AT THAT TIME I was only twenty-four. My life was even then gloomy, ill- regulated, and as solitary as that of a savage. I made friends with no one an_ositively avoided talking, and buried myself more and more in my hole. A_ork in the office I never looked at anyone, and was perfectly well aware tha_y companions looked upon me, not only as a queer fellow, but even looked upo_e—I always fancied this—with a sort of loathing. I sometimes wondered why i_as that nobody except me fancied that he was looked upon with aversion? On_f the clerks had a most repulsive, pock-marked face, which looked positivel_illainous. I believe I should not have dared to look at anyone with such a_nsightly countenance. Another had such a very dirty old uniform that ther_as an unpleasant odour in his proximity. Yet not one of these gentleme_howed the slightest self-consciousness—either about their clothes or thei_ountenance or their character in any way. Neither of them ever imagined tha_hey were looked at with repulsion; if they had imagined it they would no_ave minded—so long as their superiors did not look at them in that way. It i_lear to me now that, owing to my unbounded vanity and to the high standard _et for myself, I often looked at myself with furious discontent, which verge_n loathing, and so I inwardly attributed the same feeling to everyone. _ated my face, for instance: I thought it disgusting, and even suspected tha_here was something base in my expression, and so every day when I turned u_t the office I tried to behave as independently as possible, and to assume _ofty expression, so that I might not be suspected of being abject. "My fac_ay be ugly," I thought, "but let it be lofty, expressive, and, above all, EXTREMELY intelligent." But I was positively and painfully certain that it wa_mpossible for my countenance ever to express those qualities. And what wa_orst of all, I thought it actually stupid looking, and I would have bee_uite satisfied if I could have looked intelligent. In fact, I would even hav_ut up with looking base if, at the same time, my face could have been though_trikingly intelligent.
Of course, I hated my fellow clerks one and all, and I despised them all, ye_t the same time I was, as it were, afraid of them. In fact, it happened a_imes that I thought more highly of them than of myself. It somehow happene_uite suddenly that I alternated between despising them and thinking the_uperior to myself. A cultivated and decent man cannot be vain without settin_ fearfully high standard for himself, and without despising and almost hatin_imself at certain moments. But whether I despised them or thought the_uperior I dropped my eyes almost every time I met anyone. I even mad_xperiments whether I could face so and so's looking at me, and I was alway_he first to drop my eyes. This worried me to distraction. I had a sickl_read, too, of being ridiculous, and so had a slavish passion for th_onventional in everything external. I loved to fall into the common rut, an_ad a whole-hearted terror of any kind of eccentricity in myself. But ho_ould I live up to it? I was morbidly sensitive as a man of our age should be.
They were all stupid, and as like one another as so many sheep. Perhaps I wa_he only one in the office who fancied that I was a coward and a slave, and _ancied it just because I was more highly developed. But it was not only tha_ fancied it, it really was so. I was a coward and a slave. I say this withou_he slightest embarrassment. Every decent man of our age must be a coward an_ slave. That is his normal condition. Of that I am firmly persuaded. He i_ade and constructed to that very end. And not only at the present time owin_o some casual circumstances, but always, at all times, a decent man is boun_o be a coward and a slave. It is the law of nature for all decent people al_ver the earth. If anyone of them happens to be valiant about something, h_eed not be comforted nor carried away by that; he would show the whit_eather just the same before something else. That is how it invariably an_nevitably ends. Only donkeys and mules are valiant, and they only till the_re pushed up to the wall. It is not worth while to pay attention to them fo_hey really are of no consequence.
Another circumstance, too, worried me in those days: that there was no on_ike me and I was unlike anyone else. "I am alone and they are EVERYONE," _hought—and pondered.
From that it is evident that I was still a youngster.
The very opposite sometimes happened. It was loathsome sometimes to go to th_ffice; things reached such a point that I often came home ill. But all a_nce, A PROPOS of nothing, there would come a phase of scepticism an_ndifference (everything happened in phases to me), and I would laugh mysel_t my intolerance and fastidiousness, I would reproach myself with bein_OMANTIC. At one time I was unwilling to speak to anyone, while at other time_ would not only talk, but go to the length of contemplating making friend_ith them. All my fastidiousness would suddenly, for no rhyme or reason, vanish. Who knows, perhaps I never had really had it, and it had simply bee_ffected, and got out of books. I have not decided that question even now.
Once I quite made friends with them, visited their homes, played preference, drank vodka, talked of promotions … . But here let me make a digression.
We Russians, speaking generally, have never had those foolish transcendental
"romantics"—German, and still more French—on whom nothing produces any effect; if there were an earthquake, if all France perished at the barricades, the_ould still be the same, they would not even have the decency to affect _hange, but would still go on singing their transcendental songs to the hou_f their death, because they are fools. We, in Russia, have no fools; that i_ell known. That is what distinguishes us from foreign lands. Consequentl_hese transcendental natures are not found amongst us in their pure form. Th_dea that they are is due to our "realistic" journalists and critics of tha_ay, always on the look out for Kostanzhoglos and Uncle Pyotr Ivanitchs an_oolishly accepting them as our ideal; they have slandered our romantics, taking them for the same transcendental sort as in Germany or France. On th_ontrary, the characteristics of our "romantics" are absolutely and directl_pposed to the transcendental European type, and no European standard can b_pplied to them. (Allow me to make use of this word "romantic"—an old- fashioned and much respected word which has done good service and is familia_o all.) The characteristics of our romantic are to understand everything, T_EE EVERYTHING AND TO SEE IT OFTEN INCOMPARABLY MORE CLEARLY THAN OUR MOS_EALISTIC MINDS SEE IT; to refuse to accept anyone or anything, but at th_ame time not to despise anything; to give way, to yield, from policy; neve_o lose sight of a useful practical object (such as rent-free quarters at th_overnment expense, pensions, decorations), to keep their eye on that objec_hrough all the enthusiasms and volumes of lyrical poems, and at the same tim_o preserve "the sublime and the beautiful" inviolate within them to the hou_f their death, and to preserve themselves also, incidentally, like som_recious jewel wrapped in cotton wool if only for the benefit of "the sublim_nd the beautiful." Our "romantic" is a man of great breadth and the greates_ogue of all our rogues, I assure you … . I can assure you from experience, indeed. Of course, that is, if he is intelligent. But what am I saying! Th_omantic is always intelligent, and I only meant to observe that although w_ave had foolish romantics they don't count, and they were only so because i_he flower of their youth they degenerated into Germans, and to preserve thei_recious jewel more comfortably, settled somewhere out there—by preference i_eimar or the Black Forest.
I, for instance, genuinely despised my official work and did not openly abus_t simply because I was in it myself and got a salary for it. Anyway, tak_ote, I did not openly abuse it. Our romantic would rather go out of hi_ind—a thing, however, which very rarely happens—than take to open abuse, unless he had some other career in view; and he is never kicked out. At most, they would take him to the lunatic asylum as "the King of Spain" if he shoul_o very mad. But it is only the thin, fair people who go out of their minds i_ussia. Innumerable "romantics" attain later in life to considerable rank i_he service. Their many-sidedness is remarkable! And what a faculty they hav_or the most contradictory sensations! I was comforted by this thought even i_hose days, and I am of the same opinion now. That is why there are so many
"broad natures" among us who never lose their ideal even in the depths o_egradation; and though they never stir a finger for their ideal, though the_re arrant thieves and knaves, yet they tearfully cherish their first idea_nd are extraordinarily honest at heart. Yes, it is only among us that th_ost incorrigible rogue can be absolutely and loftily honest at heart withou_n the least ceasing to be a rogue. I repeat, our romantics, frequently, become such accomplished rascals (I use the term "rascals" affectionately), suddenly display such a sense of reality and practical knowledge that thei_ewildered superiors and the public generally can only ejaculate in amazement.
Their many-sidedness is really amazing, and goodness knows what it may develo_nto later on, and what the future has in store for us. It is not a poo_aterial! I do not say this from any foolish or boastful patriotism. But _eel sure that you are again imagining that I am joking. Or perhaps it's jus_he contrary and you are convinced that I really think so. Anyway, gentlemen, I shall welcome both views as an honour and a special favour. And do forgiv_y digression.
I did not, of course, maintain friendly relations with my comrades and soo_as at loggerheads with them, and in my youth and inexperience I even gave u_owing to them, as though I had cut off all relations. That, however, onl_appened to me once. As a rule, I was always alone.
In the first place I spent most of my time at home, reading. I tried to stifl_ll that was continually seething within me by means of external impressions.
And the only external means I had was reading. Reading, of course, was a grea_elp—exciting me, giving me pleasure and pain. But at times it bored m_earfully. One longed for movement in spite of everything, and I plunged al_t once into dark, underground, loathsome vice of the pettiest kind. M_retched passions were acute, smarting, from my continual, sickly irritabilit_ had hysterical impulses, with tears and convulsions. I had no resourc_xcept reading, that is, there was nothing in my surroundings which I coul_espect and which attracted me. I was overwhelmed with depression, too; I ha_n hysterical craving for incongruity and for contrast, and so I took to vice.
I have not said all this to justify myself … . But, no! I am lying. I did wan_o justify myself. I make that little observation for my own benefit, gentlemen. I don't want to lie. I vowed to myself I would not.
And so, furtively, timidly, in solitude, at night, I indulged in filthy vice, with a feeling of shame which never deserted me, even at the most loathsom_oments, and which at such moments nearly made me curse. Already even then _ad my underground world in my soul. I was fearfully afraid of being seen, o_eing met, of being recognised. I visited various obscure haunts.
One night as I was passing a tavern I saw through a lighted window som_entlemen fighting with billiard cues, and saw one of them thrown out of th_indow. At other times I should have felt very much disgusted, but I was i_uch a mood at the time, that I actually envied the gentleman thrown out o_he window—and I envied him so much that I even went into the tavern and int_he billiard-room. "Perhaps," I thought, "I'll have a fight, too, and they'l_hrow me out of the window."
I was not drunk—but what is one to do—depression will drive a man to such _itch of hysteria? But nothing happened. It seemed that I was not even equa_o being thrown out of the window and I went away without having my fight.
An officer put me in my place from the first moment.
I was standing by the billiard-table and in my ignorance blocking up the way, and he wanted to pass; he took me by the shoulders and without a word—withou_ warning or explanation—moved me from where I was standing to another spo_nd passed by as though he had not noticed me. I could have forgiven blows, but I could not forgive his having moved me without noticing me.
Devil knows what I would have given for a real regular quarrel—a more decent, a more LITERARY one, so to speak. I had been treated like a fly. This office_as over six foot, while I was a spindly little fellow. But the quarrel was i_y hands. I had only to protest and I certainly would have been thrown out o_he window. But I changed my mind and preferred to beat a resentful retreat.
I went out of the tavern straight home, confused and troubled, and the nex_ight I went out again with the same lewd intentions, still more furtively, abjectly and miserably than before, as it were, with tears in my eyes—bu_till I did go out again. Don't imagine, though, it was coward- ice made m_link away from the officer; I never have been a coward at heart, though _ave always been a coward in action. Don't be in a hurry to laugh—I assure yo_ can explain it all.
Oh, if only that officer had been one of the sort who would consent to fight _uel! But no, he was one of those gentlemen (alas, long extinct!) wh_referred fighting with cues or, like Gogol's Lieutenant Pirogov, appealing t_he police. They did not fight duels and would have thought a duel with _ivilian like me an utterly unseemly procedure in any case—and they looke_pon the duel altogether as something impossible, something free-thinking an_rench. But they were quite ready to bully, especially when they were over si_oot.
I did not slink away through cowardice, but through an unbounded vanity. I wa_fraid not of his six foot, not of getting a sound thrashing and being throw_ut of the window; I should have had physical courage enough, I assure you; but I had not the moral courage. What I was afraid of was that everyon_resent, from the insolent marker down to the lowest little stinking, pimpl_lerk in a greasy collar, would jeer at me and fail to understand when I bega_o protest and to address them in literary language. For of the point o_onour—not of honour, but of the point of honour (POINT D'HONNEUR)—one canno_peak among us except in literary language. You can't allude to the "point o_onour" in ordinary language. I was fully convinced (the sense of reality, i_pite of all my romanticism!) that they would all simply split their side_ith laughter, and that the officer would not simply beat me, that is, withou_nsulting me, but would certainly prod me in the back with his knee, kick m_ound the billiard- table, and only then perhaps have pity and drop me out o_he window.
Of course, this trivial incident could not with me end in that. I often me_hat officer afterwards in the street and noticed him very carefully. I am no_uite sure whether he recognised me, I imagine not; I judge from certai_igns. But I—I stared at him with spite and hatred and so it went on … fo_everal years! My resentment grew even deeper with years. At first I bega_aking stealthy inquiries about this officer. It was difficult for me to d_o, for I knew no one. But one day I heard someone shout his surname in th_treet as I was following him at a distance, as though I were tied to him—an_o I learnt his surname. Another time I followed him to his flat, and for te_opecks learned from the porter where he lived, on which storey, whether h_ived alone or with others, and so on—in fact, everything one could learn fro_ porter. One morning, though I had never tried my hand with the pen, i_uddenly occurred to me to write a satire on this officer in the form of _ovel which would unmask his villainy. I wrote the novel with relish. I di_nmask his villainy, I even exaggerated it; at first I so altered his surnam_hat it could easily be recognised, but on second thoughts I changed it, an_ent the story to the OTETCHESTVENNIYA ZAPISKI. But at that time such attack_ere not the fashion and my story was not printed. That was a great vexatio_o me.
Sometimes I was positively choked with resentment. At last I determined t_hallenge my enemy to a duel. I composed a splendid, charming letter to him, imploring him to apologise to me, and hinting rather plainly at a duel in cas_f refusal. The letter was so composed that if the officer had had the leas_nderstanding of the sublime and the beautiful he would certainly have flun_imself on my neck and have offered me his friendship. And how fine that woul_ave been! How we should have got on together! "He could have shielded me wit_is higher rank, while I could have improved his mind with my culture, and, well … my ideas, and all sorts of things might have happened." Only fancy, this was two years after his insult to me, and my challenge would have been _idiculous anachronism, in spite of all the ingenuity of my letter i_isguising and explaining away the anachronism. But, thank God (to this day _hank the Almighty with tears in my eyes) I did not send the letter to him.
Cold shivers run down my back when I think of what might have happened if _ad sent it.
And all at once I revenged myself in the simplest way, by a stroke of genius!
A brilliant thought suddenly dawned upon me. Sometimes on holidays I used t_troll along the sunny side of the Nevsky about four o'clock in the afternoon.
Though it was hardly a stroll so much as a series of innumerable miseries, humiliations and resentments; but no doubt that was just what I wanted. I use_o wriggle along in a most unseemly fashion, like an eel, continually movin_side to make way for generals, for officers of the guards and the hussars, o_or ladies. At such minutes there used to be a convulsive twinge at my heart, and I used to feel hot all down my back at the mere thought of th_retchedness of my attire, of the wretchedness and abjectness of my littl_currying figure. This was a regular martyrdom, a continual, intolerabl_umiliation at the thought, which passed into an incessant and direc_ensation, that I was a mere fly in the eyes of all this world, a nasty, disgusting fly—more intelligent, more highly developed, more refined i_eeling than any of them, of course—but a fly that was continually making wa_or everyone, insulted and injured by everyone. Why I inflicted this tortur_pon myself, why I went to the Nevsky, I don't know. I felt simply drawn ther_t every possible opportunity.
Already then I began to experience a rush of the enjoyment of which I spoke i_he first chapter. After my affair with the officer I felt even more draw_here than before: it was on the Nevsky that I met him most frequently, ther_ could admire him. He, too, went there chiefly on holidays, He, too, turne_ut of his path for generals and persons of high rank, and he too, wriggle_etween them like an eel; but people, like me, or even better dressed than me, he simply walked over; he made straight for them as though there was nothin_ut empty space before him, and never, under any circumstances, turned aside.
I gloated over my resentment watching him and … always resentfully made wa_or him. It exasperated me that even in the street I could not be on an eve_ooting with him.
"Why must you invariably be the first to move aside?" I kept asking myself i_ysterical rage, waking up sometimes at three o'clock in the morning. "Why i_t you and not he? There's no regulation about it; there's no written law. Le_he making way be equal as it usually is when refined people meet; he move_alf-way and you move half-way; you pass with mutual respect."
But that never happened, and I always moved aside, while he did not eve_otice my making way for him. And lo and behold a bright idea dawned upon me!
"What," I thought, "if I meet him and don't move on one side? What if I don'_ove aside on purpose, even if I knock up against him? How would that be?"
This audacious idea took such a hold on me that it gave me no peace. I wa_reaming of it continually, horribly, and I purposely went more frequently t_he Nevsky in order to picture more vividly how I should do it when I did d_t. I was delighted. This intention seemed to me more and more practical an_ossible.
"Of course I shall not really push him," I thought, already more good- nature_n my joy. "I will simply not turn aside, will run up against him, not ver_iolently, but just shouldering each other—just as much as decency permits. _ill push against him just as much as he pushes against me." At last I made u_y mind completely. But my preparations took a great deal of time. To begi_ith, when I carried out my plan I should need to be looking rather mor_ecent, and so I had to think of my get-up. "In case of emergency, if, fo_nstance, there were any sort of public scandal (and the public there is o_he most RECHERCHE: the Countess walks there; Prince D. walks there; all th_iterary world is there), I must be well dressed; that inspires respect and o_tself puts us on an equal footing in the eyes of the society."
With this object I asked for some of my salary in advance, and bought a_churkin's a pair of black gloves and a decent hat. Black gloves seemed to m_oth more dignified and BON TON than the lemon-coloured ones which I ha_ontemplated at first. "The colour is too gaudy, it looks as though one wer_rying to be conspicuous," and I did not take the lemon-coloured ones. I ha_ot ready long beforehand a good shirt, with white bone studs; my overcoat wa_he only thing that held me back. The coat in itself was a very good one, i_ept me warm; but it was wadded and it had a raccoon collar which was th_eight of vulgarity. I had to change the collar at any sacrifice, and to hav_ beaver one like an officer's. For this purpose I began visiting the Gostin_vor and after several attempts I pitched upon a piece of cheap German beaver.
Though these German beavers soon grow shabby and look wretched, yet at firs_hey look exceedingly well, and I only needed it for the occasion. I asked th_rice; even so, it was too expensive. After thinking it over thoroughly _ecided to sell my raccoon collar. The rest of the money—a considerable su_or me, I decided to borrow from Anton Antonitch Syetotchkin, my immediat_uperior, an unassuming person, though grave and judicious. He never len_oney to anyone, but I had, on entering the service, been speciall_ecommended to him by an important personage who had got me my berth. I wa_orribly worried. To borrow from Anton Antonitch seemed to me monstrous an_hameful. I did not sleep for two or three nights. Indeed, I did not slee_ell at that time, I was in a fever; I had a vague sinking at my heart or els_ sudden throbbing, throbbing, throbbing! Anton Antonitch was surprised a_irst, then he frowned, then he reflected, and did after all lend me th_oney, receiving from me a written authorisation to take from my salary _ortnight later the sum that he had lent me.
In this way everything was at last ready. The handsome beaver replaced th_ean-looking raccoon, and I began by degrees to get to work. It would neve_ave done to act offhand, at random; the plan had to be carried out skilfully, by degrees. But I must confess that after many efforts I began to despair: w_imply could not run into each other. I made every preparation, I was quit_etermined—it seemed as though we should run into one another directly—an_efore I knew what I was doing I had stepped aside for him again and he ha_assed without noticing me. I even prayed as I approached him that God woul_rant me determination. One time I had made up my mind thoroughly, but i_nded in my stumbling and falling at his feet because at the very last instan_hen I was six inches from him my courage failed me. He very calmly steppe_ver me, while I flew on one side like a ball. That night I was ill again, feverish and delirious.
And suddenly it ended most happily. The night before I had made up my mind no_o carry out my fatal plan and to abandon it all, and with that object I wen_o the Nevsky for the last time, just to see how I would abandon it all.
Suddenly, three paces from my enemy, I unexpectedly made up my mind—I close_y eyes, and we ran full tilt, shoulder to shoulder, against one another! _id not budge an inch and passed him on a perfectly equal footing! He did no_ven look round and pretended not to notice it; but he was only pretending, _m convinced of that. I am convinced of that to this day! Of course, I got th_orst of it—he was stronger, but that was not the point. The point was that _ad attained my object, I had kept up my dignity, I had not yielded a step, and had put myself publicly on an equal social footing with him. I returne_ome feeling that I was fully avenged for everything. I was delighted. I wa_riumphant and sang Italian arias. Of course, I will not describe to you wha_appened to me three days later; if you have read my first chapter you ca_uess for yourself. The officer was afterwards transferred; I have not see_im now for fourteen years. What is the dear fellow doing now? Whom is h_alking over?