‘Chicken’ in the Brother’s Karamazov

Fyodor Karamazov places three thousand rubles in an envelope labeled “for my little chicken” intending for his love-interest, Grushenka, to be the recipient. But it is Smerdyakov, probably a son of his, whom Mitya twice calls a “chicken”, who is actually to take the money from the envelope — not the “chicken” Fyodor had intended. This coincidence struck me as sufficiently odd that I made a list of all the mentions of ‘Chicken’ in the Brother’s Karamazov, of which, however, there weren’t too many.

Elsewhere, Ratikin calls Alyosha a “chicken”, Kolya refers to fearful children as “chickens”, and, in the first quote below, “chickens” and money (in an episode between Katerina and Misha) are again related. The Russian was not looked at. This relies on the Garnett translation.

The numbers in bold indicate Part.Book.Chapter. Translation, Garnett.

1.3.4. “‘Four thousand! What do you mean? I was joking. You’ve been counting your chickens too easily, madam. Two hundred, if you like, with all my heart. But four thousand is not a sum to throw away on such frivolity. You’ve put yourself out to no purpose.’

2.5.6. “He is perfectly well aware, too, that Fyodor Pavlovitch has a big envelope with three thousand roubles in it, tied up with ribbon and sealed with three seals. On it is written in his own hand ‘To my angel Grushenka, if she will come,’ to which he added three days later, ‘for my little chicken.’ There’s no knowing what that might do.”

3.7.3. “Yes, that’s really true,” Rakitin put in suddenly with genuine surprise. “Alyosha, she is really afraid of a chicken like you.”

“He is a chicken to you, Rakitin… because you’ve no conscience, that’s what it is! You see, I love him with all my soul, that’s how it is! Alyosha, do you believe I love you with all my soul?

3.9.2. “There were no signs of disturbance in the room where Fyodor Pavlovitch was lying. But by the bed, behind the screen, they picked up from the floor a big and thick envelope with the inscription: “A present of three thousand roubles for my angel Grushenka, if she is willing to come.” And below had been added by Fyodor Pavlovitch, “For my little chicken.”

3.9.5. “From my conviction–my impression. Because Smerdyakov is a man of the most abject character and a coward. He’s not a coward, he’s the epitome of all the cowardice in the world walking on two legs. He has the heart of a chicken. When he talked to me, he was always trembling for fear I should kill him, though I never raised my hand against him. He fell at my feet and blubbered; he has kissed these very boots, literally, beseeching me ‘not to frighten him.’ Do you hear? ‘Not to frighten him.’ What a thing to say! Why, I offered him money. He’s a puling chicken–sickly, epileptic, weak-minded–a child of eight could thrash him.”

3.9.6. “It… it must be that envelope of my father’s, the envelope that contained the three thousand roubles… and if there’s inscribed on it, allow me, ‘For my little chicken‘… yes–three thousand!” he shouted, “do you see, three thousand, do you see?”

“Of course, we see. But we didn’t find the money in it. It was empty, and lying on the floor by the bed, behind the screen.”

For some seconds Mitya stood as though thunderstruck.

“Gentlemen, it’s Smerdyakov!” he shouted suddenly, at the top of his voice. “It’s he who’s murdered him! He’s robbed him! No one else knew where the old man hid the envelope. It’s Smerdyakov, that’s clear, now!”

4.10.2.“Oh, children, children, how fraught with peril are your years! There’s no help for it, chickens; I shall have to stay with you I don’t know how long. And time is passing, time is passing, oogh!”

4.10.2. “Good-bye, chickens, I go with my heart at rest. And you, granny,” he added gravely, in an undertone, as he passed Agafya, “I hope you’ll spare their tender years and not tell them any of your old woman’s nonsense about Katerina. Ici, Perezvon!”

4.10.4.”The worst of it was he was horribly dressed at the time, his breeches were too small for him, and there were holes in his boots. They worried him about it; they jeered at him. That I can’t stand. I stood up for him at once, and gave it to them hot. I beat them, but they adore me, do you know, Karamazov?” Kolya boasted impulsively; “but I am always fond of children. I’ve two chickens in my hands at home now–that’s what detained me to-day. So they left off beating Ilusha and I took him under my protection.”

4.12.8. “Moreover, Smerdyakov, whose health was shaken by his attacks of epilepsy, had not the courage of a chicken. ‘He fell at my feet and kissed them,’ the prisoner himself has told us, before he realised how damaging such a statement was to himself. ‘He is an epileptic chicken,’ he declared about him in his characteristic language.

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