Dostoevsky — Sonia’s reading of the raising of Lazarus in Crime and Punishment

“So you pray to God a great deal, Sonia?” he asked her.

Sonia did not speak; he stood beside her waiting for an answer.

“What should I be without God?” she whispered rapidly, forcibly, glancing at him with suddenly flashing eyes, and squeezing his hand.

“Ah, so that is it!” he thought.

“And what does God do for you?” he asked, probing her further.

Sonia was silent a long while, as though she could not answer. Her weak chest kept heaving with emotion.

“Be silent! Don’t ask! You don’t deserve!” she cried suddenly, looking sternly and wrathfully at him.

“That’s it, that’s it,” he repeated to himself.

“He does everything,” she whispered quickly, looking down again.

“That’s the way out! That’s the explanation,” he decided, scrutinising her with eager curiosity, with a new, strange, almost morbid feeling. He gazed at that pale, thin, irregular, angular little face, those soft blue eyes, which could flash with such fire, such stern energy, that little body still shaking with indignation and anger–and it all seemed to him more and more strange, almost impossible. “She is a religious maniac!” he repeated to himself.

There was a book lying on the chest of drawers. He had noticed it every time he paced up and down the room. Now he took it up and looked at it. It was the New Testament in the Russian translation. It was bound in leather, old and worn.

“Where did you get that?” he called to her across the room.

She was still standing in the same place, three steps from the table.

“It was brought me,” she answered, as it were unwillingly, not looking at him.

“Who brought it?”

“Lizaveta, I asked her for it.”

“Lizaveta! strange!” he thought.

Everything about Sonia seemed to him stranger and more wonderful every moment. He carried the book to the candle and began to turn over the pages.

“Where is the story of Lazarus?” he asked suddenly.

Sonia looked obstinately at the ground and would not answer. She was standing sideways to the table.

“Where is the raising of Lazarus? Find it for me, Sonia.”

She stole a glance at him.

“You are not looking in the right place. . . . It’s in the fourth gospel,” she whispered sternly, without looking at him.

“Find it and read it to me,” he said. He sat down with his elbow on the table, leaned his head on his hand and looked away sullenly, prepared to listen.

“In three weeks’ time they’ll welcome me in the madhouse! I shall be there if I am not in a worse place,” he muttered to himself.

Sonia heard Raskolnikov’s request distrustfully and moved hesitatingly to the table. She took the book however.

“Haven’t you read it?” she asked, looking up at him across the table.

Her voice became sterner and sterner.

“Long ago. . . . When I was at school. Read!”

“And haven’t you heard it in church?”

“I . . . haven’t been. Do you often go?”

“N-no,” whispered Sonia.

Raskolnikov smiled.

“I understand. . . . And you won’t go to your father’s funeral to-morrow?”

“Yes, I shall. I was at church last week, too . . . I had a requiem service.”

“For whom?”

“For Lizaveta. She was killed with an axe.”

His nerves were more and more strained. His head began to go round.

“Were you friends with Lizaveta?”

“Yes. . . . She was good . . . she used to come . . . not often . . . she couldn’t. . . . We used to read together and . . . talk. She will see God.”

The last phrase sounded strange in his ears. And here was something new again: the mysterious meetings with Lizaveta and both of them– religious maniacs.

“I shall be a religious maniac myself soon! It’s infectious!”

“Read!” he cried irritably and insistently.

Sonia still hesitated. Her heart was throbbing. She hardly dared to read to him. He looked almost with exasperation at the “unhappy lunatic.”

“What for? You don’t believe? . . .” she whispered softly and as it were breathlessly.

“Read! I want you to,” he persisted. “You used to read to Lizaveta.”

Sonia opened the book and found the place. Her hands were shaking, her voice failed her. Twice she tried to begin and could not bring out the first syllable.

“Now a certain man was sick named Lazarus of Bethany . . .” she forced herself at last to read, but at the third word her voice broke like an overstrained string. There was a catch in her breath.

Raskolnikov saw in part why Sonia could not bring herself to read to him and the more he saw this, the more roughly and irritably he insisted on her doing so. He understood only too well how painful it was for her to betray and unveil all that was her /own/. He understood that these feelings really were her /secret treasure/, which she had kept perhaps for years, perhaps from childhood, while she lived with an unhappy father and a distracted stepmother crazed by grief, in the midst of starving children and unseemly abuse and reproaches. But at the same time he knew now and knew for certain that, although it filled her with dread and suffering, yet she had a tormenting desire to read and to read to /him/ that he might hear it, and to read /now/ whatever might come of it! . . . He read this in her eyes, he could see it in her intense emotion. She mastered herself, controlled the spasm in her throat and went on reading the eleventh chapter of St. John. She went on to the nineteenth verse:

“And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary to comfort them concerning their brother.

“Then Martha as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming went and met Him: but Mary sat still in the house.

“Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.

“But I know that even now whatsoever Thou wilt ask of God, God will give it Thee. . . .”

Then she stopped again with a shamefaced feeling that her voice would quiver and break again.

“Jesus said unto her, thy brother shall rise again.

“Martha saith unto Him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection, at the last day.

“Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in Me though he were dead, yet shall he live.

“And whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die. Believest thou this?

“She saith unto Him,”

(And drawing a painful breath, Sonia read distinctly and forcibly as though she were making a public confession of faith.)

“Yea, Lord: I believe that Thou art the Christ, the Son of God Which should come into the world.”

She stopped and looked up quickly at him, but controlling herself went on reading. Raskolnikov sat without moving, his elbows on the table and his eyes turned away. She read to the thirty-second verse.

“Then when Mary was come where Jesus was and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying unto Him, Lord if Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.

“When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled,

“And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto Him, Lord, come and see.

“Jesus wept.

“Then said the Jews, behold how He loved him!

“And some of them said, could not this Man which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died?”

Raskolnikov turned and looked at her with emotion. Yes, he had known it! She was trembling in a real physical fever. He had expected it. She was getting near the story of the greatest miracle and a feeling of immense triumph came over her. Her voice rang out like a bell; triumph and joy gave it power. The lines danced before her eyes, but she knew what she was reading by heart. At the last verse “Could not this Man which opened the eyes of the blind . . .” dropping her voice she passionately reproduced the doubt, the reproach and censure of the blind disbelieving Jews, who in another moment would fall at His feet as though struck by thunder, sobbing and believing. . . . “And /he, he/–too, is blinded and unbelieving, he, too, will hear, he, too, will believe, yes, yes! At once, now,” was what she was dreaming, and she was quivering with happy anticipation.

“Jesus therefore again groaning in Himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it.

“Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto Him, Lord by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.”

She laid emphasis on the word /four/.

“Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee that if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?

“Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, Father, I thank Thee that Thou hast heard Me.

“And I knew that Thou hearest Me always; but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that Thou hast sent Me.

“And when He thus had spoken, He cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth.

“And he that was dead came forth.”

(She read loudly, cold and trembling with ecstasy, as though she were seeing it before her eyes.)

“Bound hand and foot with graveclothes; and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him and let him go.

“Then many of the Jews which came to Mary and had seen the things which Jesus did believed on Him.”

She could read no more, closed the book and got up from her chair quickly.

“That is all about the raising of Lazarus,” she whispered severely and abruptly, and turning away she stood motionless, not daring to raise her eyes to him. She still trembled feverishly. The candle-end was flickering out in the battered candlestick, dimly lighting up in the poverty-stricken room the murderer and the harlot who had so strangely been reading together the eternal book. Five minutes or more passed.

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This entry was posted in Dostoevsky, Existentialism, philosophy, Scientific "knowing", Scripture. Bookmark the permalink.

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