Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Parfyon Roghozin

We meet Parfyon Roghozin in the train that reaches Petersburg in the early hours of a cold morning. We meet Prince Myshkin and the lecherous Lebedev too. But this post is just an attempt to see who Roghozin is, not the Prince for he is too well known. Roghozin is swarthy and dark, his features coarse writes Dostoevsky in the beginning of The Idiot, the first part of which, many acknowledge, is Dostoevsky's best prose. Roghozin has inherited a few million roubles and belongs to the merchant class. It is quite evident that he moves in different circles compared to the Prince. But he declares that he is in love with the fantastically beautiful Nastasya Fillipovna and intends to marry her, come what may. Thus it assumes interest for us, we must know him more.

Roghozin makes a fantastic entry again, a few hours later with his gang of goons and lecherous thugs, half drunk or dissolute and throws a hundred thousand roubles at Nastasya's feet. Go burn the money, says Roghozin, I am all yours he means. And the scene, of one remarkable dramatic interest, the kind that Bakhtin calls carnavialistic parody has Lebedev call this an atrocity. Roghozin will do anything to have Nastasya, even kill, even burn money for what do the others know of passion? He fears the meekest man, the Prince himself, who by now offers to marry Nastasya. The Prince too is in love, in love with Nastasya Fillipovna, who has a face worth killing for, worth leaving this world for.

Roghozin does not figure much in parts two and three of The Idiot, though we have him possibly stalking the Prince, for the prince is followed by dark eyes. Most of these two parts, Roghozin is mentioned briefly, he exists only in shadows, he follows the Prince like a shadow. For that matter, the beautiful Nastasya Fillipovna is a shadow too. However, the Prince decides to meet Roghozin and pays him a visit, a visit to Roghozin's melancholy house. It is as dark as Roghozin and here a strange thing happens. They exchange crosses, the Prince declares him a brother, though this does not prevent Roghozin from harboring thoughts of murdering the Prince. We see Roghozin once again but only towards the end of the novel, the dramatic intensity of whose last fourteen pages or so is far better than most five hundred page tomes.

Roghozin has killed Nastasya. The perfectly murdered perfect face lies shrouded in silk. Only a corner of her feet are visible. Roghozin invites the Prince for a vigil, for after all, the loss is his too. They stand a cold vigil, a death and a love vigil, a haunting night, a murderous night, a strange night, a strange few hours. The Prince lies next to Roghozin and his tears fall on Roghozin's face. The tears are now exchanged after the crosses have been exchanged, the brothers in arm are now brothers in vigil too. Everything is finished, love killed and gone. All the characteristics of a menippean satire have been fulfilled, literature, as Bakhtin says, has been carnavalized.

Not much has been told of Roghozin, for if the Prince is meek and delicate, Roghozin is swarthy and determined to act. To the Prince's christ like love, Roghozin brings passion, a physical intensity. To the beggar prince, we have Roghozin's millions, to the Prince's charms, we have Roghozin's lecherous dissolute gang. They are opposites of each other and yet they love the same woman. One must give way, one must yield. Roghozin kills Nastasya Fillipovna, elevating this to a tragedy, but not after its many comic routes. The Prince is intense, they call him an idiot, Roghozin is a mystery, who knows him? And yet the two are linked inextricably, first by the cross and later by tears. The last pages reveal the passion of Roghozin and the Princ accepting it calmly.

Even though the scenes of drama in the first part of The Idiot are legend, the pace frenzied, the drama manic, the essays that Bakhtin has written in his Dosteoevsky's Poetics are no less brilliant. Bakhtin's exploration of carnival literature, skandal-catastrophe and satire, his elucidation of these frantic drawing rooms scenes as menippean satire allow us to understand the genre in The Idiot. But I am concerned with Roghozin, for the Prince is too open a book. Roghozin has Holbein's Christ in his melancholy house, he doesn't say much and yet he chooses murder and Siberia. Why does he kill Nastasya? Dostoevsky's world of polyphony does not allow him to exercise authorial control, Roghozin is his own master, the world is dialogic not monologic. But this passion and this murder are fantastic deeds. Dostoevsky called himself a realist not a psychologist but isn't Roghozin a dark man indeed?

Roghozin has laid Nastasya Fillipovna on the bed, covered with melancholy shrouds. Silken throws are scattered I imagine everywhere. The deed is done, the crime perpetrated. Only the vigil remains. Roghozin is somewhere in a wasteland, carrying with him the cross of the Prince and the memory of the knife that has penetrated Nastasya's heart. The melancholy love is with him too, the shroud, the silk and the hopeless ecstacy of love requited and unrequited. Only in this unrealized love is the passion fulfilled and love elevated to more than desire but dream.

No comments: