The Possessed (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

The Possessed (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781593082505
Publisher: Barnes & Noble
Publication date: 02/01/2005
Series: Barnes & Noble Classics Series
Pages: 768
Sales rank: 56,690
Product dimensions: 5.18(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.54(d)

About the Author

Few authors have been as personally familiar with desperation as Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881), and none have been so adept at describing it. His harrowing experiences in Russian prisons, combined with a profound religious philosophy, formed the basis for his greatest books: Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, The Possessed, and The Brothers Karamazov. When Dostoevsky died in 1881, he left a legacy of masterful novels that immortalized him as a giant of Russian literature.

Read an Excerpt

From Elizabeth Dalton’s Introduction to The Possessed

The Possessed is the greatest novel ever written about the politics of revolution. It prefigures the political novels of Conrad, Malraux, and Koestler, as well as the work of Camus. Published in 1871, Dostoevsky’s novel foretold with uncanny prescience events that would occur almost fifty years later during the Bolshevik Revolution and the Communist tyranny that followed. Its “possessed” characters, unleashed on a sleepy provincial town, wreak destruction as if in the grip of demonic possession, thereby foretelling what will happen in real life when, as one of them says, “Russia will be overwhelmed with darkness, the earth will weep for its old gods.” The novel’s relevance, however, is not limited to Russia and its revolution. With its cast of idealistic murderers and suicides, seductive madmen and glamorous fanatics, The Possessed is a novel for our time as well.

The political theme is interwoven with a tragic love story and framed in a chronicle of provincial life rich in comic characters and incidents. In the end, however, everything leads to the central concerns of all Dostoevsky’s work: his tortured debate with himself over Christianity and the existence of God, and his penetrating analysis of the psyche, of both its ecstatic visions of harmony and its darkest and most perverse impulses.

Freud, who claimed that creative writers were the true discoverers of the unconscious, drew his own conception of the unconscious partly from his reading of Dostoevsky, whom he considered the greatest of all novelists. The inner life of the mind has been the subject of modern literature as well as of psychoanalysis. The representation of the psyche by the great modern writers—among them Joyce, Proust, Gide, Woolf, Kafka, Faulkner, and Beckett—owes a great deal to Dostoevsky’s dissections of the minds of Stavrogin, Kirillov, and the other heroes and antiheroes of his novels.

Although The Possessed developed far beyond Dostoevsky’s original intention, it began as a polemic. In a letter of March 1870, he wrote, “What I’m writing is a tendentious piece; I want to state my opinions fervently. (The Nihilists and Westernizers will start yelling about me that I’m a reactionary!) But to hell with them—I’ll state all my opinions down to the last word” (Complete Letters, vol. 3, p. 246; see “For Further Reading”). As installments began appearing in the Russian Herald, a Petersburg monthly, The Possessed did indeed arouse furious controversy: The left-wingers, the “Nihilists and Westernizers,” saw it as a slanderous attack, and the right-wing Slavophils, the defenders of the monarchy and the Russian Orthodox Church, took it as an unqualified endorsement of their views. During the Communist era, the novel continued to be read as a political document, a reactionary attack on socialism, and for nearly forty years no separate edition could be printed, although it was available in an academic edition of Dostoevsky’s collected works. Those who managed to read it, and who were themselves living through the era of arrests, trials, imprisonments, and executions it foretold, wondered how its author could have imagined so fully what had not yet happened.

In fact, The Possessed was based partly on real events. The immediate stimulus was the “Nechayev Affair” of 1869. A student named Ivanov, a member of a revolutionary group called the People’s Avengers, was murdered by his fellow conspirators at the instigation of their leader, Sergey Nechayev, who convinced them that Ivanov was about to denounce them to the authorities. Dostoevsky, then living in Dresden, read the newspaper accounts of this case and used it as the point of departure for a depiction of the political and intellectual atmosphere of Russia in the late 1860s. An even more important source of the novel, however, was his own experience of conspiracy twenty years earlier as a member of the Petrashevsky Circle. Like the “quintet” in The Possessed, the Petrashevsky conspirators were trying to acquire a secret printing press on which to produce anti-government leaflets, a capital offense in Tsarist Russia. In 1849 they were arrested and condemned to death, led onto the scaffold to be shot, and at the last minute reprieved and sent to Siberia.

Dostoevsky’s background was far from revolutionary. His father, a military physician, was descended from impoverished minor Lithuanian nobility. Konstantin Mochulsky, in Dostoevsky: His Life and Work, describes the father as “a man of extremely difficult temperament, sullen, contentious, suspicious, . . . subject to attacks of depression. His personality was a fusion of cruelty and sensibility, piety and avarice” (p. 8). The family—parents and seven children, of whom Fyodor Mikhailovitch was the second—lived in straitened circumstances in a three-room house on the grounds of the Maryinsky military hospital in Moscow. Dostoevsky received, nonetheless, an excellent education, reading widely in Russian, English, and European literature. At his father’s insistence, he was sent in 1838 to the academy of military engineering in Petersburg, where he was miserable.

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Possessed (Barnes & Noble Classics Series) 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found this on the classics rack at B&N, and wondered why I couldn't recall having heard of this Dostoyevsky novel. The subject matter is so timely, I couldn't wait to read it, even though I was committing to another big, long book... Well, I suppose this is the Dostoyevsky novel your professors DON'T want you to read. It makes socialists look bad. It predicted, several decades in advance, the violence and horror of Stalin's U.S.S.R. This book transported me to 19th-century Russia and I didn't want it to end. It instantly has earned a place in my top-ten books list. It alternates between being horrific and laugh-out-loud funny. Some basic info: Constance Garnett's translation is fine, and I don't see a need for a more modern one. What I have the most difficulty with is the Russian names and their variations, and keeping track of who's who in the large cast of characters. I suggest keeping a list for yourself or writing them down somewhere in the book. I also advise reading the censored chapter when you reach the part of the book where the author intended it to be. Ah yes - the introduction by Elizabeth Dalton is very good, but it will give away some of the story, so I suggest reading it as an afterword. The notes are very helpful. There is a character in the story who constantly speaks French, and this version gives you footnotes with a translation of all the French. I was reading concurrently another copy of The Possessed without the French translations, and while I understand some French, I was so thankful for my B&N copy so I could understand it all. I recommend this as a good quality version of the book to buy, with lots of useful extras.
RobertTyler More than 1 year ago
The people and passions of the 19th century clash in this masterpiece, which comments on political conditions in Russia. The politics and ideas of the day entangle all the characters as the action unfolds, and the moral that unfolds along alongside the plot is that ideas have consequences. The accuracy of the predictions made about what would happen politically to Russia is so astonishing that the novel could be read for that reason alone. In any case, it knocked my socks off. Always lurks more than one reason to read a Dostoyevsky, and politics does not obsure a well-turned plot. The author's ability to present every point of view uncontaminated by his own biases is a hallmark of his genius, and this talent adds immeasurably to the narrative power. Here one might find the secret of the book's excellence. My own favorite character in the story is Kirillov, and the care the author takes with him hints at a soft spot Dostoyevsky nurtures even for this young nihilist. Shatov I found a warmly sympathetic character, the vessel that carries Russia in its hold. The characterization of a political meeting in a safehouse stands out in my mind for it's cunning humor, the best in 19th century literature. One small note: it's better to read the chapter "Savrogin's Confession" in the order the author originally intended, not at the end. I prefer the Garnett translation to the current title, "Demons." Although that was the correct Russian word, it carries a religious connotation absent from the novel except in certain places. "The Possessed" better captures in English what is happening in the novel -- the fact that ideas are driving the action, as opposed to persons, that ideas are taking posssession over people. Garnett was on-target to choose that as the English title.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This novel is harder to digest than Crime & Punishment and The Idiot. The author has a whole lot of build up before the end of the book takes off. I guess he did it for readers to get a feeling for the characters because Dostoevsky is good at characterization. In all of his books you feel like you get a first hand view of the charcters' souls and personalties. In this story which is set in a small russisn town, the characters form a secret society to create a hotbed of social unrest and start a revolution. The chaos that ensues causes the quintet of leaders to turn devilish and turn on each other. One observation I have is that Dostoevsky makes the point that anyone can manipulate and control a group even if they are off their rocker with the right rhetoric and how dangerous that can be. His social commentary in this book may still have some use today. I highly recommend this book and Dostoevsky's other works. I will be reading Brothers Karamazov next. Also, give Tolstoy's War and Peace and Anna Karenina a read if you like russian 19th century lit. War and Peace is LONG but worthwhile and Anna Karenina may be the best novel ever written.
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Tennesseedog More than 1 year ago
In high school (a while ago) I also read Notes from the Underground. Don't remember much of it to comment on it. A couple of days ago I finished this monster (710 pages), The Possessed. I found it very interesting and entertaining. I enjoyed the somewhat convoluted story line but was able to follow plot developments by concentrating on the story. The characters were richly developed though the bizarre nature of many of them made me laugh and then cringe sometimes within the space of a few minutes of reading. More importantly I found the author's placement of political and philosophical arguments and expositions to be stunning in their effect. He craftily combined plot actions that occurred simultaneously into distinct sections that were overseen by the omniscient narrator and then presented to the reader in a rational manner. It is a dark novel and reflects on the mind of the author who saw much and lived much in a cruel and dangerous 19th Century Tsarist Russia. One can feel sympathy for some characters and outright distaste for others. Their bumblings and stupid actions seem to actually reflect quite accurately how some human beings really are. Woe with us if we find ourselves reflected in this generally dismal cast.
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49typecast More than 1 year ago
I chose this book as my summer reading last year. I made my own list of characters because this edition does not list them. I wanted to know what "nihilism" was. I was not disappointed. This was not the first Dostoevsky book for me. (In high school we read 'Notes From The Underground.') The most striking image for me are the clandestine meetings of pre-Bolshevik revolutionaries; the discussion over 'the woman question,' and the fact that in the Gulags, Dostoevsky was given one book to read: the Bible. God bless this author. I love Dostoevsky!
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Simply Outstanding. Once you understand it.. you'll love it. Fyodor Dostoevsky does not disappoint. If you want a nice long read, where you'd learn something interesting, and have a chance to look into the literary texts of one of the most influential and highly acclaimed novelists in all of literature, then this book would be a good start.