Stinking Lizaveta was a very small girl, only twenty years old, with a “healthy, broad, ruddy” and “completely idiotic” face. In every season, she goes barefoot and wears “only a hempen shift.” Her extremely thick, black, curly hair is always “dirty with earth and mud” and has leaves and wood shavings in it because she sleeps on the ground. Her mother had been long dead and her father, “a failed tradesman named Ilya,” was an alcoholic who sponged off of “well-to-do middle-class families as some sort of handyman.” When Lizaveta returned home, Ilya beat her brutally, but she seldom went back home because she was an itinerant who went around begging.
Lizaveta’s “healthy” face contrasts with the constant walking that her itinerancy would require and her meager diet. Despite supposedly being mentally challenged, it seems that Lizaveta left her home to escape abuse. Knowing this, as well as admiring her indifference toward all material concerns, the public looks after her.
People made efforts to clothe Lizaveta and, after her father died, she became even dearer to the public. No one teased or insulted her, not even local schoolboys. When someone gave her a kopeck, she would donate it to a church or prison. When someone gave her a fresh roll or bun from the marketplace, she would give it to a child or even to a wealthy lady, who would accept it. Lizaveta “lived only on black bread and water.” When she visited expensive shops, the shopkeepers never worried about her, knowing she wouldn’t take anything. One could put down thousands of roubles in front of her and forget about them, and she wouldn’t take a kopeck.
Despite her own poverty, Lizaveta was dedicated to assuaging others’ suffering. Her gift of coins to wealthy ladies is ironic. It seems as though she did this because she knew that the women valued money more than she did. This fact is echoed by her tendency not to be tempted when large amounts of money are placed near her. This also reflects Jesus’s parable of a poor woman giving away her last two pennies, showing how Lizaveta is seen as a kind of “holy fool” for her generosity and removal from worldly concerns.
One “bright and warm September night, under a full moon,” a bunch of drunken men found Lizaveta lying near a wattle fence, in “nettles and burdock.” One of them looked down at her and wondered if it could be possible to regard such a creature as a woman. The group agreed that it was impossible. Fyodor Pavlovich was alone among them in declaring that it was possible to see her womanly virtues and that there was even a “piquancy” about her. Around this time, he found out that his wife, Adelaida Ivanovna, was dead. His companions laughed at his opinion and then went on their way.
The men’s comment about Lizaveta’s supposed absence of womanly virtues comes from her lack of adherence to hygiene, but more so her indifference to feminine rituals that would make her traditionally attractive. For Fyodor, the “piquancy” perhaps comes from the seedy aspect of going to bed with someone who is completely outside of the margins of society, in addition to the odd sensual pleasure of touching and smelling an unwashed person.
Long after this episode, Fyodor swore that he rejoined his companions. No one knows for certain whether or not he did. What was known was that, five or six months later, the whole town was wondering who had impregnated Lizaveta. The rumor spread that Fyodor was the culprit. Grigory stood up for his master against the rumors and even managed to convince many people that Lizaveta herself was to blame, for she had probably slept with an escaped convict named Karp. Nonetheless, this gossip didn’t deter people’s sympathy for Lizaveta. The town continued to look after her. The wealthy widow of the merchant Kondratiev even brought Lizaveta to her house to care for her until the birth. However, on the very last day of her pregnancy, Lizaveta left the widow’s house and turned up in Fyodor Pavlovich’s garden.
Fyodor’s claim is more than likely a lie that he told to spare whatever was left of his reputation. Grigory’s need to stand up for his master comes both out of an inexplicable loyalty to Fyodor as well as the possible wish not to be associated with a man who would do something so depraved. In Grigory’s mind, Lizaveta has to become the guilty one; though, Fyodor’s willingness to take advantage of her vulnerability—particularly her handicap—is equivalent to rape. Lizaveta’s choice to show up in Fyodor’s garden to give birth is further proof of their association.
After giving birth, Lizaveta died “towards morning.” Grigory took the infant into the servant’s cottage. He saw the newborn as a gift from his dead child. He and Marfa baptized the baby and named him Pavel Fyodorovich, which Fyodor found amusing. Grigory then invented the surname Smerdyakov, after the boy’s mother, Lizaveta Smerdyashchaya. The child became Fyodor’s second servant and was employed as a cook.
Keen on seeing signs, Grigory reads the new baby as one—particularly given his arrival so close to the death of his own son. By giving the boy this patronymic (Fyodorovich, after Fyodor), Grigory is privately acknowledging the paternity that he wouldn’t acknowledge publicly.
The narrator believes that he ought to say more about Smerdyakov but is “ashamed” to distract the reader with details about “such ordinary lackeys.” He assumes that, in regard to Smerdyakov, “things will somehow work themselves out in the further course of the story.”
The narrator’s statement is ironic because Smerdyakov is neither “ordinary,” as the reader will see, nor merely a lackey.