Have you ever seen…

from “A writer’s diary”

by Fyodor Dostoevsky

( Photo from www.sistercare.com )

Have you ever seen how a peasant beats his wife? I have. He begins with a rope or a strap. Peasant life is without aesthetic pleasures such as music, theatres, and magazines; it is natural that this void be filled with something. Once he has bound his wife or thrust her feet into an opening in the floorboards, our peasant would begin, probably methodically, indifferently, even sleepily; his blows are measured; he doesn’t listen to her cries and her pleading; or rather, he does listen, and listens with delight – otherwise what satisfaction would there be in beating her?

Do you know, gentlemen, people are born in various circumstances: can you not conceive that this woman, in other circumstances, might have been some Juliet or Beatrice from Shakespeare, or Gretchen from Faust? I’m not saying that she was – it would be absurd to claim that – but yet there could be the embryo of something very noble in her soul, something no worse, perhaps, than what could be found in a woman of noble birth; a loving, even lofty, heart; a character filled with a most original beauty. The very fact that she hesitated so long in taking her own life shows something so quiet, meek, patient, and affectionate about her.

And so this same Beatrice or Gretchen is beaten and whipped like a dog! The blows rain down faster and faster, harder and harder – countless blows. He begins to grow heated and finds it to his taste. At last he grows wild, and his wildness pleases him. The animal cries of his victim intoxicate him like liquor: “I’ll wash your feet and drink the water,” cries Beatrice in an inhuman voice. But finally she grows quite; she stops shrieking and only groans wildly, her breath catching constantly; and now the blows come ever faster and ever more furiously….

Suddenly he throws down the strap; like a madman he seizes a stick or a branch, anything he can find, and shatters it with three final, terrible blows across her back – enough! He steps away, sits down at the table, heaves a sigh, and sets to drinking his kvass.

A small girl, their daughter (and they did have a daughter!) trembles on the stove in the corner, trying to hide: she has heard her mother crying. He walks out of the hut. Toward dawn the mother would revive and get up, groaning and crying with every movement, and set off to milk the cow, fetch water, go to work.

And as he leaves he tells her in his slow, methodical, and serious voice: “Don’t you dare eat that bread. That’s my bread.”

Toward the end he also liked hanging her by her feet as well, the same way he had hung the chicken. Probably, he would hang her, step aside, and sit down to have his porridge. When he had finished his meal he would suddenly seize the strap again and set to work on the hanging woman… The little girl, all atremble and huddled on the stove, would steal a wild glance at the mother hanging by her heels and try to hide again.

* * *

The mother hanged herself on a May morning, a bright spring day, probably. She had been seen the night before, beaten and completely crazed. Before her death she had also made a trip to the village court, and there it was that they mumbled to her, “Learn to live together.”

When the rope tightened around the mother’s neck and she was making her last strangled cries, the little girl called out from the corner: “Mamma, why are you choking?” Then she cautiously approached her, called out to the hanging woman, gazed wildly at her. In the course of the morning she came out of her corner to look at the mother again, until the father finally returned.

* * *

And now we see him before the court – solemn, puffy-faced, closely following the proceedings. He denies everything. “We never spoke a sharp word to each other,” he says, dropping a few of his words like precious pearls. The jury leaves, and after a “brief deliberation” they bring in the verdict: “Guilty, but with recommendation for clemency.”

Note that the girl testified against her father. She told everything and, they say, wrung tears from the spectators. Had it not been for the “clemency” of the jury he would have been exiled to Siberia. But with “clemency” he need spend only eight months in prison and then come home and ask that his daughter, who testified against him on behalf of her mother, be returned to him. Once again he will have someone to hang by the heels…


( Photo by Skyey )

* * *

The White Ribbon Campaign.

3 thoughts on “Have you ever seen…

  1. I cried after reading this touching life story. Thank you for the gentle reminder in being aware of violence against women.

  2. […] I’ve spent years pulling my mum and dad apart to prevent them from killing each other (and I mean that literally. I knew how easily domestic violence can spin out of control and turn into a murder as one of my neighbours died a few metres from my apartment’s door after being stabbed in a domestic argument). I’ve spent decades thinking of everything that went wrong in my parents’ relationship and brought my parents to that hell. I came across a lot of other stories of domestic violence during my life. Only a few of them were as simple as the one described by Dostoevsky. […]

  3. […] Have you ever seen… […]

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