An Honest Thief

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"An Honest Thief" (Russian: Честный вор, Chestny vor) is an 1848 short story by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The story recounts the tale of the tragic drunkard Emelyan Ilyitch.

Synopsis[edit]

The story opens with the narrator taking on a lodger in his apartment, an old soldier named Astafy Ivanovich. One day, a thief steals the narrator's coat, and Astafy tries to pursue him unsuccessfully. Astafy is dismayed by the theft and goes over the scenario over and over again. The narrator and Astafy share a distinct contempt for thieves, and one night Astafy tells the narrator a story of an honest thief that he had once run across.

One night in a pub, Astafy Ivanovich happened upon Emelyan Ilyitch. The two knew each other on beforehand, but now Emelyan was obviously poor from the look of his tattered coat. He was aching for a drink but had not the money. Astafy was moved by Emelyan's acutely pathetic position, and he bought him a drink. From then on, Emelyan followed Astafy everywhere, eventually moving into his apartment. Astafy did not have much money himself, but he allowed Emelyan's imposition because he was very aware that his drinking was a terrible problem. Emelyan would not stop his drinking, however, and even though he was quiet and not disruptive when he was drunk, Astafy could see that Emelyan would never be able to support himself with such a habit. Astafy urged him to quit drinking, but to no avail. Eventually, Astafy effectively gave up on him and moved, never expecting to see Emelyan again.

Very soon after Astafy had moved Emelyan appears at his new apartment, and the two continue to go on as they had before. Astafy would support Emelyan with food and lodging, and Emelyan would always go out and come back drunk. Sometimes he would disappear for days only to return drunk and almost frozen.

Astafy, now working as a tailor, was short on money. One of his projects, a pair of riding breeches for a wealthy customer, were never claimed. He thought he could sell the breeches to get money for more useful clothes and some food, but when he decided to sell the breeches, they were nowhere to be found. Emelyan was drunk as usual, and denied the theft. Astafy was terribly vexed by the theft, and kept looking for the breeches while still suspicious of Emelyan. Emelyan always denied the theft.

One day, Astafy and Emelyan had a terrible fight over the breeches and Emelyan's drinking, and Emelyan left the apartment and did not return for days. Astafy even went to look for him one day with no luck. Eventually, after a couple of days, Emelyan returned, almost starved and frozen. Astafy took him back in, but it was clear that Emelyan's days were numbered. Days later, after Emelyan's health had deteriorated terribly, Emelyan wanted to tell Astafy something about the breeches. With his last words, Emelyan admitted to stealing the breeches.

References[edit]

  • Magarshack, David, The Best Stories of Fyodor Dostoevsky (New York: The Modern Library, 2005), 67-88.

External links[edit]