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Existentialism
Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821 - 1881)
Crime and Punishment
translated by Constance Garnett


Fyodor Dostoevsky
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Chapter Six

-

ov happened to find out why the huckster and his

wife had invited Lizaveta. It was a very ordinary matter and there was

nothing exceptional about it. A family who had come to the town and

been reduced to poverty were selling their household goods and

clothes, all women's things. As the things would have fetched little

in the market, they were looking for a dealer. This was Lizaveta's

business. She undertook such jobs and was frequently employed, as

she was very honest and always fixed a fair price and stuck to it. She

spoke as a rule little and, as we have said already, she was very

submissive and timid.

But Raskolnikov had become superstitious of late. The traces of

superstition remained in him long after, and were almost ineradicable.

And in all this he was always afterwards disposed to see something

strange and mysterious, as it were the presence of some peculiar

influences and coincidences. In the previous winter a student he

knew called Pokorev, who had left for Harkov, had chanced in

conversation to give him the address of Alyona Ivanovna, the old

pawnbroker, in case he might want to pawn anything. For a long while

he did not go to her, for he had lessons and managed to get along

somehow. Six weeks ago he had remembered the address; he had two

articles that could be pawned: his father's old silver watch and a

little gold ring with three red stones, a present from his sister at

parting. He decided to take the ring. When he found the old woman he

had felt an insurmountable repulsion for her at the first glance,

though he knew nothing special about her. He got two roubles from

her and went into a miserable little tavern on his way home. He

asked for tea, sat down and sank into deep thought. A strange idea was

pecking at his brain like a chicken in the egg, and very, very much

absorbed him.

Almost beside him at the next table there was sitting a student,

whom he did not know and had never seen, and with him a young officer.

They had played a game of billiards and began drinking tea. All at

once he heard the student mention to the officer the pawnbroker Alyona

Ivanovna and give him her address. This of itself seemed strange to

Raskolnikov; he had just come from her and here at once he heard her

name. Of course it was a chance, but he could not shake off a very

extraordinary impression, and here some one seemed to be speaking

expressly for him; the student began telling his friend various

details about Alyona Ivanovna.

"She is first rate," he said. "You can always get money from her.

She is as rich as a Jew, she can give you five thousand roubles at a

time and she is not above taking a pledge for a rouble. Lots of our

fellows have had dealings with her. But she is an awful old harpy...."

And he began describing how spiteful and uncertain she was, how if

you were only a day late with your interest the pledge was lost; how

she gave a quarter of the value of an article and took five and even

seven percent a month on it and so on. The student chattered on,

saying that she had a sister Lizaveta, whom the wretched little

creature was continually beating, and kept in complete bondage like

a small child, though Lizaveta was at least six feet high.

"There's a phenomenon for you," cried the student and he laughed.

They began talking about Lizaveta. The student spoke about her

with a peculiar relish and was continually laughing and the officer

listened with great interest and asked him to send Lizaveta to do some

mending for him. Raskolnikov did not miss a word and learned

everything about her. Lizaveta was younger than the old woman and

was her half-sister, being the child of a different mother. She was

thirty-five. She worked day and night for her sister, and besides

doing the cooking and the washing, she did sewing and worked as a

charwoman and gave her sister all she earned. She did not dare to

accept an order or job of any kind without her sister's permission.

The old woman had already made her will, and Lizaveta knew of it,

and by this will she would not get a farthing; nothing but the

movables, chairs and so on; all the money was left to a monastery in

the province of N___, that prayers might be said for her in

perpetuity. Lizaveta was of lower rank than her sister, unmarried

and awfully uncouth in appearance, remarkably tall with long feet that

looked as if they were bent outwards. She always wore battered

goatskin shoes, and was clean in her person. What the student

expressed most surprise and amusement about was the fact that Lizaveta

was continually with child.

"But you say she is hideous?" observed the officer.

"Yes, she is so dark-skinned and looks like a soldier dressed up,

but you know she is not at all hideous. She has such a good-natured

face and eyes. Strikingly so. And the proof of it is that lots of

people are attracted by her. She is such a soft, gentle creature,

ready to put up with anything, always willing, willing to do anything.

And her smile is really very sweet."

"You seem to find her attractive yourself," laughed the officer.

"From her queerness. No, I'll tell you what. I could kill that

damned old woman and make off with her money, I assure you, without

the faintest conscience-prick," the student added with warmth. The

officer laughed again while Raskolnikov shuddered. How strange it was!

"Listen, I want to ask you a serious question," the student said

hotly. "I was joking of course, but look here; on one side we have a

stupid, senseless, worthless, spiteful, ailing, horrid old woman,

not simply useless but doing actual mischief, who has not an idea what

she is living for herself, and who will die in a day or two in any

case. You understand? You understand?"

"Yes, yes, I understand," answered the officer, watching his excited

companion attentively.

"Well, listen then. On the other side, fresh young lives thrown away

for want of help and by thousands, on every side! A hundred thousand

good deeds could be done and helped, on that old woman's money which

will be buried in a monastery! Hundreds, thousands perhaps, might be

set on the right path; dozens of families saved from destitution, from

ruin, from vice, from the Lock hospitals- and all with her money. Kill

her, take her money and with the help of it devote oneself to the

service of humanity and the good of all. What do you think, would

not one tiny crime be wiped out by thousands of good deeds? For one

life thousands would be saved from corruption and decay. One death,

and a hundred lives in exchange- it's simple arithmetic! Besides, what

value has the life of that sickly, stupid, ill-natured old woman in

the balance of existence! No more than the life of a louse, of a black

beetle, less in fact because the old woman is doing harm. She is

wearing out the lives of others; the other day she bit Lizaveta's

finger out of spite; it almost had to be amputated."

"Of course she does not deserve to live," remarked the officer, "but

there it is, it's nature."

"Oh, well, brother, but we have to correct and direct nature, and,

but for that, we should drown in an ocean of prejudice. But for

that, there would never have been a single great man. They talk of

duty, conscience- I don't want to say anything against duty and

conscience;- but the point is what do we mean by them. Stay, I have

another question to ask you. Listen!"

"No, you stay, I'll ask you a question. Listen!"

"Well?"

"You are talking and speechifying away, but tell me, would you

kill the old woman yourself?"

"Of course not! I was only arguing the justice of it.... It's

nothing to do with me...."

"But I think, if you would not do it yourself, there's no justice

about it.... Let us have another game."

Raskolnikov was violently agitated. Of course, it was all ordinary

youthful talk and thought, such as he had often heard before in

different forms and on different themes. But why had he happened to

hear such a discussion and such ideas at the very moment when his

own brain was just conceiving... the very same ideas? And why, just at

the moment when he had brought away the embryo of his idea from the

old woman had he dropped at once upon a conversation about her? This

coincidence always seemed strange to him. This trivial talk in a

tavern had an immense influence on him in his later action; as

though there had really been in it something preordained, some guiding

hint....

-

On returning from the Hay Market he flung himself on the sofa and

sat for a whole hour without stirring. Meanwhile it got dark; he had

no candle and, indeed, it did not occur to him to light up. He could

never recollect whether he had been thinking about anything at that

time. At last he was conscious of his former fever and shivering,

and he realised with relief that he could lie down on the sofa. Soon

heavy, leaden sleep came over him, as it were crushing him.

He slept an extraordinarily long time and without dreaming.

Nastasya, coming into his room at ten o'clock the next morning, had

difficulty in rousing him. She brought him in tea and bread. The tea

was again the second brew and again in her own tea-pot.

"My goodness, how he sleeps!" she cried indignantly. "And he is

always asleep."

He got up with an effort. His head ached, he stood up, took a turn

in his garret and sank back on the sofa again.

"Going to sleep again," cried Nastasya. "Are you ill, eh?"

He made no reply.

"Do you want some tea?"

"Afterwards," he said with an effort, closing his eyes again and

turning to the wall.

Nastasya stood over him.

"Perhaps he really is ill," she said, turned and went out. She

came in again at two o'clock with soup. He was lying as before. The

tea stood untouched. Nastasya felt positively offended and began

wrathfully rousing him.

"Why are you lying like a log?" she shouted, looking at him with

repulsion.

He got up, and sat down again, but said nothing and stared at the

floor.

"Are you ill or not?" asked Nastasya and again received no answer.

"You'd better go out and get a breath of air," she said after a pause.

"Will you eat it or not?"

"Afterwards," he said weakly. "You can go."

And he motioned her out.

She remained a little longer, looked at him with compassion and went

out.

A few minutes afterwards, he raised his eyes and looked for a long

while at the tea and the soup. Then he took the bread, took up a spoon

and began to eat.

He ate a little, three or four spoonfuls, without appetite as it

were mechanically. His head ached less. After his meal he stretched

himself on the sofa again, but now he could not sleep; he lay

without stirring, with his face in the pillow. He was haunted by

daydreams and such strange daydreams; in one, that kept recurring,

he fancied that he was in Africa, in Egypt, in some sort of oasis. The

caravan was resting, the camels were peacefully lying down; the

palms stood all around in a complete circle; all the party were at

dinner. But he was drinking water from a spring which flowed

gurgling close by. And it was so cool, it was wonderful, wonderful,

blue, cold water running among the parti-coloured stones and over

the clean sand which glistened here and there like gold.... Suddenly

he heard a clock strike. He started, roused himself, raised his

head, looked out of the window, and seeing how late it was, suddenly

jumped up wide awake as though some one had pulled him off the sofa.

He crept on tiptoe to the door, stealthily opened it and began

listening on the staircase. His heart beat terribly. But all was quiet

on the stairs as if every one was asleep.... It seemed to him

strange and monstrous that he could have slept in such forgetfulness

from the previous day and had done nothing, had prepared nothing

yet.... And meanwhile perhaps it had struck six. And his drowsiness

and stupefaction were followed by an extraordinary, feverish, as it

were, distracted, haste. But the preparations to be made were few.

He concentrated all his energies on thinking of everything and

forgetting nothing; and his heart kept beating and thumping so that he

could hardly breathe. First he had to make a noose and sew it into his

overcoat- a work of a moment. He rummaged under his pillow and

picked out amongst the linen stuffed away under it, a worn out, old

unwashed shirt. From its rags he tore a long strip, a couple of inches

wide and about sixteen inches long. He folded this strip in two,

took off his wide, strong summer overcoat of some stout cotton

material (his only outer garment) and began sewing the two ends of the

rag on the inside, under the left armhole. His hands shook as he

sewed, but he did it successfully so that nothing showed outside

when he put the coat on again. The needle and thread he had got

ready long before and they lay on his table in a piece of paper. As

for the noose, it was a very ingenious device of his own; the noose

was intended for the axe. It was impossible for him to carry the axe

through the street in his hands. And if hidden under his coat he would

still have had to support it with his hand, which would have been

noticeable. Now he had only to put the head of the axe in the noose,

and it would hang quietly under his arm on the inside. Putting his

hand in his coat pocket, he could hold the end of the handle all the

way, so that it did not swing; and as the coat was very full, a

regular sack in fact, it could not be seen from outside that he was

holding something with the hand that was in the pocket. This noose,

too, he had designed a fortnight before.

When he had finished with this, he thrust his hand into a little

opening between his sofa and the floor, fumbled in the left corner and

drew out the pledge, which he had got ready long before and hidden

there. This pledge was, however, only a smoothly planed piece of

wood the size and thickness of a silver cigarette case. He picked up

this piece of wood in one of his wanderings in a courtyard where there

was some sort of a workshop. Afterwards he had added to the wood a

thin smooth piece of iron, which he had also picked up at the same

time in the street. Putting the iron which was a little the smaller on

the piece of wood, he fastened them very firmly, crossing and

re-crossing the thread round them; then wrapped them carefully and

daintily in clean white paper and tied up the parcel so that it

would be very difficult to untie it. This was in order to divert the

attention of the old woman for a time, while she was trying to undo

the knot, and so to gain a moment. The iron strip was added to give

weight, so that the woman might not guess the first minute that the

"thing" was made of wood. All this had been stored by him beforehand

under the sofa. He had only just got the pledge out when he heard some

one suddenly about in the yard.

"It struck six long ago."

"Long ago! My God!"

He rushed to the door, listened, caught up his hat and began to

descend his thirteen steps cautiously, noiselessly, like a cat. He had

still the most important thing to do- to steal the axe from the

kitchen. That the deed must be done with an axe he had decided long

ago. He had also a pocket pruning-knife, but he could not rely on

the knife and still less on his own strength, and so resolved

finally on the axe. We may note in passing, one peculiarity in

regard to all the final resolutions taken by him in the matter; they

had one strange characteristic: the more final they were, the more

hideous and the more absurd they at once became in his eyes. In

spite of all his agonising inward struggle, he never for a single

instant all that time could believe in the carrying out of his plans.

And, indeed, if it had ever happened that everything to the least

point could have been considered and finally settled, and no

uncertainty of any kind had remained, he would, it seems, have

renounced it all as something absurd, monstrous and impossible. But

a whole mass of unsettled points and uncertainties remained. As for

getting the axe, that trifling business cost him no anxiety, for

nothing could be easier. Nastasya was continually out of the house,

especially in the evenings; she would run in to the neighbours or to a

shop, and always left the door ajar. It was the one thing the landlady

was always scolding her about. And so when the time came, he would

only have to go quietly into the kitchen and to take the axe, and an

hour later (when everything was over) go in and put it back again. But

these were doubtful points. Supposing he returned an hour later to put

it back, and Nastasya had come back and was on the spot. He would of

course have to go by and wait till she went out again. But supposing

she were in the meantime to miss the axe, look for it, make an outcry-

that would mean suspicion or at least grounds for suspicion.

But those were all trifles which he had not even begun to

consider, and indeed he had no time. He was thinking of the chief

point, and put off trifling details, until he could believe in it all.

But that seemed utterly unattainable. So it seemed to himself at

least. He could not imagine, for instance, that he would sometime

leave off thinking, get up and simply go there.... Even his late

experiment (i.e. his visit with the object of a final survey of the

place) was simply an attempt at an experiment, far from being the real

thing, as though one should say "come, let us go and try it- why dream

about it!"- and at once he had broken down and had run away cursing,

in a frenzy with himself. Meanwhile it would seem, as regards the

moral question, that his analysis was complete; his casuistry had

become keen as a razor, and he could not find rational objections in

himself. But in the last resort he simply ceased to believe in

himself, and doggedly, slavishly sought arguments in all directions,

fumbling for them, as though some one were forcing and drawing him

to it.

At first- long before indeed- he had been much occupied with one

question; why almost all crimes are so badly concealed and so easily

detected, and why almost all criminals leave such obvious traces? He

had come gradually to many different and curious conclusions, and in

his opinion the chief reason lay not so much in the material

impossibility of concealing the crime, as in the criminal himself.

Almost every criminal is subject to a failure of will and reasoning

power by a childish and phenomenal heedlessness, at the very instant

when prudence and caution are most essential. It was his conviction

that this eclipse of reason and failure of will power attacked a man

like a disease, developed gradually and reached its highest point just

before the perpetration of the crime, continued with equal violence at

the moment of the crime and for longer or shorter time after,

according to the individual case, and then passed off like any other

disease. The question whether the disease gives rise to the crime,

or whether the crime from its own peculiar nature is always

accompanied by something of the nature of disease, he did not yet feel

able to decide.

When he reached these conclusions, he decided that in his own case

there could not be such a morbid reaction, that his reason and will

would remain unimpaired at the time of carrying out his design, for

the simple reason that his design was "not a crime...." We will omit

all the process by means of which he arrived at this last

conclusion; we have run too far ahead already.... We may add only that

the practical, purely material difficulties of the affair occupied a

secondary position in his mind. "One has but to keep all one's will

power and reason to deal with them, and they will all be overcome at

the time when once one has familiarised oneself with the minutest

details of the business...." But this preparation had never been

begun. His final decisions were what he came to trust least, and

when the hour struck, it all came to pass quite differently, as it

were accidentally and unexpectedly.

One trifling circumstance upset his calculations, before he had even

left the staircase. When he reached the landlady's kitchen, the door

of which was open as usual, he glanced cautiously in to see whether,

in Nastasya's absence, the landlady herself was there, or if not,

whether the door to her own room was closed, so that she might not

peep out when he went in for the axe. But what was his amazement

when he suddenly saw that Nastasya was not only at home in the

kitchen, but was occupied there, taking linen out of a basket and

hanging it on a line. Seeing him, she left off hanging the clothes,

turned to him and stared at him all the time he was passing. He turned

away his eyes, and walked past as though he noticed nothing. But it

was the end of everything; he had not the axe! He was overwhelmed.

"What made me think," he reflected, as he went under the gateway,

"what made me think that she would be sure not to be at home at that

moment! Why, why, why did I assume this so certainly?"

He was crushed and even humiliated. He could have laughed at himself

in his anger.... A dull animal rage boiled within him.

He stood hesitating in the gateway. To go into the street, to go for

a walk for appearance sake was revolting; to go back to his room, even

more revolting. "And what a chance I have lost for ever!" he muttered,

standing aimlessly in the gateway, just opposite the porter's little

dark room, which was also open. Suddenly he started. From the porter's

room, two paces away from him, something shining under the bench to

the right caught his eye.... He looked about him- nobody. He

approached the room on tiptoe, went down two steps into it and in a

faint voice called the porter. "Yes, not at home! Somewhere near

though, in the yard, for the door is wide open." He dashed to the

axe (it was an axe) and pulled it out from under the bench, where it

lay between two chunks of wood; at once before going out, he made it

fast in the noose, he thrust both hands into his pockets and went

out of the room; no one had noticed him! "When reason fails, the devil

helps!" he thought with a strange grin. This chance raised his spirits

extraordinarily.

He walked along quietly and sedately, without hurry, to avoid

awakening suspicion. He scarcely looked at the passers-by, tried to

escape looking at their faces at all, and to be as little noticeable

as possible. Suddenly he thought of his hat. "Good heavens! I had

the money the day before yesterday and did not get a cap to wear

instead!" A curse rose from the bottom of his soul.

Glancing out of the corner of his eye into a shop, he saw by a clock

on the wall that it was ten minutes past seven. He had to make haste

and at the same time to go someway round, so as to approach the

house from the other side....

When he had happened to imagine all this beforehand, he had

sometimes thought that he would be very much afraid. But he was not

very much afraid now, was not afraid at all, indeed. His mind was even

occupied by irrelevant matters, but by nothing for long. As he

passed the Yusupov garden, he was deeply absorbed in considering the

building of great fountains, and of their refreshing effect on the

atmosphere in all the squares. By degrees he passed to the

conviction that if the summer garden were extended to the field of

Mars, and perhaps joined to the garden of the Mihailovsky Palace, it

would be a splendid thing and a great benefit to the town. Then he was

interested by the question why in all great towns men are not simply

driven by necessity, but in some peculiar way inclined to live in

those parts of the town where there are no gardens nor fountains;

where there is most dirt and smell and all sorts of nastiness. Then

his own walks through the Hay Market came back to his mind, and for

a moment he waked up to reality. "What nonsense!" he thought,

"better think of nothing at all!"

"So probably men led to execution clutch mentally at every object

that meets them on the way," flashed through his mind, but simply

flashed, like lightning; he made haste to dismiss this thought.... And

by now he was near; here was the house, here was the gate. Suddenly

a clock somewhere struck once. "What! can it be half-past seven?

Impossible, it must be fast!"

Luckily for him, everything went well again at the gates. At that

very moment, as though expressly for his benefit, a huge waggon of hay

had just driven in at the gate, completely screening him as he

passed under the gateway, and the waggon had scarcely had time to

drive through into the yard, before he had slipped in a flash to the

right. On the other side of the waggon he could hear shouting and

quarrelling; but no one noticed him and no one met him. Many windows

looking into that huge quadrangular yard were open at that moment, but

he did not raise his head- he had not the strength to. The staircase

leading to the old woman's room was close by, just on the right of the

gateway. He was already on the stairs....

Drawing a breath, pressing his hand against his throbbing heart, and

once more feeling for the axe and setting it straight, he began softly

and cautiously ascending the stairs, listening every minute. But the

stairs, too, were quite deserted; all the doors were shut; he met no

one. One flat indeed on the first floor was wide open and painters

were at work in it, but they did not glance at him. He stood still,

thought a minute and went on. "Of course it would be better if they

had not been here, but... it's two storeys above them."

And there was the fourth storey, here was the door, here was the

flat opposite, the empty one. The flat underneath the old woman's

was apparently empty also; the visiting card nailed on the door had

been torn off- they had gone away!... He was out of breath. For one

instant the thought floated through his mind "Shall I go back?" But he

made no answer and began listening at the old woman's door, a dead

silence. Then he listened again on the staircase, listened long and

intently... then looked about him for the last time, pulled himself

together, drew himself up, and once more tried the axe in the noose.

"Am I very pale?" he wondered. "Am I not evidently agitated? She is

mistrustful.... Had I better wait a little longer... till my heart

leaves off thumping?"

But his heart did not leave off. On the contrary, as though to spite

him, it throbbed more and more violently. He could stand it no longer,

he slowly put out his hand to the bell and rang. Half a minute later

he rang again, more loudly.

No answer. To go on ringing was useless and out of place. The old

woman was, of course, at home, but she was suspicious and alone. He

had some knowledge of her habits... and once more he put his ear to

the door. Either his senses were peculiarly keen (which it is

difficult to suppose), or the sound was really very distinct.

Anyway, he suddenly heard something like the cautious touch of a

hand on the lock and the rustle of a skirt at the very door. Some

one was standing stealthily close to the lock and just as he was doing

on the outside was secretly listening within, and seemed to have her

ear to the door.... He moved a little on purpose and muttered

something aloud that he might not have the appearance of hiding,

then rang a third time, but quietly, soberly and without impatience,

Recalling it afterwards, that moment stood out in his mind vividly,

distinctly, forever; he could not make out how he had had such

cunning, for his mind was as it were clouded at moments and he was

almost unconscious of his body.... An instant later he heard the latch

unfastened.


Ce qu'on fait n'est jamais compris mais seulement loué ou blâmé. Nietzsche, Gay Science

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