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Journal of Katherine Mansfield

Shatov and his Wife (“The Possessed”)

Shatov and his Wife (“The Possessed”).

There is something awfully significant about the attitude of Shatov to his wife, and it is amazing how, when Dostoevsky at last turns a soft but penetrating and full light upon him, how we have managed to gather a great deal of knowledge of his character from the former vague side-lights and shadowy impressions. He is just what we thought him; he behaves just as we would expect him to do. There is all that crudity and what you might call ‘shock-headedness’ in his nature —and it is wonderfully tragic that he who is so soon to be destroyed himself should suddenly realise—and through a third person—through a little squealing baby—the miracle just being alive is.

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Every time I read those chapters about his newborn happiness I cherish a kind of tiny hope that this time he will escape—he will be warned, he won't die.

How did Dostoevsky know about that extraordinary vindictive feeling, that relish for little laughter—that comes over women in pain? It is a very secret thing, but it's profound, profound. They don't want to spare the one whom they love. If that one loves them with a kind of blind devotion as Shatov did Marie, they long to torment him, and this tormenting gives them real positive relief. Does this resemble in any way the tormenting that one observes so often in his affairs of passion? Are his women ever happy when they torment their lovers? No, they too are in the agony of labour. They are giving birth to their new selves. And they never believe in their deliverance.

[After our return from Bandol in April 1916, we lived at Higher Tregerthen in North Cornwall, then at Mylor in South Cornwall. In September 1916 we came to London.]

[November. 3 Gower Street.] It is so strange! I am suddenly back again, coming into my room and desiring to write, Knock, goes Miss Chapman at the door. A man has come to clean the windows. I might have known it!

And so death claims us. I am sure that just at that final moment a knock will come and Somebody Else will come to ‘clean the windows’.

B. has given me his fountain pen. The room page 64 is full of smoke to-night, the gas bubbles as if the pipes were full of water. It's very quiet. I have rather a cold, but I feel absolutely alive after my experience of this afternoon.

December 8. I thought and thought this morning but to not much avail. I can't think why, but my wit seems to be nearly deserting me when I want to get down to earth. I am all right—sky-high. And even in my brain, in my head, I can think and act and write wonders—wonders; but the moment I really try to put them down I fail miserably.