Nikolay Gavrilovich Chernyshevsky.

What's to be done? A romance online

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This romance, the last work and only novel froja Tchwnychewsky's pen, originally appeared
1 1863 in a St. Petersburg magazine, the autnor writing it at that time in a St. Feterehurg
ingeon, where he was confined for twenty-two months prior to being sent into exile in Siberia
7 the cmel Czar who has since paid the penalty of this crime and many others. This martyr-
ero of the modem Revolution still languishes in a remote comer of that cheerless country, his
ealth ruined and — if report be true — his mind shattered by his long solitude and enforced
bstention from literary and revolutionary work. The present Czar, true son of his father,
ersistently refuses to mitigate his sentence, despite the petition for Tcheraychewsky's freedom
ent not long ago to Alexander III. by the literary celebrities of the world gathered in interna-
onal congress at Vienna.

The Russian Nihilists regard the present work as a faithful portraiture of themselves and
leir movement, and as such they contrast it with the celebrated " Fathers and Sons " of
ourguAneff, which they consider rather as a caricatui-e. The fundamental idea of Tchemy-
hewsky's work is that woman is a human being and not an animal created for man's benefit,
nd its chief purpose is to show the superiority of free unions between men and women over
je indissoluble marriage sanctioned by Church and State. It may almost be considered a con-
nuation of the great Herzen's novel, " Who Is To Blame ? " written fifteen years before on the
ame subject. If the reader should find the work singular in form and sometimes obscure, he
mst remember that it was written under the eye of an autocrat, who punished with terrific
3verity any one who wrote against " the doctrines of the Orthodox Church, its traditions and
3remonies, or the truths and dogmas of Christian faith in general," against " the inviolability
f the Supreme Autocratic Power or the respect due to the Imperial Family," anything con-
•ary to " the fundamental regulations of the State," or anything tending to " shock good
lorals and propriety."

As a work of art " What's To Be Done ? " speaks for itself. Nevertheless, the words of a
;uropean writer regarding it may not be amiss. " In the authors view the object of art is

4 Translator's Preface.

not to embellish and idealize nature, but to reproduce her Interesting phases ; and poetry —
verse, the drama, the novel — should explain nature in reproducing her ; the poet must pro-
nounce sentence. He must represent human beings as they really are, and not incarnate in
them an abstract principle, good or bad; thai is why in this romance men indisputably good
have faults, as reality shows them to us, while bad people possess at the same time some good
qualities, as is almost always the case in real life."

Tyranny knows no better use for such an author than to exile him. But Liberty can still
utilize his work. Tyranny, torture Truth's heralds as it may, cannot kill Truth itself, — nay,
can only add to its vitality. Tchernychewsky is in isolation, but his glad tidings to the poor
and the oppressed are spreading among the peoples of the earth, and now in this translation
for the first time find their way serosa the ocean to enlighten our New World.

B. R. T.


An Imbecile.

On the morning of the eleventh of July, 1856, the attaches of one of the princi-
lal hotels in St. Petersburg, situated near the Moscow railway station, became
greatly perplexed and even somewhat alarmed. The night. before, after eight
''clock, a traveller had arrived, carrying a valise, who, after having given up his
lassport that it might be taken to the police to be vis6ed, had ordered a cutlet and
ome tea, and then, pleading fatigue and need of sleep as a pretext, had asked
hat he might be disturbed no further, notifying them at the same time to awaken
im without fail at exactly eight o'clock in the morning, as he had pressing

As soon as he was alone, he had locked his door. For a while was heard the
loise of the knife, fork, and tea-service ; then all became silent again : the man
lOubtless had gone to sleep.
In the morning, at eight o'clock, the waiter did not fail to knock at the new-
omer's door.

But the new-comer did not respond. The waiter knocked louder, and louder
et. Still the new-comer did not respond : he probably was very tired. The

vaiter waited a quarter of an hour, then began again to knock and call, but with

10 better success. Then he went to consult the other waiters and the butler.
" May not something have happened to the traveller?"
" We must burst open the door," he concluded.
" No," said another, " the 'door can be burst open only in presence of the

They decided to try once more, and with greater energy, to awaken the obsti-

late traveller, and, in case they should not succeed, to send for the police.
Which they had to do. While waiting for the police, they looked at each other

mxiously, saying : " What can have happened ? "
Towards ten o'clock the commissioner of police arrived ; he began by knock-

ng at the door himself, and then ordered the waiters to knock a last time. The

;ame success.
" There is nothing left but to burst open the door," said the official ; " do so, my


6 What 's To Be Bone 9

The door yielded ; they entered ; the room was empty.

" Look under the bed," said the official. At the same time, approaching the
table, he saw a sheet of paper, unfolded, upon which were written these words :

" I leave at eleven o'clock in the evening and shall not return. I shall be heard
on the Liteiug Bridge between two and three o'clock in the morning. Suspect
no one."

" Ah ! the thing is clear now ! at first we did not understand," said the official.

" What do you mean, Ivan Afanacievitch ? " asked the butler.

" Give me some tea, and I will tell you."

The story of the commissioner of police was for a long time the subject of con-
versations and discussions ; as for the adventure itself, this was it : At half-past
two in the morning, the night being extremely dark, something like a flash was
seen on the Liteing Bridge, and at the same time a pistol shot was heard. The
guardians of the bridge and the few people who were passing ran to the spot,
but found nobody.

" It is not a murder; some one has blown his brains out," they said ; and some
of the more generous oflfered to search the river. Hooks were brought and even
a fisherman's net ; but they pulled from the water only a few pieces of wood.
Of the body no trace, and besides the night was very dark, and much time had
elapsed : the body had had time to drift out to sea.

"Go search yonder!" siiid a group of carpers, who maintained that there was
no body and that some drunkard or practical joker had simply fired a shot and
fled; "perhaps he has even mingled with the crowd, now so anxious, and i.
laughing at the alarm which he has caused." These carpers were evidently pro-
gressives. But the majority, conservative, as it always is when it reasons pru-
dently, held to the first explanation. ■

" A practical joker? Go to ! Some one has really blown his brains out."

Being less numerous, the progressives were conquered. But the conquerors
split at the very moment of victory, i

He had blown his brains out, certainly, but why P

" He was drunk," said some.

" Ee had dissipated his fortune," thought others.

" Simply an imbecile ! " observed somebody.

Upon this word imbecile, all agreed, even those who disputed suicide.

In short, whether it was a drunkard or a spendthrift who had blown his brains
out or a practical joker who had made a pretence of killing himself (in the latter
case the joke was a stupid one), he was an imbecile.

There ended the night's adventure. At the hotel was found the proof that it
was no piece of nonsense, but a real suicide.

This conclusion satisfied the conservatives especially ; for, said they, it proves
that we are right. If it had been only a practical joker, we might have hesitated

An Imbecile. • 7

between the terms imbecile and insolent. But to blow one's brains out on a
bridge! On a bridge, I ask youP Does one blow his brains out on a bridge P
Why on a bridge P It would be stupid to do it on a bridge. Indisputably, then,
he was an imbecile.

" Precisely," objected the progressives ; " does one blow his brains oat on a
oridge P " And they in their turn disputed the reality of the suicide.

But that same evening the hotel aitachis, being summoned to the police bureau
to examine a cap pierced by a ball, which had been taken from the water, identi-
fied it as the actual cap worn by the traveller of the night before.

There had been a suicide, then, and the spirit of negation and progress was
once more conquered.

Yes, it was really an imbecile ; but suddenly a new thought struck them : to
blow one's brains out on a bridge, — why, it is most adroit ! In that way one
avoids long suffering in case of a simple wound. 3e calculated wisely ; he was

Now the mystification was completo. Imbecile and prudent!

What's To Be Donei

First Consequence of the Imbecile Act.

The same day, towards eleven o'clock in the morning, in a little country-housf
on the island of Kamennoy,* a young woman sat sewing and humming a singu-
larly bold French song ;

Sons no3 gaeailles, nous Eomines
De couragonx travailleurs ;
Nous voulons pour tous les hommes
Science et destins meillenrs.
Etndions, travaillons,
La force est d qui saura ;
Etndions, travaillons,
L'abondance nous viendrs I
Ah I ga ira ! ga ira ! 9a tra I
Le peuplo en ce jour r(5p4te:
Ah ! ga ira ! ga ira ! $a ira 1
Qni vlvra verra !

Et qnl de notre ignorance

Souffre done ? N'est-ce pas nous i
Qu'elle vienne, la science
Qui nous aflfranchira tons !
Nous plions sous la douleur ;
Maie, par la fraternity,
Nous haterons le bonhenr
De toute rhuinanit^.
Ahl ga ira! &c.

Faisons I'nnion f£conde
Du travail et du savoir ;
Pour etre heureux, en ce monde,
S'entr'aimcr est un devoir.
Instrnisons-nous, aimons-nons,
Nous sommes frSres et soeurs ;
Travaillons chacun pour tons ;
Devenons toajours meilleurs.
Ah ! ga ira I &c.

' An Island in the vicinity of St. PcterBburg, fall of country houses, where citizens of St. Petersbi:!
go to spend their summers.

First Consequence of the Imbecile Act, 9

Oal, poar vaincre la misSre,

Inetruisons-nonB, travalllone ;

TJii paiadis de la terre,

En nons almast, nons ferons.

TravailloaB, aimons, chantons,

Tons les vraia biens nous aarons ;

Un jonr rlent od nous serons

Tons henreux, inetmits, et bong.

Ah I 9a Ira ! ga ira ! ga ira !

Le penple en ce jour rtpSte :

Ah ! ga ira ! ga ira ! ga ira 1

Qui vivra verra I

Done vivons !

Qa bien vite ira !

Qa viendra I

Xons touB le verrons I

The melody of this audacious song was gay ; there were two or three sad notes
in it, but they were concealed beneath the general character of the motive ; they
entirely disappeared in the refrain and in the last couplet. But such was the
condition of the mind of the songstress that these two or three sad notes sounded
shove the others in her song. She saw this herself, started, and tried to sustain
the gay notes longer and glide over the others. Vain efforts! her thought dom-
inated her in spite of herself, and the sad notes always provailed over the

It was easy to see that the young woman was trying to repress the sadness
which had taken possession of her, and when, from time to time, she succeeded
aud the song then took its joyous pace, her work doubled in rapidity ; she seemed,
moreover, to be an excellent seamstress. At this moment the maid, a young and
jiretty person, entered. ,

" See, Macha," • the young lady said to her, " how well I sew I I have almost
f nished the ruffles which I am embroidering to wear at your wedding."

"Oh! there is less work in them than in those which you desired me to

" I readily believe itl Should not the bride be more beautifully adorned than

r guests P"

"I have brought you a letter, V6ra Pavlovna."

V6ra Pavlovna took the letter with an air of perplexity which depicted itself
ir her face. The envelope bore the city stamp.

"He is then at Moscow!" she whispered, — and she hastily broke open the
Iftter and turned pale.


* Macha ia the diminutive of Maria,.

10 What 's To Be Bone f

"It is not possible! I did not read it right The letter doea

not say that! " she cried, letting her arms fall by her sides.

Again she began to read. This time her eyes fixed themselves on the
paper, and those beautiful clear eyes became dimmer and dimmer. She let the
letter fall upon her work-table, and, hiding her head in her hands, she burst invo

"What have I done? What have I doneP" she cried, despairingly. "Whit
have I done ? "

" Vdrotchka !"* suddenly exclaimed a young man, hurrying into the roou;
"Vfirotchka! What has happened to you P And why these tears ? "

"Read!" . . . She handed him the letter. Vera Pavlovna sobbed no longer, bit
remained motionless as if nailed to her seat, and scarcely breathing.

The young man took the letter ; he grew pale, his hands trembled, and his ejjs
remained fixed for a long time upon the text, though it was brief. This lett jr
was thus framed :

" I disturbed your tranquillity : I quit the scene. Do not pity me. I love you
both so much that I am quite content in my resolution. Adieu."

Absorbed for a moment in his sadness, the young man then approached the
young woman, who still was motionless and in a seeming lethargy, and, tak.ig
her hand :

"V6rotohka!" . . .

But the young woman uttered a cry of terror, and, rising, as if moved by an
electric force, she convulsively repulsed the young man, separating herself from 1 im-

" Back ! Do not touch me ! Yon are covered with blood ! Leave me ! "

She continued to recoil, making gestures of terror and waving her arms' in
space as if to repel an object of fear. Suddenly she staggered and sank into an
arm-chair, her head in her hands.

"It is also on me, his blood ! on me especially! You are not guilty .... i;i3
I, I alone! What have I done P What have I done P "

And her sobs redoubled,

" V6rotchka," said the young man, timidly ; " V6rotchka, my beloved ! "

" No, leave me," she answered, with a trembling voice, as soon as she could tret
breath. " Do not speak to me ! In a moment you will find me calmer ; leave "" \"

Ho went into his study, and sat down a.s;ain at the writing-table where a q ir-
ter of an hour before he had been so calm and happy. He took up his pen, xnd,
after the article which he had begun, he permitted himself to write: "It s in
such moments that one must retain self-possession. I have will, and it wili all
pass over, it will all pass over. But will she bear it P Oh ! it is horrible ! Hap-
piness is lost ! "

* V^rotcbka is the dimlnntWe uf Vira.

First Consequettce of the Imbecile Act. 11

" Shall we talk together now, beloved P " said an altered voice, which tried to
appear firm.

" We must separate," continued V6ra Pavlovna, " we must separate ! I have
decided upon it. It is frightful ; but it would be more frightful still to continue
to live in each other's sight. Am I not his murderer P Have I not killed him for

" But, V6rotchka, it is not your fault."

" Do not try to justify me, unless you wish me to hate you. I am guilty. Par-
don me, my beloved, for taking a resolution so painful to you. To me also it is
painful, but is the only one that we can take. You will soon recognize it your-
self. So be it, then ! I wish first to fly from this city, which would remind me
too vividly of the past. The sale of my effects will afford me some resources. I
will go to Tver, to Nijni,* I know not where, and it matters little. I will seek a
chance to give singing-lessons ; being in a great city, I shall probably find one ;
or else I will become a governess. I can always earn what is necessary. But in
case I should be unable to get enough, I will appeal to you. I count then on
you ; and let that prove to you that you are ever dear to me. And now we must
say farewell .... farewell forever ! Go away directly ; I shall be better alone ;
and tomorrow you can come back, for I shall be here no longer. I go to Moscow ;
there I will find out what city is best adapted to my purpose. I forbid your pres-
ence at the depot at the time of my departure. Farewell, then, my beloved ; give
me your hand that I may press it a last time before we separate forever."

He desired to embrace her ; but she thrust him back forcibly, saying :

" No ! that would be an outrage upon him. Give me your hand ; do you feel
with what force I press it P But adieu ! "

He kept her hand in his till she withdrew it, he not daring to resist.

" Enough ! Go ! Adieu ! "

And after having encircled him with a look of ineffable tenderness, she retired
with a firm step and without turning back her head.

He went about, dazed, like a drunken man, unable to find his hat, though he
held it in his hand without knowing it ; at last, however, he took his overcoat
from the hall and started off. But he had not yet reached the gateway when
he heard footsteps behind him. Doubtless it was Macha. Had she vanished P

He turned around; it was Vera Pavlovna, who threw herself into his

arms and said, embracing him with ardor :

" I could not resist, dear friend ; and now farewell forever ! '"

She ran rapidly away, threw herself upon her bed, and burst into tears.

* Hf^Qi IlfoTgorod.

12 What's To Be Donef


Love is the subject of this novel ; a young woman is its principal character.

" So far good, even though the novel should be bad," says the feminine reader ;
and she is right.

But the masculine reader does not praise so readily, thought in man being
more intense and more developed than in woman. He says (what probably the
feminine reader also thinks without considering it proper to say so, which excuses
me from discussing the point with her), — the masculine reader says: "I know
perfectly well that the man who is said to have blown his brains out is all right."

I attack him on this phrase I know, and say to him: " You do not know it, since
it has not been told you. You know nothing, not even that by the way in which
I have begun my novel I have made you my dupe. For have you not failed to
perceive it P "

Know, then, that my first pages prove that I have a very poor opinion of the
public. I have employed the ordinary trick of romancers. I have begun with
dramatic scenes, taken from the middle or the end of my story, iind have taken
care to confuse and obscure them.

Public, you are good-natured, very good-natured, and consequently you are
neither quick to see nor difficult to please, One may be sure that you will not see
from the first pages whether a novel is worthy of being read. Your scent is not
keen, and to aid you in deciding two things are necessary : the name of the author
and such a style of writing as will produce an effect.

This is the first novel that I offer you, and you have not yet made up your
mind whether or not I have talent and art (and yet this talent and art you grant
liberally to so many authors !) My name does not yet attract you. I am obliged,
therefore, to decoy you. Do not consider it a crime ; for it is your own ingenu-
ousness that compels me to stoop to this triviality. But now that I hold you in
my hands, I can continue my story as I think proper, — that is, without subter-
fuge. There will be no more mystery ; you will be able to foresee twenty pages
in advance the climax of each situation, and I will even tell you that all will end
gaily amid wine and song.

Preface, • 13

I do not desire to aid in spoiling you, kind public, you whose head is already
BO full of nonsense. How much useless trouble the confusion of your perceptions
causes you I Truly, you are painful to look at ; and yet I cannot help deriding
you, the prejudices with which your head is crammed render you so base ami
wicked 1

I am even angry with you, because you are so wicked towards men, of whom
you nevertheless are a part. Why are you so wicked towards yourself P It is for
your own good that I preach to you ; for I desire to be useful to you, and am
seeking the way. In the meantime yon cry out :

" Who, then, is this insolent anlhor, who addresses me in such a tone P "

Who am IP An author without talent who has not even a complete command
of his own language. But it matters little. Read at any rate, kind public ; truth
is a good thing which compensates even for an author's faults. This reading will
be useful to you, and you will experience no deception, since I have warned you
that you will find in my romance neither talent nor art, only the truth.

For the rest, my kind public, however you may love to read between the lines,
I prefer to tell you all, Because I have confessed that I have no shadow of talent
and that my romance will lack in the telling, do not conclude that I am inferior
to the story-tellers whom you accept and that this book is beneath their writings.
That is not the purpose of my explanation. I merely mean that my story is very
weak, so far as execution is concerned, in comparison with the works produced
by real talent. But, as for the celebrated works of your favorite authors, you
may, even in point of execution, put it on their level ; you may even place it
above them ; for there is more art here than in the works aforesaid, you may be
sure. And now, public, thank me ! And since you love so well to bend the knee
before him who disdains you, salute me !

Happily, scattered through your throngs, there exist, O public, persons, more
and more numerous, whom I esteem. If I have just been impudent, it was
because I spoke only to the vast majority of you. Before the persons to whom I
have just referred, on the contrary, I shall be modest and even timid. Only, with
them, long explanations aro useless ; I know in advance that we shall get along
together. Men of research and justice, intelligence and goodness, it is but yester-
('ay that you arose among us ; and already your number is great and ever greater.
If yon were the whole public, I should not need to write ; if yon did not exist, I
could not write. But you are a part of the public, without yet being the whole
public ; and that is why it is possible, that is why it is necessary, for me to write.

14 What's To £i Donef


rhe Life of Vera Pavlovna Trtth hor Parents.

The education of V6ra Pavlovna was very ordinary, and there was nothing
peculiar in her life until she made the acquaintance of Lopoukhoff, the medical

V6ra Pavlorna grew up in a fine house, situated on the Rue Gorokhovaia,
between the Rue Sadovaia and the S6menovsky Bridge. This house is now duly
labelled with a number, but in 1852, when numbers were not in use to designate
the houses of any given street, it bore this inscription : —

House of Ivan Zakharovitch Slorechnikioff, present Councillor of State.

So said the inscription, although Ivan Zakharovitch Storechnikoff died in 1837.
After that, according to the legal title-deeds, the owner of the house was his son,
Mikhail Ivanytch. But the tenants knew that Mikhail Ivanytch was only the son
of the mistress, and that the mistress of the house was Anna Petrovna.

The house was what it slill is, large, with two carriage-ways, four flights ol
steps from the street, and three interior court-yards.

Then (as is still the case today) the mistress of the house and her son lived
on the iirst and naturally the principal floor. Anna Petrovna has remained a

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