich’s presentiments. July-August 1869
VI. [Project] August 31-September 1
VII. [Unexpected proposal] September 1, morning
VIII. [Special circumstance] September 2, morning and evening
Chapter three. Sins of others.
I. [The unfortunate week] September 2-9
II.[The meeting with the writer] September 10, at 11
III.[Three notes] September 10, morning
IV. [Visitors] September 10, morning
V. [Liputin’s rumors] September 10, morning
VI. [Liputin’s rumors –2] September 10, morning
VII. [Horse-woman] September 10, morning
VIII. [At Kirillov’s place] September 10, around 8 p.m.
IX. [Hymn for the Amazon] September 10, 9 p.m.
X. [“Noble” letters] September 10, from 10 to 12 at night.
Chapter four. The Lame woman.
I. [At Drozdov’s place] September 11, noon
II. [Literary affair] September 11, 12.30 after noon
III. [Lisa’s request] September 11, 12.30 after noon
IV. [At Shatov’ place] September 11, around 8 p.m.
V.[Mademoiselle Lebjadkina] September 11, 8 p.m.
VI. [Tail-coat of love] September 11, 10 p.m.
VII. [Fatal Sunday: in the church] September 12, 11-12 after noon.
Chapter five. The wise serpent September 12, Sunday
I. [At the cup of coffee] September 12, 12.15 after noon
II. [Drozdov’s Praskovja] September 12, 12.20 after noon
III. [“The whole truth”] September 12, 12.30 after noon
IV. [Lebjadkin’s allegory] September 12, 12.40 after noon
V. [The terrible question] September 12, 12.45 after noon
VI. [Petrusha helped] September 12, 12.50 after noon
VII. [Inappropriate congratulations] September 13.00 after noon
VIII. [The slap] September 11, 13.15 after noon
Chapter one. The night
I. [Rumors and gossips] September 12-September 20
II. [Petr Verhovenski at his father’s place] September 15 and September 16
III. [New tactics] September 20, 7 p.m.
IV. [“For the good deeds”] September 20, 9.30 p.m.
V. [Tea at Kirillov’s place] September 20, 10-10.40 p.m.
VI. [Shatov’s frenzy] September 20, 10.50-11.10 p.m.
VII. [Shatov’s frenzy 2] September 20, 11.10-11.40 p.m.
Chapter two. The night.
I. [At the bridge] The night of September 21, 12.15 at night.
II. [The reprimand to Lebjadkin] The night of September 21, 12.45
III. [Anathema] The night of September 21, 1 in the morning
IV. [The knife] The night of September 21, 1-1.45 in the
Chapter three. The duel
I. [Before the duel] September 21, 2 p.m.
II.[Empty shots] September 21, 2.15 p.m.
III. [“Not a strong person”] September 21, 2.30 p.m.
IV. [The nurse] September 21, 3 p.m.
Chapter four. Everybody is waiting
I. [At the marshal of the nobility wife’s place: worldly visits] September 22 and 23
II. [The curse] September 23
III. [A.A. Lembke] September 24 and 25
Chapter five. Before the feast.
I. [Pranks in the intimate circle] September 25 and 27
II. [God’s fool] September 26
III. [The rupture] September 26
Chapter six. Petr Stepanovich busy.
I. [Administrative mistakes] September 27, morning
II. [The novel of the governor Lembke] September 28, morning
III. [Seditious leaflets] September 28, morning
IV. [Blum] September 28, morning
V. [At Karmazinov’s place] September 28, morning
VI. [Preparation for the meeting] September 28, after noon
VII. [At Stavrogin’s place] September 28, 6 p.m.
Chapter seven. With ours
I. [Virginski’s guests] September 28, 7 p.m.
II. [“Affiliations”] September 28, 7.30 p.m.
Chapter eight. Ivan-Tzarevich September 28, 8-9 p.m.
The chapter “At Tihon’s cell” September 29: night from
28 to 29, 7-9.30 a.m.
I. [Conversation] 9.30-10.30; 11 a.m.
II. [“Reading of the “leaflets”] 11-12 a.m.
III. [Damned psychologist] 12-12.30 after noon
Inventory at Stepan Trofimovich’s place September 29, 8-11 in the morning
Chapter ten. Filibusters. The fatal morning.
I. [The factory uprising] September 29, 10.30-11.30 in the morning
II. [Apologies] September 29, noon
III. [Salon conversation. Stavrogin’s confession] September 29, 12.30
Chapter one. The feast. Section one.
I. [Subscription for governess] One week before the feast, 22-30 of
II. [Literary morning] September 30, 12-4 p.m.
III. [“Merci”] September 30, 10 p.m.
IV. [Stepan Trofimovich’s hour of triumph] September 30, 2-4 after noon
Chapter two. The end of the feast.
I. [“All finished”] September 30, 4-4.15 after noon
II. [The catastrophe with Lisa] September 30, 4-6 p.m.
III. [ The ball] September 30, 10 p.m.
IV. [The fire] Sun rise of October 1
Chapter three. The novel is finished
I. [The last illusions] October 1, 5 a.m.
II.[The wooden barge to be scrapped] October 1, 6 a.m.
III. [Lisa’s death] October 1, 7 a.m.
Chapter four. The last solution
I. [“The collective business”] October 1, 2 p.m.
II. [Liputin feels offended] October 1, 10 p.m.
III. [The surprise with Fed’ka] October 1, 10.40 p.m.
IV. [The passport on somebody else’s name] October 1, 11 p.m.-October 2
11 a.m.-7 p.m.
Chapter five. The traveling woman
I. [Marie] October 1, 7-10 p.m.
II.[“It has started…”] October 1, 11 p.m.
III.[Preparations] The night of October 2, 1 a.m.
IV. [Preparations 2] October 2, from 1 to 2 a.m.
V. [“It will be no time”] October 2, 4-5 a.m.
VI. [Childbirth] October 2, 6 a.m.
Chapter six. The very difficult night.
I. [Shatov’s murder] October 2, 6-7 p.m.
II. [Kirillov’s suicide] The night from 2 to 3 October,
at 1 a.m.
III. [The departure of Petrusha Verhovenski] October 3, 5.50 a.m.
Chapter seven. The last journey of Stepan Trofimovich
I. [On the journey] October 1, 6 a.m.- 2 p.m.
II. [The illness] October 1, the rest of the day
of October 2, the whole day of
III.[The death] From 3 to 10 of October
Chapter eight. The Conclusion October 10 and 11,
October 3, 4,6,10,11,13 and 18
[Stavrogin’s death] October 11
[The investigation about the affair of “ours”] October-January
The story of one journey or Stavrogin in Island
(following the chronicle)
“In every word there is a infinity of space; every word is as unbounded as a poet”. This statement of Gogol about Pushkin’s language can be perceived as a formula of the authenticity of the literary work where everything, from the paragraph to the period has its own sense and importance. We often lack, however, patience and imagination necessary to believe “spirit and letter” of this formula and feel “the infinity of space”, the air, the immensity and the depth of the word-image. How often even a very attentive gaze glides over the lines of a text missing marks, signals and indications without which the directions of reading and comprehension will remain incomplete and false.
While commenting Dostoievski’s novel “The Possessed” for the foreign publisher I tried to look at it with the eyes of a foreign reader who, naturally, does not know many historical, literary, traditional and national realities of the Russian life. This new perspective organized my perception of the text in a very special way; slow reading allowed to notice details that seemed unimportant but suddenly were coming to life, regaining sound, discovering mysteries of the author’s conception and illuminating the process of creation of the image.
Now I would like to talk about just one, short, unnoticeable and seemingly occasional line in Dostoievski’s novel and about the discovery toward which lead “the investigation” that this line has provoked.
The longing for the vagabond life
After years of dark and criminal life in St. Petersburg the main character of The Possessed Nicolay Vsevolodovich Stavrogin departs for the long journey abroad. There is nothing unusual in it: biographies of Russian nobility of the last century as well as biographies of Russian novels are full of descriptions of travels and journeys. Traveling is in the spirit of times; “crook and beg” became a voluntary or involuntary lot of many “travelers” of Russian literature. Radishev, Karamsin, Groboedov, Pushkin, Lermontov, Gogol, Herzen, Turgenev and Dostoievski traveled a lot at their leisure or “by duty”. Following them, Tchazkij, Onegin, Petchorin, Hlestakov, Ivan Karamazinov and other “Russian boys” “exploit the world”, run from their problems or visit “dear tombs” thus appearing before the reader only in a short period between two journeys.
Lets remember, however, destinations of these voyages. The beaten truck between two capitals, St. Petersburg and Moscow, became a main road of Russian literature of the 18th century. After the 1812 war Russian travelers discover the Western Europe. Even if Eugene Onegin travels only in the limits of the Russian Empire (Moscow ¾ Nijniy Novgorod¾ Astrakhan’ ¾ Georgian military road ¾ Northern Caucasus ¾ Crimea ¾ Odessa ¾ St. Petersburg) and Petchorin stays in Caucasus, Russian nobility very quickly feels at home in France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and England that become their familiar and habitual places to stay and even live.
Exotic countries and unbeaten trucks represent quite a different matter. They appear on the Russian literary map only when tidily connected with some concrete, rare and unusual events and names. For example Griboedov died in Teheran and Petchorin died on his way from Persia. Count Fiodor Ivanovich Tolstoy (1782-1846), debaucher, gambler, duelist and, according to Lev Tolstoy, “an extraordinary, criminal and attractive person” received, thanks to an incredible story, the nickname American. It is known that in August 1803 he went on the around the world journey with the expedition of the admiral Krusenstern; because of his uproarious and completely ungovernable behavior Krusenstern left Tolstoy in Kamchatka or on some Aleut island where Tolstoy lived several months between the natives. These sort of journeys were memorized and became legends.
Lets return to the Stavrogin’s journey.
“He really visited Iceland”
All Nicolay Vsevolodovich’s travels are precisely known. Here is the text of the Chronicler, the narrator of the Possessed: …..
Here is the fragment of Stavrogin’s confession: …
Obviously Stavrogin was an unusual traveler. The geography of his journeys would honor the most zealous pilgrim. Even if it was quite rare to meet Russain barin in the East, however pilgrimages to holly places were in the order of things. In any case this part of Stavrogin’s journey can be interpreted. But Iceland? What for did Stavrogin go there and what did he do in Iceland? It is one thing to attend lectures at German universities or even to do a pilgrimage to Christian sacred places in Jerusalem (devotions were quite usual for European travelers), another is to go to the far northern country in the Arctic ocean, to this mysterious Ultima Tulle what means “the most removed limit of the earth in the North” as ancient historians used to call it. How should we interpret this impolite, almost disdainful remark of the Chronicler “…”What should we think about the statement of the traveler himself “I was even in Iceland’ as if he was stressing, with this even, the unbelievable extend of his voyage? Per haps, according to perceptions of Dostoievski who “sent” Stavrogin to Iceland, this island of frozen lava represented the metaphor of the end of the world and in this regard any other remote from beaten trucks geographical point would do as well?
It seems that this was the attitude of commentators of the Possessed toward Stavrogin’s Iceland: it is a fact that Nicolay Vsevolodovich’s mysterious journey was never commented in any edition of the novel. The line itself “and he really visited Iceland” does not represent a key line in the novel and looks as a simple establishment of the fact.
Yet, there is never occasional details in Dostoievski. The most alien of his characters
live, suffer and struggle with “eternal” existential questions in the habitual, real and authentic atmosphere; the action of his novels takes place in very familiar interiors (lets remember the property of Fiodor Pavlovich Karamazinov which is an exact copy of Dostoievski’s house in Staraja Russa) and on the background of easily recognized urban landscapes, streets, yards and gateways. Even the unimportant geographical names sometimes travel from the writer’s life to pages of the novel. The fictional space of the writer is always created from the familiar and real elements.
Based on the principles of Dostoievski’s poetics we can suppose that Iceland is not an occasional and involuntary detail in the Possessed; it should be related with some concrete impressions of the writer and thus demand a serious commentary.
New questions emerge still and all. If Stavrogin “ “ and this fictional expedition had a real prototype, what was it? Where? If it really was a scientific expedition, from which sources could Dostoievski learn about it? Finally, why, between so many scientific expeditions leaving from Europe (and Stavrogin goes to Iceland precisely from Europe and not from Russia what significantly complicates our research) toward different parts of the world choose precisely Iceland?
The attempt to find an expedition prototype would guide our research.
There is a special reason that the name of Iceland appeared and remained in literature devoted to this amazing country.
During many centuries (since 1262-1264) Iceland suffered from foreign invasions: first Norwegian, then Danish ¾ this was the era of stagnation and decadence. Natural disasters: volcanoes, earthquakes and epidemics many times ruined and destroyed the country, arctic ice blocked sea-coast and the land was unfit for farming. Icelanders were miserable, starved and died. There were no cities at all. Even in the beginning of the 20th century the country was mostly agricultural and economically very underdeveloped. There were no bridges, no roads, no industry and no ports. The first and the only city Reykjavik was nothing but a small town of wooden cabins with the population of six thousand men.
Two facts from Iceland’s history are specifically important to us. It appears that before 1854 the island was open only to Danish who held the monopoly of commerce: if the native peasant dared to do commerce with not Danish but any other foreign merchant he was put in prison as a criminal. Only in 1854, as a result of the obstinate and long struggle for independence, Iceland recovered its right for the free commerce. Only twenty years after, in 1874, during the celebration of one thousand years of the first settlement, Iceland received its first constitution.
Therefore the land of fire and ice, the island of sagas was the place not only mysterious bur also closed and isolated from the civilized Europe. During twenty years in which we are interested Iceland remained difficult of access for foreign travelers. Only in 1870, for the first time after two hundred fifty years of Danish monopoly, English and Scottish ships appeared in Iceland’s waters. The names of those who visited Iceland in 18th and in the first part of the 19th century can be counted on one’s fingers; it is even easier with written testimonies of these journeys.
The journey of Nicolay Vsevolodovich Stavrogin happens to be precisely in the middle of these twenty years period, in 1866-1869. For the Russian nobleman Iceland remains a very unpopular geographical object ¾ it is hardly known and unwillingly studied. In 1860 there were two Russians who knew Icelandic language: O.I. Senkovski (baron Brambeus) who learned it by his own initiative and S.K. Sabinin (1789-1863), the priest of the Russian mission in Copenhagen who wrote, in 1849, The grammar of Icelandic language but had never been in Iceland.
Even if we suppose that in sixties of the last century the unknown to us scientific expedition of explorers, ethnographers, folklorists and volcanologists left from Central Europe, lets say from Germany or Switzerland, and this information became known to Dostoievski, still, why to “send” Stavrogin there? While in the East, in Aphon, he staid eight hours long vespers testing himself with the prayer and penitence. What kind of devotional acts could he accomplish in Iceland “….”?
It seems that the research of the unknown expedition, even if successful, would not give an answer to our questions. Reasons why Stavrogin becomes one of the first Russians visiting Iceland seem to remain incomprehensible.
The most amazing journey of the 19th century
When the search for the hypothetical expedition reached a deadlock and even specialists of Scandinavia were only shaking their heads knowing nothing about its existence, an unexpected help suddenly changed the direction of out search. The writer Davidov, the author of historical novels about sailors, scientists, travelers, revolutionaries and adventurers, gave me a happy idea to look into Jules Verne, in his novel The journey to the center of Earth since it is precisely about Iceland. The writer’s intuition turned to be exact to the point.
Jules Verne’s novel The journey to the center of the Earth was written in 1864, two years before Nicolay Vsevolodovich’s departure from Russia. This chronological coincidence immediately allowed us to consider the novel of the famous French author as a possible source of “Icelandic topic” in the Possessed. Among one hundred fifty science-fictional and geographical novels of Jules Verne that talk about different countries, continents, mountains, seas, Southern and Northern poles, lost and found islands in all known oceans, The journey to the center of the Earth is the only one that takes place in Iceland.
The novel’s main character, professor of mineralogy from Hamburg Otto Lidenbrock, eccentric enthusiast, by chance finds some codified runic manuscript. Mysterious letters written in ancient Icelandic language inspire the scientist and his nephew to begin, as they say, “the most amazing journey of 19th century”. Through the crater of the sleeping volcano Sneifedls in Iceland they penetrate into an amazing underground world where they see seas, forests, ancient plants and animals from the very remote geological eras.
It is rather interesting that Jules Verne who traveled a lot in Scandinavia, who was in Norway, Switzerland, Denmark, Ireland and Scotland, crossed Northern and Baltic seas never visited Iceland and collected bits and pieces of necessary information in geological, historical and geographical publications. Even the idea itself about The journey to the center of Earth did not come from his Scandinavian impressions but from the discussions with the famous geologist Charles Saint-Claire De Ville. Considering the Earth the cold body the scientist tried many times to penetrate craters of sleeping volcanoes and once even committed a desperately courageous act: he penetrated the volcano Stromboli during the eruption. Jules Verne was inspired by the subject of scientific research of bowels of the earth, by the problem of volcano’s eruption and by the character of the fanatical scientist who risks his life in the expedition.
Accel Lidenbrock, the scientist’s nephew, narrates the story with all chronicle details; all adventures of the expedition are so exactly dated and the events are so scrupulously related to the real life and a real calendar that they create a complete illusion of reality.
If we imagine that some Russian man really went in 186… to Iceland, thus following the steps of Jules Verne’s characters, in order to get there he would have to take a Dutch ship (that leaves Copenhagen once a month), get with a lot of efforts the permission to visit the island, arrive in Reykjavik and be invited to talk with the governor of the country. The Russian guest would see the city of two streets, the cabin looking governor’s house, miserable, severe and sad peasants, fantastic contours of mountains and empty roads.
Therefore Jules Verne’s novel The journey to the center of Earth appeared to the reader contemporary to Stavrogin, as the only popular, accessible and interesting guide for this country where our protagonist decided to go.
From the history of literary struggle.
As we already said, the novel of Jules Verne was published in the end of 1864 and already one year after, in 1865, Russian translation, or actually an adaptation, appeared in St. Petersburg, in “The library for all ages” (editors Lihacheva and Suvorina) accompanied by popular article about the origin of Earth and drawings representing ancient plants and animals. This is where the most interesting things begin.
The first Russian edition of the novel The journey to the center of the Earth appeared in the center of critics’ attention and became the pretext of the sharp conflict between two journals: the democratic journal “Sovremennik” [The contemporary] published by N.A. Nekrassov and I.I. Panaev and the liberal journal “Golos” [The voice] published by A.A. Krajevski. “Sovremennik” welcomed the novel (1865, # 12) with the positive and favorable review specifically emphasizing its value for young and adolescent reader. “We rarely speak about books of this kind, underlines the reviewer, because the efforts of literary criticism remain practically fruitless and sometimes pretty silly books continue to be published and bought by an undemanding public. The young generation grows consuming all this intellectual garbage and later remains the product of this kind of preparation since not everybody can succeed in finding for himself the truly useful and educating reading in our modest literary reserve.
For a long time already in our country children’s literature became an object of condolence of all sensible people because this literature contains things truly disgraceful. This is the reason why we welcome with a great pleasure children’s books that distinguish themselves, by certain qualities of their content or style, from the mass of empty and simply bad books.
Verne’s story is as fantastic as the story about the travel to the center of Earth can
be …The fantastic character of the novel appears obvious even to the most inexperienced reader of Verne but in any case this character does not remain fruitless because behind it there is certain positive content”.
“Golos” reacted in a quite a different manner. In an extremely angry review published in the issue of 7 (16) March 1866 The journey to the center of the Earth was declared a very harmful and doubtlessly dangerous book. “While reading the fantastic tale about an impossible journey, children, as some people pretend, learn about volcanic eruptions, the existence of underground rivers and figures of plesiosaurs … Yes, warns the author of the review, this is not just tales of our underdeveloped nannies; here we deal with conscious stories of educated citizens who understand importance and influence of natural sciences, who are grown by Fokht, cherished by Bokle and nourished by Lewis …We can just recommend The journey to the center of Earth to everybody who wishes to educate their children in the spirit of Basarov, Lopuhov and so forth”.
We have all reasons to believe that Dostoievski was not ignorant about the polemics around Jules Verne’s novel. First of all Dostoievski was interested in the problem of popular literacy and education. Precisely in 1860 Dostoievski stands for the popularization of sciences and scientific discoveries in his journals “Vremja” [Time] and “Epoha” [Epoch]: made in the West and planted in the Russian sole these discoveries would be, according to Dostoievski, the justification of wanderings of noble intellectuals in “foreign lands”. “We do not have to worry about science, wrote Dostoievski, it is an eternal and highest force proper to everyone and necessary for all. It is the air that we breath. It will never vanish and will always find its place everywhere.” (20, 209).
The journal “Vremja” carefully watched the educational activity of Lev Tolstoy in Jasnaja Poljana and accepted as just its main motivation: the right of the people to demand and expect the education that they need. By the way, it is precisely while working on his ABC-book that Tolstoy noticed Jules Verne’s work and showed a great interest for his Extraordinary journeys that later entered for good the system of home education of the youngest generation of Tolstoy’s family.
We can say that in the literary polemics about Jules Verne’s novel Dostoievski took “Sovremennik”’s side: the position of Nekrassov’s journal in the area of education basically coincided with the program of journals “Vremja” and “Epoha”.
It is doubtful that “Sovremennik”’s review could be unknown to Dostoievski: 111 volume of this journal of 1865 contained, besides the review on Jules Verne’s novel, another highly interesting publication. It was Victor Hugo’s novel “The last day of the contemned to death” the translation of which was placed next to the review.
It is clear that Dostoievski, who considered this novel as a master piece and “ the most realistic and truthful work written by him [Victor Hugo] (24,6), as he enthusiastically declared in his preface to The meek, could not ignore, could not not turn over the pages and not read this volume of “Sovremennik”.
Dostoievski could not miss the scandalous article of “Golos” either. Dostoievski’s hostility, almost hatred toward A.A. Krajevski, literary businessman and exploiter, is well known. Precisely in the middle of 1860 Dostoievski makes public his sharp and extremely sarcastic opinions about Krajevski and his journal “Golos” that the writer considers “disgusting” and “the most typical incarnation of unprincipled, cynical and chameleon like Russian liberalism”. Already in 1864 Dostoievski placed in his journal “Epoch” a disdainful and humiliating article “Puns in life and in literature” directed against “Golos” and its editor; Dostoievski’s attitude toward the hateful journal and its master remained unchanged until the end of his life and is reflected in The Possessed as well as in The writer’s journal.
The insulting remark of “Golos” about Basarov and Lopuhov must irritate Dostoievski even stronger since these two literary characters, as well as works of Turgenev and Tchernyshevski, were objects of his constant and painful reflections. Dostoievski who understood Basarov as a tragic character, “the great heart”, must have been outraged by this cynical and angry remark that appeared as a direct political denunciation.
Dostoievski did not take part personally in the literary struggle around Jules Verne’s novel. In March 1865 appeared the last February issue of the journal “Epoch” and Dostoievski journal ceased to exist. Left in 1866 (precisely the year when this polemic actually took place) without the press organ where the writer could express himself as a critic as well as a publicist, Dostoievski entirely concentrated his efforts on the novel Crime and Punishment.
Gan the Icelander
At the end of 1868- beginning of 1869 Dostoievski was thinking about the novel entitled Kartusov that was never written. The main character of the novel, the captain Kartusov, was later transformed into another character ¾ captain Lebjadkin in the novel The Possessed. Although Kartuzov and Lebjadkin have a common feature: they are both in love with an inaccessible beauty (in the Possessed with Lisa Tushina) and compose ridiculous poems (it was Kartuzov who wrote the poem about a cockroach and “The beauty of the beauties” inherited later by Lebjadkin), nevertheless Kartuzov, funny, pretentious and clumsy man, is an honest and noble knight. By the way, according to Dostoievski’s idea the whole novel could have a title “The story about one clumsy man”. In rough copies of the novel we find the detailed description of the character, acts, physical appearance, behavior and “little words and expressions” of Kartuzov who, like Don Cichote, while defending the honor of his lady finds himself in the most ridiculous and comical situations. The following remark about Kartuzov seems especially amazing: “Kartuzov’s character, as it was described. He is taciturn, dry, polite, naïve and trusty. All of the sudden starts to express his ideas. Most of the time he does not say anything and turns red, he is not eloquent. He is chaste. He trusts me. He comes, remains silent, sits, asks about statues, goes away and smokes. He is Han the Icelander” (11, 49). This Dostoievski’s remark about “Han Icelander” seems to show an associative connection that Dostoievski makes between the character of “the clumsy man” and some Han Icelander. In the existing commentaries to rough copies of Kartuzov we find that Han Icelander was the character of the early (1823) novel of Victor Hugo with the same title belonging to the “thundering” school of the French literature. What, however, an inoffensive funny captain could have in common with a thorough villain Han who lived in Drontheim (Norway)? Han, murderer and incendiary, born in Clipstadur in Iceland, grand-son of the famous villain Ingolph the Killer whose descendants terrified Iceland and Norway for four centuries, committed many horrible crimes and was almost a fantastic creature resembling rather a wild beast, ferocious, clever and blood-thirsty, how could he remind the clumsy captain in love? “He can direct storms, throw rocks on villages, his will makes fall walls of underground caves and his breath blows guiding lights on the top of rocks”, that was Victor Hugo’s Han Icelander. “Taciturn, dry, polite, naïve and trusty”, this is Dostoievski’s Kartuzov.
Then comes a seducing idea. Can it be that Dostoievski’s incomprehensible association reflected his impression not only of the Icelander from this early novel of Victor Hugo but also of another Icelander, the one from the recently published novel of Jules Verne? It turns that the name of one of the characters of The journey to the center of the earth, precisely of the third participant of the expedition, the Icelandic guide was also Han (or Hans in the Russian translation of the novel). This Icelander is precisely a simple-hearted, taciturn, shy, serious, reserved and thoughtful man that remains Kartuzov described in the earlier cited rough copies. What purpose served the association of Kartuzov with Jules Verne’s Han (Hans)? It seems that it brought more common and realistic tones. Dostoievski’s main idea concerning his work on the novel about Kartuzov may be interesting in clarifying this matter. “From the first time on to present Kartuzov’s character to the reader in the most comical, mysterious and interesting way. All violent and romantic moments, although truthful and real, should be caught in nature in the comical way”. (11, 44) Per haps the internal irony and the comical effect of the novel would be reached precisely by the fact that a very common person (as Jules Verne’s Hans) imagines himself a romantic hero, displays “fatal passions” as well as wild and extravagant impulses.
Even though we do not have any formal proves that Dostoievski’s remark about “Han the Icelander” means the double association, however, one fact leaves no doubt: solely Hans Bjelke, the Icelander from Jules Verne’s novel, and not the fantastic character of Victor Hugo, was for the Russian reader, Stavrogin’s contemporary, the only known representative of this far away country.
Saga about the labyrinth
The action of Jules Verne’s novel begins on May 24 1863 in Hamburg, and already ten days later protagonists reach Iceland. To this moment Nicolay Vsevolodovich Stavrogin already had a solide record of wrong doings: he killed two persons in duel, lead the life of a debauchee, went through jail, was degraded to soldier, lost all his rights and was sent to one of the infantry regiments. It is precisely in 1863 that he distinguished himself during the Polish campaign and could recover his officer rang and retire. The two following years of Stavrogin’s life represent his “essays” of vice and crimes interchanged with moments of boredom, spleen, anger or new “amusements”.
With his departure in April 1866 begins the era of Stavrogin’s wondering that will result in his confession, a turning point of his destiny, written right before his return to Russia, in July 1869. The search for “last hopes and illusions”, for this miraculous remedy that would be able to keep him from “the edge”, brought Stavrogin back to Russia where he made an attempt to transform “the great idea” into the great heroic act that ended up in a fiasco. This idea, however, was maturing abroad, under Italian and Egyptian skies, on roads of France and Switzerland and in German universities, in other words in all these places where Russian upper class traveled and learned about the world.
From this point of view Stavrogin’s journey abroad is profoundly symbolic. By achieving this extraordinary itinerary of hundreds and thousands miles from Jerusalem to Iceland, Stavrogin went through different circles of contemporary culture, penetrated into depths of intellectual and spiritual life of East and West and experienced many of world’s temptations.
By sending Stavrogin to Iceland, in the tracks of the characters of Jules Verne’s novel, that Stavrogin could have read, to Iceland, where just recently took place an extraordinary and fantastic journey to the center of Earth, Dostoievski seems to offer to Nicolay Vsevolodovich one more very serious chance. On this land that later scientists from all over the world will call “an eldorado for researchers” the Russian “barin”, away from his native sole and his people, could work for the science’s sake, serve the goal of knowledge and become one of those “Bazarov, Lopuhov and so forth” who devoted themselves to the work in “the universal workshop”. This is precisely the reason why Stavrogin went to Iceland not as a tourist but as a member of the scientific expedition. This could be a gift of destiny for a devastated and disillusioned man! Dostoievski’s character, this “great sinner”, comes to the place where humans just discovered the underground world, the hell itself, in order to explore and understand it and see the most profound depths of the Earth and its center. Here is the true grandeur and the real deed! It seems that here, at the foot of the volcano Sneifedls, came together all references: faith and atheism, the most daring fantasy and the most calculated scientific knowledge.
Thus, according to Dostoievski’s complicated association, Iceland becomes one of the allegories of Stavrogin’s spiritual search. “…”
There is an ancient Icelandic saga about an outlaw man who once got lost in one of the caves. He had wondered for a long time in a absolute darkness of underground labyrinths until he finally found a little slit in the wall. When he came out he found himself in the completely different part of the country and he saw that his shoes were full of golden sand. In exchange of gold the outlaw man could regain his freedom.
The protagonist of The Possessed could never find the exit from the labyrinth.
Searching for the word ( writers in Dostoievski’s works)
Citations 1. “The village Stepanchikovo and its inhabitants”
2. “Poor people”
These naïve and simple-hearted words addressed to his beloved, Varenka Dobroselova, the character of the first novel of Dostoievski Poor people Makar Alekseevich Devushkin.
Dostoievski’s literary debut at the age of twenty four took place in 1845 and thus his dearest wish of literary vocation, cherished since his young age, came true. In imagination of the pupil of the School of Engineering poetry and creative writing represented “the feast in paradise”. “The poet, in his inspiration, can see God, that means that he fulfills the mission of philosophy …Poetical ecstasy is the ecstasy of philosophy … Philosophy itself is poetry but of a highest degree” (28, book I, 54) declares seventeen years old youngster Dostoievski to his brother. He can only imagine his life, his destiny and his freedom in connection with literature and literary work. ( “Freedom and vocation are the greatest of all things. I dream of and about it again as I did before but do not remember when. The soul becomes bigger in order to understand the greatness of life.” (28, book I, 78).
Passionate and absorbing reading as well as the persistent interest for the world of literature revealed not only the curious intellectual and bibliophile but the real vocation. Once felt this vocation demanded the expression and was transformed into the tireless urge toward creativeness. The desire to become an author and writer first was perceived by the young Dostoievski as a means , as “a holy hope” rather than a goal. He was not even eighteen yet when he defined “the greatest goal” of his future: “My soul is inaccessible to the former stormy urges. Everything is still in it as in the heart of a man who hides the profound mystery; I am rather good in learning about “man and life”; I can study characters from other writers with whom I spend the best part of my life joyfully and freely; I will say no more about myself. I am self-confident. The man is a mystery. This mystery ought to be solved and even if you have spent all your life solving it do not say that you wasted your time; I am studying this mystery for I want to be a man”. (28, book I, 63)
Literature, books and experience of other writers gradually ceased to be sources of romantic ecstasy, sweat tears and golden dreams and little by little became a rather prosaic but real help for his own creativity. In a full swing of the work on his first novel Poor People Dostoievski wrote in his letter to his brother: “Per haps you know very well what I do when I do not write ¾ I read. I read awfully a lot and the reading affects me in a strange manner. I would reread something read long time ago and I would feel all my strength, would apprehend everything, understand everything clearly and then I would extract from it the knowledge for creation of my own work” (28, book I, 108).
“Extract the knowledge for creation” ¾ this was the new direction of the young Dostoievski-reader: the reading from the point of view of the man who writes and who is learning the mastership from his teachers-follow writers. The work on the novel Poor people, the novel that the author first finished in November 1844, then “decided to change completely and actually changed it and rewrote it” (December 1844), then “began again to clean, smooth over, add and cut” (February 1845), then “decided to correct it one more time and this time really for the best” (May 1845), this work, complemented by the extensive reading, accomplished the process of transforming Dostoievski-the reader into Dostoievski-the writer. “Brother, regarding literature I am not the same person I was two years ago. Then it was only infantile nonsense. Two years of learning brought a lot and took away a lot too” (28, book I, 108).
The birth of the writer from the reader represents one of the mysteries of psychology of creativeness that equals only the miracle and mystery of the birth of a new life. The fact that the so much desired transformation could have not occur, that the writer potentially present in each reader could have never come true adds to this mystery a special attractiveness. The appeal and the temptation of creativity and the burning urge of self-expression that each reader sees precisely in writing represent, most of the time, a rather painful pass not very comforting by the end, the pass that brings more sorrows than gains; this Calvary of literary ambition and literary claims was, without doubt, one of the strongest impressions experienced by the author. It is also unquestionable that this impression entered the “blood and flesh” of his first novel.
In this regard Poor people confirm the truth of Makar Alekseevich Devushkin: “as literature the first Dostoievski’s novel was a picture and a mirror …..” Especially a document because the urge of literary creativity, this passionate hope for the literary vocation and finally this heroic effort of the young author are reflected in Poor People in a documentary way, in the form of “somebody else’s manuscripts”.
The characters of the novel Makar Devushkin and Varenka Dobrocelova are placed in the most unrestrained and the most ecstatic field of writing ¾ the epistolary one; for each letter one needs long hours and it represents a difficult literary work in the full sense of this term. Their correspondence represents not just the need to communicate, the little piece of friendship, love and compassion but also the test of pen. Simple-minded Makar Alekseevich admits that descriptions of nature, images and dreams in his letters are borrowed ¾ “I took it all from the book”. He is attracted to the literary circle of his neighbor the clerk Ratazjaev who “speaks about Homer, Brambeus and other different authors” and organizes literary parties. “Today is the meeting; we will read literature”, informs enthusiastic Devushkin his correspondent and goes on describing “literature” of the first in his life met writer: “…” Devushkin carefully observes the mode of life, customs and habits of his literary neighbor, sincerely believes in sensational royalties and in the seductive attractiveness of this vocation: “….”
With a true inspiration and enthusiasm of the real fun of literary talent Makar Alekseevich copies for Varenka fragments of Ratazjaev’s work: in this manner in text of Dostoievski’s novel appear the fragments of three works of another author: “Italian passions”, “Ermak and Zulejka” and “Ivan Prokofievich Geltopuz”.
Itis interesting, however, that in his passion for literary circle Devushkin does not lose the critical point of view; more than that, everything he sees actually becomes the material and the topic for his letters: “…” He does not only observe the enviable vocation but, and this is crucial, sometimes tries it on himself: first with terror, then with a hidden hope. It is amazing indeed how the attitude of Makar Alekseevuch toward this perspective changes during five month of the correspondence, how he personally grows gaining the human dignity and how strengthens and matures his pen. “…” He endlessly lowers and belittles himself: I cannot, I do not have any education, I should not, I do not have a right: “…” Complains are constantly repeated on every occasion but involuntarily Devushkin reveals himself: “…” He tried (here it is, the hidden biography of Makar Devushkin!) but “…”