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Demons: A Novel in Three Parts (Vintage…

Demons: A Novel in Three Parts (Vintage Classics) (original 1872; edition 1995)

by Fyodor Dostoevsky (Author), Richard Pevear (Translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (Translator)

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5,847561,119 (4.16)80
Title:Demons: A Novel in Three Parts (Vintage Classics)
Authors:Fyodor Dostoevsky (Author)
Other authors:Richard Pevear (Translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (Translator)
Info:Vintage (1995), Edition: First Printing Thus, 768 pages
Collections:Your library, To read, Tote 3
Tags:Amy's book

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Demons by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1872)

  1. 00
    Petersburg by Andrei Bely (kitzyl)
    kitzyl: "The turbulent late years of the Russian empire produced not one but two novels about terrorist plots that abound in images of carnivalesque horror. Dostoevsky’s Demons (1873) and Andrei Bely’s Petersburg (1913, revised 1922 [!]) both dramatize the activities of radical terrorist groups. Members of terrorist cells engaged in secretly planned and spectacularly performed acts of violence, and both Dostoevsky and Bely employ theatrical imagery to represent the dual nature of terror, as a both private and public phenomenon. This theatricality ranges from Shakespearean allusions to acts of costuming and scripting to images of puppets and clowns." Issue 35 of Hypocrite Reader… (more)
  2. 11
    The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad (ehines)
  3. 00
    The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them by Elif Batuman (JuliaMaria)
    JuliaMaria: Die allgemein lesenswerte Sammlung von autobiografisch eingefärbten Literatur- und Reiseerfahrungen enthält auch einen Essay zu "The Possessed".

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Showing 1-5 of 46 (next | show all)
I finished this at a doctor's office, not my doctor's, but my wife's. She had the flu. When my wife was in the hospital a few years before that and on the door his name was posted adjacent to her's: Faith - Grief.

There's a great deal of both in this amazing novel. I should ask Dr. Grief if he likes Dostoevsky. I am afraid to as he looks as if he's only 15 years old. ( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
I had mixed feelings about The Possessed, which is, in short, a novel about a circle of would-be revolutionaries wreaks havoc in the Russian provinces. Dostoevsky being Dostoevsky, and the book being 600 pages long, things are far more complicated. There are numerous subplots concerning love, murder, atheism, and provincial society.

On the plus side... The book can be fun and funny, and I loved the narrator’s slightly sardonic voice and his filtering of the distinct voices of many other characters. Both Verkhovenskiis are well-drawn, and it is interesting to watch certain characters hold power over others. The book feels very prophetic because the activists place themselves higher than laws. They also bumble in some of Dostoevsky’s more satirical passages: their disorganized meeting is hilarious, and they can be quite vain. One cell member loves to mooch food.

The Possessed, for me, had as many low points as high points. The book first appeared in serial form, which may account for certain technical inconsistencies. Introductions to characters took dozens of pages, and many of their supposed intrigues were, for me, boring, too hysterical, and lengthy. By contrast, several (but not all!) deaths occur so quickly that you could almost miss – or mistake – them by blinking. I’m also not partial to religious epiphanies at novel’s end.

Overall, worth reading but rather uneven. ( )
  LizoksBooks | Dec 15, 2018 |
Dark novel of 1870s Russia ( )
  JackSweeney | Nov 28, 2018 |
Yana N.

Yana N.'s Reviews > Demons
Demons by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Ronald Meyer (Editor), Robert A. Maguire (Translator), Robert Belknap (Introduction)
Yana N.'s review
Sep 09, 2017 · edit

really liked it
bookshelves: classics, fiction, russian

Dostoyevsky’s Demons – a Christian book review and analysis

Rating: 4.5

There is a surreal quality to Dostoyevsky’s writing that always fascinates me – the rambling wildness of it, the amusing narrator quips, the concrete temporality and physicality of the setting, that is nevertheless inevitably overshadowed by the psychological expanse in which the real action takes place. This is certainly true of Demons.

Demons is about revolution, but a revolution mostly present in the minds of its conspirators, more concerned with the intellectual realm of philosophy than that of particular policy. Even when the destructive nihilism of Pyotr Stepanovitch and his motley crew spills over into reality with the fire and the murders, there is never a sense of imminence and urgency to the revolution; it is somehow always abstract and distant, muddled by the lies of Verkhovensky, the reluctance of Stavrogin and the ineptitude of the group of five. Everybody is willing to philosophize, but rarely to live out the implications of their beliefs, e.g. the Fourierist Liputin who nevertheless lives as a nosey home despot or the vile murderer Fedka who passionately expounds from the Apocalypse and reproaches Verhovensky for his unbelief. In this world of hypocrisy, there is an acutely felt distance between the spirit and the flesh, between abstraction and reality – and very few characters are able to bridge that gap.

We have the student Shatov, an ardent nationalist who sees the Russian identity as inextricably bound to Orthodoxy, but who cannot bring himself to actually believe in God. When his wife returns to him and births Stavrogin’s child (the conversation between Shatov and Arina the midwife regarding “the miracle of life” is hilarious, by the way), there appears a glimmer of hope and optimism that might set him on the course to conversion. But, as with all of Dostoyevsky’s fallen sinners, his story is cut off before the fullness of redemption can manifest itself. Of course, the validity of this point is contingent upon one’s doctrine of conversion and soteriology, which is quite muddled and varied in its expressions with Dostoyevsky. Stepan Tromifovitch definitely experiences a redemptive sort of conversion in the apprehension of the purity and loving abnegation of the Bible-seller Sofya Matveevna (probably the most Christian character of them all, and ironically but aptly named after Lady Wisdom, despite her simplicity) – but also undoubtedly influenced by the frenzy of his feverish sickness. The Gospels ostensibly come alive for him in their truths, but his ultimate profession of faith is deistic rather than distinctly Christian. It is Varvara Petrovna who urges Stepan Tromifovitch to make this confession and be instructed by a priest. Stavrogina herself possesses a certain kind of piety – we see her at church, giving alms and showing generosity – but that piety is only demonstrated in a very limited and formal context; it is never a living, active kind of faith with at tangible influence on her life. Christianity is simply assumed and accepted as a prerequisite for propriety in high society, rather than a radical call to self-sacrificial love and holiness.

On the atheistic side we have someone like Kirillov – a fanatical believer in himself and his own deity, attained through the denial of the fear of death and of God. His ideal is not the God-man Christ, but rather the man-god whose ultimate apotheosis is found in suicide. Denying God, he denies also the Giver of life and the sanctity of life itself, which is why suicide is often the demise of Dostoyevsky’s atheist characters. Ironically, Kirillov also functions as a kind of Christ-figure by (somewhat) willingly giving his life to save the revolutionaries – although that is ultimately an unsuccessful salvation. This perspective on suicide also applies to Stavrogin in a certain sense, although his suicide is an effort to expiate his sin or perhaps a desperate act in response to the failure of expiation and redemption. The censored chapter, “At Tikhon’s”, is a must-read for understanding Stavrogin’s psychology; it paints him both as a more sympathetic and more repulsive character. In this chapter, we see a Stavrogin set upon destroying his whole life as a self-inflicted punishment for his rape of a prepubescent girl who subsequently committed suicide for having “killed God” (the sentiment is somewhat correct in its perception of the seriousness of sin, but lacking for the neglect of grace and redemption). At Tikhon’s, Stavrogin gets an opportunity for redemption – the monk implores him to repudiate the vanity of his self-destructive mission and show true humility by forgiving himself and taking up service in the Church. He memorably says that (paraphrasing) “Christ will forgive you [Stavrogin], if you first forgive yourself”. Despite the theological inaccuracy of this statement, it truthfully points to the paradox of a very common conceit in which the Christian somehow judges his sin unforgivable in his heart while seemingly recognizing the redemptive forgiveness of God. Ultimately, Stavrogin’s pride hinders him from accepting Tikhon’s offer. He is unable to fully believe or disbelieve, arguing successfully for both positions and convincing others (Shatov, Kirillov), but not himself, and that uncertainty only leads him to death.

Stavrogin himelf is the enigmatic and magnetic character who forms the axis around which all other characters and events revolve. In conjunction with the apocalyptic atmosphere and references in Demons, Stavrogin has been identified as an antichrist figure for his beast-like amorality and coldblooded ruthlessness. He is supposed to become the tyrant of the revolution, spurred by the “false prophet” (to continue with the apocalyptic imagery) Verkhovensky, whose admiration of and obsession with Stavrogin bears overtones of idolatry. The chaos and uncertainty that the revolutionaries seek to achieve is also reminiscent of the “shaking of the earth and the heavens” (Hag. 2:21, Heb. 12:27). Coupled with the fire and the general decline of morals that results from the silly escapades of the gang of young people who flock around Verkhovensky and Yuliya Mikhailovna, Dostoyevsky also paints an interesting allegory of the end times.

Despite being a truly menacing threat, the revolutionaries are spitefully satirized, but also depicted as sublimely human and contradictory in character. As the murder of Shatov takes place, Shpigalov, of all people, backs out, even though he had earlier preached (quite prophetically, considering Russia’s history) the inevitability of totalitarian repression as the only viable political system, in which the murder of millions might be necessary. The good-natured soldier Erkel who sends half his salary to his poor mother turns out to be fanatically loyal to Verkhovensky, and very willing to go to any lengths to please him and advance “the cause”. Verkhovensky, in his own right, seems to have believed his own lies about the revolution, inheriting that trait from his father. Playing mastermind and manipulating everyone, he hopes to make illusion into reality by the insidious alchemy of polemics. However, when the futility and insanity of the whole affair is quickly uncovered, Verkhovensky’s cleverness is only enough to save his own buttocks, and that only barely.

The petty bourgeoisie do not escape criticism either. The conceit of Karmasinov and his claims to greatness are shown to be hollow, as is Yuliya Mikhailovna’s ambition of improving the morals of the youth through kindness. Stepan Trofimovtich also fancies himself some great intellectual and liberal genius while being a whiny parasite on Varvara Petrovna’s back. The preparations for the ball with its speeches, dances and “literary quadrille” and its inglorious downfall only further emphasize the shallowness and self-delusion of the upper- and middle-class.

The plotting of the novel is quite muddy and confusing, with no clear climax and a rather unsatisfactory ending (why did Verkhovensky get away???). The second half of Part 1 was a bit dull, and the entirety of Part 1 seems only to be setup for the rest and is thus lacking in quality and suspense compared to the other two parts, which are a veritable roller-coaster. The first-person narration through Stepan Trofimovitch’s friend (his name escapes me) functioned well and was very entertaining in its use of uncertainty and second-hand information. Sometimes this perspective was abandoned for a more standard omniscient third-person narrator (which was still supposed to be the same narrator telling the story as a story; yes, thank you, metafiction) that was mostly utilized for the sake of convenience and was slightly implausible. It was highly unlikely that the “friend” character would have such thorough knowledge of certain conversations and events (e.g. “At Tikhon’s”).

Dostoyevsky’s writing is not especially atmospheric, in the sense that there are no thorough and detailed Romanticist descriptions of the setting or lengthy digressions sparked by the melodramatic observation of some element of the environment. Time and space are somehow simply afterthoughts in Demons, despite the realist physicality in every situation – whether Verhovensky eating a meal and smacking his lips, or the very real weight of Shatov’s corpse as his murderers carry him to the dam. If anything is described meticulously, it would be the characters’ appearance and dress – a fact that attests to the centrality of characterization and psychology in Dostoyevsky’s novel(s).

Overall, I am quite taken with this book, despite its chaotic composition and occasionally weak characterizations (Lisa, Praskovya, Virginsky, and others). The rambling dialogues were good, if overly convoluted at times and fraught with hints and implications that I often didn’t catch until a character referenced them later in the story. I quite enjoyed Dostoyevsky’s prose in Demons, which isn’t always a given with him.

I initially gave Demons 5 stars, but I think that 4.5 (rounded down to 4) is a fairer rating. The novel was striking and compelling, populated by interesting (read: insane) characters and a multi-layered handling of themes like faith, atheism, suicide, revolution, et al. Its satire was likewise entertaining and incisive. However, 5 stars are reserved for my most favorite books, and Demons didn’t quite make the cut, although it was certainly brilliant despite its flaws. I highly recommend it if you generally enjoy Dostoyevksy and are acquainted with his style, but I do not think it is a good place to start; Crime and Punishment or The Idiot are more suited for “beginners” in my humble opinion. ( )
2 vote bulgarianrose | Mar 13, 2018 |
The first 350 pages were very tedious, but after that long build up, it did finally get good. ( )
  JBarringer | Dec 30, 2017 |
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» Add other authors (100 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Dostoevsky, Fyodorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cullen, PatrickNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Frank, JosephIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Güell, Josep MariaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Geier, SwetlanaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Geir KjetsaaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Leerink, HansTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Magarshack, DavidTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Magarshack, DavidTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McAndrew, Andrew R.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pevear, RichardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Praag, S. vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pyykkö, LeaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Volokhonsky, LarissaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The there was there an herd of many swine feeding on the mountain: and they besought him that he would suffer them to enter into them. And he suffered them. Then went the devils out of the man, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the lat, and were choked. When they that fed them saw what was done, they fled, and went and told it in the city and in the country. Then they went out to see what was done; and came to Jesus, and found the man out of whom the devils were departed, sitting at the feet to Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid. They also which saw it told them by what means he that was possessed of the devils was healed. -Luke viii. 32-36
Strike me dead, the track has vanished,  Well, what now?  We've lost the way,  Demons have bewitched our horses,  Led us in the wilds astray...What a number?  Whither drift they?  What's the mournful dirge they sing?  Do they hail a witch's marriage or a goblin's burying? - A. Pushkin
First words
Before describing the extraordinary events which took place so recently in our town, hitherto not remarkable for anything in particular, I find it necessary, since I am not a skilled writer, to go back a little and begin with certain biographical detains concerning our talented and greatly esteemed Stepan Trofimovich Verkhovensky.
In undertaking to describe the recent and strange incidents in our town, till lately wrapped in uneventful obscurity, I find myself forced in absence of literary skill to begin my story rather far back, that is to say, with certain biographical details concerning that talented and highly-eseemed gentleman, Stepan Tromfimovitch Verhovensky.  (Modern Library 1930 edition)
In a letter written from Dresden, dated 8 October 1870, addressed to his publisher, Fyodor Dostoevsky described the difficulty he was having with the new novel he's begun writing:
For a very long time I had trouble with the beginning of the work. I rewrote it several times. To tell the truth, something happened with this novel that had never happened to me before: week after week, I would keep putting asigne the beginning and work on the ending instead... What I can guarantee is that, as the novel progresses, it will hold the reader's interest. It seems to me that the way I have it now is for the best. (Introduction)
Stavrogin: "Every man has a right to an umbrella."
Lebyatkin: "You've defined the minimum of human rights in one short sentence, sir."
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Disambiguation notice

Variant Titles: Demons was also published as The Devils and The Possessed.
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Book description
Pëtr Verchovenskij è il capo di un'organizzazione nichilista, e con ammirata sottomissione offre il frutto della propria attività rivoluzionaria al demoniaco Stavrogin. Quando viene ucciso Satov, un ex seguace convertitosi alla fede ortodossa, Pëtr obbliga Kirillov ad autodenunciarsi, prima del suicidio. Seguono altri delitti in apparenza privi di motivo e solo la fine di Stavrogin, trovato impiccato nel suo appartamento, sembra porre termine all'azione di questi "demonî". Un romanzo polifonico, in cui i personaggi rivelano tutte le contraddizioni di una società apparentemente colta e liberale.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679734511, Paperback)

Inspired by the true story of a political murder that horried Russians in 1869, Fyodor Dostoevsky conceived of Demons as a "novel-pamphlet" in which he would say everything about the plague of materialist ideology that he saw infecting his native land. What emerged was a prophetic and ferociously funny masterpiece of ideology and murder in pre-revolutionary Russia.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:02 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

A new translation of The Possessed and a new title to go with it. The translators claim it better reflects the spirit of what basically is a novel of ideas, the demons of the title being the Western imports of idealism, socialism, materialism, nihilism, atheism and so on.

» see all 15 descriptions

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