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Written in 1864, this novel is the first and strangest of Dostoevsky's masterpieces--and the source of those that followed. Violating literary conventions in ways never before attempted, this classic tells of a mid-19th-century Russian official's breakaway from society and descent "underground."
|Preface to the Second Edition|
|Preface to the First Edition|
|A Brief Note on the Translation|
|The Text of Notes from Underground||1|
|Backgrounds and Sources||93|
|Selected Letters from Fyodor Dostoevsky to Mikhail Dostoevsky (1859-64)||95|
|Socialism and Christianity||98|
|From Winter Notes on Summer Impressions||99|
|From Russian Nights||101|
|From "Hamlet of Shchigrovsk District"||102|
|From What Is to Be Done?||104|
|From "The Swallows"||125|
|Notes from the Overfed||126|
|From The Invisible Man||133|
|Dostoevsky's Cruel Talent||141|
|Thought and Art in Notes from Underground||145|
|Dostoevsky and Nietzsche||148|
|Discourse in Dostoevsky||152|
|Structure and Integration in Notes from the Underground||162|
|Notes on the Uses of Monologue in Artistic Prose||178|
|Freedom in Notes from Underground||186|
|The Pun of Creativity; Double Determination||195|
|The Formalistic Model: Notes from Underground||201|
|Notes from Underground||213|
|The Symbolic Game||250|
|Fyodor Dostoevsky: A Chronology||255|
I AM a sick man. . . . I am a spiteful man. An unattractive man. I
think that my liver hurts. But actually, I don't know a damn thing
about my illness. I am not even sure what it is that hurts. I am not
in treatment and never have been, although I respect both medicine
and doctors. Besides, I am superstitious in the extreme; well, at
least to the extent of respecting medicine. (I am sufficiently
educated not to be superstitious, but I am.) No, sir, I refuse to see
a doctor simply out of spite. Now, that is something that you
probably will fail to understand. Well, I understand it. Naturally, I
will not be able to explain to you precisely whom I will injure in
this instance by my spite. I know perfectly well that I am certainly
not giving the doctors a "dirty deal" by not seeking treatment. I
know better than anyone that I will only harm myself by this, and no
one else. And yet, if I don't seek a cure, it is out of spite. My
liver hurts? Good, let it hurt still more!
I have been living like this for a long time-about twenty years. Now
I am forty. I used to be in the civil service; today I am not. I was
a mean official. I was rude, and found pleasure in it. After all, I
took no bribes, and so I had to recompensemyself at least by this.
(A poor joke, but I will not cross it out. I wrote it, thinking it
would be extremely witty; but now I see that it was only a vile
little attempt at showing off, and just for that I'll let it stand!)
When petitioners came to my desk seeking information, I gnashed my
teeth at them, and gloated insatiably whenever I succeeded in
distressing them. I almost always succeeded. Most of them were timid
folk: naturally-petitioners. But there were also some fops, and among
these I particularly detested a certain officer. He absolutely
refused to submit and clattered revoltingly with his sword. I battled
him over that sword for a year and a half. And finally I got the best
of him. He stopped clattering. This, however, happened long ago, when
I was still a young man. But do you know, gentlemen, what was the
main thing about my spite? Why, the whole point, the vilest part of
it, was that I was constantly and shamefully aware, even at moments
of the most violent spleen, that I was not at all a spiteful, no, not
even an embittered, man. That I was merely frightening sparrows to no
purpose, diverting myself. I might be foaming at the mouth, but bring
me a doll, give me some tea, with a bit of sugar, and I'd most likely
calm down. Indeed, I would be deeply touched, my very heart would
melt, though later I'd surely gnash my teeth at myself and suffer
from insomnia for months. That's how it is with me.
I lied just now when I said that I had been a mean official. I lied
out of sheer spite. I was merely fooling around, both with the
petitioners and with the officer, but in reality I could never have
become malicious. I was aware at every moment of many, many
altogether contrary elements. I felt them swarming inside me, those
contrary elements. I knew that they had swarmed inside me all my
life, begging to be let out, but I never, never allowed them to come
out, just for spite. They tormented me to the point of shame, they
drove me to convulsions-I was so sick and tired of them in the end.
Sick and tired! But perhaps you think, dear sirs, that I am now
repenting of something before you, asking your forgiveness for
something? . . . Indeed, I am quite certain that you think so. But
then, I assure you it doesn't make the slightest difference to me if
you do. . . .
I could not become malicious. In fact, I could not become anything:
neither bad nor good, neither a scoundrel nor an honest man, neither
a hero nor an insect. And now I am eking out my days in my corner,
taunting myself with the bitter and entirely useless consolation that
an intelligent man cannot seriously become anything; that only a fool
can become something. Yes, sir, an intelligent nineteenth-century man
must be, is morally bound to be, an essentially characterless
creature; and a man of character, a man of action-an essentially
limited creature. This is my conviction at the age of forty. I am
forty now, and forty years-why, it is all of a lifetime, it is the
deepest old age. Living past forty is indecent, vulgar, immoral! Now
answer me, sincerely, honestly, who lives past forty? I'll tell you
who does: fools and scoundrels. I will say this right to the face of
all those venerable old men, all those silver-haired, sweet-smelling
old men! I have a right to say it, because I will live to sixty
myself. To seventy! To eighty! . . . Wait, let me catch my breath. .
You might be imagining, gentlemen, that I am trying to amuse you, to
make you laugh? Wrong again. I am not at all the jolly character you
think I am, or may perhaps think I am. But then, if, irritated by all
this prattle (and I feel it already, I feel you are irritated),
you'll take it into your heads to ask me what I am, I'll answer you:
I am a certain collegiate assessor. I worked in order to eat (but
solely for that reason), and when a distant relation left me six
thousand rubles in his will last year, I immediately retired and
settled down in my corner. I had lived here previously as well, but
now I've settled down in this corner. My room is dismal, squalid, at
the very edge of town. My servant is a peasant woman, old, stupid,
vicious out of stupidity, and she always has a foul smell about her
I am told that the Petersburg climate is becoming bad for me, that
with my niggling means it's too expensive to live in Petersburg. I
know all that, I know it better than all those wise, experienced
counselors and head-shakers. But I stay on in Petersburg; I shall not
leave Petersburg! I shall not leave because. . . . Ah, but what
difference does it make whether I leave or don't leave.
To go on, however-what can a decent man talk about with the greatest pleasure?
Answer: about himself.
Well, then, I too shall talk about myself.
Excerpted from Notes From Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted September 28, 2014
I was torn between giving this 3 or 4 starts, but I went with four because no doubt it is profound, engaging and thought-provoking, though not very entertaining a read. This was probably my least favorite of the 5 Dostoevsky novels I've read so far (Demons, The Idiot, C&P, TBK, and Notes) but it's still a good book, and certainly a lot better than most of what is being written nowadays. The ramblings and actions of our narrator, though they may seem to be complete nonsense at times, actually constitute a pretty accurate description of the human condition as it relates to dignity, self-worth, and one's perceived place in society. That being said, as far as entertainment value is concerned, this book has a rather disjointed flow to it (intentional no doubt), there is very little semblance of a plot, the characters are difficult to relate to at times, and the book ends just as soon as it finally starts to get going.
I really don't think I would recommend this book to someone looking for an entertaining read, as this book didn't entertain me much at all. That being said it still gives one a good think if they devote the energy to reading it, so I wouldn't have any reservations recommending it to my nihilistic, cynical, and jaded intellectual buddies.
Posted April 15, 2014
Posted April 15, 2014
This translation of "Notes from Underground" is essential for an understanding of Dostoevsky's critique of traditions within Western Philosophy and his analysis of consciousness. Overall, this novel grabs the reader from his high and lofty comfort and drags him down to the raw, unmitigated center of his own humanity.
One should enjoy it as a invigorating philosophical read or as a slow literary read; either way, it is an essential book to the reader who wants to be intellectually stimulated.
Posted April 25, 2008
Posted May 21, 2005
While other authors in literary history have reduced their plot lines to little more than mundane physical recounts of peculiar events, Dostoevsky changes the entire focus of novels as we know them. He takes the reader on a psychological joyride to the very essence of the human psyche. The Volokhonsky/Pevear translation is far superior to any other translations, whose translators (as the authors previously mentioned did) depend on simply providing accurate vocabulary rather than capturing the nature of the verse. From the first line, the reader can see the astonishing characteristics that all homo sapiens carry: regret, self-hatred, and an overall sense of the futility of the human condition.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 30, 2004
Theres no question that Dostoevsky is by far the greatest spiritual novelist of all time. Don't read this and just think it, just pick up his book and believe it, This book not only brings us back to the nineteeth century Russia but helps us to understand the time and Dostoevsky's concern for all humanity and that by suffering and repentence mankind can become what it was meant to be, true children of God.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 24, 2003
For those who felt this traslation was lacking, try The Modern Library Classics, 'The Best Short Stories of Fyodor Dostoevsky.' It is more for your money; plus, it contains 'The Dream of a Ridiculous Man,' which patently mocks human nature. About 'Notes': It is the misanthrope's thesis. You could learn a lot, whether you think so or not.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 1, 2003
This novel is a wonderfull work of art which questions the society and poses intriguing questions, however it is dulled by the dry language of the translation. I am a native Russian speaker and I have read some parts of the work in russian. This perticular translation lacks the vivid and clear language of the original. I do think that this poor translation takes away from the beauty of the work.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 18, 2003
'We¿ve all grown unaccustomed to life, we¿re all lame, each of us more or less... We feel a sort of loathing for real 'living life.'' Yes! We learn 'living life' by the words of others, by the power of others, by the presence of others! And this is 'living life?' We common folk should be ashamed! An excellent and witty book recommended for the real ethicist for valuing and living one's own life.
0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 25, 2002
Anyone who find this books anything less then 5 stars hasn't really read the book. It's easy to pick up the book and skim the words he writes, but it's harder to understand it if you don't want to. The narrator tells you how it is, notwithstanding the fact that he rambles on about his own hates, regrets and so forth. We've all felt like the narrator once in our lives, and if you haven't, then like one other reviewer said: he has proven his point. He believes he is above everyone, and has a certain lack-of-self-esteem-superiority complex. He takes what he doesn't have and makes himself to feel bigger and better because of his loses of not getting proper schooling, not having a proper job, home, family, and life in general. He also has a very large sense of contradiction. With his strive to be like every other insensible, ungrateful being on the earth, he realizes he can't do it. Of course, he will ramble on for 103,546,356 pages about it before he gets to his point, but it's rather amuzing once you get used to it. NOW READ IT!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 14, 2002
This is one of the great works of world- literature.It is Dostoevsky at his most spiteful and bitter. The man in the cellar alone meditating on his own meaninglessnes, and on the falseness of the civilization which he does not feel himself apart of startles us by the brilliant paradoxes and contradictions of his soul. If his enemy is ' superficial rationality' then he angrily illustrates how true life in feeling comes from conflict inside.Saying one thing one minute and feeling the opposite the next his great gloom also brings with it a great liberation and hilarity.This is one of the great funny books, one of the books which makes you laugh in its attacks on the mediocrity, the banality of others, and of oneself. Reading this book in my own most anarchic and nihilistic university days I found in it a kindred soul which revealed to me something I sensed in myself and did not know how to say . Yet I knew too that to remain down in the cellar is to ultimately , not live, and like Dostoevsky also I found my way out in literature and love many many years later.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 27, 2002
This book is the single greatest description of the way a truly intelligent person thinks. If you disagree, then you might be smart, but not intelligent. After all, a pool can be wide, but it might not be deep.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 16, 2002
Posted May 31, 2002
This may be hard to read for some people because there are a lot of idea's and morals thrown at you all at once and some people can't handle that. (I couldn't at first, it's a thinker). The 'character' is a little frigtening because he does in fact, hold grudges for years, and is neurotic a majority half the time. For lack of a better term, it's a free write, from what he says in the book. It's interesting because the character is well developed for someone who rambles on about his morality half the time. Definitely a great book to read, but you can either hate it or love it. It's small too ;)Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 23, 2001
Clearly, the reviewer next to me is misguided. This person claims not to have made out the point of the 'story.' Now, despite this reviewer being illiterate, I will waste my time to explain where he or she is wrong. Dostoevsky hasn't written a story at all. If you read the first few pages, my ignorant critic, you'd be aware of this also. This truely magnificant book contains his notes, not a story and, just as an adolescent teen jots notes in a diary, so too Dostoevsky jots notes in this book. the magnificance lies in the fact it was Dostoevsky who wrote them, and not some illiterate college student. As for the point: well, you see, these notes contain numerous ideas and if there's an idea in them you like, it can easily be made the point--whichever one you wish. It's easy, just pick one out. But the best and most important idea, and my advice to you, the ignorant critic, is to read this book before reviewing it.
0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 1, 2001
I really didnt get the point of this story. The narrator is a rambling man with a lot of issues. He holds grudges for years, and he takes pleasure in others pain.I didnt like this story, Dostoevsky has written better.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 11, 2013
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Posted September 27, 2014
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Posted December 17, 2008
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