"The candle-end had long been burning out in the bent candlestick, casting a dim light in this destitute room upon the murderer and the harlot strangely come together over the reading of the eternal book."
The murderer, in his attempt to alleviate discomfort...or perhaps in an effort to bring another being into his suffering, seeks out the good-hearted harlot and confesses. He then asks her to read to him from the book of John...the story of Lazarus.
She reads. The candle burns. He confesses. She weeps.
She enters into his suffering and he, not yet able to fully connect, is shocked by her empathy.
This scene stands out in my mind as the catalyst of the rest of the book. Following this moment are many encounters and a myriad of emotions that border on insanity. He breaks from reality...deep in his thoughts...but always comes back to the most forceful thought of his existence: He...unlike the great men of history and war...is not able to kill and forget. He is incapable of murdering and counting it to the greater good of society. While regret does not border on the forefront of his mind, a certain kind of discomfort seeks to consume him.
It's hard to know what type of discomfort he is experiencing. I took him for a criminal...an anti-social man who is not truly able to enter into the arena of sympathy, regret or even deep contemplation centering around the well-being of another. His entire existence is centers around himself and the angst of his soul. The angst, being more at the frustration at his inability to kill and exist free of inner-turmoil than being from the regret at taking a human life, is not exactly an angst of nobility. Human life, to him, is nothing but existence...and his existence, if he is able to kill a "louse" of a woman and move on, unheeded by social norms and conformity, is more important and noble than that of any common person. Just like Napoleon and all great men.
So the discomfort...the inner turmoil...what is it exactly, if not a full-fledged regret for his crime? What is this inner turmoil and from where does it stem? It's all rather ambiguous and it quickly becomes circular. A man free of convictions exists in a world of torment after a crime he committed...a crime he does not regret! My head spins and I am torn and I am taken to a place of deep contemplation. And I relish in it.
The story continues. He confesses. Truly confesses to authorities and he is shipped to Siberia. An existence, less noble than any common person, complete with cockroaches in his soup.
The harlot follows him to Siberia. She no longer exists under the crushing empathy and responsibility of her younger siblings...so she leaves her lifestyle which was always for the sake of providing for those weaker than she. She becomes a seamstress and spends her days sewing and investing in the murderer who chose her. She visits him. She withstands his contempt and trusts her meek, quiet, loving spirit will redeem him.
And just when I think he is beyond redemption...when it becomes clear he is incapable of love and connection...he is resurrected. The author uses this term to describe his transformation...or the beginning of what would become his transformation.
They sit on the bank...and he falls at her feet and weeps. And...in that moment...it's as if someone has called him forth just as Jesus called Lazarus that day the candle burned in the dirty, barren apartment.
The history of his soul...the selfishness of his spirit. The incessant rambling of his mind that bordered on insanity and took him to places of egotism amidst self-loathing. All of it was, in fact, representative of a spirit, an existence, that was...dead. Without life. He was not living...merely existing...and for what, he knew not.
Until the hour he killed, confessed and was resurrected.
Did he ever learn to truly regret his deed? Will he always be a man who wanders and wonders? Will he ever feel love for anyone, other than the harlot who so selflessly beseeched his devotion? Is he capable of killing again or will his transformation become complete?
As I ask these questions internally and turn the last pages of this thought-provoking narrative, the words stare at back me:
"But here begs a new account, the account of a man's gradual renewal, the account of his gradual regeneration, his gradual transition from one world to another, his acquaintance with a new, hitherto, completely unknown reality. It might make the subject of a new story-but our present story is ended."
And so it ends...with the hope of a new beginning.