The Best Short Stories of Fyodor Dostoevsky

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This collection, unique to the Modern Library, gathers seven of Dostoevsky's key works and shows him to be equally adept at the short story as with the novel. Exploring many of the same themes as in his longer works, these small masterpieces move from the tender and romantic White Nights, an archetypal nineteenth-century morality tale of pathos and loss, to the famous Notes from the Underground, a story of guilt, ineffectiveness, and uncompromising cynicism, and the first major work of existential literature. ...

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The Best Short Stories of Fyodor Dostoevsky

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This collection, unique to the Modern Library, gathers seven of Dostoevsky's key works and shows him to be equally adept at the short story as with the novel. Exploring many of the same themes as in his longer works, these small masterpieces move from the tender and romantic White Nights, an archetypal nineteenth-century morality tale of pathos and loss, to the famous Notes from the Underground, a story of guilt, ineffectiveness, and uncompromising cynicism, and the first major work of existential literature. Among Dostoevsky's prototypical characters is Yemelyan in The Honest Thief, whose tragedy turns on an inability to resist crime. Presented in chronological order, in David Magarshack's celebrated translation, this is the definitive edition of Dostoevsky's best stories.

Collection of seven stories which show the author in a variety of moods.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Dostoevsky, the only psychologist from whom I had something to learn."

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375756887
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/28/2001
  • Series: Modern Library Classics Series
  • Edition description: MODERN LIB
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 377,427
  • Product dimensions: 5.14 (w) x 7.97 (h) x 0.66 (d)

Meet the Author

David Magarshack's translations include works by Dostoevsky, Turgenev, Chekhov, Gorky, and Pushkin. He has also written biographies of Dostoevsky and Gogol.

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Read an Excerpt

It was a lovely night, one of those nights, dear reader, which can only happen when you are young. The sky was so bright and starry that when you looked at it the first question that came into your mind was whether it was really possible that all sorts of bad-tempered and unstable people could live under such a glorious sky. It is a question, dear reader, that would occur only to a young man, but may the good Lord put it into your head as often as possible! . . . The mention of bad-tempered and unstable people reminds me that during the whole of this day my behaviour has been above reproach. When I woke up in the morning I felt strangely depressed, a feeling I could not shake off for the better part of the day. All of a sudden it seemed to me as though I, the solitary one, had been forsaken by the whole world, and that the whole world would have nothing to do with me. You may ask who the whole world is. For, I am afraid, I have not been lucky in acquiring a single acquaintance in Petersburg during the eight years I have been living there. But what do I want acquaintances for? I know the whole of Petersburg without them, and that, indeed, was the reason why it seemed to me that the whole world had forsaken me when the whole town suddenly arose and left for the country. I was terrified to be left alone, and for three days I wandered about the town plunged into gloom and absolutely at a loss to understand what was the matter with me. Neither on Nevsky Avenue, nor in the park, nor on the embankment did I meet the old familiar faces that I used to meet in the same place and at the same time all through the year. It is true I am a complete stranger to these people, but they are not strangers to me. I know them rather intimately, in fact; I have made a very thorough study of their faces; I am happy when they are happy, and I am sad when they are overcast with care. Why, there is an old gentleman I see every day on the Fontanka Embankment with whom I have practically struck up a friendship. He looks so thoughtful and dignified, and he always mutters under his breath, waving his left hand and holding a big knotty walking-stick with a gold top in his right. I have, I believe, attracted his attention, and I should not be surprised if he took a most friendly interest in me. In fact, I am sure that if he did not meet me at a certain hour on the Fontanka Embankment he would be terribly upset. That is why we sometimes almost bow to one another, especially when we are both in a good humour. Recently we had not seen each other for two days, and on the third day, when we met, we were just about to raise our hats in salute, but fortunately we recollected ourselves in time and, dropping our hands, passed one another in complete understanding and amity. The houses, too, are familiar to me. When I walk along the street, each of them seems to run before me, gazing at me out of all its windows, and practically saying to me, "Good morning, sir! How are you? I'm very well, thank you. They're going to add another storey to me in May"; or, "How do you do, sir? I'm going to be repaired tomorrow"; or, "Dear me, I nearly got burnt down, and, goodness, how I was scared!" and so on and so on. Some of them are great favourites of mine, while others are my good friends. One of them is thinking of undergoing a cure with an architect this summer. I shall certainly make a point of coming to see it every day to make sure that its cure does not prove fatal (which God forbid!). And I shall never forget the incident with a pretty little house of a pale pink hue. It was such a dear little house; it always welcomed me with such a friendly smile, and it looked on its clumsy neighbours with such an air of condescension, that my heart leapt with joy every time I passed it. But when I happened to walk along the street only a week ago and looked up at my friend, I was welcomed with a most plaintive cry, "They are going to paint me yellow!" Fiends! Savages! They spared nothing, neither cornices, nor columns, and my poor friend turned as yellow as a canary. I nearly had an attack of jaundice myself, and even to this day I have not been able to screw up my courage to go and see my mutilated friend, painted in the national colour of the Celestial Empire! So now you see, dear reader, how it is that I know the whole of Petersburg. I have already said that until I realised what was the trouble with me, I had been very worried and upset for three whole days. In the street I felt out of sorts (this one had gone, that one had gone, and where on earth had the other one got to?), and at home I was not my old self, either. For two evenings I had been racking my brains trying hard to discover what was wrong with my room. What was it made me so peevish when I stayed there? And, greatly perplexed, I began examining my grimy green walls and the ceiling covered with cobwebs which Matryona was such a genius at cultivating. I went over my furniture and looked at each chair in turn, wondering whether the trouble lay there (for it upsets me to see even one chair not in its usual place); I looked at the window but all to no purpose: it did not make me feel a bit better! I even went so far as to call in Matryona and rebuke her in a fatherly sort of way about the cobwebs and her untidiness in general. But she just gave me a surprised look and stalked out of the room without saying a word, so that the cobwebs still remain cheerfully in their old places. It was only this morning that at last I discovered the real cause of my unhappiness. Oh, so they are all running away from me to the country, are they?

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Table of Contents

Biographical Note v
Introduction ix
White Nights 3
The Honest Thief 59
The Christmas Tree and a Wedding 79
The Peasant Marey 89
Notes from the Underground 95
A Gentle Creature 215
The Dream of a Ridiculous Man 263
Commentary 287
Reading Group Guide 291
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Reading Group Guide

1. The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote that Dostoevsky was the "only psychologist" from whom he ever learned anything. Discuss the psychological dimensions of Dostoevsky's stories: in what ways does he illuminate human personality, passion, motivation, and character, and the role of the irrational in the human psyche?

2. What attitudes toward an analysis of religion-one of Dostoevsky's great themes-can you discern in the short works contained in this volume? Are his ideas about or insights into religion consistent from story to story? Do they vary?

3. "Notes from the Underground," Dostoevsky's most important and influential short novel, was in part inspired by distaste for a novel by Nikolai Chernyshevsky entitled What Is to Be Done?, a utopian work that embraces notions of human rationality, scientific determinism, and human progress. In what ways does "Notes from the Underground" respond to or critique such notions? What kinds of insights into human nature and its workings does this crucial work provide?

4. Why does the protagonist in "Notes from the Underground" describe himself as "spiteful"? Why does the protagonist in "The Dream of a Ridiculous Man" consider himself "ridiculous"?

5. Many of Dostoevsky's short works-particularly "A Gentle Creature"-were inspired by events in his own life (see David Magarshack's introduction to this volume). In what ways, in your view, does Dostoevsky put personal experience to work in his art?

6. As David Magarshack notes, "lack of sympathy," or the "failure to realize what is passing in another human being's heart," is a central theme for Dostoevsky, one rendered in an especially poignant way in "A Gentle Creature." How is this theme articulated in the various stories in this collection?

7. Many of Dostoevsky's main characters could be described as dreamers (the protagonists of "White Nights," "Notes from the Underground," and "The Dream of a Ridiculous Man," for instance). Why is dreaming important for Dostoevsky's protagonists?

8. Would you say that Dostoevsky offers a realistic portrayal of Russian life and society?

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