Years ago, Svidrigailov was in debtors' prison for a gambling debt he could not possibly pay, when Marfa Petrovna found him and paid his debt. She was a sensible, honest woman, though completely uneducated; she was also much older than Svidrigailov. In his “swinishness,” Svidrigailov warned this honest and jealous woman that he would not be able to remain faithful to her, and she somehow accepted that brutal honesty as an assurance that he would never deceive her. After many tearful discussions, the two of them entered into a contract in which Svidrigailov had license to pursue other women with her tacit permission, but he was to reveal to her any “great passion” that might happen.
Marfa Petrovna never guessed that her profligate husband was capable of real love. He was surprised that she hired Dounia, for she was a lovely woman in every way; he thinks his wife fell in love with Dounia, as well. Svidrigailov immediately saw the danger and tried to stay away from the new governess. His behavior seemed repellent and gloomy, and Marfa Petrovna scolded him for it at first. She had the awful habit of telling others about her husband’s sins, and Dounia quickly became her new confidante.
After Marfa Petrovna shared “mysterious and interesting” gossip about her husband with her new friend, Dounia took pity on him and wanted to save his soul. Svidrigailov saw that Dounia’s earnestness was going to work in his favor and began to set the trap for her. (Raskolnikov glowers, but Svidrigailov reminds him that nothing came of it in the end.) He has found that the surest way to win a woman to his desires is flattery, and it was beginning to work on Dounia until Marfa Petrovna saw something in his eyes that infuriated her.
The emotional turmoil of that time drove Svidrigailov into a frenzy, and he would have done anything Dounia told him to do—even kill his wife—just to have her. When he ascertained that she was a poor woman, he offered her what money he could gather to entice her to run away with him. Svidrigailov became frantic when Marfa Petrovna contacted the “scoundrelly attorney” Luzhin and almost made a match for Dounia. Raskolnikov’s interest in the story suddenly increases, and he prepares to take advantage of the fact that Svidrigailov has been mindlessly drinking as he talks and is now likely to say more than he ought. He incites Svidrigailov by accusing him of coming to Petersburg to pursue his evil intentions.
As expected, Svidrigailov grows angry but assures Raskolnikov that he is planning to be married. He has only ten minutes before leaving for an appointment, but he tells Raskolnikov about his betrothed. She is only sixteen years old (Svidrigailov is fifty) and the child of an extremely impoverished family. The betrothal was arranged by Svidrigailov’s landlady, knowing he was bored, and she probably hopes to gain something for herself from the match. Raskolnikov is appalled by Svidrigailov’s obvious lust for young girls, which Svidrigailov affirms by telling of another young girl of whom he took advantage.
Svidrigailov laughs at Raskolnikov’s consternation and offers to introduce him to the girls. Suddenly he gets up to leave, and Raskolnikov grows uneasy when he sees that the effects of the drink are wearing off quickly; Svidrigailov’s manner changes drastically. He tells Raskolnikov to go his own way but that they will meet again. However, Raskolnikov is suspicious and resolves to follow Svidrigailov.