Story of a Thinking Man

Seraphima Bogomolova
Books and writing
Published in
9 min readOct 22, 2018

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Collage for the story of a Thinking Man

There are men who feel. There are ones who think. There are even some who can do both. But they are rare. The thinking type is more common. The type that is driven by their mental activity: thoughts, ideas, notions, and convictions. This is a Story about such a man — a ‘Thinking Man’.

Although, being a fictional character — he resides in the book ‘Under Western Eyes’ by Joseph Conrad (1857–1924), — the Thinking Man, nonetheless, can easily be found among our contemporaries. But we will not go into this, but focus solely on Kirylo Sidorovitch Razumov aka the Thinking Man.

Mr. Razumov was a tall, well-proportioned young man, quite unusually dark for a Russian from the Central Provinces. His good looks would have been unquestionable if it had not been for a peculiar lack of fineness in the features.’

​The features of his ‘exterior’ somewhat correlate to the ones of his inner world which are reflected in his name — Kyrilo Razumov. Kyrilo means ‘Lord’ and Razumov, coming from the Russian word ‘razum’, means ‘mind’ — ‘Lord of the Mind’. A perfect name for Mr. Razumov for he was very much ruled by his own ‘lordly thinking’.

At the first glance, the story of the ‘Lord of the Mind’ or A Thinking Man might seem to be of certain revolutionary ideas and Mr. Razumov’s mindful struggle with them. In the actual fact, these ideas are only a photographic lens. The lens that captures an unfavourable moment in life of a ‘studious, lonely and austere’ young man who wouldn’t accept the turn of fate bestowed onto him by his co-student, Victor Haldin.

Haldin means disruption,’ he thought to himself, beginning to walk again. What is he with his indignation, with his talk of bondage — with his talk of God’s justice? All that means disruption. […] And am I, who love my country — who have nothing but that to love and put my faith in — am I to have my future, perhaps my usefulness, ruined by this sanguinary fanatic?

Having in his heart the only love — the love of his country — otherwise unloving and solitary Razumov appears rather introverted and reserved. The qualities mistaken by his comrades for being confident and trustworthy. The misinterpretation that plays a rather sinister role in his life. For his fellow student, Victor Haldin, on the spur of the moment picks Razumov as his unsuspecting ally in a revolutionary terrorist conspiracy.

…No sooner had he closed the door than Razumov was horribly startled. All black against the usual tall stove of white tiles gleaming in the dusk, stood a strange figure, wearing a skirted, close-fitting, brown cloth coat strapped round the waist, in long boots, and with a little Astrakhan cap on its head. It loomed lithe and martial.’

Being trapped by Victor Haldin into an unwelcome and life ruining situation, Razumov is infuriated. His fury mostly stems from Haldin’s unwitting inconsideration of him as a human being with his own dreams and aspirations. His ego wounded, Razumov decides to turn the terrorist in to the Secret Police.

What is betrayal? They talk of a man betraying his country, his friends, his sweetheart. There must be a moral bond first. All a man can betray is his conscience. And how is my conscience engaged here; by what bond of common faith, of common conviction, am I obliged to let that fanatical idiot drag me down with him?

Victor Haldin was captured and executed. But unfortunately for Razumov the Secret Police has got also attracted by his admirable qualities of the Thinking Man. Who could resist, really? As a reliable and trustworthy Russian citizen who believes in ‘Evolution not Revolution’, ‘History not Theory’, ‘Patriotism not Internationalism’, ‘Direction not Destruction’, ‘Unity not Disruption’, Razumov is selected yet again. This time, to be sent to Geneva as a secret agent to infiltrate Russian revolutionary circles there.

‘Why so?’ — Councillor Mikulin said simply. ‘I assisted personally at the search of your rooms. I looked through all the papers myself. I have been greatly impressed by a sort of political confession of faith.

Manipulated by intelligent and ‘understanding’ Councillor Mikulin, Razumov agrees to go ahead with the Secret Police plans and departs Russia, heading to Geneva, Switzerland. The city that sets a scenic backdrop to Razumov’s fated journey. Locations that he frequents while on his ‘mission’ revolve aroundChateau Borel, drawn by Joseph Conrad from the Villa La Grange, the Promenade des Bastions, the heart-shaped islet, Île Rousseau, Rue de Carouge, and the Boulevard des Philosophes. Each of the places has a certain feel to it and serves its part in an emotional context that reflects the character’s progress or rather the lack of it.

On his arrival to Geneva, Razumov establishes a link to Russian revolutionaries and their leader, Petr Ivanovitch, who use the Chateau Borel for their frequent gatherings. There is nothing from noble chateaus about the place. Rather, it resembles a dusty ‘carcass’ with its rusty gates, overgrown garden, dusty and outdated rooms.

Chateau Borel was almost as neglected inside as outside. It was nothing to wonder at, a Hamburg banker, retired from business, had it built to cheer his remaining days by the view of that lake whose precise, orderly, and well-to-do beauty must have been attractive to the unromantic imagination of a business man. But he died soon. His wife departed too (but only to Italy), and this house of moneyed ease, presumably unsaleable, had stood empty for several years. One went to it up a gravel drive, round a large, coarse grass-plot, with plenty of time to observe the degradation of its stuccoed front.’

Villa La Grange — the prototype of the Chateau Borel — Geneva, Switzerland

But it is precisely at this crumbling place Razumov meets Nathalie Haldin. Not a revolutionary herself, but being under the influence of her own misinterpretation of the words written in one of her brother’s letters, she ventures out to the Chateau Borel to look for Razumov. For she is convinced that he is the only friend of her brother.

‘Coming up with Peter Ivanovitch, he did observe her; their eyes had met, even. He had responded, as no one could help responding, to the harmonious charm of her whole person, its strength, its grace, its tranquil frankness — and then he had turned his gaze away. He said to himself that all this was not for him; the beauty of women and the friendship of men were not for him.’

Although in self-inflicted denial of friendship and love, Razumov appears less solitary and more socially engaged in Geneva, than in St Petersburg, if only forced by unfortunate circumstances. However, the beautiful springy surroundings of the city, mountains, and the Lake Leman do little to his soul, as the closed heart of his remains unmoved by their magic.

‘Across the roadway in the sunshine a short wooden pier jutted into the shallow pale water, which farther out had an intense blue tint contrasting unpleasantly with the green orderly slopes on the opposite shore. The whole view, with the harbour jetties of white stone underlining lividly the dark front of the town to the left, and the expanding space of water to the right with jutting promontories of no particular character, had the uninspiring, glittering quality of a very fresh oleograph. Razumov turned his back on it with contempt. He thought it odious — oppressively odious — in its unsuggestive finish: the very perfection of mediocrity attained at last after centuries of toil and culture.’

In the stark contrast to Razumov’s mood is the Boulevard des Philosophes, a part of ‘La Petite Russie’ community, where at their house Nathalie Haldin and her mother gather and entertain their compatriots.

‘That afternoon the ladies entertained a good many of their compatriots — more than was usual for them to receive at one time; and the drawing-room on the ground floor of a large house on the Boulevard des Philosophes was very much crowded…’

For the ‘studious, solitary, and austere’ Razumov, Nathalie Haldin represents an entirely foreign to him world. The very part of life that he has never experienced for he is frightened of expressing his own feelings and dealing with the feelings and emotions of others. He is annoyed by Nathalie’s welcome, by her openness, by her thinking of him as a friend of the family. He is furious at her and at himself, not wishing to uncover and explore his more humane and softer side. The only place in Geneva he feels ‘safe’ is an islet, the Île Rousseau, positioned in the middle of the Rhone and connected to its South and North shores by an angled bridge.

‘At the point of that angle a short arm joined it to a hexagonal islet with a soil of gravel and its shores faced with dressed stone, a perfection of puerile neatness. A couple of tall poplars and a few other trees stood grouped on the clean, dark gravel, and under them a few garden benches and a bronze effigy of Jean Jacques Rousseau seated on its pedestal. […] There was something of naive, odious, and inane simplicity about that unfrequented tiny crumb of earth named after Jean Jacques Rousseau. Something pretentious and shabby, too.’

Île Rousseau, Geneva, Switzerland

Razumov’s own lodgings in the Rue de Carouge is no less ‘shabby’, reflecting on the state of his mind.

‘In the Rue de Carouge we were in the poorer quarters and approaching the outskirts of the town. Vacant building plots alternated with high, new houses. At the corner of a side street the crude light of a whitewashed shop fell into the night, fan-like, through a wide doorway. One could see from a distance the inner wall with its scantily furnished shelves, and the deal counter painted brown. That was the house.’

Poor quarters should not be taken literally here as it refers to the poverty of Razumov’s heart that is unable to let the love in. Nathalie Haldin and her wholesomeness are the gifts of fate he struggles to accept for he overanalyses and overthinks every bit of his life rather than feels it with his heart.

I am certain your heart is not unfeeling,’ — said Miss Haldin softly.

No. It is not as hard as a stone, — he went on in the same introspective voice, and looking as if his heart were lying as heavy as a stone in that unwarmed breast of which he spoke. — No, not so hard. But how to prove what you give me credit for — ah! that’s another question. No one has ever expected such a thing from me before. No one whom my tenderness would have been of any use to. And now you come. You! Now!

Consumed by hate for betrayed Victor Haldin and his fatal bestowment, the Thinking Man sees in every twist and turn of his life the Devils’ providence instead of opportunities for change and self-development.

This was a comedy of errors. It was as if the devil himself were playing a game with all of them in turn. First with him, then with Ziemianitch, then with those revolutionists. The devil’s own game this…. He interrupted his earnest mental soliloquy with a jocular thought at his own expense. “Hallo! I am falling into mysticism too.’

Mysticism or not, driven by his mind and deaf to the feelings of others, Razumov takes another wrong turn in his life. His confessions to Nathalie and revolutionaries bring him nothing but misery. For he has forgotten to take into consideration that people’s actions and especially reactions are seldom driven by their mind, but feelings and emotions. The side that will remain a crippling one for the rest of his life.

‘In the first forward surge of people towards him, Razumov expected to be torn to pieces, but they fell back without touching him, and nothing came of it but noise. It was bewildering. His head ached terribly. In the confused uproar he made out several times the name of Peter Ivanovitch, the word ‘judgement,’ and the phrase, ‘But this is a confession,’ uttered by somebody in a desperate shriek.’

Should Razumov have stood up for the challenge of love and not mind-induced hatred and confessions, his life had been transformed. For loving the sister of the ‘enemy’ who ‘had stolen the truth’ of his life, he would have obtained a new truth and with it his own wholesome Self. But he did not, so he had literally and laterally crippled himself for life.

‘In giving Victor Haldin up, it was myself, after all, whom I have betrayed most basely. You must believe what I say now, you can’t refuse to believe this. Most basely. It is through you that I came to feel this so deeply. After all, it is they and not I who have the right on their side? — theirs is the strength of invisible powers. So be it. Only don’t be deceived, Natalia Victorovna, I am not converted. Have I then the soul of a slave? No! I am independent — and therefore perdition is my lot.’

Independent overthinking of a solitary and unloving man is the punishment in itself, for love and forgiveness is never independent they are interdependent.

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