Thursday, August 9, 2012

I am always injuring myself with my politeness

Fyodor Karamazov is one of the best characters in all of literature. He's a total ass, a brilliant comic invention on the part of Dostoyevsky; he jumps right off the page:

A cheap little clock on the wall struck twelve hurriedly, and served to begin the conversation.

"Precisely to our time," cried Fyodor Pavlovitch, "but no sign of my son, Dmitri. I apologise for him, sacred elder!" (Alyosha shuddered all over at "sacred elder".) "I am always punctual myself, minute for minute, remembering that punctuality is the courtesy of kings."

"But you are not a king, anyway," Miusov muttered, losing his self-restraint at once.

"Yes; that's true. I'm not a king, and, would you believe it, Pyotr Alexandrovitch, I was aware of that myself. But, there! I always say the wrong thing... And I'm always like that, always like that. Always injuring myself with my politeness. Once, many years ago, I said to an influential person: 'Your wife is a ticklish lady,' in an honourable sense, of the moral qualities, so to speak. But he asked me, 'Why, have you tickled her?' I thought I'd be polite, so I couldn't help saying, 'Yes,' and he gave me a fine tickling on the spot. Only that happened long ago, so I'm not ashamed to tell the story. I'm always injuring myself like that."

"You're doing it now," muttered Miusov, with disgust.

Father Zossima scrutinised them both in silence.

"Am I? Would you believe it, I was aware of that, too, Pyotr Alexandrovitch, and let me tell you, indeed, I foresaw I should as soon as I began to speak...I'm like the philosopher, Diderot, your reverence. Did you ever hear, most Holy Father, how Diderot went to see the Metropolitan Platon, in the time of the Empress Catherine? He went in and said straight out, 'There is no God.' To which the great bishop lifted up his finger and answered, 'The fool has said in his heart there is no God' and he fell down at his feet on the spot. 'I believe,' he cried, 'and will be christened.' And so he was. Princess Dashkov was his godmother, and Potyomkin his godfather."

"Fyodor Pavlovitch, this is unbearable! You know you're telling lies and that that stupid anecdote isn't true. Why are you playing the fool?" cried Miusov in a shaking voice.

"I suspected all my life that it wasn't true," Fyodor Pavlovitch cried with conviction.


From Chapter 7 of The Brothers Karamazov, translation by Constance Garnett (ellipses by me).

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