The Eternal Husband

The Eternal Husband

5.0 1
by Fyodor Dostoevsky

View All Available Formats & Editions

The most monstrous monster is the monster with noble feelings.

This remarkably edgy and suspenseful tale shows that, despite being better known for his voluminous and sprawling novels, Fyodor Dostoevsky was a master of the more tightly-focused form of the novella.

The Eternal Husband may, in fact, constitute his most classically-shaped


The most monstrous monster is the monster with noble feelings.

This remarkably edgy and suspenseful tale shows that, despite being better known for his voluminous and sprawling novels, Fyodor Dostoevsky was a master of the more tightly-focused form of the novella.

The Eternal Husband may, in fact, constitute his most classically-shaped composition, with his most devilish plot: a man answers a late-night knock on the door to find himself in a tense and puzzling confrontation with the husband of a former lover—but it isn’t clear if the husband knows about the affair. What follows is one of the most beautiful and piercing considerations ever written about the dualities of love: a dazzling psychological duel between the two men over knowledge they may or may not share, bringing them both to a shattering conclusion.

The Art of The Novella Series

Too short to be a novel, too long to be a short story, the novella is generally unrecognized by academics and publishers. Nonetheless, it is a form beloved and practiced by literature's greatest writers. In the Art Of The Novella series, Melville House celebrates this renegade art form and its practitioners with titles that are, in many instances, presented in book form for the first time.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"I wanted them all, even those I'd already read."
—Ron Rosenbaum, The New York Observer

"Small wonders."
Time Out London

"[F]irst-rate…astutely selected and attractively packaged…indisputably great works."
—Adam Begley, The New York Observer

"I’ve always been haunted by Bartleby, the proto-slacker. But it’s the handsomely minimalist cover of the Melville House edition that gets me here, one of many in the small publisher’s fine 'Art of the Novella' series."
The New Yorker

"The Art of the Novella series is sort of an anti-Kindle. What these singular, distinctive titles celebrate is book-ness. They're slim enough to be portable but showy enough to be conspicuously consumed—tiny little objects that demand to be loved for the commodities they are."
—KQED (NPR San Francisco)

"Some like it short, and if you're one of them, Melville House, an independent publisher based in Brooklyn, has a line of books for you... elegant-looking paperback editions ...a good read in a small package."
The Wall Street Journal

Product Details

Melville House Publishing
Publication date:
Art of the Novella Series
Sold by:
Penguin Random House Publisher Services
File size:
2 MB

Read an Excerpt

A Nasty Anecdote

a story

This nasty anecdote occurred precisely at the time when, with such irrepressible force and such touchingly naive enthusiasm, the regeneration of our dear fatherland began, and its valiant sons were all striving toward new destinies and hopes. Then, one winter, on a clear and frosty evening, though it was already past eleven, three extremely re-spectable gentlemen were sitting in a comfortably and even luxuriously furnished room, in a fine two-storied house on the Petersburg side,1 and were taken up with a solid and excellent conversation on a quite curious subject. These three gentlemen were all three of general's rank.2 They were sitting around a small table, each in a fine, soft armchair, and as they conversed they were quietly and comfortably sipping champagne. The bottle was right there on the table in a silver bucket with ice. The thing was that the host, privy councillor Stepan Nikiforovich Nikiforov, an old bachelor of about sixty-five, was celebrating the housewarming of his newly purchased house, and, incidentally, his birthday, which happened to come along and which he had never celebrated before. However, the celebration was none too grand; as we have already seen, there were only two guests, both former colleagues of Mr. Nikiforov and his former subordinates, namely: actual state councillor Semyon Ivanovich Shipulenko and the other, also an actual state councillor, Ivan Ilyich Pralinsky. They came at around nine o'clock, had tea, then switched to wine, and knew that at exactly eleven-thirty they should go home. The host had liked regularity all his life. A couple of words about him: he began his career as a fortuneless pettyclerk, quietly endured the drag for forty-five years on end, knew very well how far he would be promoted, could not bear having stars in his eyes, though he was already wearing two of them,3 and particularly disliked expressing his own personal opinion on any subject whatsoever. He was also honest, that is, he had never happened to do anything particularly dishonest; he was a bachelor because he was an egoist; he was far from stupid, but could not bear to display his intelligence; he particularly disliked sloppiness and rapturousness, which he considered moral sloppiness, and toward the end of his life sank entirely into some sweet, lazy comfort and systematic solitude. Though he himself sometimes visited people of the better sort, from his youth he could never bear to receive guests, and of late, when not playing patience, he was content with the company of his dining-room clock, imperturbably listening, as he dozed in his armchair, to its ticking under the glass dome on the mantelpiece. He was of extremely decent and clean-shaven appearance, looked younger than his years, was well preserved, promising to live a long time, and adhered to the strictest gentlemanliness. His post was rather comfortable: he sat somewhere and signed something. In short, he was considered a most excellent man. He had only one passion, or, better, one ardent desire: this was to own his own house, and precisely a grand house, not simply a solid one. His desire was finally realized: he picked out and purchased a house on the Petersburg side, far away, true, but the house had a garden, and was elegant besides. The new owner reasoned that far away was even better: he did not like receiving at home, and as for going to visit someone or to work—for that he had a fine two-place carriage of chocolate color, the coachman Mikhei, and two small but sturdy and handsome horses. All this had been duly acquired by forty years of painstaking economy, and so his heart rejoiced over it all. This was why, having acquired the house and moved into it, Stepan Nikiforovich felt such contentment in his peaceful heart that he even invited guests for his birthday, which before he used carefully to conceal from his closest acquaintances. He even had special designs on one of the invited. He himself occupied the upper story of the house, and he needed a tenant for the lower one, which was built and laid out in the same way. So Stepan Nikiforovich was counting on Semyon Ivanovich Shipulenko, and during the evening even twice turned the conversation to that subject. But Semyon Ivanovich kept silent in that regard. This was a man who had also had a long and difficult time cutting a path for himself, with black hair and side-whiskers and a permanently bilious tinge to his physiognomy. He was a married man, a gloomy homebody, kept his household in fear, served self-confidently, also knew very well what he would achieve and still better what he would never achieve, sat in a good post and sat very solidly. At the new ways that were beginning he looked, if not without bile, still with no special alarm: he was very confident of himself and listened not without mocking spite to Ivan Ilyich Pralinsky's expatiating on the new themes. However, they were all somewhat tipsy, so that even Stepan Nikiforovich himself condescended to Mr. Pralinsky and entered into a light dispute with him about the new ways. But a few words about His Excellency Mr. Pralinsky, the more so as he is the main hero of the forthcoming story.

Actual state councillor Ivan Ilyich Pralinsky had been called "Your Excellency" for only four months—in short, he was a young general. He was young in years, too, about forty-three, certainly not more, and in looks he appeared and liked to appear still younger. He was a tall, handsome man, who made a show of his dress and of the refined solidity of his dress, wore an important decoration on his neck4 with great skill, from childhood had managed to adopt a few high-society ways, and, being a bachelor, dreamed of a rich and even high-society bride. He dreamed of many other things as well, though he was far from stupid. At times he was a great talker and even liked to assume parliamentary poses. He came from a good family, was a general's son and a sybarite, in his tender childhood wore velvet and cambric, was educated in an aristocratic institution, and, though he did not come out of it with much learning, was successful in the service and even got himself as far as a generalship. His superiors considered him a capable man and even placed hopes in him. Stepan Nikiforovich, under whom he began and continued his service almost up to the generalship, never considered him a very practical man and did not place any hopes in him. But he liked that he was from a good family, had a fortune, that is, a big rental property with a manager, was related to some not-insignificant people, and, on top of that, carried himself well. Stepan Nikiforovich inwardly denounced him for surplus imagination and lightmindedness. Ivan Ilyich himself sometimes felt that he was too vain and even ticklish. Strangely, at times he was overcome by fits of some morbid conscientiousness and even a slight repentance for something. With bitterness and a secret sting in his soul, he sometimes admitted that he had not flown at all as high as he thought. In those moments he would even fall into some sort of despondency, especially when his hemorrhoids were acting up, called his life une existence manquee,5 ceased believing (privately, of course) even in his parliamentary abilities, calling himself a parleur, a phraseur,6 and though all this was, of course, very much to his credit, it in no way prevented him from raising his head again half an hour later, and with still greater obstinacy and presumption taking heart and assuring himself that he would still manage to show himself and would become not only a dignitary, but even a statesman whom Russia would long remember. At times he even imagined monuments. From this one can see that Ivan Ilyich aimed high, though he kept his vague hopes and dreams hidden deep in himself, even with a certain fear. In short, he was a kind man, and even a poet in his soul. In recent years, painful moments of disappointment had begun to visit him more often. He became somehow especially irritable, insecure, and was ready to consider any objection an offense. But the reviving Russia suddenly gave him great hopes. The generalship crowned them. He perked up; he raised his head. He suddenly started talking much and eloquently, talking on the newest topics, which he adopted extremely quickly and unexpectedly, to the point of fierceness. He sought occasions for talking, drove around town, and in many places managed to become known as a desperate liberal, which flattered him greatly. That evening, having drunk some four glasses, he got particularly carried away. He wanted to make Stepan Nikiforovich, whom he had not seen for a long time prior to that and till then had always respected and even obeyed, change his mind about everything. For some reason he considered him a retrograde and attacked him with extraordinary heat. Stepan Nikiforovich made almost no objections and only listened slyly, though the topic interested him. Ivan Ilyich was getting excited and in the heat of the imagined dispute sampled from his glass more often than he should have. Then Stepan Nikiforovich would take the bottle and top up his glass at once, which, for no apparent reason, suddenly began to offend Ivan Ilyich, the more so in that Semyon Ivanych Shipulenko, whom he particularly despised and, moreover, even feared on account of his cynicism and malice, was most perfidiously silent just beside him, and smiled more often than he should have. "They seem to take me for a mere boy," flashed in Ivan Ilyich's head.

"No, sir, it's time, it's long since time," he went on with passion. "We're too late, sir, and, in my view, humaneness is the first thing, humaneness with subordinates, remembering that they, too, are people. Humaneness will save everything and keep it afloat . . ."

1. The Neva River divides into three main branches as it flows into the Gulf of Finland, marking out the three main areas of the city of St. Petersburg. On the left bank of the Neva is the city center, between the Neva and the Little Neva is Vasilievsky Island, and between the Little Neva and the Nevka is the so-called "Petersburg side," which is thus some distance from the center.

2. These three gentlemen are all in the civil service, not the military. But civil service ranks had military equivalents, which were sometimes used in social address. The following is a list of the fourteen civil service ranks from highest to lowest, with their approximate military equivalents:

1. Chancellor        Field Marshal 2. Actual Privy Councillor        General 3. Actual State Councillor        Major General 5. State Councillor        Colonel 6. Collegiate Councillor        Lieutenant Colonel 7. Court Councillor        Major 8. Collegiate Assessor        Captain 9. Titular Councillor        Staff Captain 10. Collegiate Secretary        Lieutenant 11. Secretary of Naval Constructions 12. Government Secretary                Sub-lieutenant 13. Provincial Secretary 14. Collegiate Registrar

The rank of titular councillor conferred personal nobility; the rank of actual state councillor made it hereditary. Wives of officials shared their husbands' rank and were entitled to the same mode of address—"Your Honor," "Your Excellency," "Your Supreme Excellency." Mention of an official's rank automatically indicates the amount of deference he must be shown, and by whom.

3. The star was the decoration of a number of orders, among them the Polish-Russian Order of St. Stanislas (or Stanislav) and the Swedish Order of the North Star. 4. Certain Russian decorations had two degrees, being worn either on the breast or on a ribbon around the neck. 5. "Botched existence" or "failed life" (French). 6. "Talker" and "phrase-maker" (French).         

Meet the Author

Fyodor Dostoevsky was born in 1821 in Moscow, the son of a tyrannical doctor subsequently murdered by his serfs. After studying engineering, Dostoevsky published his first novel, Poor Folk, in 1846 to great acclaim. Two years later, however, he was sentenced to death for being a member of a secret intellectual society seen as anti-Czarist. While actually standing before the firing squad, Dostoevsky was given a last-minute reprieve, and sent instead to prison in Siberia for ten years. His novels and the political journals he edited would rankle authorities for the rest of his life. This, plus devastating gambling debts, led him to frequently flee to Europe, even as he composed masterworks such as Crime and Punishment, The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov. He died in St. Petersburg in 1881.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

The Eternal Husband 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a great short novel that will give readers new to Dostoevsky a wonderful overview of his type of work. It is long enough to have his in-depth psychological characterization. Yet, it does not include lengthy philosophy that may bog new readers down. Of all his shorter works, this is a must read.