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Critical Essay by David Ayers
SOURCE: "Two Bald Men: Eliot and Dostoevsky," in Forum for Modern Language Studies, Vol. XXIV, No. 4, October, 1988, pp. 282-300.
In the essay below, Ayers considers whether Dostoevsky's novel The Double influenced Eliot's writing of "Prufrock."
Students of the influence that one author has had on the work of another have at all times had reason to be careful, not to give too much importance to the superficial resemblance, the odd verbal parallel, while seeking deeper structural affinities—without, that is, making one or two centuries of highbrow literary effort appear to have repeatedly produced the same thing.
In the case of Eliot, possibly the most influence-prone writer of an age, the scholar must be doubly careful. At all points Eliot seems to have anticipated the influence-hunter's search and to have laid false trails—I say "seems" because, once possessed of the notion of Eliot's duplicitousness, it becomes impossible not to take it into consideration at every stage—what started life as a phantom becomes an everyday reality.
The notorious "Notes on the Wasteland"—hard to take seriously, hard to ignore—are perhaps a prime example of this. Many of Eliot's essays, while purporting to be objective criticism seem, under scrutiny, to be oblique meditations about the influence that an author might have had on Eliot's own work. The 1918 Lecture, "From Poe to Valery", finds in the work of Poe "nothing but slipshod writing, puerile thinking unsupported by wide reading or profound scholarship, haphazard experiments in various kinds of writing …" Yet Eliot admits that he shall "never be sure" what influence Poe's work has had on him. The essay then proceeds effectively to mitigate the effect of this influence by refracting Poe through Baudelaire, Mallarmé and Valéry—far more elegant peers than the stylistically crude and obsessive Poe.
Examining the influence of Dostoevsky on Eliot might seem a potentially fraught task. The first attempt to do so was an article by John C. Pope, "Prufrock and Raskolnikov," which appeared in American Literature in 1945. Pope gives weight to some very slight verbal parallels between Eliot's poem and Garnett's translation of Crime and Punishment, and additionally points out parallels of symbolic language—fog, streets, stairs (fairly ubiquitous phenomena, on any account) and references to Hamlet and Lazarus.
While Pope's intuition was undoubtedly correct, he had made one fatal mistake, which Eliot himself pointed out in a personal letter. "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" had been completed in the summer of 1911, several years before any English translation of Crime and Punishment had appeared. This made nonsense of Pope's verbal parallels, as Pope himself acknowledged. However Pope did draw from Eliot the valuable information that he had been reading Dostoevsky in French translation, under the influence of his French tutor, Alain Fournier, while writing "Prufrock", although Eliot carefully disperses the question of influence on the poem by pointing out that parts of the poem, including the reference to Hamlet, were written before he had encountered Dostoevsky. Further, in addition to Crime and Punishment, he claims to have read The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov.
A study of the possible influence of Dostoevsky's early novel The Double on "Prufrock" and later works of Eliot seems then to have a profound obstacle in its path—Eliot does not admit to having read the book. This at first seems disabling, but in fact it is liberating. It is possible that Eliot was misleading Pope while at the same time seeming to help the influence-hunters—just as the "Notes on the Wasteland" seem to do. The French edition of The Double, had already in the Winter of 1910 run to several editions, and would have been easily available to Eliot. Even discounting this possibility, The Double dating from before Dostoevsky's exile, had an acknowledged effect on the work of his later period, and indeed he was working on a revised version of The Double some twenty years after its first publication—working at the same time on Crime and Punishment. So the question of influence might then be a question of refracted influence. Just as Poe was received by Eliot refracted through the French symbolistes, perhaps he received The Double (a tale with gothic elements possibly drawn from Poe, and immature in style) refracted through Dostoevsky's later and allegedly greater works. Yet there remains the tantalizing possibility, that Eliot's silence about The Double, like his distancing himself from Poe, is the product of a guilty affinity.
The hero of The Double, Titular Councillor Golyadkin, Yakov Petrovich to his friends, is a balding civil servant who is every bit as belated, indecisive, evasive and impotent as J. Alfred Prufrock himself. The narrative of the tale, which playfully blends the comic and the Gothic, brings Golyadkin into collision with his exact double, who comes to work in his office, impresses himself on his superiors in a way that Golyadkin has never done, and finally drives Golyadkin to madness. The story of Golyadkin finds its ancestry in Gogol's The Nose, Pushkin's The Bronze Horesman, and Cervantes' Don Quixote, but in its narrative method it is profoundly modern, blending the comic monologue of Dickens—a style itself sometimes named as the precursor of the stream-of-consciousness method in English—with a prediction of Jamesian point-of-view narration. The result is that rather than witness the decline of Golyadkin into madness the reader is inextricably involved in that decline. Much of what occurs is presented in Golyadkin's own words. Even when this is not so, the narrative voice increasingly adopts Golyadkin's own phrases and expressions, and as the persecution inflicted on him by his double grows, there is no relief for the reader who would seek to distinguish the projections of Golyadkin's own fevered mind from a sober and objective understanding of events. Indeed, the status of the reader with respect to the reality of the narrative mimics Golyadkin's own relationship to his double—each is shown a reality which, however implausible, becomes the only possible reference point.
The Double opens with Titular Councillor Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin awakening from a long sleep, and finding himself unable to decide "whether what is happening around him is real and actual, or only the continuation of his disordered dreams". This blurring of the distinction between reality and fantasy, subjective and objective, is in its various forms the archetypal romantic legacy for both Dostoevsky and Eliot alike, refracted through Baudelaire, transported to Dostoevsky's Dickensian St Petersburg or Eliot's Dickensian London, and rendered ineluctable. Although Golyadkin quickly shakes himself awake to the grimy reality of St Peterburg, out of the "far-distant realm" of his dream, he will find the confusion recurring in his waking life, as he is forced to pinch himself to test his own wakefulness, considers pinching others also (but dare not), and is cruelly pinched on the nose and cheek by the taunting double.
For the moment, however, Golyadkin's possession of self and reality seems not to be threatened. He begins the morning by taking possession of his own image in the mirror. Considering what is about to happen, it is a greatly ironical moment, and one which enacts in microcosm the troubled heart of the Golyadkinesque dilemma:
Although the sleepy, short-sighted, rather bald figure reflected in the glass was of such an insignificant character that nobody at all would have found it at the least remarkable at first glance, its owner was evidently quite satisfied with all he saw there. 'It would be a fine thing if something was wrong with me today, if a pimple had suddenly appeared out of the blue, for example, or something else disastrous had happened; however, for the moment, it's all right; for the moment everything is going well.'
In the heart of the metropolis the individual is utterly anonymous, the civil servant like any other good Russian citizen must dedicate his life to the service of his country, and entrust his fate to the authorities as to the father. The self then can only be recognised as an individual in its own eyes, it can only possess itself as an image, a mirror-image perhaps, or an imagined one, but always one mediated by that of which it is an image. The self and the self-image can never coincide, just as the individual in the parental state must go always unacknowledged, and the result is an interminable anxiety which can only increase the more the incomplete and never self-sufficient self tries to cross the gap. This, roughly expressed, seems to be the Dostoevskian formula not only for Golyadkin—whose name is derived from goli = "naked"—but for mass urban man in general. The nakedness of Golyadkin is in his very typicality, a typicality arrived at by stripping urban man to a core of anxiety, stripping his language down to a mixture of state-inspired platitudes and romance-inspired desires. Indeed the self-satisfaction of Golyadkin contemplating himself in the mirror is presented in terms of a platitudinous satisfaction with reality which Golyadkin continually reproduces throughout the novel as his situation deteriorates with increasing speed.
Golyadkin's possession of self and reality alike appear, even at this early stage of the narrative, to be tenuous. On waking, Golyadkin had looked around his room at his furniture and clothes which "all looked familiarly back at him". After looking in the mirror he takes out a bundle of notes in a wallet, which also seems "to look back at Mr Golyadkin in a friendly and approving fashion". This is the pathetic fallacy—the objects in question look approvingly back at Golyadkin only as a projection of his own self-satisfaction. Yet a reality seen in this way can equally become a menace. What if the pact with reality is broken by reality itself, approval for Golyadkin withdrawn, and a pimple erupts or some worse disaster takes place? As if to underline this threat, Golyadkin's samovar is found "raging and hissing fiercely, almost beside itself with anger and threatening to boil over any minute, gabbling away in its strange gibberish, lisping and babbling to Mr Golyadkin." Yet perhaps this too is a projection of Golyadkin—during the course of the narrative he too frequently threatens to boil over with anger, is almost metaphorically beside himself, and is finally literally beside himself. Golyadkin's consciousness attempts equally to contain a potentially explosive reality and a potentially explosive self. When the attempt at containment fails, Golyadkin's grasp on reality and on his self-image depart together, the self-image conspiring with a malevolent reality to expose the thoroughly dispossessed Golyadkin to his own naked anxieties.
These first pages then present a microcosmic view of the whole tale, although it is not at first apparent how out of hand Golyadkin's affairs already are, let alone how far astray they are going to go. Indeed most of the action of the story has taken place already, and the narrative deals only with the final dissolution. The first incongruities emerge when Golyadkin looks for his servant, Petrushka. Golyadkin is only a minor civil servant in a dingy fourth floor apartment, yet his aspirations to social position, arising from his sheer lack of position, lead him to keep a manservant who must sleep behind a partition, and who accords Golyadkin no respect whatsoever, despite frequent admonitions that he should do so. This morning Golyadkin finds Petrushka joking with other servants, he surmises about himself, and dressed in a ridiculously ill-fitting livery for the purpose of a coach-journey which he is to undertake with his master. For someone of Golyadkin's status, a journey with a liveried coachman is inappropriate. One purpose of the journey is a shopping expedition at the fashionable Arcades of the Nevsky Prospect. It is a ghost expedition: Golyadkin orders many items, some destined for a lady, promises a deposit, and leaves without giving his address: in short, an almost maniacal social masquerade born of Golyadkin's deep-seated wish to be someone. Yet at the same time, an incident on the journey from his own home shows exactly the opposite impulse. First, Golyadkin sees two younger colleagues from his own department. They are surprised to see him dressed up and in a carriage, clearly beyond his station, and call out to him. He hides in the corner of the carriage but consoles himself with aggressive thoughts:
"I know them, they're nothing but schoolboys still in need of flogging … I'd have something to say to the lot of them, only …"
Golyadkin's self-communion of consolation rests on knowing the others already, feeling able to look down on and contain them in a fantasy of domination, and on the security that he would have something to say, even though he hasn't said it, if only … his remarks trail off in suspension points.
The suspension of "only …" serves to isolate the most common rhetorical device of Golyadkin's almost constant patter of self-justification. It is not suspended because Golyadkin is lost for argument—indeed later passages show that his rhetoric of the conditional provides him with an unlimited fund of argument—but that a second encounter provides a sharp intrusion into his interior monologue. He encounters his immediate superior in the Department, Andrey Phillipovich, in a carriage traveling in the opposite direction. He is in anguish trying to decide whether or not to greet the other, or to take refuge in self-effacement:
"… shall I pretend its not me but somebody else strikingly like me, and look as if nothing's the matter?"… "I … it's all right," he whispered, hardly able to speak, "it's quite all right; this is not me at all, Andrey Phillipovich, it's not me at all, not me, and that's all about it."
Once his boss has passed, Golyadkin is consumed by anger at his own pusillanimity, and directs "a terrible challenging stare at the opposite corner of the carriage, a stare calculated to reduce all his enemies to dust".
This is a fascinating incident, and a crucial one. The urge to self-effacement is born ultimately from the guilt of Golyadkin's desires, both for social status and for the respectable lady whom, it later emerges, he would like to marry. Thus the rhetoric of satisfaction and summary finality—"it's all right … that's all about it"—is an anxious attempt to contain the anxiety of an incomplete desire, one that is embarrassed by its own incompletion in the face of the seemingly self-sufficient other. Golyadkin's guilty reaction to his own embarrassment—a reaction he repeats several times during the course of the narration, always belatedly—projects enmity on to a reality which is merely uncompliant to his fantasy, and expresses a desire to exterminate that reality and replace it with fantasy. Indeed, Golyadkin's interior monologue throughout the narrative claims a knowledge, and very often a foreknowledge, of events, particularly of the thoughts and words of others, which it does not and cannot possess. In an effort to contain the other, the self attempts to substitute itself for the other—but only belatedly. In the face of an otherness which appears increasingly hostile to the desire of the self, the self steps sideways evasively—"this is not me at all".
Golyadkin is caught in an anxious oscillation between the wish to manifest his individuality—in whatever this may consist—and wish to conceal it—often expressed as the wish to hide in a mousehole, or as assertions about the normality and acceptability of his own actions or situation. This oscillation becomes a general indecisiveness on his part which almost entirely paralyses his will. This begins to become clear during the encounter with Andrey Phillipovich, and assumes its extreme form during Golyadkin's next encounter—with his new Doctor, Christian Ivanovich Rutenspitz. The visit to Rutenspitz is an impromptu one, impulsively decided upon after the encounter with Andrey Phillipovich and seemingly arising from that. On the way there, Golyadkin is tortured by doubts about the correctness and acceptability of his action, in that language of self-questioning which becomes the most persistent index of his character:
"Will it be all right though?… will it be all right? Is it a proper thing to do? Will this be the right time? However, does it really matter?" he continued as he mounted the stairs, breathing hard and trying to control the beating of his heart, which always seemed to beat hard on other people's stairs; "does it matter? I've come about my own business, after all, and there's nothing reprehensible in that … it would be stupid to try and keep anything from him. So I'll just make it appear that it's nothing special, I just happened to be driving past …"
It will be seen from this extended quotation that Golyadkin's habitual discourse with himself, the precursor of the staircase torment of Raskolnikov, is like a perpetual attempt to judge himself from an alternative viewpoint. He always wonders "what people might think", and substitutes his own voice for the voice of the imagined others. Yet while the later Dostoyevskian hero is troubled by issues that seem much weightier, Golyadkin's doubts are about almost nothing at all. That "almost nothing" is Golyadkin's own lack, that incompletion which is the anxious heart of urban man. This anxiety reproduces itself in an endless rhetoric of doubt. Indeed, it is about his state of anxiety that Golyadkin wishes to see his doctor. But the will to self-revelation is countered by the will to self-obliteration—to be no-one in particular, self-sufficient, seen by others to be merely going about his own business, as Golyadkin construes the self-sufficiency of others. What results is the paralysis of the will by choice, and this is dramatically enacted by Golyadkin at the door of his doctor's house:
Coming to a halt, our hero hastily tried to give his countenance a suitably detached but not unamiable air, and prepared to give a tug at the bell-pull. Having taken hold of the bell-pull, he hastily decided, just in time, that it might be better to wait until the next day, and that meanwhile there was no great urgency. But suddenly hearing footsteps on the stairs, Mr. Golyadkin immediately changed his mind again and, while still retaining a look of the most unshakeable decision, at once rang Christian Ivanovich's bell.
The self is both subject and object—its own object and the object of the other, menacingly present here in the footsteps of the doctor's footman, ready to answer the door.
It is Golyadkin's constant claim that he is not duplicitous, that he makes himself plain, that he does not beat about the bush, that he does not wear a mask like others and, in short, that his objective image and his subjectivity are entirely coincident. It is a claim which is manifestly untrue—the incident at the door of Christian Ivanovich portrays a dramatic rupture between the oscillating anxiety of the self and the mask of "unshakeable decision" which Golyadkin presents. More than this, when Golyadkin goes to his superiors to explain himself, first about his designs on Carolina Ivanovich, daughter of the wealthy Olsufi Ivanovich, and later about the outrageous activities of his double, his rhetoric of self-revelation serves to so far defer and delay the actual moment of self-revelation that he is dismissed with impatience before any revelation has been made.
To complete this picture of Golyadkin before the appearance of his double—and it is a picture which accounts for most of his activities after the double appears—it need only be added that Golyadkin's linguistic attempt to contain the other and bend it toward his self-completion and self-sufficiency in the eyes of others is bound to fail, and continued frustration develops into a paranoia which sees enmity everywhere. Indeed, Golyadkin's rhetorics of self-questioning and of self-revelation are accompanied by an equally prolific and self-sustaining rhetoric of enmity. Not satisfied with one enemy, the allegation of enmity slips from one to another, frustrated of a final object, as Golyadkin is frustrated of his final revelation, another endless rhetoric of incompletion.
This is the prelude to the appearance of the double. The final precipitation is an abortive sexual encounter at a ball thrown by Olsufi Ivanovich, whose daughter has been wooed by a younger colleague of Golyadkin's, and in whose person therefore the whole of Golyadkin's anxiety of incompletion is embodied. Golyadkin is definitively not invited to the ball, and after a first abortive attempt at entry he is politely ejected. Instead of going home, he goes around to a rear entrance, and stands for three hours "in the cold among every kind of trash and lumber" assuring himself that his presence there means nothing, he could go in if he wanted to, it is not that he dare not, just that he does not choose to at the moment, and so on. Having finally decided to go in and stepped up to the door, he retreats again into hiding. Having decided that he will go home, not only because he would like a warm cup of tea but also because his prolonged absence might upset his man-servant, Golyadkin states summarily "I'll go home, and that's all about it!" and steps straight inside the house. He proceeds to embarrass himself in the eyes of all present, and resorts to that device of self-detachment which enabled him to pretend not to be himself, this time to pretend to be merely a casual onlooker, and not a part of any scandal. Golyadkin's indecision and self-detachment, as well as his self-revelation when he tearfully tries to explain his presence in the sincerest manner, all reach their logical limit and, cast out on the streets of St Petersburg on a stormy night, Golyadkin first encounters his double, and follows him back to his own flat.
It should be apparent at this stage that while the doubling alluded to by the title of this novel is the eventual reduplication of Golyadkin himself, it might stand equally for a variety of reduplications at various levels which occur before the appearance of the double and which continue to manifest themselves after his arrival. From the first page where the fantasy of sleep and the reality of the waking world are confused, where everyday objects reflect back Golyadkin's gaze, and where a mirror offers him a specious moment of specular self-possession, doubling and duplicity become rampant. Doubling and duplicity, because every reduplication is seen to involve a treacherous loss. On his shopping expedition, Golyadkin takes his wad of high denomination notes to a money-changer. He comes away with a much thicker wallet—full of low-domination notes, having of course paid a commission on the exchange. Although he has lost by the transaction, it gives him the greatest satisfaction—the satisfaction, presumably, not only of appearing wealthier than he actually is, but also of a self-confirming exchange, the will to image the self and its true value being the same as the wish to image the true value of money in its bulk. It is a small moment, but one which neatly encapsulates the doubling process at work.
Perhaps this structural description of The Double has begun to hint too at aspects of Eliot's work—particularly "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock".
Prufrock in his balding and insignificant appearance certainly resembles Golyadkin far more than any other Dostoevskyian protagonist, least of all Raskolnikov, but it is parallels of structure rather than detail that most strongly suggest some kind of affinity.
The dramatic form of Prufrock, while it is drawn from a variety of traditions from the Elizabethan drama to Browning, serves, like the structure of The Double, to limit the perspective to that of the protagonist himself, a protagonist known therefore only by his language, his voice. What we learn about Prufrock's situation we know only from him, and his words seem often more symptomatic of his own malaise than indicative of any external reality—Prufrock imaging himself in his own discourse in that potentially endless exercise of attempted self-confirmation which constitutes the structural principle of Golyadkin's discourse. The opening words of "Prufrock", "Let us go then, you and I", while they speciously suggest a link with one English translation of Golyadkin's address to the double, "Let's go somewhere now, you and I", are, more importantly, a key to the structural affinities and differences which link the two works.
If the words are read as Prufrock's own, which they need not be if it is not assumed that the poem is a dramatic monologue, then they might equally be addressed to his author, his reader, or to himself. If to himself, they suggest the gesture of self appropriation in the mirror which opens The Double. To whomever they might be addressed, they suggest that tone of attempted familiarity which characterizes one aspect of Golyadkin's relationship to others and especially to his double, an attempt to equate others with himself and to fix others, or the other, inside his own discourse. But no comfortable reading of these words is possible, as they are positioned with such wilful obscurity. They might be taken equally as the words of the author (or of a narrator) as of Prufrock himself, addressed possibly to the reader or to the protagonist. Suggesting all of these relationships without favouring any, the words come to stand generally for a language which seeks to appropriate the other to complete and satisfy the self, and in which the other, conversely, acquires a power to menace the self with what it has once taken to be its own image. Reader, author, Prufrock, and anyone else for that matter, are trapped in relationships of guilty complicity, drawn on and paralysed by specular images amongst the tawdry rubble of the godless city streets. Something like this is evidently how Eliot would have things, following quite a different brief from Dostoevsky in The Double, where author and reader alike are, despite superficial narrative complicity, placed at an aloof distance from Golyadkin's encroaching madness. Here, despite the humour at Prufrock's expense, there is a significant degree of endorsement of the Prufrockian position, not least by Eliot himself who, in a later interview, identified Prufrock as in part himself.
Prufrock the frustrated prophet might not at first seem to have much in common with the socially unsituated Golyadkin, but on examination the similarities proliferate. In fact, Golyadkin fancies himself something of a prophet. Whenever he finds himself overtaken by some completely unpredictable circumstance, he offers himself the reassurance, manifestly untrue, that he has already forseen it all. For instance, when the engagement with the double is already well developed, Golyadkin arrives home in a spirit of self-torment, and finds an unexpected letter, one which is possibly an illusion but which seems tangible enough. It is from a friend at the office, in connection with the scandal of the double, and comes in reply to an earlier letter of Golyadkin's which the latter had foreseen that his manservant had not delivered. Golyadkin contains his surprise on finding the letter: "'However, I foresaw all this,' thought our hero, 'and now I foresee everything I shall find in the letter.'" Having read the letter, Golyadkin is dazed and uncomprehending, but continues to reassure himself that he has forseen it all while still puzzling the meaning of the words. Despite Golyadkin's puzzlement with the letter, in fact, there is no evidence that the letter is indeed real and not another projection. The language of the letter resembles closely Golyadkin's own self-dialogue and evasively accuses him of his most guilty action. Further, in the morning he looks again at the letter, and its meaning has changed in an unspecified way, somehow. Finally, looking in his pocket for the letter at a later stage, Golyadkin finds that it has disappeared, only to be replaced by a letter from the desired Carolina Ivanovna, rejecting her fiancé and inviting Golyadkin to elope; a letter which leads to his final destruction. The implication is that Golyadkin's self-proclaimed foresight is an attempt to contain a reality inimical to the self's desires, and perhaps a process of redefining that reality at first with subtlety and finally by outright alteration of the image of the world in the consciousness. On this analysis, the prime weapon of the self in its struggle with the other is its ability to substitute its own voice for the voice of others—a prophetic ability which Prufrock certainly shares, anticipating remarks about his hair and musculature, and anticipating also the scene of miscomprehension when his auditor remarks: "That is not it at all. That is not what I meant at all." At this point it is the voice of the other which rejects the appropriative strategy of the self and marks the self's inability to substitute its voice for the other.
Golyadkin too fears misprision, and is indeed always met by it in his attempted confidences, except for that single scene of the novel in which he finds himself contented, the night at home with the double, when the double, who comes to be known as Golyadkin Junior, unburdens himself to Golyadkin Senior, adopting the confidential and occasionally tearful manner of the latter. In the discourse of others, self-illusions have no purchase, and the romantic self is threatened with annihilation. It is the eyes of others which hold this power to annihilate the romantic self. For Prufrock there is the foreknowledge of "The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase" which pin him to the wall like an insect, and for Golyadkin, also compared to an insect in his moments of supreme abasement, there is the "annihilating stare" of Andrey Phillipovich for instance, and the recurrent fear of betrayal and loss of self possession in the conspiratorial words of others, words which he cannot hear. This fear is finally realized in the Judas-kiss of the double, and it is the person of the double who is finally construed as the enemy, a term which has to shift considerably in Golyadkin's discourse—he is at first sure that the double is the device of other unspecified enemies. But Golyadkin's social insecurity leads him to construe every social inferior as a betrayer, particularly as they never respond to his patronising manner, and Petrushka in particular will never show his master any respect. It is Petrushka who at the very opening of the novel is chatting and laughing with some other servants: Golyadkin fears that he has seen "sold for nothing", a fear which compresses anxiety about annihilation in the discourse of others with anxiety about his own exchange value, and reveals perhaps a desire to be exchanged, like the desire to be made fully manifest, if only for the right price.
For Prufrock too there is betrayal, and humiliation before social inferiors. Here the footman is given a capital and made 'eternal', not only because in his manners he might seem that much more assured than Prufrock, but also because he is the archetypal other which fixes the self under its stare, and representative too of that absolute of revelation to which the prophet Prufrock aspires. Betrayal is writ large in "Prufrock." While Golyadkin is implicitly compared to Christ, Prufrock explicitly compares himself to John the Baptist, imagining his head "brought in upon a platter"—perhaps a tidier analogy than that of The Double, evoking the sexual factor, present in both works, as the motive of betrayal. Further, it serves to put Prufrock in his self-romanticization at one remove from Christ himself. John the Baptist merely foresees the coming of the one who shall be revealed as the Son of God, but the power of revelation is not his. In "Prufrock" as in The Double, revelation is deferred or, as here, displaced, projected on to another. Revelation is the product in Eliot of a mystical timeless state, imagined as in many religions as a return to life from death, or a suspended state of death-in-life. Prufrock imagines himself saying "I am Lazarus, come from the dead, / Come back to tell you all. / I shall tell you all." Again, like Christ returning from the dead, but unlike Christ not possessed of any revelatory or prophetic power. Indeed, the Biblical Lazarus, anti-climactically, never says anything about having been dead. The possibility of Prufrock as prophet is all but obliterated by this deadening analogy, and in any case his wish to "have squeezed the universe into a ball" with its allusion to Marvell denotes a thorough confusion of the prophetic and the sexual urge to completion in a (Platonic and otherwise) ball. (For Golyadkin the wish to complete and summarize takes the form of a regret that he cannot cut off his finger as a means to settle the whole matter—a comically small sacrifice which nevertheless suggests castration and the mid-life impotence which the balding Golyadkin and Prufrock share—a diminutive version of Caligula's wish that the Roman Senate had only one throat which he could cut.)
Yet the possibility of the transcendent state is not dismissed in "Prufrock". It remains as an inaccessible possibility and recurs subsequently in much of Eliot's central work. The Double too deals with the death-in-life state, but does not offer it a refuge. Dostoevsky himself suffered from epilepsy, and Golyadkin is made to suffer bouts of epilepsy or perhaps madness in situations of acute stress. He is described as "more dead than alive" and in reply to questions from his doctor about his current abode he miscomprehendingly replies: "I was living, Christian Ivanovich, I was living even formerly. I must have been, mustn't I?" At the height of one of his attacks Golyadkin is "dumb and motionless, seeing nothing, hearing nothing, feeling nothing". When less overwhelmed, he becomes tremendously distracted, his thoughts and conversation digress fantastically, and his mind becomes fixed on isolated images, much like the "sordid images" which brokenly fixate Eliotic protagonists. Golyadkin's death-in-life moments resemble nothing more than that moment in "The Burial of the Dead" in the presence of the "hyacinth girl".
'You gave me Hyacinths first a year ago;
'They called me the hyacinth girl.'
Yet when we came back, late, from the hyacinth garden,
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
This is a complicated moment which begins from that basic Romantic premise which makes the woman that object which completes the man and offers him transcendence—just as the ultimate object of Golyadkin and Prufrock was sexual. Here, however, the scene is passed, the girl has no subjective recollection of it, and seems therefore an inadequate object of the man's rapture, while what the man recalls might equally be a fit of madness as of rapture, while the "heart of light" borrows the ineluctability of the "heart of darkness" to further veil the moment of transcendence.
There is a crucial difference between Eliot and Dostoevsky on the point of romantic transcendence. For Eliot, while directing his full satirical tones against a weak romantic notion of transcendence in "Prufrock", there still seems to be always an escape clause. The possibility of transcendence is never disallowed—it is instead always deferred, delayed or otherwise displaced, remaining "a perpetual possibility/Only in a world of speculation." We know that Eliot in his early period at least was very close to the philosophy of T. E. Hulme, and belief in the desirability at least of the concept of an Absolute, even if it were to be an entirely inaccessible one. Politically this idea manifested itself perhaps in Eliot's royalism, the concept of a state where the monarchy in mystical fashion secured social meaning, much like the framework satirized in The Double in which Golyadkin looks on the state and the highest officials of the state as a father who should secure his individuality by preventing what he calls "substitution"—meaning the substitution of the double for himself—in a chaos of social and semantic slippage. While Eliot harbours mysticism, Dostoevsky blows it away. While "Prufrock" defers the moment of transcendence, doubts it, but leaves it possible, The Double displays a rhetoric of self-revelation in a transcendent moment which is given the chance to play its last card. As The Double progresses, it becomes increasingly desireable for Golyadkin to make plain his case to some higher power, and in a late scene, having entered yet another social gathering uninvited, the chance at last arrives for him to explain to a supremo of the Civil Service known only as "His Excellency". "Well, what do you want?" asks His Excellency: "As I say, it's like this: I look on him as a father; I stand aloof in the whole affair—and protect me from my enemy! There you are!" Golyadkin's reply ends with an exclamatory flourish which shows that he does indeed consider that he has made all plain. His Excellency of course is baffled, having heard nothing of Golyadkin's minor scandal, and in the face of incomprehension, Golyadkin breaks down and is taken away. When Golyadkin thinks he is revealing himself in a transcendent moment, all he reveals is that nexus of anxieties that has produced his discourse and actions throughout: his urge to completion and security, thought to be offered by the father: the repudiation of the self in the wish to stand outside it, elsewhere a wish to disappear or be annihilated: the fear for the safety of an incomplete self which, meeting only a hostile world which refuses it completion, projects enmity everywhere. It is a final testing of Golyadkin's rhetoric to which the subtler and more thoroughly scrutinized rhetoric of Prufrock is never subjected.
When Eliot selected a quotation from Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" as the original epigraph for The Wasteland he was challenged by Pound that it could not bear the weight which its position put on it. Contemporaries considered the work light, an evaluation which Pound seems to have shared, although Eliot, who took from it the epigraph to "The Hollow Men", seemingly did not. It is an interesting disparity, because "Heart of Darkness" probably more than any modern work, relies on a rhetoric of ineffability which culminates in Kurtz's final words—"The horror! the horror!" For the early Romantic the transcendent moment might have been a union with God, but for Kurtz it produces a reduplicated vision of terror. At least this is what we are told by Marlow—for this is a displaced moment of vision. "Did he live his life again in every detail of desire, temptation, and surrender during that supreme moment of complete knowledge?" It is an unanswered question, even though it strongly suggests its own answer. For Marlow himself, although he seems to have lived through Kurtz's "last extremity", the summary is impossible—"I was within a hair's-breadth of the last opportunity for pronouncement, and I found with humiliation that probably I would have nothing to say. Through a host of rhetorical devices, "Heart of Darkness" suggests complete revelation and summation in a transcendent moment which is however always on the other side of a ghostly line. For all its seriousness, the rhetoric of "Heart of Darkness", which places the word "horror" at its abysmal centre, has a buried affinity with the literature of gothic horror, which must always employ a rhetoric of ineffability to maintain its power to horrify—it must in short refuse completion.
And in the manner of the horror fictionist—perhaps in that of his contemporary H. P. Lovecraft, whose language of ineffability owed much to Poe—Eliot deploys a rhetoric of displaced transcendence which has its roots in the first doubts of a Romanticism herded from the countryside and penned in the city, of which Coleridge is perhaps the earliest spokesman. Dostoevsky too deploys the Gothic—although never after The Double in the same unmitigated form—yet the notion of ineffability is demolished, the product of urban displacement and not its absolute though inaccessible meaning. It is a fundamental difference and one which makes the gap between The Double and "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" as wide as it could be. So finally, what is their subterranean connection?
O keep the Dog far hence, that's friend to men,
Or with his nails he'll dig it up again!
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