Fyodor Dostoevsky Notes from the Underground translations
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Notes from the Underground
1864
Fyodor Dostoevsky


Записки из подполья
1864
Фёдор Достое́вский

Я человек больной... Я злой человек. Непривлекательный я человек. Я думаю, что у меня болит печень. Впрочем, я ни шиша не смыслю в моей болезни и не знаю наверно, что у меня болит. Я не лечусь и никогда не лечился, хотя медицину и докторов уважаю. К тому же я еще и суеверен до крайности; ну, хоть настолько, чтоб уважать медицину. (Я достаточно образован, чтоб не быть суеверным, но я суеверен). Нет-с, я не хочу лечиться со злости. Вот этого, наверно, не изволите понимать. Ну-с, а я понимаю. Я, разумеется, не сумею вам объяснить, кому именно я насолю в этом случае моей злостью; я отлично хорошо знаю, что и докторам я никак не смогу «нагадить» тем, что у них не лечусь; я лучше всякого знаю, что всем этим я единственно только себе поврежу и никому больше. Но все-таки, если я не лечусь, так это со злости. Печенка болит, так вот пускай же ее еще крепче болит!

Я уже давно так живу — лет двадцать. Теперь мне сорок. Я прежде служил, а теперь не служу. Я был злой чиновник. Я был груб и находил в этом удовольствие. Ведь я взяток не брал, стало быть, должен же был себя хоть этим вознаградить. (Плохая острота; но я ее не вычеркну. Я ее написал, думая, что выйдет очень остро; а теперь, как увидел сам, что хотел только гнусно пофорсить, — нарочно не вычеркну!) Когда к столу, у которого я сидел, подходили, бывало, просители за справками, — я зубами на них скрежетал и чувствовал неумолимое наслаждение, когда удавалось кого-нибудь огорчить. Почти всегда удавалось. Большею частию все был народ робкий: известно — просители. Но из фертов я особенно терпеть не мог одного офицера. Он никак не хотел покориться и омерзительно гремел саблей. У меня с ним полтора года за эту саблю война была. Я наконец одолел. Он перестал греметь. Впрочем, это случилось еще в моей молодости. Но знаете ли, господа, в чем состоял главный пункт моей злости? Да в том-то и состояла вся штука, в том-то и заключалась наибольшая гадость, что я поминутно, даже в минуту самой сильнейшей желчи, постыдно сознавал в себе, что я не только не злой, но даже и не озлобленный человек, что я только воробьев пугаю напрасно и себя этим тешу. У меня пена у рта, а принесите мне какую-нибудь куколку, дайте мне чайку с сахарцем, я, пожалуй, и успокоюсь. Даже душой умилюсь, хоть уж, наверно, потом буду вам на себя скрежетать зубами и от стыда несколько месяцев страдать бессонницей. Таков уж мой обычай.

Это я наврал про себя давеча, что я был злой чиновник. Со злости наврал. Я просто баловством занимался и с просителями и с офицером, а в сущности никогда не мог сделаться злым. Я поминутно сознавал в себе много-премного самых противоположных тому элементов. Я чувствовал, что они так и кишат во мне, эти противоположные элементы. Я знал, что они всю жизнь во мне кишели и из меня вон наружу просились, но я их не пускал, не пускал, нарочно не пускал наружу. Они мучили меня до стыда; до конвульсий меня доводили и — надоели мне наконец, как надоели! Уж не кажется ли вам, господа, что я теперь в чем-то перед вами раскаиваюсь, что я в чем-то у вас прощенья прошу?.. Я уверен, что вам это кажется... А впрочем, уверяю вас, что мне все равно, если и кажется...

Ronald Wilks
2009


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I’m a sick man . . . I’m a spiteful man. I’m an unattractive man. I think there’s something wrong with my liver. But I understand damn all about my illness and I can’t say for certain which part of me is affected. I’m not receiving treatment for it and never have, although I do respect medicine and doctors. What’s more, l’m still extremely superstitious — well, sufficiently to respect medicine. (I’m educated enough not to be superstitious, but I am superstitious.) Oh no, I’m refusing treatment out of spite. That’s something you probably can’t bring yourselves to understand. Well, I understand it. Of course, in this case I can’t explain exactly to you whom I’m trying to harm by my spite. I realize perfectly well that I cannot ‘besmirch’ the doctors by not consulting them. I know better than anyone that by all this I’m harming no one but myself. All the same, if I refuse to have treatment it’s out of spite. So, if my liver hurts, let it hurt even more!
I've been living like this for a long time — about twenty years. I’m forty now. I used to work in a government department, but I don’t work there any more. I was a spiteful civil servant. I was rude and enjoyed being rude. You see, I never took bribes, so I had to compensate myself in some way. (That’s a rotten joke, but I don’t intend striking it out. I wrote it down thinking it could come across very witty, but now that I’ve seen that I only wanted to do a spot of vulgar bragging I shall let it stand on purpose!) Whenever people came with their petitions to the desk where I sat I would snarl at them and I felt inexhaustible pleasure whenever I succeeded in upsetting someone. And I was nearly always successful. For the most part they were a timid bunch — we all know what people asking for favours are like. But among those fops there was one particular officer whom I just couldn’t stand. He simply wouldn’t be brought to heel and had a nasty way of rattling his sabre. For eighteen months he and I waged war over that sabre. In the end I triumphed. He stopped the rattling. However, this happened when I was still young. And do you know, gentlemen, what was the main point of my malice? Well, the main point, indeed the crowning nastiness, was that even during my most splenetic moments I was constantly, shamefully, aware that not only was I not seething with spite but that I wasn’t even embittered, and was merely scaring sparrows in vain, for my own amusement. I might foam at the mouth, but just bring me some kind of toy, give me a cup of tea with sugar and most likely l’d calm down or even be deeply touched, although I’d be so ashamed. I would most cer- tainly grumble at myself afterwards and suffer from insomnia for several months. I’ve always been like that.
Well, I lied about myself just now when I said I was a spiteful civil servant. I lied out of spite. I was simply having a little fun with these petitioners and the officer, as in fact I could never really be spiteful. I was always conscious of the abundance of elements within me that were diametrically opposed to that.I felt that they were literally swarming inside me, those warring elements. I knew that they had been swarming there all my life, begging to be set free, but I wouldn’t set them free, oh no, I wouldn’t, I deliberately wouldn’t set them free. They tormented me until I felt ashamed; they brought on convulsions and -— in the end — they bored me, oh how they bored me! So don’t you think, gentlemen, that I’m repenting of something to you, asking you to forgive me for something? I’m certain that’s what you think. But I assure you that it’s all the same to me if that’s what you’re thinking . . .


Boris Jakim
2009


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I'm a sick man. . . . I'm an evil man. I'm an unattractive man. I think my liver is sick: it hurts. But I really don't understand squat about my sickness, and I'm not sure what hurts inside me. I'm not being treated, and have never been treated. even though I have respect for medicine and doctors. I'm also extremely superstitious — in fact. so superstitious that I even have respect for medicine. (I'm sufficiently educated not to be superstitious, but I am superstitious.) No, gentlemen, it's because I'm evil that I don't want to receive treatment. You. on your part, probably can't understand this. Well, sir, I understand it. Of course. I wouldn't be able to explain to you who exactly I'm trying to annoy by being evil: I know perfectly well that the doctors don't give a shit it I'm refusing their treatment: I know better than anyone that all this is hurting only me, nobody else. Nevertheless, if I'm not seeking treatment, it's because I'm evil and angry. My liver is sick and it hurts — well, let it hurt even more!
I've been living this way for a long time — for about twenty years. I'm forty years old now. I used to work in the civil service, but I no longer do. I was an evil and angry official. I was rude, and found pleasure in rudeness. After all, since I didn't take bribes, I had to reward myself in some other way. (A lame joke: but I won't cross it out. When I wrote it, I thought it would be very witty: but now when I see that I wrote it because I wanted to engage in a kind of vile swagger — I won't cross it out on purpose!) When petitioners would approach my desk for information. I'd gnash my teeth at them, and feel an insatiable pleasure if I succeeded in disappointing someone. And I almost always succeeded. For the most part these were timid people — petitioners, after all. But among the dandies there was a certain officer I particularly couldn't stand. He absolutely didn't want to submit to me, but instead would bang his saber in the most repulsive way. For a year and a half, he and I fought a war over this saber. And I finally prevailed. He stopped banging it. However, all this happened when I was still young. But do you know, gentlemen. what constituted the crux of my anger? The whole point of it, the really vile thing was that. every moment. even at those moments when I could taste the bitterest bile rising up in me. I was shamefully conscious that not only was I not angry on this occasion. but that I’m not even a fundamentally angry man, that I was only usclcssly scaring sparrows and finding consolation in that. I could be foaming at the mouth, but if you were to bring me some little doll, or some tea with sugar, I might calm down and my heart might even be touched, although later I would probably gnash my teeth at myself and, out of shame, suffer from sleeplessness for a few months. Such is my custom.


Hugh Aplin
2006


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I'm a sick man... I'm a malicious man. An unattractive man, I am. I think I've got something wrong with my liver. Still, I know damn an about my sickness and don't know for sure what it is I've got something wrong with. I'm not having treatment and never have had treatment, though I do respect medical science and doctors. What's more, I'm superstitious in the extreme too; well, enough at least to respect medical science. (I'm sufficiently educated not to be superstitious, but superstitious I am.) No, sirs, it's out of malice I don't want to have treatment. Now you probably won't deign to understand that. Well, sirs, but I do understand. It stands to reason, won't be able to explain to you precisely who it is I'll be spiting with my malice in this instance; I know perfectly well that by riot having their treatment I won't be able to 'do the dirty' in any way even on the doctors; I know better than anyone that I'll harm just myself alone by all this and no one else. But all the same, if I'm not having treatment, then it's out of malice. I've got something wrong with my liver, so let there go and be something even worse wrong with it!

I've been living like this for a long time already - about twenty years. I'm forty now. I used to have a job, but now I don't. I was a malicious official. I was rude and took pleasure in it. After all, I didn't take bribes, and was therefore obliged at least to reward myself like that. (A poor joke, but I won't cross it out. I wrote it, thinking it would come out very wittily, but now I've seen for myself that I only wanted to do some vile swanking, I won't cross it out on purpose!) Sometimes, when petitioners came up to the desk where I sat for information, I gnashed my teeth at them and felt unquenchable enjoyment whenever I succeeded in distressing anyone. I almost always

I rn a Sit& Max.- I am. I think I've got something wrong with my liver. Still, I know damn all about my sickness and don't know for sure what it is I've got something wrong with. I'm not having treatment and never have had treatment, though I do respect medical science and doctors. What's more, I'm superstitious in the extreme too; well, enough at least to respect medical science. (I'm sufficiently educated not to be superstitious, but superstitious I am.) No, sirs, it's out of malice I don't want to have treatment. Now you probably won't deign to understand that. Well, sirs, but I do understand. It stands to reason, I won't be able to explain to you precisely who it is I'll spiting with my malice in this instance; I know perfectly well that by not having their treatment I won't be able to 'do the dirty' in any way even on the doctors; I know better thar-anyone that I'll harm just myself alone by all this and no mot else. But all the same, if I'm not having treatment, then it's ma. of malice. I've got something wrong with my liver, so let ther-, go and be something even worse wrong with it! I've been living like this for a long time already - abot_ twenty years. I'm forty now. I used to have a job, but no I don't. I was a malicious official. I was rude and took pleasul in it. After all, I didn't take bribes, and was therefore obliged least to reward myself like that. (A poor joke, but I won't ert. it out. I wrote it, thinking it would come out very wittily, la. now I've seen for myself that I only wanted to do some Ar-swanking, I won't cross it out on purpose!) Sometimes, wish petitioners came up to the desk where I sat for inforrnati I gnashed my teeth at them and felt unquenchable enjoym.. whenever I succeeded in distressing anyone. I almost have

succeeded. For the most part they were always timid people; no wonder - they were petitioners. But of the smug ones, there was one officer in particular I couldn't stand. He didn't want to humble himself one bit and made a loathsome clatter with his sabre. He and I were at war for a year and a half over that sabre. l finally won. He stopped clattering. However, that happened when I was still young. But do you know, gentle-men, what the main point about my malice was? The whole thing was, the greatest filth lay in the fact that constantly, even at my most extremely bilious moment, I was shamefully conscious within myself that not only was I not a malicious, I was not even an embittered man, that I was only frightening the sparrows for nothing and amusing myself in doing so. I'm foaming at the mouth, but bring me some little doll, give me some tea with sugar in it, and I'll quite likely calm down. My soul will even be touched, although later on I'll probably gnash my teeth at myself and suffer from insomnia for several months out of shame. Such is my custom.

I lied about myself just now, saying I was a malicious official. Lied out of malice. I was simply indulging myself, both with the petitioners and with the officer, but in essence could never make myself malicious. I was constantly conscious of very, very many elements within myself that were the absolute opposite of that. I felt they were simply teeming inside me, those opposing elements. I knew they'd been teeming inside me all my life and had been begging to get out of me, but I hadn't let them out, hadn't let them, hadn't let them out deliberately. They tormented me to the point of shame, brought me to convulsions and - finally I was sick of them, how sick I was! But doesn't it seem to you, gentlemen, that I'm repenting of something befiire you now, that I'm asking forgiveness of you for something?...


Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky
1993


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I am a sick man . . . I am a wicked man. An unattractive man. I think my liver hurts. However, I don't know a fig about my sickness, and am not sure what it is that hurts me. I am not being treated and never have been, though I respect medicine and doctors. What’s more, I am also superstitious in the extreme; well, at least enough to respect medicine. (I'm sufficiently educated not to be superstitious, but I am.) No, sir, I refuse to be treated out of wickedness. Now, you will certainly not be so good as to understand this. Well, sir, but I understand it. I will not, of course, be able to explain to you precisely who is going to suffer in this case from my wicked- ness; I know perfectly well that I will in no way “muck things up” for the doctors by not taking their treatment; I know better than anyone that by all this I am harming only myself and no one else. But still, if I don’t get treated, it is out of wickedness. My liver hurts; well, then let it hurt even worse!
I've been living like this for a long time—about twenty years. I’m forty now. I used to be in the civil service; I no longer am. I was a wicked oflicial. I was rude, and took plea- sure in it. After all, I didn't accept bribes, so I had to reward myself at least with that. (A bad witticism, but I won't cross it out. I wrote it thinking it would come out very witty; but now, seeing for myself that I simply had a vile wish to swagger—I purposely won't cross it out!) When petitioners would come for information to the desk where I sat—I’d gnash my teeth at them, and felt an inexhaustible delight when I managed to upset someone. I almost always managed. They were timid people for the most part: petitioners, you know. But among the fops there was one officer I especially could not stand. He simply refused to submit and kept rattling his sabre disgustingly. I was at war with him over that sabre for a year and a half. In the end, I prevailed. He stopped rattling. However, that was still in my youth. But do you know, gentlemen, what was the main point about my wickedness? The whole thing precisely was, the greatest nastines precisely lay in my being shamefully conscious every moment, even in moments of the greatest bile, that I was not only not a wicked but was not even an embittered man, that I was simply frightening sparrows in vain, and pleasing myself with it. I'm foaming at the mouth, but bring me some little doll, give me some tea with a bit of sugar, and maybe I’ll calm down. I'll even wax tenderhearted, though afterwards I'll certainly gnash my teeth at myself and suffer from insomnia for a few months out of shame. Such is my custom.
And I lied about myself just now when I said I was a wicked official. I lied out of wickedness. I was simply playing around both with the petitioners and with the oflicer, but as a matter of fact I was never able to become wicked. I was conscious every moment of so very many elements in myself most opposite to that. I felt them simply swarming in me, those opposite elements. I knew they had been swarming in me all my life, asking to be let go out of me, but I would not let them, I would not, I purposely would not let them out. They tormented me to the point of shame; they drove me to convulsions, and- finally I got sick of them, oh, how sick I got! But do you not perhaps think, gentlemen, that I am now repenting of some- thing before you, that I am asking your forgiveness for some- thing? . . . I'm sure you think so . . . However, I assure you that it is all the same to me even if you do . . .
Not just wicked, no, I never even managed to become anything: neither wicked not good, neither a scoundrel nor an honest man, neither a hero nor an insect. And now I am living out my life in my corner, taunting myself with the spiteful and utterly futile consolation that it is even impossible for an intelligent man seriously to become anything, and only fools become something. Yes, sir, an intelligent man of the nineteenth century must be and is morally obliged to be primarily a characterless being; and a man of character, an active figure-—primarily a limited being. This is my forty-year-old conviction. I am now forty years old, and, after all, forty years-is a whole lifetime; after all, it's the most extreme old age. To live beyond forty is indecent, banal, immoral! Who lives beyond forty—answer me sincerely, honestly? I’ll tell you who does: fools and scoundrels do. I’ll say it in the faces of all the elders, all these venerable elders, all these silver-haired and sweet-smelling elders! I'll say it in the whole world's face! I have the right to speak this way, because I myself will live to be sixty. I’ll live to be seventy! I’ll live to be eighty! . . . Wait! let me catch my breath . . .


Jane Kentish
1991


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I am a sick man . . . I'm a spiteful man. I’m an unattractive man. I think there is something wrong with my liver. But I cannot make head or tail of my illness and I’m not absolutely certain which part of me is sick. I’m not receiving any treatment, nor have I ever done, although I do respect medicine and doctors. Besides, I'm still extremely superstitious, if only in that I respect medicine. (I’m sufficiently well educated not to be superstitious, but I am.) No, it’s out of spite that I don’t want to be cured. You'll probably not see fit to understand this. But I do understand it. Of course, I won’t be able to explain to you precisely whom I will harm in this instance by my spite; I know perfectly well that I cannot in any way ‘sully’ the doctors by not consulting them. I know better than anyone that in doing this I shall harm no one but myself. Anyway, if I’m not receiving medical treatment it’s out of spite. If my liver is hurting, then let it hurt all the more!
I’ve been living like this for a long time—for about twenty years. I’m now forty. I used to work for the government, but I no longer work. I was a spiteful civil servant. I was rude and I enjoyed being rude. You see, I didn’t accept bribes so I had to reward myself in this way. (That's a lousy joke, but I won’t delete it. I wrote it thinking that it would come across very wittily; but now that I can see that I only wanted to show off in a vulgar way, I'm deliberately not going to cross it out.) When people used to come with their enquiries to the desk where I sat I would bare my teeth at them and I used to feel an overwhelming sense of pleasure whenever I succeeded in upsetting someone. It nearly always worked. The majority of them were timid folk—we all know what petitioners are like. But amidst the fops there was one particular officer whom I couldn’t stand. He simply would not give in and used to rattle his sword loathsomely. He and I waged war this sword for a year and a half. Finally I won. He stopped the rattling. This, however, took place in my youth. Gentlemen, do you know what lay at the heart of my malice? The main point, and indeed the most sordid thing about it, was that, even during moments of extreme biliousness, I was constantly and shamefully aware that not only was I not spiteful, I was not even embittered. I was simply comforting myself by scaring sparrows in vain. I might be foaming at the mouth, but bring me some kind of toy, give me a cup of sugary tea, and it’s more than likely I’d calm down. I might even be spiritually moved, but I’d be certain to snarl at myself afterwards and suffer insomnia for several months out of shame. I’ve always been like this.
I lied about myself just now when I said I was a spiteful civil servant. I lied out of spite. I was simply being mischievous with these people and their enquiries and with the officer, and in reality could never have been spiteful. I was ever aware of the great number of completely conflicting elements within me. I felt that they were literally swarming around inside me, these conflicting elements. I knew they had been swarming inside me all my life and that they were begging to be released, but I would not let them out, I wouldn’t, I deliberately wouldn't let them out. They tormented me shamefully; they brought on convulsions and, well, finally I grew bored of them, goodness how they bored me! Gentlemen, do you think I’m making a confession to you, asking your forgiveness for something? . . . I’m sure that’s what you think . . . But I assure you that I couldn't careless even if you do think so . . .


Jessie Coulson
1972


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I am a sick man. . . . I am an angry man. I am an unattractive man. I think there is something wrong with my liver. But I don't understand the least thing about my illness, and I don't know for certain what part of me is affected. I am not having any treatment for it, and never have had, although I have a great respect for medicine and for doctors. I am besides extremely superstitious, if only in having such respect for medicine. (I am well educated enough not to be superstitious, but superstitious I am.) No, I refuse treatment out of spite. That is something you will probably not understand. Well, I understand it. I can't of course explain who my spite is directed against in this matter; I know perfectly well that I can't ‘score off the doctors in any way by not consulting them; I know better than anybody that I am harming nobody but myself. All the same, if I don't have treatment, it is out of spite. Is my liver out of order? — let it get worse!
I have been living like this for a long time now - about twenty years. I am forty. I once used to work in the government service but I don't now. I was a bad civil servant. I was rude, and I enjoyed being rude. After all, I didn't take bribes, so I had to have some compensation. (A poor witticism; but I won't cross it out. When I wrote it down, I thought it would seem very pointed: now, when I see that I was simply trying to be clever and cynical, I shall leave it in on purpose.) When people used to come to the desk where I sat, asking for information, I snarled at them, and was hugely delighted when I succeeded in hurting somebody’s feelings. I almost always did succeed. They were mostly timid people — you know what people looking for favours are like. But among the swaggerers there was one oflicer I simply couldn't stand. He absolutely refused to be intimidated, and he made a disgusting clatter with his sword. I carried on a campaign against him for eighteen months over that sword. I won in the end. He stopped making a clatter with it. This, however, was when I was still young. But do you know what was the real point of my bad temper? The main point, and the supreme nastiness, lay in the fact that even at my moments of greatest spleen, I was constantly and shamefully aware that not only was I not seething with fury, I was not even angry; I was simply scaring sparrows for my own amusement. I might be foaming at the mouth, but bring me some sort of toy to play with, or a nice sweet cup of tea, and I would calm down and even be stirred to the depths, although I would probably turn on myself afterwards, and suffer from insomnia for months. That was always my way.
I was lying when I said just now that I was a bad civil servant. I was lying out of spite. I was simply playing a game with the officer and my other callers; in reality I never could make myself malevolent. I was always conscious of many elements showing the directly opposite tendency. I felt them positively swarming inside me, these elements. I knew they had swarmed there all my life, asking to be let out, but I wouldn't let them out, I wouldn't, I wouldn't. They tormented me shamefully; they drove me into convulsions and — in the end they bored me, oh, how they bored me! You think that now I'm making some sort of confession to you, asking your forgiveness, don't you? . . . I'm sure you do . . . But I assure you it's all the same to me if you do think so.
Not only couldn't I make myself malevolent, I couldn't make myself anything: neither good not bad, neither a scoundrel nor an honest man, neither a hero nor an insect. Now I go on living in my corner and irritating myself with the spiteful and worthless consolation that a wise man can't seriously make himself anything, only a fool makes himself anything. Yes, a man of the nineteenth century ought, indeed is morally bound, to be essentially without character; a man of character, a man who acts, is essentially limited. Such is my forty-year-old conviction. I am forty now, and forty years is a lifetime; it is extreme old age. To go on living after forty is unseemly, disgusting, immoral! Who goes on living after forty? give me a sincere and honest answer! I'll tell you: fools and rogues. I'll tell all the old men that to their faces, all those venerable elders, those silver-haired, fragrant old men. I'll tell the whole world! I have the right to talk like this, because I'm going to live to be sixty. Seventy! Eighty! . . . Stop, let me get my breath back . . . !
You probably think I'm trying to amuse you. You're wrong there too. I'm not such a cheerful fellow as you think, or as you perhaps think; if, however, annoyed by all this chatter (and I can feel you are annoyed), you ask me positively who I am - I answer, I am a Collegiate Assessor. I joined the civil service in order to cam my bread (and for no other reason), and when last year a distant relative left me six thousand roubles in his will, I retired immediately and settled down inmy little corner. I lived in this same comer even before that, but now I've settled down in it. My room is mean and shabby, on the outskirts of the town. My servant is a peasant woman, old, crabbed, and stupid, and what's more, she always smells bad. I am told that the climate of St Petersburg is bad for me, and that, with my insignificant means, it costs too much to live here. I know all that, a lot better than all my extremely wise and experienced advisers and head-shakers. But I shall stay here; I will not leave St Petersburg! I won't go away because. . . . Oh, after all, it doesn't matter in the least whether I go away or I don't.


Ralph E. Matlaw (A revision of Constance Garnett)
1960


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I am a sick man . . . I am a spiteful man. I am an unpleasant man. I think my liver is diseased. However, I don't know beans about my disease, and I am not sure what is bothering me. I don't treat it and never have, though I respect medicine and doctors. Besides, I am extremely superstitious, let's say sufliciently so to respect medicine. I am educated enough not to be superstitious, but I am.) No, I refuse to treat it out of spite. You probably will not understand that. Well, but understand it. Of course, I can't explain to you just whom I am annoying in this case by my spite. I am perfectly well aware that I cannot "get even" with the doctors by not consulting them. I know better than anyone that I thereby injure only myself and no one else. But still, if I don t treat it, it is out of spite. My liver is bad. well then—let it get even worse!


Constance Garnett
1915


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I am a sick man... I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I believe my liver is diseased. However, I know nothing at all about my disease, and do not know for certain what ails me. I don't consult a doctor for it, and never have, though I have a respect for medicine and doctors. Besides, I am extremely superstitious, sufficiently so to respect medicine, anyway (I am well-educated enough not to be superstitious, but I am superstitious). No, I refuse to consult a doctor from spite. That you probably will not understand. Well, I understand it, though. Of course, I can't explain who it is precisely that I am mortifying in this case by my spite: I am perfectly well aware that I cannot "pay out" the doctors by not consulting them; I know better than anyone that by all this I am only injuring myself and no one else. But still, if I don't consult a doctor it is from spite. My liver is bad, well—let it get worse!
I have been going on like that for a long time—twenty years. Now I am forty. I used to be in the govemment service, but am no longer. I was a spiteful of ficial. I was rude and took pleasure in being so. I did not take bribes, you see, so I was bound to find a recompense in that, at least. (A poor jest, but I will not scratch it out. I wrote it thinking it would sound very witty; but now that I have seen myself that I only wanted to show off in a despicable way, I will not scratch it out on purpose!) When petitioners used to come for information to the table at which I sat, I used to grind my teeth at them, and felt intense enjoyment when I succeeded in making anybody unhappy. I almost did succeed. For the most part they were all timid people—of course, they were petitioners. But of the uppish ones there was one officer in particular I could 11ot endure. He simply would not be humble, and clanked his sword in a disgusting way. I carried on a feud with him for eighteen months over that sword. At last I got the better of him. He left off clanking it. That happened in my youth, though. But do you know, gentlemen, what was the chief point about my spite‘? Why, the whole point, the real sting of it lay in the fact that continually, even in the moment of the acutest spleen, I was inwardly conscious with shame that I was not only not a spiteful but not even an embittered man, that I was simply scaring sparrows at random and amusing myself by it. I might foam at the mouth, but bring me a doll to play with, give me a cup of tea with sugar in it, and maybe I should be appeased. I might even be genuinely touched, though probably I should grind my teeth at myself aflerwards and lie awake at night with shame for months after. That was my way.
I was lying when I said just now that I was a spiteful official. I was lying from spite. I was simply amusing myself with the petitioners and with the officer, and in reality I never could become spiteful. I was conscious every moment in myself of many, very many elements absolutely opposite to that. I felt them positively swarming in me, these opposite elements. I knew that they had been swarming in me all my life and craving some outlet from me, but I would not let them, would not let them, purposely would not let them come out. They tormented me till I was ashamed: they drove me to convulsions and—sickened me, at last, how they sickened me! Now, are not you fancying, gentlemen, that I am expressing remorse for something now, that I am asking your forgiveness for something? I am sure you are fancying that... However, I assure you I do not care if you are...
It was not only that I could not become spiteful, I did not know how to become anything; neither spiteful nor kind, neither a rascal nor an honest man, neither a hero nor an insect. Now, I am living out my life in my comer, taunting myself with the spiteful and useless consolation that an intelligent man cannot become anything seriously, and it is only the fool who becomes anything. Yes, a man in the nineteenth century must and morally ought to be pre-eminently a characterless creature; a man of character, an active man is pre-eminently a limited creature. That is my conviction of forty years. I am forty years old now, and you know forty years is a whole lifetime; you know it is extreme old age. To live longer than forty years is bad manners, is vulgar, immoral. Who does live beyond forty? Answer that, sincerely and honestly I will tell you who do: fools and worthless fellows. I tell all old men that to their face, all these venerable old men, all these silver-haired and reverend seniors! I tell the whole world that to its face! I have a right to say so, for I shall go on living to sixty myself. To seventy! To eightyl... Stay, let me take breath...


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