The Last Delusion in an Infinite Series of Delusions: Stavrogin and the Symbolic Structure of The Devils
Jostein Boertnes, University of Oslo
According to a well-known passage in Anna Dostoevskaja's memoirs (1971:190f.), it was her younger brother who provided Dostoevsky with the theme for his novel about the nihilists when in the autumn of 1869 he came to visit them in Dresden. A student at the Moscow Agricultural College, Dostoevsky's brother-in-law gave a vivid description of student life at the college, where political unrest was expected to break out at any moment.
"And it was from this that Fyodor Mikhaylovich conceived the idea of depicting the political movement of the time in one of his novels, and of taking as one of its main characters the student Ivanov (under the name of Shatov) who was later murdered by Nechayev."
In spite of the doubts expressed by scholars such as Arkadij Dolinin and Leonid Grossman about the details of Anna Grigor'evna's account, it has been generally accepted that Dostoevsky first conceived of
The Devils as a pamphlet directed against the nihilists, and that the idea of combining it with a new, psychological subplot centered around the figure of Stavrogin came only at a later stage, when Dostoevsky was unable to proceed with his original conception. The publication of the notebooks for
The Devils in their chronological order, however, gives us a different picture of the novel's
Entstehungsgeschichte. As the editors point out, Anna Grigor'evna's version "is in need of a proper corrective" (Dostoevsky 1975:162f.), And so are, we might add, Grossman's and Dolinin's reconstructions.
From the notebooks we learn that the "Stavrogin story" belongs to the initial phase of Dostoevsky's work on the novel, preceding, in fact, the development of its political theme. In the very first draft, jotted down at the beginning of 1870 (Dostoevsky 1974:58ff.), the novel is referred to as
Envy (Zavist'), Here we are already able to discern in the brilliant but vindictive Prince A.B. and in the Teacher, a somewhat ridiculous character,
conceived as an embodiment of ideal beauty, the future figures of Stavrogin and Shatov. Similarly, we recognize in the sketches of the Prince's mother, of the
Krasavica, and of the Vospitannica, the outlines of Varvara Petrovna, Stavrogin's mother, of Liza Tushina, and of Darja Pavlovna, Shatov's sister. In the first draft, the
Krasavica is being courted by both the Prince and the Teacher. But like the young heroine of Dostoevsky's pre-Siberian story, "The Landlady", and like Nastasja Filippovna in
The Idiot, finished in January 1869, the Krasavica is unable to choose between her two suitors. The two rivals are interlocked in a highly ambivalent relationship, "между
ними легла зависть и ненависть", while at the same time they are drawn towards each other by a feeling of mutual affection, the Prince seeking to have it out with the Teacher, wanting to learn from him, and secretly weeping on his shoulder (Откровенное
у учителя. Плачет на
груди его. Никто этого не знает; втайне". Dostoevsky 1974b:60f.).
The whole setup turns out to be just another variation of one of Dostoevsky's compositional schemes, the "eternal triangle," involving two men and a woman, or two women and one man, in a complex relationship of conflicting emotions, where love and attraction coexist with jealousy and hatred. The configuration Dostoevsky played around with in the first drafts for
The Devils seems to go back to an unfinished story from 1859, "Spring Love" ("Весенняя
любовь"), in which a young girl, a prince, and a budding writer form a similar triangle (Dostoevsky 1972:443ff.).
The publication of the notebooks gives new support to the theory put forward by René Girard (1961), according to whom the structure of
The Devils is based on the principle of what he calls "triangular desire." Although in many ways still unsurpassed, Girard's interpretation of
The Devils has never been integrated into the general understanding of the novel. In fact most critics still write as if his study did not exist.
Girard's starting point is the passage from Don Quixote in which the hidalgo explains the essence of chivalry as an imitation of the famous Amadis of Gaul, the most perfect of all the knights errant, in the same way that the life of the Christian saint is an imitation of Christ. From this passage Girard develops his own theory of "triangular desire":
Don Quixote has surrendered to Amadis the individual's fundamental prerogative: he no longer chooses the objects of his own desire—Amadis must choose for him, or at least seem to be determined for him, by the model of all chivalry. We shall call the model the
mediator of desire (1966:1f.).
In contrast to "spontaneous desire," which may be represented by a straight line from subject to object,
mediated desire involves a model. Graphically it may be illustrated by a triangle, where the mediator is situated above the straight line between subject and object, related to both. This triangle represents an invariant structure. The object of desire may change,' but the relationship between object, subject, and mediator, remains constant. Mediated desire, therefore, may be defined as desire
according to Another (Girard 1966:4).
In Cervantes's novel the mediator belongs to a world transcending the world of the hero. In the "modern novel," i.e., the novel as we know it from the works of Stendhal, Flaubert, Dostoevsky, and Proust, the distance between the world of the subject and the world of the mediator has been reduced, with the effect that their spheres interpenetrate. When this happens, Girard speaks of
internal mediation, in contrast to external mediation, where the distance is sufficient to forestall any contact between the two worlds.
Girard applies his model, which is, of course, a generalization of Freud's
Oedipal triangle (cf.1966:186f., n.1), in the analysis of the complex
relationships existing between the characters of the modern novel, where it
enables him to lay bare the hidden psychological mechanism underlying the
emotional ambiguity of these relationships. He shows, for instance, how, in the
case of internal mediation, the subject's impulse towards the object, which is
at the same time an impulse towards the mediator, is checked by the mediator,
who himself desires, or possesses, the object. This creates a love-hate
relationship between subject and mediator, which goes a long way in explaining
such phenomena as sadomasochism, Hegel's concept of "the unhappy consciousness,"
and his "dialectic of master and slave" (cf. 1966:1l0f.).
The subject is
convinced that the model considers himself too superior to accept him as a
disciple. The subject is torn between two
opposite feelings toward his model - the most submissive reverence and the most intense malice (1966:10).
The heroes of Notes from the Underground and The Eternal Husband are among Girard's most illuminating examples of this form of internalized triangular desire. It is in
The Devils, however, that Dostoevsky's representation of internal mediation reaches its apogee, according to Girard. Within the framework of his theory, the figure of Nicholaj Stavrogin emerges as the mediator of all the other main characters of the novel. "To understand Stavrogin we must look on him as a model and consider his relations with his 'disciples'" (1966:59f.).
In Girard's reading of The Devils, Stavrogin emerges as the source from which "the possessed" receive all their ideas and desires. He is their "idol," in whose "satanic grandeur" we should recognize "an image of Antichrist" (1966:60). In the world of the novel, defined as "the reversed image of the Christian universe," the "positive mediation of the saint" is replaced by the "negative mediation of anguish and hate" (1966:6O). The "deviated transcendency" of internal mediation takes the form of a "caricature of vertical transcendency," and more clearly than most Dostoevsky scholars, Girard defines the parodic nature of the novel's "distorted mysticism" as an inversion of true worship, an inversion where, in his own words, every single element has its "luminous counterpart in Christian truth" (1966:61).
Girard has no difficulty in supporting his theory by quotations and references to Dostoevsky's own text. He cites the relationships of Kirillov, Shatov, Lebjadkin, and Petr Verkhovenskij, to Stavrogin, defining these various relationships as different examples of internal mediation, describing how they all regard Stavrogin as their "light," their "sun" and their "Ivan-Carevich." He is the figure before whom Mar'ja Timofeevna asks to kneel down and worship. But he is also the person whom she unmasks as the impostor. As the center of the novel, Stavrogin, in Girard's interpretation, "provides a veritable allegory of internal mediation" (1966:61).
Girard's theory of triangular desire has provided us with a new insight into the psychological mechanisms regulating the interrelationships between the other characters and Stavrogin in
The Devils. Their emotional behaviors are interpreted according to the "laws of triangular desire."
At the same time, however, Girard, by focusing so exclusively on the psychological aspect of internal mediation, has come to disregard the problem of
mimesis in the relationship between the imitator and his prototype. This imbalance is felt already in his analysis of
If we go back to Cervantes's novel, we shall recall that the hero's imitation of Amadis is compared with the
imitatio Christi of the Christian saint. The novel is, as it were, a profane counterpart and parody of the
vitae sanctorum. As a prototype and model, Amadis is a complete and finite hero, taken over from another text and parodied by Cervantes in his story about the life and adventures of the knight of the rueful countenance. But in spite of the parody, Don Quixote and the saintly heroes of medieval hagiography have one basic feature in common: their overriding desire is to transform themselves into an image of the prototype in order to be united, become one with the model regulating their behavior. Dulcinea or the windmills can only be defined as objects of Don Quixote's desire as long as they represent the ideal prototypes of chivalry. The irony of
Don Quixote is due to the illusory nature of the prototypes. They exist only in the mind of the protagonist. Here lies the decisive contrast between Cervantes's parodic use of the "Urbild-Abbild" structure and the function of this structure in the lives of the Saints, where the prototypes belong to a divine reality transcending the world of subjective imagination.
In Madame Bovary, where the heroine's similarity to Don Quixote has become a commonplace in literary criticism, Emma imitates the desire of the romantic lovers she read about in forbidden novels at the convent school and of their modern equivalents in Parisian high society, as she knows them from her journals of fashion. Emma's lovers, Leon and Rodolphe, play a role in her life analogous to that of Dulcinea in the life of Don Quixote. They become objects of her desire only insofar as she recognizes in their figures the features of the ideal prototypes of her imagination.
Stendhal's Le rouge et le noir presents us with a somewhat different relationship between hero and prototype. The life of Julien Sorel takes the form of a conscious imitation of Napoleon, the exemplar and model regulating his behavior. But in Stendhal's novel the hero's imitation has been combined with a complex pattern of "eternal
triangles," dominated by jealousy and rivalry, in a way that anticipates a characteristic aspect of Dostoevsky's poetics. Nevertheless, the structure of
The Devils is very unlike that of Le rouge et le noir. Julien's imitation of Napoleon has more in common with Raskol’nikov, whose act of murder is determined by his desire to transform himself into a new Napoleon. In contrast to Stendhal, however, Dostoevsky in
Crime and Punishment juxtaposes Raskol'nikov's image of Napoleon as the prototype of the profane with the New Testament reading of the Resurrection of Lazarus as an image of the sacred, thus bringing together within the same novel the sublime prototype of the Bible and its opposite, Napoleon as a symbolic representation of the ruler of this world.
This combination and confrontation of the sublime and its diabolic inversion is a fundamental device in Dostoevsky, setting his mature works apart from the novels of Cervantes, Stendhal, and Flaubert, in spite of the features they have in common. In Dostoevsky's art the binary relationship between prototype and image has an aesthetic value independent of the ternary relationship between subject, mediator, and object desired. Exploiting to the full the poetic potential of triangular desire, Dostoevsky at the same time transcends its psychological sphere, creating a poetic universe where the prototypes acquire a meaning of their own, independently of the subjective phantasies of the individual characters. At this level imitation can no longer be exhaustively analyzed in terms of a subject-object relation. In Dostoevsky there is a point where image and prototype are brought together in an equivalence relation based on the principle of similarity and contrast. And it is here that the images reveal their true poetic function as perceptible expressions of the poetic world, of the "transreality" of ideas and spiritual prototypes, to use the term introduced by Konrad Onasch (1976:235). In this perspective, the problem of imitation coincides with the problem of defining the various degrees of likeness that relate an image to its ideal prototype, ranging from near-identity to the greatest possible dissimilarity. Approaching
The Devils from this angle, our task will thus be to work out the relationships between the different characters and their prototypes, trying at the same time to define the nature of the latter.
We first encounter the problem of image and prototype in the narrator's introductory account of the older
generation, focused on the life-long friendship of Varvara Petrovna, Stavrogin's mother, and his one-time tutor, Stepan Trofimovich Verkhovenskij. Over the years this friendship has developed into a love-hate relationship, and the narrator takes a slightly ironic view of their tribulations:
Действительно, Варвара Петровна наверно и весьма часто его ненавидела; но он
одного только в ней не приметил до самого конца, того, что стал наконец для нее
ее сыном, ее созданием, даже, можно сказать, ее изобретением, стал плотью от
плоти ее, и что она держит и содержит его вовсе не из одной только "зависти к
его талантам". И как, должно быть, она была оскорбляема такими предположениями!
В ней таилась какая-то нестерпимая любовь к нему, среди беспрерывной ненависти,
ревности и презрения. Она охранила его от каждой пылинки, нянчилась в ним
двадцать два года, не спала бы целых ночей от заботы, если бы дело коснулось до
его репутации поэта, ученого, гражданского деятеля. Она его выдумала и в свою
выдумку сама же первая и уверовала. Он был нечто вроде какой-то ее мечты... Но
она требовала от него за это действительно многого, иногда даже рабства. (Dostoevsky 1974а:16).
To Girard, the relationship between the two friends serves as an example of double mediation and the dialectic of master and slave, of what he calls the "ultimate stage of internal mediation" (1966:172). In our present discussion, we are more interested in another aspect of their relationship, namely Varvara Petrovna's act of giving substance and form to her dreams and fantasies by transferring them to the figure of Stepan Trofimovich. The narrator informs us that the prototype of these dreams is an engraved portrait of the playwright Kukol'nik, reproduced in an edition of his works in the 1830's, which Varvara Petrovna fell in love with as a schoolgirl, and which she still, at the age of fifty, keeps among her most cherished treasures. In her endeavors to recreate in the figure of her friend the features of her schoolgirl ideal, she designs a dress for him which is a copy of the one worn by Kukol'nik in the portrait, so that Stepan Trofimovich walks around like a living image of the engraving.
In the passage quoted above, the narrator's ironic stance is revealed in the mock-religious language he has chosen for his description, referring to Stepan Trofimovich as Varvara Petrovna's "son" and "creation" —
"flesh of her flesh," the last expression directly alluding to the words with which Adam first greeted the wife God made for him in the garden of Eden (Gen. 2:23). In
The Devils, however, where, as John Jones has recently observed, the reader so often finds himself "on the side of the narrative against the narrator" (1983:227), the irony of the narrator depends on his restricted point of view, and his words hide a meaning which is only revealed in the wider context of the novel. Varvara Petrovna has once, in her youth, perceived the ideal image of the poet in the portrait of Kukol'-nik, and she wants to turn Stepan Trofimovich into a living embodiment of her ideal. This is the miracle she is waiting for to happen throughout the novel: the moment of identity between the outward, visual appearance of Stepan Trofimovich, dressed up to represent her ideal, and her idea of him as a poet. But this moment of epiphany fails to occur. It is only when Stepan Trofimovich finally sheds the dress that has turned him into a copy of Varvara Petrovna's ideal image of the poet, and through his conversion at the end of the novel is transformed into an image of the possessed healed by Christ in the New Testament, that his appearance becomes an expression of the divine image hidden in his heart. At this stage he has freed himself from the host of ideas that dominate the world of
The Devils. The story of Stepan Trofimovich's life as the living image of his friend's ideal, and his final achievement of identity with his divine prototype, create a framework for the story about Stavrogin and his satellites, a backdrop against which the devils unfold their schemes.
One of the distinguishing features of The Devils is its collective character. It is a novel not about the life and adventures of a central, main hero, but about a multiplicity of heroes all interrelated, and all centered around their "idol," Stavrogin. It is, as we shall see, a novel about idolatry, i.e., about the creation of idols. This is the central theme of the novel, developed in a series of parallel strands, first in a light, almost jocular mood in the narrator's recapitulation of the platonic friendship between Varvara Petrovna and Stepan Trofimovich, but gradually changing into grotesque farce and tragedy. Through the story about Varvara Petrovna's act of turning her friend into a copy of her ideal, the reader is given a key to the poetic code of the novel. Its paradigmatic function is reinforced by Varvara Petrovna's general description of the process in one of the novel's central scenes, the gathering at her home after mass, when Stavrogin makes his first
appearance, and his mother is trying to find out about his relationship to Mar'ja Timofeevna,
the limping fool whom he has secretly married in the days when he went slumming
in the back streets of St. Petersburg. When trying to explain to herself the
true nature of this relationship, she provides the reader with another clue to
the central theme of the novel: -
- Вы поймете тогда тот порыв, по которому в этой слепоте благородства вдруг
берут человека даже недостойного себя во всех отношениях, человека, глубоко не
понимающего вас/ готового вас измучить при всякой первой возможности, и
такого-то человека, на перекор всему, воплощают вдруг в какой-то идеал, в свою
мечту, совокупляют на нем все надежды свои, преклоняются пред ним, любят его всю
жизнь, совершенно не зная за что, - может быть, именно за то, он недостоин
того... (Dostoevsky 1974a:152f.).
Although Varvara Petrovna may not have understood the full meaning of her own words, they point to a structural isomorphism between her own relationship to Stepan Trofimovich and that of Mar'ja Timofeevna to Stavrogin. When she unexpectedly finds herself face to face with her husband after five years of separation, Mar'ja Timofeevna's behavior
and attitude towards him look like a perfect example of imitative desire:
Марья Тимофеевна, вся замирая от испуга, к нему навстречу и сложила, как бы
умоляя его, собою руки; а вместе с тем вспоминается и восторг в ее
взгляде, какой-то безумный восторг, почти исказивши ее черты, - восторг,
который трудно людьми выносится. Может, было и то и другое, и испуг и
восторг... Он стоял пред ней в самой почтительной позе ... Бедняжка
стремительным полушопотом, задыхаясь, пролепетала ему:
-А мне можно... сейчас... стать пред вами на колени? (Dostoevsky 1974a:146)
This scene represents Mar'ja Timofeevna's attitude of fear and trembling in front of Stavrogin. Her feelings towards the object of her desire are the very opposite of Vera Petrovna's hatred and demand for total submission, an inversion of the love-hate relationship of the two old friends. But the basic pattern remains the same. Mar'ja Timofeevna, too, has projected the ideal hero of her fantasies onto a figure in her immediate surroundings, who, when he entered her squalid life, appeared
to her as the fulfilment of all her dreams. During his absence, she has prepared herself for the final miracle of seeing Stavrogin transformed into the incarnation of her "князь" and "ясный
сокол," who "и
и нет," the fairy tale prince come to save her from her wretched state.
Is this the "deification of the mediator" that Girard writes about? The answer to our question depends on the definition of the term "mediator." Defined according to the function of the mediator in Girard's triangle, the term cannot be applied to Stavrogin, either in this particular instance or in the context of the novel as a whole. His function, like that of Stepan Verkhovenskij in relation to Varvara Petrovna, is not identical with the function of Amadis as the mediator in the life of Don Quixote or with Napoleon's role as the model of Julien Sorel's imitative desire. Stavrogin's function in the life of Mar'ja Timofeevna corresponds to that of Dulcinea in the life of Cervantes's hero, or, to find a more suitable analogy, to the function of Rodolphe or Leon in the life of Emma Bovary. Like Flaubert's heroine, Mar'ja Timofeevna is projecting an image created by her dreams and fantasies onto a figure resembling her image in an attempt to realise in her own life the melodramatic patterns of the legends and tales of popular literature that she has taken over from her books, very much like Emma. The equivalent of Amadis in the life of Mar'ja Timofeevna is never explicitly referred to in the novel, but it would be the heroines of the tales from which she has formed her image of the prince.
Applied to Stavrogin and to Stepan Trofimovich, the term "mediator" would therefore carry a meaning different from what it refers to in Girard's triangle (and there seems to be a certain ambiguity in Girard's use of the term). In
The Devils Stavrogin and Stepan Trofimovich both fail in their roles as potential mediators and perceptible expressions of the two women's ideals. And when Mar'ja Timofeevna, in a moment of recognition, discovers the discrepancy between Stavrogin and the image of the prince with whom she has identified him, she immediately switches to its negative equivalent, substituting the image of Grishka Otrepev, the cursed pretender to the Russian throne, for that of the prince.
The binary structure of the prototype, or Urbild, and its perceptible representation, or
Abbild, is manifest
in all the significant relationships formed in The Devils between Stavrogin and the other characters. It is particularly palpable in the relationships of Shatov, Kirillov, and Petr Verkhovenskij, to their "idol." Shatov, who in the novel is so close to Mar'ja Timofeevna, is also the male character whose relations with Stavrogin most resemble hers.
Like Mar'ja Timofeevna, Shatov meets Stavrogin after a period of separation, and in the meantime he has identified Stavrogin, his "учтель
вещавший огромные слова," with the ideas that his teacher two years ago implanted into the heart of his pupil, the "ученик
воскревший из мертвых" (Dostoevsky 1974a:196). Now he expects to find in Stavrogin the embodiment of these ideas, which meanwhile he has internalized and made his own: the idea of the Russian people as the "народ
богоносец" and "тело
Христово," of God as the "синтетическая
всего народа.” Like Mar'ja Timofeevna, Shatov sees in Stavrogin the incarnation of his mental prototypes, the main difference between them being that her prototypes are literary heroes, whereas his are ideas in the conventional meaning of the word. In Shatov's imagination, Stavrogin metonymically embodies the ideas which the latter recognizes as his "собcтвенные
настроения два года тому назад," and with which he is no longer able to identify. From Stavrogin's words Shatov has developed a whole system of ideas, held together by the image of Stavrogin as the standard-bearer and harbinger of the second coming of Christ. However, the teacher refuses to play the role ascribed to him by his pupil, a role reminding him of the function ascribed to him in the ideology of Petr Verkhovenskij, who also wants to make, him his standard-bearer, but in the role of a new Stenka Razin, "по
необыкновенной способности к преступлению" (Dostoevsky 1974a:201).
Shatov's image of Stavrogin is a version of the positive ideal expressed in Mar'ja Timofeevna's vision of her prince. On the other hand, Petr Verkhovenskij's Stenka Razin corresponds to the image of Stavrogin as a Grishka Otrepev and false pretender in Mar'ja Timofeevna's fantasies. The four different images of Stavrogin appearing in the narrative are in actual fact variants, positive and negative, of a single prototype, representing in its positive hypostases life and regeneration, in their negative counterparts death. But in contrast to Shatov and Mar'ja Timofeevna, Petr Verkhovenskij has a cynical attitude to the images he wishes Stavrogin
to embody. His main concern is with the propaganda function of the various images he has collected from a number of sources, including both the legends and the tales reflected in Mar'ja Timofeevna's visions and the religious ideas of Shatov's Utopian dreams. In Verkhovenskij's system the
Urbild-Abbild mechanism is consciously exploited in order to create a quasi-religious superstructure for his totalitarian
"шигалевщина,"as the embodiment of his "new truth" and the new "law." Whereas Mar'ja Timofeevna and Shatov have transformed Stavrogin into an image of their highest ideals during his absence, Petr Verkhovenskij has produced his ideas in Stavrogin's presence: "Я
вас с заграницы выдумал;
на вас же глядя.
Если бы не глядел на вас с угла, не пришло бы мне ничего в голову..." (Dostoevsky 1974a:326).
Nevertheless, Verkhovenskij, too, reaches a stage where he is carried away by the idol of his own invention when, in a fit of ecstasy he turns towards Stavrogin with the words "Вы
а я ваш червяк..." a phrase echoing Stavrogin's reaction to Shatov's fantasies earlier on in the novel: "вы,
смотрите на меня как на какое-то
а на себя как на какую-то
букашку сравнительно со мною" (Dostoevsky 1974a:193).
Again we see, as with Varvara Petrovna and Mar'ja Timofeevna, how imitation involves a psychological, or rather psychopathological, relationship between the characters, the relationship Girard has so brilliantly analyzed in his book. At the same time, however, The Devils is a work of art and not a textbook of psychology, and Girard's definition of Stavrogin as a "veritable allegory of internal mediation" somehow bypasses the aesthetic side of
The Devils, the network of parallelisms, redoublings, and inversions generated by the principle of the
Urbild-Abbild structure. Stavrogin is the source of Shatov's ideas, but not his ideological prototype. And as for Verkhovensky, the sources of his ideas are manifold and obscure. What they both have in common, is the wish to see their ideas embodied in Stavrogin, to see him transformed into their ideophore hero and a palpable expression of their ideas. But once more, the process of image-building ends in frustration. Stavrogin refuses to become their idol and bearer of their ideas.
It is with Kirillov that the process of incarnation reaches its limit in The Devils. As Stavrogin's
“создание”- Shatov's definition of him - Kirillov has made the ideas of his creator his own to the extent that instead of trying to project them back onto Stavrogin he finally decides to turn himself into an example of their validity by committing suicide. By this act he means to conquer his human fear of death, thereby bringing about his own apotheosis and becoming an avatar of his spiritual prototype, the Man-God. This prototype is, as the name shows, an inversion of the God-Man, of Christ, the Son of God, who through his incarnation and death conquered death and restored man to his original state of integrity. As the negative counterpart of this divine prototype, Kirillov's Man-God, inspired by Stavrogin, is the Antichrist. Kirillov is his likeness, a distorted counterfeit of the icon he keeps in the corner of his room.
The Urbild-Abbild relation between Kirillov and the prototype of the Antichrist lays bare the function of his prototype in
The Devils, where Kirillov is not the only hypostasis of this cosmic usurper, the False Pretender
par excellence. The House of Philipp on the Epiphany Street, is the locus of a whole series of manifestations of the Antichrist. Mar'ja Timofeevna's vision of Stavrogin and her idea of Mother Earth as the
Theotokos are generated by the same model. Similarly, Shatov's popular messianism must, in the context of
The Devils, be seen as expressions of the Antichrist, like the various forms of "шигалевщина" and Petr Verkhovenskij's evocation of Stavrogin in the role of god and leader, whose image he is conjuring up in parallel to Ivan Filippovich, the God and Sabaoth of messianic sectarianism. There is a hidden connection between the manifestations of the Antichrist in the House of Philipp and the false gods of the "хлистовцы" which is significant for the satirical aspect of
The Devils, showing that as an artist, Dostoevsky was able to represent ideas dear to his heart independently of his own subjective feelings about them. Even Shatov's ideas about the God-bearing Russian people are symbolic representations of the novel's prototype of evil, from which he is saved only just before his death, when the miracle of true life is revealed to him in the birth of the child, a real human being and not a "бумажный
человек" like himself. Like Stepan Trofimovich, Shatov is able to free himself from the evil spirits that have invaded his mind.
In the paradigmatic series of daemonic epiphanies, Stavrogin has a place of his own. He is the disseminator
of the ideas of the others, but he refuses their attempts at making him the bearer of their ideas, leaving the
ideophoria to those whom he has inspired. When unmasked by the others, however, he appears to them in the form of the pretender and the "последний
барич," the "дрянной,
изломанный барченок," i.e., as the incarnation of the rumors about his depravity which he has put on like another mask. But the image created of Stavrogin by the rumors about him is but another manifestation of the Antichrist as he is presented in the image of the "man of sin" and "son of perdition," who, in 2 Thess. 2:3,4 "opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God." Stavrogin has no substance. Even the rumors about his sinfulness are left unsubstantiated. And one sees how right Dostoevsky was from an aesthetic point of view to leave out his confession, which would have served as evidence of his depravity and thus given his figure an
ethos, however ignoble. As it is, Stavrogin's figure is a symbol of emptiness. The final word about him comes from his own letter to Dasha before he puts an end to his life by suicide in an unheroic imitation of the idea he inseminated into Kirillov"s mind: "из
меня вылилось одно отрицание....
Даже отрицания не вылилось." In his daemonic emptiness Stavrogin reminds us of the devil of the Russian saying: "У
нежити своего облика нет,
она ходит в личинах." The final manifestation of the Antichrist in The Devils, the dead body of the citizen of Uri, hanging from the rope in the ceiling, represents nothing but nothingness. It is, again in Stavrogin's own words: "еще
обман, - последний обман в бесконечном ряду обманов."
Dostoevskaja, A.G. (1971). Vospominanija. Moscow: Khud. Lit. Pp. 496.
Dostoevskij, F.M. (1972). Polnoe sobranie sochinenij v tridcati tomakh. Moscow: Nauka. Vol. 3. Pp. 543.
Dostoevskij, F.M. (1974a). Polnoe sobranie sochinenij v tridcati tomakh. Vol. 10. Pp. 519.
Dostoevskij, F.M. (1974b). Polnoe sobranie sochinenij v tridcati tomakh. Vol. 11. Pp. 415.
Dostoevskij, F.M. (1975). Polnoe sobranie sochinenij v tridcati tomakh. Vol. 12. Pp. 375.
Girard, R. (1966). Deceit, Desire, and the Novel, trans. Yvonne Freccero. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Univ. Press. Pp. 318. Originally published as
Mensonge romantiques et vérité romanesque. Paris: Editions Bernard Grasset, 1961.
Jones, J. (1983). Dostoevsky. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press. Pp. 365.
Onasch, K. (1976) . Der verschwiegene Christus. Berlin: Union. Pp. 242.