The novel takes place in the provincial town in the early autumn. The events are narrated by Mr. Chronicler, who is also a participant in the events described. His story begins with the history of Stepan Trofimovich Verkhovensky, an idealist of the forties, and a description of his complex platonic relations with Varvara Petrovna Stavrogina, a noble provincial lady, whose patronage he enjoys.
Around the Verkhovensky, who fell in love with the “civic role” and lives “incarnate reproachful” homeland, the local liberal-minded youth are grouped. There are many “phrases” and postures in it, but there is also enough intelligence and insight. He was the educator of many heroes of the novel. Formerly handsome, now he has somewhat descended, flabby, plays cards and does not deny himself champagne.
It is expected that Nikolai Stavrogin will arrive, an extremely “mysterious and romantic” personality, about whom there are many rumors. He served in the elite Guards regiment, fired at a duel, was demoted, became a servant. Then it is known that he has become absorbed, started into the wildest unbridled. Having been four years ago in his hometown, he got a lot of nudity, provoking general indignation: he dragged Gaganov by the nose of a respectable man, bit by the ear of the then governor, publicly kissed another’s wife… In the end everything seemed to be explained by a white fever. After recovering, Stavrogin went
His mother, Varvara Petrovna Stavrogina, a determined and authoritative woman, concerned about her son’s attention to her pupil Daria Shatova and interested in his marriage with her friend’s daughter Lisa Tushina, decides to marry Daria to her ward Stepan Trofimovich. He in some horror, although not without inspiration, is preparing to make an offer.
In the cathedral on the luncheon, Maria Timofeevna Lebyadkina unexpectedly approaches Varvara Petrovna, she is also a Chatter, and kisses her hand. The intrigued lady, who recently received an anonymous letter informing her that a lame woman will play a serious role in her life, invites her to her place, and Liza Tushina also goes with them. Stepan Trofimovich is already waiting there for him, since his matchmaking for Daria is scheduled for this day. Soon here comes the captain Lebyadkin, who came for his sister, in whose foggy speeches, interspersed with the verses of his own work, some terrible secret is mentioned and is hinted at some special rights of him.
Suddenly they announce the arrival of Nikolai Stavrogin, whom they expected only a month later. At first appears bustling Peter Verkhovensky, and behind him already the pale and romantic handsome Stavrogin. Varvara Petrovna immediately asks her son whether Marya Timofeevna is his lawful wife. Stavrogin silently kisses his mother’s hand, then nobly picks up Lebyadkin’s arm and leads her out. In his absence, Verkhovensky tells a beautiful story about how Stavrogin instilled a beautiful dream with a stupid yurodiva, so she even imagined him as her fiancé. Immediately he strictly asks Lebyadkin whether this is true, and the captain, trembling with fear, confirms everything.
Varvara Petrovna is delighted and, when her son appears again, asks him for forgiveness. However, the unexpected happens: Shatov suddenly approaches Stavrogin and gives him a slap in the face. The fearless Stavrogin grabs him in anger, but then suddenly he takes his hands behind his back. As it turns out later, this is another evidence of his enormous strength, another test. Shatov unhindered. Lisa Tushina, obviously not indifferent to the “Prince Harry,” as Stavrogin is called, faints.
Eight days pass by. Stavrogin does not accept anyone, and when his seclusion ends, Pyotr Verkhovensky immediately catches him. He expresses readiness for everything for Stavrogin and informs about the secret society at the meeting of which they must appear together. Soon after his visit, Stavrogin goes to engineer Kirillov. An engineer for whom Stavrogin means much, reports that he still professes his idea. Its essence is the need to get rid of God, which is nothing but the “pain of the fear of death,” and declare self-will, killing himself and thus becoming a man-god.
Then Stavrogin rises to Shatov, who lives in the same house and tells him that he had officially married Lebyadkina some time ago in Petersburg, and also about his intention to publicly announce this in the near future. He generously warns Shatov that he is going to be killed. Shatov, to whom Stavrogin had had a tremendous influence, reveals to him his new idea of the God-bearing people, which the Russian people consider, advises him to give up wealth and to get God by peasant labor. However, on the counter question, but whether he himself believes in God, Shatov somewhat hesitantly answers that he believes in Orthodoxy, in Russia, that he… will believe in God.
That same night Stavrogin goes to Lebyadkin and on the way meets the escaped Fedka Kotorzhny sent to him by Peter Verkhovensky. He expresses his readiness to pay any will of the master for payment, but Stavrogin drives him. Lebyadkin he informs that he is going to announce his marriage with Marya Timofeevna, where he married “… after a drunken lunch, because of a wager on wine…”. Marya Timofeevna meets Stavrogin with a story about an ominous dream. He asks her if she is ready to go with him to Switzerland and live there alone for the rest of her life. The indignant Cripple screams that Stavrogin is not a prince, that her prince, a clear falcon, is substituted, and he is an impostor, he has a knife in his pocket. Accompanied by her squealing and laughter, the furious Stavrogin is retired. On the way back, he throws Fedka Kotorzhny money.
The next day a duel takes place between Stavrogin and the local nobleman Artemy Gaganov, who summoned him for insulting his father. Gaganov, boiling with anger, shoots three times and misses. Stavrogin also declares that he does not want to kill anyone else, and thrice demonstratively shoots into the air. This story greatly raises Stavrogin in the eyes of society.
Meanwhile, frivolous moods and a penchant for various blasphemous fun have appeared in the city: mockery of newlyweds, desecration of icons, etc. The province is uneasy, fires raging that generate rumors of arsons, in various places are calling proclamations calling for rebellion, somewhere cholera rages, the workers of the closed factory Shpigulins are displeased, a certain lieutenant, not bearing the reprimand of the commander, rushes at him and bites his shoulder, and before that they were chopped off two images and lit the church candles before the Op. the Inventions of Focht, Moleschott and Buchner… In this atmosphere, a holiday is prepared for subscription to governesses, initiated by the wife of the governor, Julia Mikhailovna.
Varvara Petrovna, offended by Stepan Trofimovich’s too obvious desire to marry and his too frank letters to his son Peter, complaining that they want to marry him “on other people’s sins,” appoints him a pension, but at the same time announces a break.
The younger Verkhovensky at this time is developing a stormy activity. He is admitted to the house to the governor and enjoys the protection of his wife Julia Mikhailovna. She believes that he is connected with the revolutionary movement, and dreams of revealing with his help a state conspiracy. On a date with the governor von Lembke, extremely concerned about what is happening, Verkhovensky skillfully gives him several names, in particular Shatov and Kirillov, but he asks him six days to uncover the whole organization. Then he runs to Kirillov and Shatov, informing them about the meeting of “ours” and asking to be, after which he goes after Stavrogin, who just visited Mauritius Nikolaevich, the groom of Liza Tushina, proposing that Nikolai Vsevolodovich marry her, because she, at least and hates him, but at the same time he loves. Stavrogin admits to him, that he can not do this because he is already married. Together with Verkhovensky they go to a secret meeting.
At the meeting, the gloomy Shigalev comes out with his program of “final resolution of the issue.” Its essence is in the division of mankind into two unequal parts, of which one-tenth gets freedom and unlimited right over the other nine tenths turned into a herd. Then Verkhovensky suggests a provocative question whether the participants of the meeting would have informed if they had learned about the planned political murder. Suddenly Shatov rises and, calling Verkhovensky a scoundrel and a spy, leaves the meeting. This is what Pyotr Stepanovich needs, who has already outlined Shatov as a victim, in order to cement the formed revolutionary group-the “five” – with blood. Verkhovensky ties up with Stavrogin, who went out with Kirillov, and devotes them in his fever to his insane plans. His goal is to start a big confusion. “Raskachka this will go, what kind of world has not seen…
Events are growing like a snowball. Stepan Trofimovich “describe” – officials come and take the papers. Workers from the Shpigulin factory send petitioners to the governor, which causes von Lembke to have an attack of rage and is issued almost for a riot. It falls under the hot hand of the mayor and Stepan Trofimovich. Immediately after this in the governor’s house there is also a stirring in the minds of Stavrogin’s announcement that Lebyadkina is his wife.
There comes the long-awaited day of the holiday. The nail of the first part is the reading by famous writer Karmazinov of his farewell composition “Merci”, and then the accusatory speech of Stepan Trofimovich. He passionately protects from the nihilists Raphael and Shakespeare. He is booed, and he, cursing everyone, proudly leaves the stage. It becomes known that Liza Tushina, in broad daylight, moved suddenly from her carriage, leaving Mavrikia Nikolayevich there, to Stavrogin’s carriage, and Skvoreshniki flew into his estate. The nail of the second part of the holiday is the “quadrille of literature”, an ugly caricature allegorical act. The governor and his wife are beside themselves with indignation. It was then reported that Zarechye, allegedly set on fire by Shpigulin, was burning, and later it became known about the murder of Captain Lebyadkin, his sister and maid. The governor goes to the fire, where a log falls on him.
In Skvoreshniki, meanwhile Stavrogin and Liza Tushina meet the morning together. Lisa intends to leave and tries in every way to hurt Stavrogin, who, on the contrary, is in a sentimental mood uncharacteristic for him. He asks why Lisa came to him and why there was “so much happiness.” He invites her to leave together, which she perceives with a sneer, although at some point her eyes suddenly light up. Indirectly, in their conversation, the theme of the murder also pops up – just a hint. At that moment, the omnipresent Peter Verkhovensky appears. He tells Stavrogin the details of the killing and the fire in the district. Liza Stavrogin says that he did not kill and was against, but he knew about the impending murder and did not stop. In hysterics, she leaves the Stavrogin House, nearby she is waiting for the faithful Mauritius Nikolayevich, who sat all night in the rain. They go to the place of the murder and meet Stepan Trofimovich on the way, he says, “out of delirium, a feverish dream, to seek Russia” In the crowd near the conflagration Lisa is recognized as “Stavroginskaya”, as it was already rumored that Stavrogin’s case was initiated by Stavrogin get rid of his wife and take another. Someone from the crowd beats her, she falls. The behind Mauritius Nikolaevich is too late. Liza is carried away still alive, but unconscious.
And Peter Verkhovensky continues to work. He collects the five and announces that a report is being prepared. The informer is Shatov, he must be removed. After some doubts, the common cause is the most important. Verkhovensky, accompanied by Liputin, goes to Kirillov to remind him of an agreement that he must take on himself and other people’s blood before taking his own life in accordance with his idea. At Kirillov in the kitchen sits drinking and snacking Fedka Katorzhny. In anger Verhovensky snatches the revolver: how could he disobey and appear here? Fedka suddenly beats Verkhovensky, he falls unconscious, Fedka runs away. To the witness of this scene, Liputin Verkhovensky states that Fedka last drank vodka. In the morning it really becomes known that Fedka was found with a broken head seven versts from the city. Liputin,
To Shatov, Marya’s wife arrives the same evening, who left him after two weeks of marriage. She is pregnant and asks for a temporary shelter. A little later, a young officer Erkel from “ours” comes to him and reports about tomorrow’s meeting. Birth of Shatov’s wife begins at night. He runs after the midwife Virginia and then helps her. He is happy and has a new working life with his wife and child. Exhausted, Shatov falls asleep in the morning and wakes up already dark. Erkel enters behind him, together they go to the Stavrogin park. There are already waiting for Verkhovensky, Virginia, Liputin, Lyamshin, Tolkachenko and Shigalev, who suddenly categorically refuses to take part in the murder, because it contradicts his program.
At Shatov attack. Verhovensky shot a revolver at point-blank range, killing him. Two large stones are tied to the body and thrown into a pond. Verkhovensky hurries to Kirillov. He, though indignant, but he keeps his promise – writes a note at the dictation and takes the blame for the murder of Shatov, and then shoots. Verkhovensky collects things and leaves for Petersburg, from there abroad.
Having gone to his last pilgrimage, Stepan Trofimovich dies in the peasant hut at the hands of Varvara Petrovna, who has come after him. Before his death, the occasional fellow traveler, whom he tells his whole life, reads the Gospel to him, and he compares the obsessive from which Christ cast out devils who entered into pigs, with Russia. This passage from the Gospel is taken by the chronicler as one of the epigraphs to the novel.
All the participants in the crime, except Verkhovensky, were soon arrested, issued by Lyamshin. Daria Shatova receives a confession letter from Stavrogin, who admits that “one negation resulted from him, without any generosity and without any force.” He calls Darya with him to Switzerland, where he bought a small house in the canton of Uri to settle there forever. Daria reads a letter to Varvara Petrovna, but then both learn that Stavrogin suddenly appeared in the Skvoreshniki. They hurry up there and find a “citizen of the canton of Uri” hanged in the mezzanine.