Svidrigailov immediately addresses his relationship with Dunya, arguing that his behavior toward her was based only on genuine respect and affection. Raskolnikov tells Svidrigailov he has heard rumors he killed his wife Marfa. Svidrigailov replies that his wife’s death was caused by “apoplexy” after a heavy meal, and that he only beat her sparingly during their marriage.
Svidrigailov has appeared in St. Petersburg. Raskolnikov addresses the rumors that have dogged Svidrigailov for years: that he is in fact a criminal, and that he is responsible not just for Marfa’s death but for other, unspecified immoralities dating back many years. It's interesting how Raskolnikov is pursued for his crimes, but Svidrigailov never is similarly pursued.
Raskolnikov wishes to go but finds he somewhat enjoys talking to Svidrigailov. Raskolnikov admits that Svidrigailov seems a kind of gentleman; Svidrigailov complains that Petersburg is only a city of “functionaries.” Svidrigailov tells about his life: he was a “sharper,” or cheater at card games, and he ended up in significant debt for which authorities would put him in prison. He met Marfa, who paid off his debt and married him. He promised to live under her rules in the provinces, and after a time she gave him a part of her fortune.
Svidrigailov elaborates on the circumstances of his life. Svidrigailov was a gambler and cheater, thus making it hard to believe much of what he says. But Raskolnikov seems also to sense that Svidrigailov operates according to his own rules—that, in other words, Svidrigailov might be exactly the “strong man” Raskolnikov has championed, and which he feels he himself can never be.
Svidrigailov asks Raskolnikov if he believes in ghosts. Svidrigailov says that sometimes he senses Marfa’s presence. Raskolnikov does not believe him, but Svidrigailov says Marfa does return, mostly to remind him to do household chores. Raskolnikov says Svidrigailov ought to see a doctor. Svidrigailov responds that it is possible that sick, raving people claim to see ghosts; but he says it is also possible that ghosts choose to visit only sick people in the first place.
Svidrigailov’s interest in the supernatural will continue throughout the novel. He is literally haunted by the ghost of his wife, just as Raskolnikov is haunted by the murders he has committed. Yet Svidrigailov appears rather calm in the face of his anxieties. Raskolnikov senses that Svidrigailov is a true nihilist, or a man who places trust in no institution, no religion, no moral code.
Svidrigailov goes on to say that the afterlife might be something like a bathhouse where one waits, complete with spiders in the corners. Raskolnikov thinks that Svidrigailov is insane. Raskolnikov becomes upset, finally, and asks Svidrigailov his business. The latter asks whether Dunya is to marry Luzhin. Svidrigailov says he suspects Raskolnikov does not approve of the marriage, which is to be conducted out of Dunya’s sacrifice and for Raskolnikov’s monetary advantage.
Svidrigailov knows a great deal about Raskolnikov’s life. Svidrigailov hopes to convince Raskolnikov that he truly loves, and has always loved, Dunya, and that he, rather than Luzhin, ought to marry Dunya and provide for her. Despite his guarded respect for Svidrigailov, however, Raskolnikov will not consent to allow Svidrigailov to meet with Dunya.
Svidrigailov wishes for Raskolnikov to arrange a meeting with Dunya, whereby he can convince her not to marry Luzhin and instead to accept ten thousand of his roubles. Svidrigailov says he is already engaged and has no need for the money, nor does he pine for Dunya any longer. Svidrigailov hints ominously that, if Raskolnikov does not set up the meeting, Svidrigailov will find Dunya himself; in the meantime he is planning a “voyage” far away. Svidrigailov announces, finally, that Marfa left Dunya three thousand roubles in her will, and that this money will be available in a few weeks.
Svidrigailov’s first threat to Raskolnikov. What is not immediately clear is Svidrigailov’s motivation, his desire to speak once more with Dunya. Does he truly love her? Does he believe he can maintain some kind of mastery over her? Does he merely wish to torment Raskolnikov? Marfa’s money immediately eases Dunya’s and Pulcheria’s monetary situation, and makes Dunya’s marriage to Luzhin less financially necessary.