A selection from
NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND
Narrated by Grover Gardner
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A quarter of an hour later I was rushing up and down the room in
frenzied impatience, from minute to minute I went up to the screen and
peeped through the crack at Liza. She was sitting on the ground with her
head leaning against the bed, and must have been crying. But she did not
go away, and that irritated me. This time she understood it all. I had
insulted her finally, but ... there's no need to describe it. She realised
that my outburst of passion had been simply revenge, a fresh humiliation,
and that to my earlier, almost causeless hatred was added now a
PERSONAL HATRED, born of envy .... Though I do not maintain positively
that she understood all this distinctly; but she certainly did fully understand
that I was a despicable man, and what was worse, incapable of
I know I shall be told that this is incredible—but it is incredible to be
as spiteful and stupid as I was; it may be added that it was strange I should
not love her, or at any rate, appreciate her love. Why is it strange? In the
first place, by then I was incapable of love, for I repeat, with me loving
meant tyrannising and showing my moral superiority. I have never in my
life been able to imagine any other sort of love, and have nowadays come
to the point of sometimes thinking that love really consists in the right—
freely given by the beloved object—to tyrannise over her.
Even in my underground dreams I did not imagine love except as a
struggle. I began it always with hatred and ended it with moral subjugation,
and afterwards I never knew what to do with the subjugated object.
And what is there to wonder at in that, since I had succeeded in so
corrupting myself, since I was so out of touch with "real life," as to have
actually thought of reproaching her, and putting her to shame for having
come to me to hear "fine sentiments"; and did not even guess that she had
come not to hear fine sentiments, but to love me, because to a woman all
reformation, all salvation from any sort of ruin, and all moral renewal is
included in love and can only show itself in that form.
I did not hate her so much, however, when I was running about the
room and peeping through the crack in the screen. I was only insufferably
oppressed by her being here. I wanted her to disappear. I wanted
"peace," to be left alone in my underground world. Real life oppressed
me with its novelty so much that I could hardly breathe.
But several minutes passed and she still remained, without stirring, as
though she were unconscious. I had the shamelessness to tap softly at the
screen as though to remind her .... She started, sprang up, and flew to
seek her kerchief, her hat, her coat, as though making her escape from
me .... Two minutes later she came from behind the screen and looked
with heavy eyes at me. I gave a spiteful grin, which was forced, however,
to KEEP UP APPEARANCES, and I turned away from her eyes.
"Good-bye," she said, going towards the door.
I ran up to her, seized her hand, opened it, thrust something in it and
closed it again. Then I turned at once and dashed away in haste to the
other corner of the room to avoid seeing, anyway ....
I did mean a moment since to tell a lie—to write that I did this
accidentally, not knowing what I was doing through foolishness, through
losing my head. But I don't want to lie, and so I will say straight out that I
opened her hand and put the money in it ... from spite. It came into my
head to do this while I was running up and down the room and she was
sitting behind the screen. But this I can say for certain: though I did that
cruel thing purposely, it was not an impulse from the heart, but came
from my evil brain. This cruelty was so affected, so purposely made up,
so completely a product of the brain, of books, that I could not even keep
it up a minute—first I dashed away to avoid seeing her, and then in
shame and despair rushed after Liza. I opened the door in the passage and
"Liza! Liza!" I cried on the stairs, but in a low voice, not boldly.
There was no answer, but I fancied I heard her footsteps, lower down
on the stairs.
"Liza!" I cried, more loudly.
No answer. But at that minute I heard the stiff outer glass door open
heavily with a creak and slam violently; the sound echoed up the stairs.
She had gone. I went back to my room in hesitation. I felt horribly
I stood still at the table, beside the chair on which she had sat and
looked aimlessly before me. A minute passed, suddenly I started; straight
before me on the table I saw .... In short, I saw a crumpled blue five-
rouble note, the one I had thrust into her hand a minute before. It was the
same note; it could be no other, there was no other in the flat. So she had
managed to fling it from her hand on the table at the moment when I had
dashed into the further corner.
Well! I might have expected that she would do that. Might I have
expected it? No, I was such an egoist, I was so lacking in respect for my
fellow-creatures that I could not even imagine she would do so. I could
not endure it. A minute later I flew like a madman to dress, flinging on
what I could at random and ran headlong after her. She could not have
got two hundred paces away when I ran out into the street.
It was a still night and the snow was coming down in masses and falling
almost perpendicularly, covering the pavement and the empty street as
though with a pillow. There was no one in the street, no sound was to be
heard. The street lamps gave a disconsolate and useless glimmer. I ran
two hundred paces to the cross-roads and stopped short.
Where had she gone? And why was I running after her?
Why? To fall down before her, to sob with remorse, to kiss her feet, to
entreat her forgiveness! I longed for that, my whole breast was being rent
to pieces, and never, never shall I recall that minute with indifference.
But—what for? I thought. Should I not begin to hate her, perhaps, even
tomorrow, just because I had kissed her feet today? Should I give her
happiness? Had I not recognised that day, for the hundredth time, what I
was worth? Should I not torture her?
I stood in the snow, gazing into the troubled darkness and pondered this.
"And will it not be better?" I mused fantastically, afterwards at home,
stifling the living pang of my heart with fantastic dreams. "Will it not
be better that she should keep the resentment of the insult for ever?
Resentment—why, it is purification; it is a most stinging and painful
consciousness! Tomorrow I should have defiled her soul and have exhausted
her heart, while now the feeling of insult will never die in her heart,
and however loathsome the filth awaiting her—the feeling of insult will
elevate and purify her ... by hatred ... h'm! ... perhaps, too, by
forgiveness .... Will all that make things easier for her though? ..."
And, indeed, I will ask on my own account here, an idle question:
which is better—cheap happiness or exalted sufferings? Well, which is better?
So I dreamed as I sat at home that evening, almost dead with the pain
in my soul. Never had I endured such suffering and remorse, yet could
there have been the faintest doubt when I ran out from my lodging that I
should turn back half-way? I never met Liza again and I have heard
nothing of her. I will add, too, that I remained for a long time afterwards
pleased with the phrase about the benefit from resentment and hatred in
spite of the fact that I almost fell ill from misery.
Even now, so many years later, all this is somehow a very evil memory.
I have many evil memories now, but ... hadn't I better end my "Notes"
here? I believe I made a mistake in beginning to write them, anyway I
have felt ashamed all the time I've been writing this story; so it's hardly
literature so much as a corrective punishment. Why, to tell long stories,
showing how I have spoiled my life through morally rotting in my corner,
through lack of fitting environment, through divorce from real life, and
rankling spite in my underground world, would certainly not be interesting;
a novel needs a hero, and all the traits for an anti-hero are EXPRESSLY
gathered together here, and what matters most, it all produces an unpleasant
impression, for we are all divorced from life, we are all cripples,
every one of us, more or less. We are so divorced from it that we feel at
once a sort of loathing for real life, and so cannot bear to be reminded of
it. Why, we have come almost to looking upon real life as an effort,
almost as hard work, and we are all privately agreed that it is better in
books. And why do we fuss and fume sometimes? Why are we perverse
and ask for something else? We don't know what ourselves. It would be
the worse for us if our petulant prayers were answered. Come, try, give
any one of us, for instance, a little more independence, untie our hands,
widen the spheres of our activity, relax the control and we ... yes, I
assure you ... we should be begging to be under control again at once. I
know that you will very likely be angry with me for that, and will begin
shouting and stamping. Speak for yourself, you will say, and for your
miseries in your underground holes, and don't dare to say all of us—
excuse me, gentlemen, I am not justifying myself with that "all of us." As
for what concerns me in particular I have only in my life carried to an
extreme what you have not dared to carry halfway, and what's more, you
have taken your cowardice for good sense, and have found comfort in
deceiving yourselves. So that perhaps, after all, there is more life in me
than in you. Look into it more carefully! Why, we don't even know what
living means now, what it is, and what it is called? Leave us alone without
books and we shall be lost and in confusion at once. We shall not know
what to join on to, what to cling to, what to love and what to hate, what
to respect and what to despise. We are oppressed at being men—men
with a real individual body and blood, we are ashamed of it, we think it a
disgrace and try to contrive to be some sort of impossible generalised
man. We are stillborn, and for generations past have been begotten, not
by living fathers, and that suits us better and better. We are developing a
taste for it. Soon we shall contrive to be born somehow from an idea. But
enough; I don't want to write more from "Underground."
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