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Notes From Underground Mass Market Paperback – Nov 2 2004
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About the Author
Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-81) was educated in Moscow and at the School of Military Engineers in St. Petersburg, where he spent four years. In 1844 he resigned his Commission in the army to devote himself to literature. In 1846, he wrote his first novel, which won immediate critical and popular success. At the age of twenty-seven he was arrested for belonging to a socialist group and condemned to death, but at the last moment, his sentence was commuted to prison in Siberia. In 1859, he was granted full amnesty and allowed to return to St. Petersburg. In the fourteen years before his death on January 28, 1881, Dostoyevsky produced his greatest works including Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, and The Possessed.
Ben Marcus is the author of The Age of Wire and String, a collection of stories, and the novel Notable American Women. Editor of The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories, he is on the faculty of Columbia University and has received a Whiting Award and a National Endowment for the Arts grant. His essays have appeared in Time, Feed, Tin House, McSweeny’s, Bomb, Grand Street, the Pushcart Prize anthology, and Conjunctions.
Andrew R. MacAndrew (1911-2001) was a professor at the University of Virginia and an acclaimed translator of Russian literature. In addition to fiction by Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Gogol, and others, he translated A Precocious Autobiography by poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko.
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Top Customer Reviews
the underground man is an interesting character because throughout the novel he liberally depreciates himself and celebrates his own misery. he says that he is doomed to be miserable because of his intelligence, because he has the capacity to critically observe the world, and yet because of this very fact he says that he can never be an insect. this reminds me of a quote from Nietzsche 'even a man who despises himself respects himself as one who despises'. but overall, this over critical approach to living hinders the underground man so that he is quite passive throughout the novel, despite his words, which i suppose could be considered an action of sorts. and it's because of this passivity that he fails at connecting with others, isolating himself with his thoughts. now it could be argued that his refusal to act is an expression of his utilizing his freedoms. he acts in a way that is not accepted by society, which is why he is so isolated, but by isolating himself, he is demonstrating that he has the capacity to exercise free thought and action, to not blindly follow the status quo. his outcast status is the ultimate freedom, and yet he's so miserable, which would tie into the intelligence bit.Read more ›
I may be only one, but I found this book very difficult to pick up and very easy to put down.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The writing is absolutely brilliant. Dostoyevsky does not seem to have created this character but instead pulled him from the street. The character was not one dimensional, an attribute that I found personally refreshing . The thoughts and emotions are complex and real and were constantly understated, adding to the impression that the book was written by the character himself, who lacks writing experience needed to capture these feelings.
The main character views himself cut off and removed from society, rejected by all in nearly every way. He has become so obsessed with this notion that he has created this exact situation as a result of searching for justification of this impression. He has in fact created most of his own misery, and only continues to propagate more. Yet he seem himself as miserable and rejected and finds pride in this image. He imagines himself to be pitiful and also to be strong and fiercely independent as a result of his social isolation. He feels he poses a strength of spirit for being able to endure the loneliness and envisions himself as a martyr.
This fuels his ego and he plans heroic acts in order to show the proof of his worth or to win attention and love. He however lacks the courage to complete the monumental self serving tasks he set before himself. Through a strange twist of logic these failures are also seen as something to be admired. It only makes him more pitiful and thus a greater martyr. When these failures are personally humiliating he retreats within in himself. Hating everyone and again fortifying his independence, claiming that all who depend on others are weak. Only to re-emerge more hungry for the affections of a companion.
An emotional ebbing between pride of independence and ability to bravely endure the suffering quickly switching to the opposite pole of resenting people in general. Sustaining himself on the imagined praises or pity that he thinks would be lavished upon him if he were to be seen by others as he sees himself.
A terribly tragic tale that emphasis the importance of perspective and removing one's self from a problem in order to perhaps gain a helpful assessment of it. The ideas and emotions presented give a haunting impression. The book should be read slowly and turned over in ones mind again and again.
Perhaps the best translation I've found to date is that by Andrew MacAndrew, available in a Signet Classics edition. MacAndrew's prose has a vigor and modern clarity that truly make this work speak to the reader - the Underground Man truly comes to life as a living, breathing character with a relevance and immediacy.
For all the praise the Pevear/Volokhonsky translations have gotten, I do not think they necessarily surpass the efforts of those who came before them in this particular instance. Although a big fan of their Tolstoy, the Dostoevsky comes off somewhat comparatively muted.
Compare MacAndrew's rendering of the opening words in which the Underground Man introduces himself:
"I'm a sick man... a mean man. There's nothing attractive about me. I think there's something wrong with my liver. But, actually, I don't know a damn thing about my sickness; I'm not even too sure what it is that's ailing me."
"I am a sick man... I am a wicked man. An unattractive man. I think my liver hurts. However, I don't know a fig about my sickness and am not sure what it is that hurts me."
Of the two, MacAndrew's Underground Man obviously speaks a more contemporary English. I am aware that this has actually been a criticism of his. In fact, many readers might actually be put off by the brusque and terse take or find it even slightly disturbing. Purists will also doubtless find much to annoy them about MacAndrew's more interpretive (as opposed to literal) approach to translation. The Pevear/Volokhonsky actually appeared in 1993, about 30 years after MacAndrew's. There's nothing particularly wrong with their version. It has a stately, nuanced charm and is apparently much truer to Dostoevsky's original in the literal sense (to the point of translating his flaws and idiosyncrasies). But personally, as a reader, I just got much more out of reading the MacAndrew translation. You immediately get a taste of the angst of this character from MacAndrew's terse, flippant diction.
Two others to take note of: The classic Constance Garrett translation can still be found in a cheap Barnes and Noble Classics edition, along with a good selection of Dostoevsky's shorter works. Garnett's haphazard, hasty, and somewhat reckless method of translation has been much criticised, as has her quaintly Victorian diction. Mirra Ginsberg's translation in the Bantam Classics series matches the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation almost word-for-word, although I find the wording where she deviates to actually be better overall.
The book is presented in two parts. Part one `Underground' is written in the form of the nameless narrator's rambling thoughts on reason and his claim that throughout history, human actions have been anything but influenced by reason. Underground Man's charge is that man values most the freedom to choose to act in opposition to reason's dictates. Dostoyevsky's critique of reason then, although it demands attention and is somewhat difficult to follow, sets the philosophical foundations for the rest of the book.
Part two `A Propos of the Wet Snow' is much easier to read, as the narrator recounts three episodes which happened when he was fifteen years younger and working as a civil servant in St. Petersburg. The first considers an incident in which an army officer insults him and goes on to detail Underground Man's subsequent internal anguish at his inability to commit an act of retribution. The second episode takes place at a farewell dinner for an acquaintance named Zverkov. The narrator is utterly disgusted with the company in which he finds himself but despite this, he is unable - even though he desires it - to make them realise this. The third episode details Underground Man's brief, painful and emotional relationship with a prostitute.
Dostoyevsky is refreshing in this book thanks not only to his incredibly powerful prose, but also for the intense but subtle way in which the stories reflect and indeed embody his philosophical theories. This dark and pessimistic portrayal of the nature of man may not sit very comfortably with many readers, however the ideas expressed in `Notes From The Underground' are as relevant and worthy of deliberation now as I am sure they were in 1864.
A few words about the other works in this edition: Dostoevsky wrote White Nights while in his 20s, before his Siberian exile and while he still held an interest in the Utopian ideas he would later condemn. It's a story of a young man and a young woman, both socially isolated, who happen to meet one night and, over the course of the next three nights, fall in love, with, unsurprisingly, a maudlin ending. The book dragged a bit at first, but I found the second half of it very touching and, though a fairly immature work, it was definitely worth my time.
The Dream of a Ridiculous Man was the last short story Dostoevsky wrote, and contains a very clear version of his notion of the necessity of suffering for love and redemption, expressed through a man who dreams of travelling to another planet identical to earth in which suffering doesn't exist. It's not a really great work, but it's a quick and pleasant read.
The volume also contains three short excerpts from The House of the Dead (the book based on Dostoevsky's imprisonment)--two of them dealing with prisoners' tales of the murders that got them imprisoned, and one a discussion of corporal punishment. The excerpts are fairly interesting, but if this sort of thing fascinates you you're better off getting the whole work, which is published by Penguin Classics.
The underground man never had any experiences of love or emotional relationship, thus he relies in his youth on literature and drama where he gets high expectations of ideal relationships and morals. However, real life interactions and relationships traumatize him with reality that he doesn't know how to accept.
In his forties, the underground man doesn't crave human interactions or attention any more, or have passionate ideas about any thing like he did in his youth, and he knows no other way than anger and bitterness to deal with people. Even though his intimidating way of dealing with people brings him humiliation and pain, he still enjoys thinking that he is practicing his free will. Ironically, the humiliation he brings down on himself is empowering and satisfying to the underground man. As long as he has choice and free will, he is still alive and active like others, regardless of the consequences of the choices he makes.
Whether Dostoevsky wrote notes from Underground as a scream against rationalism and utopianism, or if he was symbolizing his own alienation from the modern Russian society, he just did a great job. Every detail in the book is worth reading.