ISSUE 63 APRIL 2004 BACK

identity

A raw youth

A page from the writing of Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881)

I have passed the leaving examination at the grammar school, and now I am in my twenty-first year. My surname is Dolgoruky, and my legal father is Makar Ivanov Dolgoruky, formerly a serf in the household of the Versilovs. In this way I am a legitimate son, although I am, as a matter of fact, conspicuously illegitimate, and there is not the faintest doubt about my origin.

The facts are as follows. Twenty-two years ago Versilov (that is my father), being twenty-five years old, visited his estate in the province of Tula. I imagine that at that time his character was still quite unformed. It is curious that this man who, even in my childhood, made such an impression upon me, who had such a crucial influence on the whole bent of my mind, and who perhaps has even cast his shadow over the whole of my future, still remains, even now, a complete enigma to me in many respects. Of this, more particulars later. There is no describing him straight off. My whole manuscript will be full of this man, anyway.

He had just been left a widower at that time, that is, when he was twenty-five. He had married one of the Fanariotovs “a girl of high rank but without much money “and by her he had a son and a daughter. The facts that I have gathered about this wife whom he lost so early are somewhat scanty, and are lost among my materials, and, indeed, many of the circumstances of Versilov's private life have eluded me, for he has always been so proud, disdainful, reserved and casual with me, in spite of a sort of meekness towards me which was striking at times. I will mention, however, to make things clear beforehand, that he ran through three fortunes in his lifetime, and very big ones too, of over fourteen hundred souls, and maybe more. Now, of course, he has not a farthing.

He went to the village on that occasion, “God knows why,” so at least he said to me afterwards. His young children were, as usual, not with him but with relations. This was always his method with his children, legitimate and illegitimate alike. The house-serfs on this estate were rather numerous, and among them was a gardener called Makar Ivanov Dolgoruky. Here I will note in parenthesis, to relieve my mind once and for all, I doubt whether anyone can ever have raged against his surname as I have all my life; this is stupid, of course, but so it has been. Every time I entered a school or met persons whom I had to treat with respect as my elders, every wretched little teacher, tutor, priest “anyone you like “on asking my name and hearing it was Dolgoruky, for some reason invariably thought fitting to add, “Prince Dolgoruky?” And every single time I was forced to explain to these futile people, “No, SIMPLY Dolgoruky.”

That SIMPLY began to drive me mad at last. Here I note as a curious phenomenon that I don't remember a single exception; every one asked the question. For some it was apparently quite superfluous, and indeed I don't know how the devil it could have been necessary for anyone. But all, every one of them asked it. On hearing that I was SIMPLY Dolgoruky, the questioner usually looked me up and down with a blank and stupidly apathetic stare that betrayed that he did not know why he had asked the question. Then he would walk away. My comrades and schoolfellows were the most insulting of all. How do schoolboys question a new-comer? The new boy, abashed and confused on the first day of entering a school (whatever school it may be), is the victim of all; they order him about, they tease him, and treat him like a lackey. A stout, chubby urchin suddenly stands still before his victim and watches him persistently for some moments with a stern and haughty stare. The new boy stands facing him in silence, looks at him out of the corner of his eyes, and, if he is not a coward, waits to see what is going to happen.

“What's your name?”

–Dolgoruky.”

–Prince Dolgoruky?”

–No, simply Dolgoruky.”

–Ah, simply! Fool.”

And he was right; nothing could be more foolish than to be called Dolgoruky without being a prince. I have to bear the burden of that foolishness through no fault of my own. Later on, when I began to get very cross about it, I always answered the question “Are you a prince?” by saying, “No, I'm the son of a servant, formerly a serf.”

At last, when I was roused to the utmost pitch of fury, I resolutely answered:

–No, simply Dolgoruky, the illegitimate son of my former owner.”

I thought of this when I was in the sixth form of the grammar school, and though I was very soon after thoroughly convinced that I was stupid, I did not at once give up being so. I remember that one of the teachers opined “he was alone in his opinion, however “that I was “filled with ideas of vengeance and civic rights.” As a rule this reply was received with a sort of meditative pensiveness, anything but flattering to me.

At last one of my schoolfellows, a very sarcastic boy, to whom I hardly talked once in a year, said to me with a serious countenance, looking a little away:

“Such sentiments do you credit, of course, and no doubt you have something to be proud of; but if I were in your place I should not be too festive over being illegitimate . . . you seem to expect congratulations!”

From that time forth I dropped BOASTING of being illegitimate.

I repeat, it is very difficult to write in Russian: here I have covered three pages with describing how furious I have been all my life with my surname, and after all the reader will, no doubt, probably have deduced that I was really furious at not being a prince but simply Dolgoruky. To explain again and defend myself would be humiliating.


This feature: Page 3 of Dostoevsky's book A Raw Youth. Translated by Constance Garnett http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks01/0100161.txt

THE INTERNATIONAL CHILD AND YOUTH CARE NETWORK (CYC-Net)
Registered Non-Profit and Public Benefit Organisation in the Republic of South Africa (031-323-NPO, PBO 930015296)

P.O. Box 23199, Claremont 7735, Cape Town, South Africa  /  207 L'ile de Belair, Rosemere, Quebec, J7A 1A8, Canada

Writing for CYC-Online  /  Board of Governors  /  Constitution  /  Funding  /  Site content and usage  /  Privacy Policy   /   Advertising  /  Contact us


iOS App Android App