The Grand Inquisitor/The Devil

The Grand Inquisitor

The Brothers Karamazov (at Wikisource) — The Grand Inquisitor (at Wikipedia) — The Brothers Karamazov (at Wikipedia)

Part 1: Ivan's Condition


     I AM NOT a doctor, but yet I feel that the moment has come when I must inevitably give the reader some account of the nature of Ivan's illness. Anticipating events I can say at least one thing: he was at that moment on the very eve of an attack of brain fever. Though his health had long been affected, it had offered a stubborn resistance to the fever which in the end gained complete mastery over it. Though I know nothing of medicine, I venture to hazard the suggestion that he really had perhaps, by a terrible effort of will, succeeded in delaying the attack for a time, hoping, of course, to check it completely. He knew that he was unwell, but he loathed the thought of being ill at that fatal time, at the approaching crisis in his life, when he needed to have all his wits about him, to say what he had to say boldly and resolutely and "to justify himself to himself."

     He had, however, consulted the new doctor, who had been brought from Moscow by a fantastic notion of Katerina Ivanovna's to which I have referred already. After listening to him and examining him the doctor came to the conclusion that he was actually suffering from some disorder of the brain, and was not at all surprised by an admission which Ivan had reluctantly made him. "Hallucinations are quite likely in your condition," the doctor opined, 'though it would be better to verify them... you must take steps at once, without a moment's delay, or things will go badly with you." But Ivan did not follow this judicious advice and did not take to his bed to be nursed. "I am walking about, so I am strong enough, if I drop, it'll be different then, anyone may nurse me who likes," he decided, dismissing the subject.

The person narrating the story is a man from the town who speaks of all the events from The Brothers Karamazov with a certain amount of omniscience. For instance, the narrator is able to recount this story although it is obvious that Ivan is alone. However in other situations, the narrator does not know everything, especially concerning the murder of Fyodor Karamazov. the opening line of this chapter is illustrative of this point:

I AM NOT a doctor, but yet I feel that the moment has come when I must inevitably give the reader some account of the nature of Ivan's illness.

The narrator admits a certain shortcoming in his literary omniscience, but yet he is able to speak frankly about events that he did not witness.

Part 2: Ivan's Guest


     And so he was sitting almost conscious himself of his delirium and, as I have said already, looking persistently at some object on the sofa against the opposite wall. Someone appeared to be sitting there, though goodness knows how he had come in, for he had not been in the room when Ivan came into it, on his return from Smerdyakov. This was a person or, more accurately speaking, a Russian gentleman of a particular kind, no longer young, qui faisait la cinquantaine, as the French say, with rather long, still thick, dark hair, slightly streaked with grey and a small pointed beard. He was wearing a brownish reefer jacket, rather shabby, evidently made by a good tailor though, and of a fashion at least three years old, that had been discarded by smart and well-to-do people for the last two years. His linen and his long scarf-like neck-tie were all such as are worn by people who aim at being stylish, but on closer inspection his linen was not overclean and his wide scarf was very threadbare. The visitor's check trousers were of excellent cut, but were too light in colour and too tight for the present fashion. His soft fluffy white hat was out of keeping with the season.

     In brief there was every appearance of gentility on straitened means. It looked as though the gentleman belonged to that class of idle landowners who used to flourish in the times of serfdom. He had unmistakably been, at some time, in good and fashionable society, had once had good connections, had possibly preserved them indeed, but, after a gay youth, becoming gradually impoverished on the abolition of serfdom, he had sunk into the position of a poor relation of the best class, wandering from one good old friend to another and received by them for his companionable and accommodating disposition and as being, after all, a gentleman who could be asked to sit down with anyone, though, of course, not in a place of honour. Such gentlemen of accommodating temper and dependent position, who can tell a story, take a hand at cards, and who have a distinct aversion for any duties that may be forced upon them, are usually solitary creatures, either bachelors or widowers. Sometimes they have children, but if so, the children are always being brought up at a distance, at some aunt's, to whom these gentlemen never allude in good society, seeming ashamed of the relationship. They gradually lose sight of their children altogether, though at intervals they receive a birthday or Christmas letter from them and sometimes even answer it.

     The countenance of the unexpected visitor was not so much good-natured, as accommodating and ready to assume any amiable expression as occasion might arise. He had no watch, but he had a tortoise-shell lorgnette on a black ribbon. On the middle finger of his right hand was a massive gold ring with a cheap opal stone in it.

     Ivan was angrily silent and would not begin the conversation.

qui faisait la cinquantaine
Fiftyish (french)

While sitting and staring at the far wall, a person simply "appeared to be sitting there". Notice that the narrator does not claim the stranger appeared from thin air, but almost says that the person had been there all along, unnoticed. Notice again the absurdity of the narrator: he can recount the events of this night, although even he seems to be somewhat confused by the presence of this new man in the room. Ivan also does not appear to be alarmed or startled by this person. He never inquires where the visitor came from, and does not greet him the way a proper gentleman would have greeted a new visitor.

The passage starts out with the words And so he was sitting almost conscious himself of his delirium, again pointing out that Ivan was somehow expecting to have a problem with "brain fever". Multiple stresses had been piling up: the murder of his father, the imprisonment of his brother, and the fact that he has been pursuing Katerina Ivanova, who was desperately in love with Dimitri (love only strengthened because Dimitri was wrongfully accused and in jail).

The stranger in the room is described in a particular way, as a Russian gentlemen who was reasonably fashionable although dated. His clothing is described as being nice but old and generally "shabby". The first line of the second paragraph pushes the idea home, that the man had every appearance of gentility on straitened means. At the time of writing The Brothers Karamazov, Russia had only recently abolished serfdom, and it is in the terms of the feudal system that the visitor is described. Notice the following descriptions, specifically:

He had unmistakably been, at some time, in good and fashionable society, had once had good connections, had possibly preserved them indeed, but, after a gay youth, becoming gradually impoverished on the abolition of serfdom, he had sunk into the position of a poor relation of the best class, wandering from one good old friend to another and received by them for his companionable and accommodating disposition and as being, after all, a gentleman who could be asked to sit down with anyone, though, of course, not in a place of honour

Look at this description as a metaphore for the devil: The rise of atheism or agnosticism among the educated creates a poorness for supernatural beings, where the dark ages only years before had been a boon. He is also being described as having "good connections" which have been preserved, and that he could sit down with anybody. The devil, representative of sin, certainly is nobody's stranger.

Part 3: Truth


     The visitor waited and sat exactly like a poor relation who had come down from his room to keep his host company at tea, and was discreetly silent, seeing that his host was frowning and preoccupied. But he was ready for any affable conversation as soon as his host should begin it. All at once his face expressed a sudden solicitude.

     "I say," he began to Ivan, "excuse me, I only mention it to remind you. You went to Smerdyakov's to find out about Katerina Ivanovna, but you came away without finding out anything about her, you probably forgot-"

     "Ah, yes." broke from Ivan and his face grew gloomy with uneasiness. "Yes, I'd forgotten... but it doesn't matter now, never mind, till to-morrow," he muttered to himself, "and you," he added, addressing his visitor, "I should have remembered that myself in a minute, for that was just what was tormenting me! Why do you interfere, as if I should believe that you prompted me, and that I didn't remember it of myself?"

     "Don't believe it then," said the gentleman, smiling amicably, "what's the good of believing against your will? Besides, proofs are no help to believing, especially material proofs. Thomas believed, not because he saw Christ risen, but because he wanted to believe, before he saw. Look at the spiritualists, for instance.... I am very fond of them... only fancy, they imagine that they are serving the cause of religion, because the devils show them their horns from the other world. That, they say, is a material proof, so to speak, of the existence of another world. The other world and material proofs, what next! And if you come to that, does proving there's a devil prove that there's a God? I want to join an idealist society, I'll lead the opposition in it, I'll say I am a realist, but not a materialist, he he!"

The visitor is now described in terms of being a personal relation, where previously he was described as being everybody's acquaintance.

Ivan had gone to Smerdyakov's house to inquire about Katerina Ivanova. However the two talked about Fyodor almost exclusively, and forgot entirely about Katerina. This passage, presented two chapters before The Devil explains the situation:

When, after his conversation with Alyosha, Ivan suddenly decided with his hand on the bell of his lodging to go to Smerdyakov, he obeyed a sudden and peculiar impulse of indignation. He suddenly remembered how Katerina Ivanovna had only just cried out to him in Alyosha's presence: "It was you, you, persuaded me of his" (that is, Mitya's) "guilt!" Ivan was thunderstruck when he recalled it. He had never once tried to persuade her that Mitya was the murderer; on the contrary, he had suspected himself in her presence, that time when he came back from Smerdyakov. It was she, she, who had produced that "document" and proved his brother's guilt. And now she suddenly exclaimed: "I've been at Smerdyakov's myself!" When had she been there? Ivan had known nothing of it. So she was not at all so sure of Mitya's guilt! And what could Smerdyakov have told her? What, what, had he said to her? His heart burned with violent anger. He could not understand how he could, half an hour before, have let those words pass and not have cried out at the moment. He let go of the bell and rushed off to Smerdyakov. "I shall kill him, perhaps, this time," he thought on the way.

Katerina claims that she has been convinced by Ivan that Dimitri is guilty of the crime. However, Katerina also went to see Smerdyakov about the issue, which indicated to Ivan that perhaps Katerina was not convinced about Dimitri at all. Ivan went to Smerdyakov's apartment to ask about why Katerina had gone to see Smerdyakov, and what she had said to him. However, during the meeting, Smerdyakov admitted to killing Fyodor, with the statement:

"Aren't you tired of it? Here we are face to face; what's the use of going on keeping up a farce to each other? Are you still trying to throw it all on me, to my face? You murdered him; you are the real murderer, I was only your instrument, your faithful servant, and it was following your words I did it."

Notice how even though Smerdyakov admits to killing Fyodor, he still blames Ivan for the murder. Smerdyakov claims he was only acting as Ivan's "instrument". The guilt that he had convinced Katerina against Dimitri, and the guilt that somehow he had persuaded Smerdyakov to murder Fyodor are weighing on Ivan, and it is because of this weight that he could not remember about Katerina. However, there was the persistant feeling that he had forgotten something, that even though he had gone to see Smerdyakov, and did get answers to some of his questions, he still hadn't concluded all his business.

It is the man across the room who reminds Ivan about the contents of his subconscious. This man knows that Ivan is trying to remember what precisely he was forgetting, and he also knows precisely what was forgot. And when he brings it up, Ivan has a most unusual response:

"Ah, yes." broke from Ivan and his face grew gloomy with uneasiness. "Yes, I'd forgotten... but it doesn't matter now, never mind, till to-morrow," he muttered to himself, "and you," he added, addressing his visitor, "I should have remembered that myself in a minute, for that was just what was tormenting me! Why do you interfere, as if I should believe that you prompted me, and that I didn't remember it of myself?"

There is almost some measure of familiarity between Ivan and his guest, which prompts the question whether Ivan has seen this man before, and if not, was Ivan expecting him.

Part 4: Ivan's Realization


     "Listen," Ivan suddenly got up from the table. "I seem to be delirious... I am delirious, in fact, talk any nonsense you like, I don't care! You won't drive me to fury, as you did last time. But I feel somehow ashamed... I want to walk about the room.... I sometimes don't see you and don't even hear your voice as I did last time, but I always guess what you are prating, for it's I, I myself speaking, not you. Only I don't know whether I was dreaming last time or whether I really saw you. I'll wet a towel and put it on my head and perhaps you'll vanish into air."

     Ivan went into the corner, took a towel, and did as he said, and with a wet towel on his head began walking up and down the room.

     "I am so glad you treat me so familiarly," the visitor began.

     "Fool," laughed Ivan, "do you suppose I should stand on ceremony with you? I am in good spirits now, though I've a pain in my forehead... and in the top of my head... only please don't talk philosophy, as you did last time. If you can't take yourself off, talk of something amusing. Talk gossip, you are a poor relation, you ought to talk gossip. What a nightmare to have! But I am not afraid of you. I'll get the better of you. I won't be taken to a mad-house!"

     "C'est charmant, poor relation. Yes, I am in my natural shape. For what am I on earth but a poor relation? By the way, I am listening to you and am rather surprised to find you are actually beginning to take me for something real, not simply your fancy, as you persisted in declaring last time-"

     "Never for one minute have I taken you for reality," Ivan cried with a sort of fury. "You are a lie, you are my illness, you are a phantom. It's only that I don't know how to destroy you and I see I must suffer for a time. You are my hallucination. You are the incarnation of myself, but only of one side of me... of my thoughts and feelings, but only the nastiest and stupidest of them. From that point of view you might be of interest to me, if only I had time to waste on you-"

Ivan is aware of his own delirium, and also seems to be aware that the person in the room is a figment. Ivan also refers to "last time", when the stranger put Ivan into a "fury". This is clearly not Ivan's first encounter with this stranger, which helps to explain the ease with which Ivan speaks to him.

Part 5: Aloysha


     "Excuse me, excuse me, I'll catch you. When you flew out at Alyosha under the lamp-post this evening and shouted to him, 'You learnt it from him! How do you know that he visits me?' You were thinking of me then. So for one brief moment you did believe that I really exist," the gentleman laughed blandly.

     "Yes, that was a moment of weakness... but I couldn't believe in you. I don't know whether I was asleep or awake last time. Perhaps I was only dreaming then and didn't see you really at all-"

     "And why were you so surly with Alyosha just now? He is a dear; I've treated him badly over Father Zossima."

     "Don't talk of Alyosha! How dare you, you flunkey!" Ivan laughed again.

     "You scold me, but you laugh- that's a good sign. But you are ever so much more polite than you were last time and I know why: that great resolution of yours-"

     "Don't speak of my resolution," cried Ivan, savagely.

     "I understand, I understand, c'est noble, c'est charmant, you are going to defend your brother and to sacrifice yourself... C'est chevaleresque."

The stranger is referring to a conversation several chapters previously, where Alyosha confronts Ivan in the street at night. With Aloysha speaking first:

"No, Ivan. You've told yourself several times that you are the murderer."
"When did I say so? I was in Moscow.... When have I said so?" Ivan faltered helplessly.
"You've said so to yourself many times, when you've been alone during these two dreadful months," Alyosha went on softly and distinctly as before.

Ivan has been blaming himself, although he does not quite know why. There has only been one time when Ivan ever mentioned it out loud, and refers to that incident next:

"You've been in my room!" he whispered hoarsely. "You've been there at night, when he came.... Confess... have you seen him, have you seen him?"
"Whom do you mean- Mitya?" Alyosha asked, bewildered.
"Not him, damn the monster!" Ivan shouted, in a frenzy, "Do you know that he visits me? How did you find out? Speak!"
"Who is he? I don't know whom you are talking about," Alyosha faltered, beginning to be alarmed.
"Yes, you do know. or how could you- ? It's impossible that you don't know."

Ivan is talking about previous meetings with this stranger, and assumes that Alyosha must be aware of it because Alyosha is a monk in training, a holy man.

When the stranger mentions Alyosha again, Ivan becomes petulant. It's interesting to note how Ivan is both aware that this stranger is a delusion, but also treats him as a separate entity. His insults, referring to the visitor as a "flunky", are self-deprecating because this visitor his really Ivan.

Part 6: One and the Same


     "Hold your tongue, I'll kick you!"

     "I shan't be altogether sorry, for then my object will be attained. If you kick me, you must believe in my reality, for people don't kick ghosts. Joking apart, it doesn't matter to me, scold if you like, though it's better to be a trifle more polite even to me. 'Fool, flunkey!' what words!"

     "Scolding you, I scold myself," Ivan laughed again, "you are myself, myself, only with a different face. You just say what I am thinking... and are incapable of saying anything new!"

     "If I am like you in my way of thinking, it's all to my credit," the gentleman declared, with delicacy and dignity.

     "You choose out only my worst thoughts, and what's more, the stupid ones. You are stupid and vulgar. You are awfully stupid. No, I can't put up with you! What am I to do, what am I to do?" Ivan said through his clenched teeth.

     "My dear friend, above all things I want to behave like a gentleman and to be recognised as such," the visitor began in an access of deprecating and simple-hearted pride, typical of a poor relation. "I am poor, but... I won't say very honest, but... it's an axiom generally accepted in society that I am a fallen angel. I certainly can't conceive how I can ever have been an angel. If I ever was, it must have been so long ago that there's no harm in forgetting it. Now I only prize the reputation of being a gentlemanly person and live as I can, trying to make myself agreeable. I love men genuinely, I've been greatly calumniated! Here when I stay with you from time to time, my life gains a kind of reality and that's what I like most of all. You see, like you, I suffer from the fantastic and so I love the realism of earth. Here, with you, everything is circumscribed, here all is formulated and geometrical, while we have nothing but indeterminate equations! I wander about here dreaming. I like dreaming. Besides, on earth I become superstitious. Please don't laugh, that's just what I like, to become superstitious. I adopt all your habits here: I've grown fond of going to the public baths, would you believe it? and I go and steam myself with merchants and priests. What I dream of is becoming incarnate once for all and irrevocably in the form of some merchant's wife weighing eighteen stone, and of believing all she believes. My ideal is to go to church and offer a candle in simple-hearted faith, upon my word it is. Then there would be an end to my sufferings. I like being doctored too; in the spring there was an outbreak of smallpox and I went and was vaccinated in a foundling hospital- if only you knew how I enjoyed myself that day. I subscribed ten roubles in the cause of the Slavs!... But you are not listening. Do you know, you are not at all well this evening? I know you went yesterday to that doctor... well, what about your health? What did the doctor say?"

     "Fool!" Ivan snapped out.

Part 7: The Two are Different


     "But you are clever, anyway. You are scolding again? I didn't

ask out of sympathy. You needn't answer. Now rheumatism has come in


     "Fool!" repeated Ivan.

     "You keep saying the same thing; but I had such an attack of rheumatism last year that I remember it to this day."

     "The devil have rheumatism!"

     "Why not, if I sometimes put on fleshly form? I put on fleshly form and I take the consequences. Satan sum et nihil humanum a me alienum puto."

     "What, what, Satan sum et nihil humanum... that's not bad for the devil!"

     "I am glad I've pleased you at last."

     "But you didn't get that from me." Ivan stopped suddenly, seeming struck. "That never entered my head, that's strange."

     "C'est du nouveau, n'est-ce pas?" This time I'll act honestly and explain to you. Listen, in dreams and especially in nightmares, from indigestion or anything, a man sees sometimes such artistic visions, such complex and real actuality, such events, even a whole world of events, woven into such a plot, with such unexpected details from the most exalted matters to the last button on a cuff, as I swear Leo Tolstoy has never invented. Yet such dreams are sometimes seen not by writers, but by the most ordinary people, officials, journalists, priests.... The subject is a complete enigma. A statesman confessed to me, indeed, that all his best ideas came to him when he was asleep. Well, that's how it is now, though I am your hallucination, yet just as in a nightmare, I say original things which had not entered your head before. So I don't repeat your ideas, yet I am only your nightmare, nothing more."

     "You are lying, your aim is to convince me you exist apart and are not my nightmare, and now you are asserting you are a dream."

Satan sum et nihil humanum a me alienum puto
I am Satan, and deem nothing human alien to me. (latin)
C'est du nouveau, n'est-ce pas?
It's new, isn't it? (french)