The underground man discourses on love:
“No one should know what passes between husband and wife if they love one another. And whatever quarrels there may be between them they ought not to call in their own mother to judge between them and tell tales of one another. They are their own judges. Love is a holy mystery and ought to be hidden from all other eyes, whatever happens. That makes it holier and better. They respect one another more, and much is built on respect. And if once there has been love, if they have been married for love, why should love pass away? Surely one can keep it! It is rare that one cannot keep it. And if the husband is kind and straightforward, why should not love last? The first phase of married love will pass, it is true, but then there will come a love that is better still. Then there will be the union of souls, they will have everything in common, there will be no secrets between them.”
He is lying naked, in squalid post coitum next to a prostitute in a filthy room in pitch darkness, talking to her.
Now, amidst the situation in which it is uttered, are we to take the underground man’s discourse on love as a cynical outburst, or as a hopeful one? Is he sarcastically voicing our discontent with the myths surrounding love, or is he holding those myths up as ideals which keep us going even in the most desperate straits?
Both interpretations are equally plausible. The deliberate ambivalence in interpretation is then further underlined by the thoughts which pass through the underground man’s consciousness directly after the discourse:
“It is with pictures, with pictures like these, that you will beguile her”, I thought to myself, though, goodness knows, I spoke with real feeling, and suddenly blushed. “What if she were suddenly to burst out laughing, what should I do then?" That idea drove me to fury. Towards the end of my speech I really was excited, and now my vanity was somehow wounded. The silence continued. I almost nudged her.
It’s passages like these that account for the wide variety and passion of the differing interpretations in Dostoevsky criticism. Few writers have the ability to bring forth such vehement devotion from two opposing groups: idealists and realists alike both idolize Dostoevsky, and both see themselves reflected within his writing, much to the puzzled consternation of the other.