Read an Excerpt Notes from the Underground
By Fyodor Dostoevsky Wildside Press
Copyright © 2003 Fyodor Dostoevsky
All right reserved.
I AM a sick man. . . . I am a spiteful man. An unattractive man. I
think that my liver hurts. But actually, I don't know a damn thing
about my illness. I am not even sure what it is that hurts. I am not
in treatment and never have been, although I respect both medicine
and doctors. Besides, I am superstitious in the extreme; well, at
least to the extent of respecting medicine. (I am sufficiently
educated not to be superstitious, but I am.) No, sir, I refuse to see
a doctor simply out of spite. Now, that is something that you
probably will fail to understand. Well, I understand it. Naturally, I
will not be able to explain to you precisely whom I will injure in
this instance by my spite. I know perfectly well that I am certainly
not giving the doctors a "dirty deal" by not seeking treatment. I
know better than anyone that I will only harm myself by this, and no
one else. And yet, if I don't seek a cure, it is out of spite. My
liver hurts? Good, let it hurt still more!
I have been living like this for a long time-about twenty years. Now
I am forty. I used to be in the civil service; today I am not. I was
a mean official. I was rude, and found pleasure in it. After all, I
took no bribes,and so I had to recompense myself at least by this.
(A poor joke, but I will not cross it out. I wrote it, thinking it
would be extremely witty; but now I see that it was only a vile
little attempt at showing off, and just for that I'll let it stand!)
When petitioners came to my desk seeking information, I gnashed my
teeth at them, and gloated insatiably whenever I succeeded in
distressing them. I almost always succeeded. Most of them were timid
folk: naturally-petitioners. But there were also some fops, and among
these I particularly detested a certain officer. He absolutely
refused to submit and clattered revoltingly with his sword. I battled
him over that sword for a year and a half. And finally I got the best
of him. He stopped clattering. This, however, happened long ago, when
I was still a young man. But do you know, gentlemen, what was the
main thing about my spite? Why, the whole point, the vilest part of
it, was that I was constantly and shamefully aware, even at moments
of the most violent spleen, that I was not at all a spiteful, no, not
even an embittered, man. That I was merely frightening sparrows to no
purpose, diverting myself. I might be foaming at the mouth, but bring
me a doll, give me some tea, with a bit of sugar, and I'd most likely
calm down. Indeed, I would be deeply touched, my very heart would
melt, though later I'd surely gnash my teeth at myself and suffer
from insomnia for months. That's how it is with me.
I lied just now when I said that I had been a mean official. I lied
out of sheer spite. I was merely fooling around, both with the
petitioners and with the officer, but in reality I could never have
become malicious. I was aware at every moment of many, many
altogether contrary elements. I felt them swarming inside me, those
contrary elements. I knew that they had swarmed inside me all my
life, begging to be let out, but I never, never allowed them to come
out, just for spite. They tormented me to the point of shame, they
drove me to convulsions-I was so sick and tired of them in the end.
Sick and tired! But perhaps you think, dear sirs, that I am now
repenting of something before you, asking your forgiveness for
something? . . . Indeed, I am quite certain that you think so. But
then, I assure you it doesn't make the slightest difference to me if
you do. . . .
I could not become malicious. In fact, I could not become anything:
neither bad nor good, neither a scoundrel nor an honest man, neither
a hero nor an insect. And now I am eking out my days in my corner,
taunting myself with the bitter and entirely useless consolation that
an intelligent man cannot seriously become anything; that only a fool
can become something. Yes, sir, an intelligent nineteenth-century man
must be, is morally bound to be, an essentially characterless
creature; and a man of character, a man of action-an essentially
limited creature. This is my conviction at the age of forty. I am
forty now, and forty years-why, it is all of a lifetime, it is the
deepest old age. Living past forty is indecent, vulgar, immoral! Now
answer me, sincerely, honestly, who lives past forty? I'll tell you
who does: fools and scoundrels. I will say this right to the face of
all those venerable old men, all those silver-haired, sweet-smelling
old men! I have a right to say it, because I will live to sixty
myself. To seventy! To eighty! . . . Wait, let me catch my breath. .
You might be imagining, gentlemen, that I am trying to amuse you, to
make you laugh? Wrong again. I am not at all the jolly character you
think I am, or may perhaps think I am. But then, if, irritated by all
this prattle (and I feel it already, I feel you are irritated),
you'll take it into your heads to ask me what I am, I'll answer you:
I am a certain collegiate assessor. I worked in order to eat (but
solely for that reason), and when a distant relation left me six
thousand rubles in his will last year, I immediately retired and
settled down in my corner. I had lived here previously as well, but
now I've settled down in this corner. My room is dismal, squalid, at
the very edge of town. My servant is a peasant woman, old, stupid,
vicious out of stupidity, and she always has a foul smell about her
I am told that the Petersburg climate is becoming bad for me, that
with my niggling means it's too expensive to live in Petersburg. I
know all that, I know it better than all those wise, experienced
counselors and head-shakers. But I stay on in Petersburg; I shall not
leave Petersburg! I shall not leave because. . . . Ah, but what
difference does it make whether I leave or don't leave.
To go on, however-what can a decent man talk about with the greatest pleasure?
Answer: about himself.
Well, then, I too shall talk about myself.
Excerpted from Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky Copyright © 2003 by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Excerpted by permission.
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