Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 758
The man sitting next to Raskolnikov is Arkady Ivanovitch Svidrigailov, his sister’s former employer, and Raskolnikov looks at him carefully and suspiciously. Svidrigailov tells him he came for two reasons: first, he has heard interesting and flattering things about him and wanted to meet him, and second, he wants to enlist Raskolnikov’s help to assist Dounia, since she is unlikely to accept his help on her own.
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At Raskolnikov’s hostile reaction, Svidrigailov does not feel the need to justify himself but asks Raskolnikov what, specifically, he did that was so wrong. He fell in love with Dounia and asked her to elope with him, and that does not make him a monster. His reason became slave to his passion, and it could be argued that he was actually the most damaged victim in the unfortunate episode. Raskolnikov remains unmoved and asks the man to leave, but that does not deter Svidrigailov from making his case.
Raskolnikov accuses him of killing his wife, but Svidrigailov assures him that the medical inquiry was completely proper and in order. He has been lately thinking that perhaps he did somehow contribute morally to his wife’s calamity; however, he has come to the conclusion that he was in no way to blame for Marfa Petrovna’s death. He only beat her with a switch twice in their seven-year marriage, once shortly before her death, but Svidrigailov insists she enjoyed the insult.
This conversation is repugnant to Raskolnikov, but he sees that this is a man of fixed purpose. He suggests that his visitor must be bored, and Svidrigailov admits that is true, especially in the past three days. He observes frankly that Raskolnikov seems to be “somehow awfully strange,” sick in some way, and not just now but generally speaking. Raskolnikov gloomily admits that his visitor knows how to act like a man of good breeding when he chooses but wonders why Svidrigailov needs him, as he must have many connections.
Svidrigailov has seen some friends, but he is not interested in his former pursuits. (He was a card-sharp who ended up in prison for a debt of seventy thousand roubles; Marfa Petrovna bought his debt for thirty thousand and took him with her to the country, where they married and lived ever since.) He was a good manager of their country estate and now misses his wife. Svidrigailov asks Raskolnikov if he believes in ghosts, admitting that Mara Petrovna has visited him three times since her death and explaining each circumstance. This information seems to connect the men in some inexplicable way, though neither of them can articulate it effectively.
Their discussion turns into a debate about the existence of ghosts and the afterlife. Both men agree that they are rather sick and are amazed that just half an hour earlier they had not even known one another. Finally Raskolnikov asks his visitor to explain his request. Svidrigailov claims that Luzhin is not a fit match for Dounia, and he thinks Raskolnikov is the kind of man who does not want his sister marrying a scoundrel just for the sake of her family.
Finally Svidrigailov says it: he wants Raskolnikov to arrange a meeting so Svidrigailov can explain why Luzhin is not a fit match for Dounia, then beg her forgiveness and give her ten thousand roubles. Svidrigailov has reason to believe that Dounia would not be averse to breaking the engagement, and it seems a sensible plan to him. Raskolnikov, however, is outraged at the idea.
Svidrigailov assures Raskolnikov that he has no ulterior motives (in fact he may marry a young woman soon); he simply wants to show a young woman he greatly respects that he is capable of harm as well as good. He points out that Dounia will be taking money from Luzhin if she marries him. Raskolnikov is sure Dounia would not take the money, but Svidrigailov is just as sure she would and begs for the chance to let her accept or reject it of her own volition. If Raskolnikov does not arrange the meeting, he will seek her out on his own and likely upset her; Raskolnikov tentatively agrees.
Svidrigailov did not intend to upset Raskolnikov, though he was struck by his face earlier this morning. He is staying nearby and hopes the two men might one day be friends. No matter what, Dounia will be receiving three thousand roubles in a few weeks, as stipulated in Marfa Ivanovna’s will. As he leaves, Svidrigailov runs into Razumihin in the hallway.