The Insulted and Injured

Urša Zabukovec

(Prevedla / translated by: Barbara Volkar)


The Insulted and Injured[1]


He who drives out self-love, the mother of the passions, will with God’s help easily rid himself of the rest, such as anger, irritation, rancor and so on. But he who is dominated by self-love is overpowered by the other passions, even against his will. Self-love is the passion of attachment to the body.

Maximus the Confessor


Ivan Petrovic, the main protagonist of the novel is simultaneously its narrator and focaliser, which means that we view everything through his eyes and read his text. However, contrary to the omniscient narrator, he does not have any insight into the inner workings of the other characters, as he can only access outward behaviour – the spoken word and non verbal communication. 

The protagonist’s perception of reality is indicative of his extraordinary sensitivity, particularly to the non verbal behaviour of other characters, which he mostly considers more important than the words they use. If verbal and non verbal messages clash, or contradict each other, the narrator believes the non verbal communication. He pays the most attention to the tone of his interlocutor. Alongside descriptions, the protagonist demonstrates intonation with the help of italics. It features in different modes of speech – in first person narration of the main protagonist, in direct speech of the characters, and in relative clauses. In each of these italics are used slightly differently. 

In the speech of the narrator, i.e. words that were not spoken in the novel, but were written down, italics usually emphasise the meaning of a certain word or notion, they mark the semantic centre of the thought. When the narrator recounts the words of other characters (direct speech), italics are used to mark his interpretation of the paralinguistic speech traits of the character in question. Italics are also used to mark foreign words. In the restaurant, where Valkovsky explains his life philosophy to Ivan Petrovic, he intones words that are part of what to him is an alien, despised view of life. 

I have no ideals and I don’t want to have them; I’ve never felt a yearning for them. One can live such a gay and charming life without ideals . . . and, en somme, I’m very glad that I can get on without prussic acid. If I were a little more virtuous I could not perhaps get on without it, like that fool philosopher (no doubt a German). No![2] 

Virtuosity (добродетель) is part of this to Valkovsky ‘alien’ world view which he calls “Schillerism”.[3] When Valkovsky uses the word “virtuous” and its derivatives, he changes its semantical and axiological potency. In Bahtin’s terminology this would be called varidirectional double-voiced discourse. In Dostoyevsky’s later novels, which are full of the latter, italics are practically non existent.

However, some quotes tend to contain various italicised words or phrases often belonging to different characters:           

“How could Alyosha let Natalya Nikolaevna live in such a place!” he [Valkovsky] said, shaking his head. “It’s just these so−called trifles that show what a man’s made of. I’m anxious about him. He is good−natured, he has a generous heart, but here you have an example: he’s frantically in love, yet he puts the girl he loves in a hole like this. […] My head aches when I think about his future and still more of the future of Anna Nikolaevna when she is his wife. . .”[4] 

The first italics (‘trifles’) mark Valkovsky’s intonation, while the second (‘Anna’) have nothing to do with paralinguistics – the pronunciation or intonation of a word. Valkovsky said it normally, like any other word, it is just the narrator’s way of focusing the reader’s attention to Valkovsky’s (intentional?) carelessness in mixing up Natalija’s name with Anna’s. This is non verbal communication not between the two protagonists, but between the narrator and reader.

That the narrator pays attention to the tone of voice of his interlocutor means that he is aware of his semantic role. His descriptions alert us to the psychological states of the characters and the complex relations between them.

The dominant sensory system of the novel is paralinguistics, followed closely by facial and eye expressions. These paralinguistic and kinesic elements help create the psychological and spiritual realism of the novel. The chronemics of the novel are most subtly embodied in the plot-theme line of the novel (a variation on the Parable of the Prodigal Son) peaking during the Holy Week. This time placement of events is of crucial significance to the ideas holding the novel together.



The concept of tone is semantically complex. In Russian the semantics of the word “tone” include particularity, as well as totality: ‘tone’ may signify a particular sound or colour of the voice, or it may signify the essence of a text (verbal or non verbal text, life) as a whole.[5]

Though the concepts of tone and voice may seem similar, they differ significantly.

Let’s compare two sentences:

His voice has changed.

His tone has changed.

In the first example we are dealing with a new physiological state of the person, whilst the second example indicates a change of speaking behaviour (речевое поведение) in a particular dialogue. The original meaning of tone is a way of conveying speech (речь), a language style (речевая манера). The functions of voice and tone are also different. The main role of tone is to coordinate interpersonal relations, to express the speaker’s attitude to the interlocutor and the topic of the conversation. Voice, however, mainly indicates emotion, which is also what makes it difficult to control consciously. While we cannot change our voice, we have infinite possibilities, aside from the limits posed by social norms or etiquette, in choosing our tone. Kreydlin lists eleven meanings of the word »tone«[6]. We will only examine the eight which are connected to culture and language.


Cultural meanings: 

  1. A particular sound, colour, shade, nuance as the smallest unit of aesthetic space. Some tones in this painting were too sharp.
  2. A characteristic of an artwork as a whole, which influences the way in which it is emotionally perceived. The sky and the sea are shrouded in dark tones.
  3. The writing style of the author or the style of the artwork. The fake tone of his creative work is a result of his lack of understanding of the fundamentals of this issue.
  4. Life style, the general characteristic of life events. The life style [тон] she chose was actually a hindrance.
  5. The chaotic origins of life’s foundations. The basic tone of Orthodoxy.




Linguistic Meanings

6. The pitch of the voice while speaking. She spoke to her daughter in a monotonous voice.

7. A way of expressing emotions or atittude to the interlocutor or the subject of the conversation. His condescending tone was annoying.

8. Language style in speech or writing. I tried to maintain a friendly tone. 

In this novel we seem to mainly be dealing with tone in its first two linguistic meanings. Italics which we mention above are the 6th or 7th subtype of this, which both express the attitude of the speaker to the interlocutor or the theme of the dialogue. If the content of a sentence and its tone clash, tone takes precedence. Let’s illustrate with an example:

In the second letter he announced that he was coming to us in a few days to hasten his marriage to Natasha, that this was settled and that nothing could prevent it. And yet it was clear from the whole tone of the letter that he was in despair, that outside influences were weighing heavily upon him, and that he did not believe what he said.[7]

Valkovsky’s son Alyosha alerts us to his tone, being aware that it represents a sort of repository of thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs. He describes the tone of his father’s letter which informs him that the decision of his marriage to Katerina is final:

But you don’t know the tone of the letter, the tone of it. And the tone was what mattered most in the letter, let me tell you. That’s what I’m talking about.[...] My father had never spoken to me like that. It was as though he would sooner expect an earthquake of Lisbon than that he should fail to get his own way; that was the tone of it.[8]

What makes Alyosha so convinced that the matter is settled is not the content of the letter but his father’s tone. This next example is similar in that the content is fairly neutral but the tone is not.

And on Wednesday, too, as you were going away you made some allusions to our present position, and spoke of her, not slightingly, quite the contrary, but yet not as I would like to hear you speak, somehow too lightly, without affection, without the respect for her…. It’s difficult to describe, but the tone was clear; one feels it in one’s heart.[9]

Volkovsky’s attitude to Natasha is obvious not from the content but from the tone with which he speaks. This paragraph confirms what we established at the beginning – that in first person narration non verbal communication is crucial in directing the characters within the reality of the story. Contrary to verbal content, deciphering non verbal messages is not just a rational act, but involves primarily other personal spheres, which the protagonist in the above paragraph names ‘one’s heart’.


Tone and spiritual characteristics of protagonists 

In the following paragraph – it is a description of a speech by Valkovsky – we are dealing with the wider meaning of the notion of tone.

He made his speech coldly, with some display of eloquence, and in parts with in certain nonchalance. The tone of the whole speech was incongruous indeed with the impulse that had brought him to us at an hour so inappropriate for a first visit, especially under such circumstances. Some of his expressions were evidently premeditated, and in some parts of his long speech − which was strange from its very length − he seemed to be artificially assuming the air of an eccentric man struggling to conceal an overwhelming feeling under a show of humour, carelessness and jest.[10]

Initially we have an example of the 7th subtype of tone, while the closing remarks resemble more the 4th subtype. The thought »he seemed to be artificially assuming the air of an eccentric man« is not related to paralingustics any more, it describes behaviour as a whole, and specifically his attitude to Natasha and the subject of the conversation. The 4th subtype becomes particularly apparent in a debate between Valkovsky and the narrator in a restaurant (the latter joins Valkovsky on invitation). Valkovsky keeps changing his tone: from serious to humorous and mocking and back again. These changes reflect his thoughts and intentions, as well as his emotions, and are underpinned by his general spiritual state. Ivan Petrovic feels that Valkovsky derives great satisfaction, even delight (сладострастие) from his primitive, rude behaviour and cynicism, which he uses, as the narrator puts it, to disarm his interlocutor of his defences.

And among other things, I wanted to explain to you that I have one peculiarity [...]that is my hatred for all these vulgar and worthless naivities and idyllic nonsense; and one of the enjoyments I relish most has always been putting on that style myself, falling in with that tone, making much of some ever−young Schiller, and egging him on, and then, suddenly, all at once, crushing him at one blow, suddenly taking off my mask before him, and suddenly distorting my ecstatic countenance into a grimace, putting out my tongue at him when he is least of all expecting such a surprise.[11]

Valkovsky compares his behaviour to a ritual of a mad Parisian official.

I’ll tell you an anecdote. There was a crazy official in Paris, who was afterwards put into a madhouse when it was realized that he was mad. Well, when he went out of his mind this is what he thought of to amuse himself. He undressed at home, altogether, like Adam, only keeping on his shoes and socks, put on an ample cloak that came down to his heels, wrapped himself round in it, and with a grave and majestic air went out into the street. [...] Whenever he met anyone in a lonely place where there was no one else about, he walked up to him in silence, and with the most serious and profoundly thoughtful air suddenly stopped before him, threw open his cloak and displayed himself in all the . . . purity of his heart! That used to last for a minute, then he would wrap himself up again, and in silence, without moving a muscle of his face, he would stalk by the petrified spectator, as grave and majestic as the ghost in Hamlet. [...] Well, some degree of the same pleasure may be experienced when one flabbergasts some romantic Schiller, by putting out one’s tongue at him when he least expects it.[12] 

The narrator names Valkovsky’s behaviour the ‘tone of polichinello’ which, as is evident from these extracts, becomes the opposite of the so-called Schillerism so characteristic in this novel of Alyosha, Katerina, Natasha, the old Ichmenyev and even Ivan Petrovic himself.
When tone marks interpersonal relations or the attitude to the interlocutor or the topic of the conversation (7th subtype of tone), we are dealing with psychological realism, or less frequently with spiritual realism – depending on the subject of the conversation. When the concept of tone is broader (4th subtype) then it takes on an ethical or moral message. … ‘Tone of polichinello’ and ‘Schilerism’ refer to a lifestyle, or world view, which are inextricably linked to the spiritual state of the individual.
Schillerism is according to Valkovsky a banal display of naive emotion, philanthropy, idealism, romanticism, sentimentality, contemplative mysticism, a tendency towards virtuosity and beauty. Valkovsky hates Schillerism because he believes it is fake, and that hiding behind all the philanthropy and longing for ideals is just pure self-centeredness. »The more virtuous anything is, the more egoism there is in it.« He does not believe in norms. “What isn’t nonsense is personality − myself. All is for me, the whole world is created for me.« If Schillerism as a spiritual belief could be equated with being a dreamer,[13] the spiritual state of someone in the ‘tone of polichinello’ is, in the words of the narrator, that of self-love and cynicism. The spiritual state of the character is clear from his facial expressions: 

He took us all in a rapid attentive glance. It was impossible to guess from this glance whether he had come as a friend or as an enemy. [...] He struck me particularly that evening. I had seen him before. He was a man of forty−five, not more, with regular and strikingly handsome features, the expression of which varied according to circumstances; but it changed abruptly, completely, with extraordinary rapidity, passing from the most agreeable to the most surly or displeased expression, as though some spring were suddenly touched. The regular oval of his rather swarthy face, his superb teeth, his small, rather thin, beautifully chiselled lips, his rather long straight nose, his high forehead, on which no wrinkle could be discerned, his rather large grey eyes, made him handsome, and yet his face did not make a pleasant impression. The face repelled because its expression was not spontaneous, but always, as it were, artificial, deliberate, borrowed, and a blind conviction grew upon one that one would never read his real expression. Looking more carefully one began to suspect behind the invariable mask something spiteful, cunning, and intensely egoistic. One’s attention was particularly caught by his fine eyes, which were grey and frank−looking. They were not completely under the control of his will, like his other features. He might want to look mild and friendly, but the light in his eyes was as it were twofold, and together with the mild friendly radiance there were flashes that were cruel, mis− trustful, searching and spiteful….[14] 

The description of his face is reminiscent of the silhouettes of saints in Orthodox icons. Valkovsky’s face is an oval shape with a straight and long nose (in icons this symbolises nobility), small and narrow lips (the absence of sensuality), high forehead (a symbol of spiritual power and wisdom) and big, wide open eyes (symbolic of insightfulness). The icon represents a transformed man, and sainthood exerts a positive, enlightening influence on its surroundings. However, Valkovsky’s face leaves a completely different impression: it provokes resistance and repulsion. The representation of the saint in an icon (their image, the lack of gestures) demonstrates their spiritual sobriety and harmony. But Valkovsky’s facial expression does not seem to belong to him; he masks his ‘saintlike’ face so that he can later suddenly reveal himself as he »puts his tongue out« at his confused and shocked interlocutor. But the prince cannot hide his internal, spiritual disharmony: it’s betrayed by his eyes, which are not fully under our conscious control. His eyes are cruel, mis-trusting and searching. Valkovsky compares the delight and pleasure (сладострастие) he gets from suddenly removing his mask to the pleasure the mad Parisian official gets from his sudden exposure of his naked body to passers by.

Orthodox theology is based on St. Paul’s thought that the physical dimension of man is called upon to become the dwelling place of the Spirit.[15] The body is not something to get rid of; it is not the »lair of disease«, or a coincidental part of a person. It is something which exists, alongside the soul and mind or spirit, to be transformed and deified. The body is the vehicle with which man endeavours to return to the image of God. What happens on the level of the body, always has consequences for the soul and spirit and vice versa. »The physical behaviour of the body in the material world always corresponds to the behaviour of the mind in the world of thought, « said Maximus the Confessor.[16]

Naked bodies in icons symbolise complete devotion or submission of man (martyr, saint) to God’s will. The mad official from Paris, with whom Valkovsky is compared, uses his body to completely different end – to get pleasure. The Russian word „sladostrastye“ indirectly points to the root of this behaviour – ‘passion’. Passion (páthe) in asceticism signifies running away from fear (compare the words of the prince »I am not fond of death, I am afraid of it«[17] and at the same time a longing for the absolute. Passion is a disorderly attachment to the earthly and ungodly and its deepest foundation is self-love (philautía), a simulacrum of eros.[18] »Passion is like a bubble filled with nothing, which for a moment still gives an illusion of the intensity of existence.«[19] In the case of Valkovsky this »illusion of the intensity of existence« is the pleasure he gets from seeing his interlocutors dumbfounded. Regularly succumbing to one’s passions is what brings about the sinful state of man. Sin is the »separation or lack of clarity, confusion, a metaphysical narcissism, which dictates that everything and every essence revolves around the ego [...] «.[20] This definition is very close to the words of Valkovsky, when he says that the only thing that is not nonsense is his personality. Under his ‘saintlike’ face and under his mask is an image of a self-loving cynic who finds meaning only in sin. 

Another meaningful description of facial features is that of Katerina, one of the characters embodying Schillerism:

I looked at her with impatient attention. She was a short, soft little blonde dressed in a white frock, with a mild and serene expression of face, with eyes of perfect blue, as Alyosha had said, she had the beauty of youth, that was all. I had expected to meet the perfection of beauty, but it was not a case of beauty.[21] 

However, after a few hours in her company, the narrator’s view changes: 

And, strange to say, her face, in which I had seen nothing particularly handsome at first sight, seemed that evening to grow finer and more attractive every minute. This naive combination in her of the child and the thinking woman, this childlike and absolutely genuine thirst for truth and justice, and absolute faith in her impulses − all this lighted up her face with a fine glow of sincerity, giving it a lofty, spiritual beauty, and one began to understand that it was not so easy to gauge the full significance of that beauty which was not all at once apparent to every ordinary unsympathetic eye.[22] 

The narrator distinguishes between two kinds of beauty; one is external beauty, resembling that of a saint but which turns out to be fake and lacking any spiritual foundation (Valkovsky). The other is inner beauty, which according to the narrator, is based on a childlike and sincere longing for truth and justice, and on faith in one’s ideals. These traits make a face glow with »higher, spiritual beauty«. In The Insulted and Injured spiritual beauty is on the side of ‘Schillerist characters.[23]

[1]     This text is a translation of an excerpt from the book Neverbalni Dostojevski [Non Verbal Dostoyevsky] by U. Zabukovec, Ljubljana: LUD Literatura, 2014.

[2]     F. Dostoyevsky, The Insulted and Injured, p. 157: http://www.encyclopaedia.com/ebooks/49/60.pdf (translated by Constance Garnett).

[3]     »And, above all, I can’t endure all this Schillerism and idyllic nonsense: I’ve told you so already…« P. 159.

[4]     P. 105.

[5]     Г. Крейдлин, Невербальная семиотика и естественный язык. Москва, 2004, p. 255-256.

[6]     The examples in brackets belong to Krejdlin. In some cases the literal translation of the word »tone« sounds awkward, so it was replaced with a more appropriate word, i.e. style.

[7]     The Insulted and Injured, p. 206.

[8]     P. 51.

[9]     P. 114.

[10]    P. 60.

[11]    P. 153.

[12]    P. 155-156.

[13]    R. Przybylski, Dostojewski i przeklęte problemy. Warszawa 2010, p. 67-78.

[14]    The Insulted and Injured, p. 58.

[15]    O. Clément, Ciało śmiertelne i ciało chwalebne. Wprowadzenie teopoetyki ciała. Warszawa, 1999, p. 33.

[16]    K. Leśniewski, ‘Nie potrzebują lekarza zdrowi…’ Hezychastyczna metoda uzdrawiania człowieka. Lublin, 2006, p. 106.

[17]    The Insulted and Injured, p. 158.

[18]    Compare G. Kocijančič, Uvod, in: Maksim Spoznavalec, Izbrani spisi. Celje, 2000, p. 22.

[19]    O. Clément, p. 32.

[20]    Ibid.

[21]    The Insulted and Injured, p. 141.

[22]    P. 144.

[23]    This is an early awareness of the coexistence of two contrasting concepts of beauty in the work of Dostoyevsky. On the one hand there are Dostoyevsky’s thoughts about beauty as a spiritaul category, one capable of absolution, one that can be attained through transfiguration/transformation (compare Dostoyevsky’s letter to V.A. Alexeyev of 7th June1876). On the other hand there is the concept of the ambivelence of beauty, meaning that beauty without an ethical or spiritual foundation becomes a value with no use or a negative influence. Even evil can take the form of beauty (compare В. Зеньковский, Русские мыслители и Европа. Москва, 2005, p. 266-287).