Tuesday, November 23, 2004
How it happened he did not know. But all at once something seemed to seize him and fling him at her feet. He wept and threw his arms round her knees. For the first instant she was terribly frightened and she turned pale. She jumped up and looked at him trembling. But at the same moment she understood, and a light of infinite happiness came into her eyes. She knew and had no doubt that he loved her beyond everything and that at last the moment had come....
They wanted to speak, but could not; tears stood in their eyes. They were both pale and thin; but those sick pale faces were bright with the dawn of a new future, of a full resurrection into a new life. They were renewed by love; the heart of each held infinite sources of life for the heart of the other.
Forgive me as the closet humanist in me emerges to the light of day. On our last evening in our old apartment, my wife and I ended a year-long journey through the pages of Crime and Punishment
, a narrative which I found saturated with the most gritty realism and sincere introspection as any I have read. After five hundred pages spent within the demented and egocentric mind of Rodion Romanovitch Raskolnikov, it is only on the final page that we are rewarded with what I think may be the most glorious conversion narrative in literary history. Its success is reflected in what is, in my mind, the crucial hallmark of good literature - upon putting down the book, my immediate instinct was to try and become a better person.
She too had been greatly agitated that day, and at night she was taken ill again. But she was so happy- and so unexpectedly happy- that she was almost frightened of her happiness. Seven years, only seven years! At the beginning of their happiness at some moments they were both ready to look on those seven years as though they were seven days. He did not know that the new life would not be given him for nothing, that he would have to pay dearly for it, that it would cost him great striving, great suffering.
But that is the beginning of a new story - the story of the gradual renewal of a man, the story of his gradual regeneration, of his passing from one world into another, of his initiation into a new unknown life. That might be the subject of a new story, but our present story is ended.
Like Augustine's autobiography, what comes through (as in all Dostoevsky's novels) is the depth of human depravity (when man refuses the spiritual), and the ever-present possibility of grace and human renewal (when man turns toward the spiritual). What makes this story unique from Augustine's is the testimony of lived holiness, manifested very subtly here in the person of Sonia the prostitute (perhaps we should say 'lived sincerity,' since Sonia is not really a 'holy' character - but she is honest and transparent in a way that Raskolnikov is not), whereas Augustine, for all the great role models in his life from St. Ambrose to St. Monica, experiences conversion in a surprisingly individualistic fashion. Whereas in Augustine's Confessions the presence of God is brought about through the soul's turning to God in prayer, for Dostoevsky it is mediated through interpersonal love.
# posted by Jamie : 1:35 PM