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Notes from Underground (Oneworld Classics)…

Notes from Underground (Oneworld Classics) (original 1864; edition 2010)

by Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Title:Notes from Underground (Oneworld Classics)
Authors:Fyodor Dostoevsky
Info:Oneworld Classics Ltd (2010), Paperback, 160 pages
Collections:Your library

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Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1864)


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English (84)  Swedish (3)  Dutch (3)  Italian (3)  French (1)  All (94)
Showing 1-5 of 84 (next | show all)
Fyodor Dostoevsky's classic novella Notes from Underground can be described as either idiosyncratic or rambling, depending on whether you liked it or not. For my part, I can see the author's method behind the madness of his narrator. It is a strange book, I'll grant: the first part is an almost formless collection of philosophical polemic, though chock full of ideas, whilst the second is devoted to a more conventional (but still irregular) narrative involving a dinner party and a prostitute.

This means it is a book you'll have to work at, and I am a bit disappointed that my appreciation for Dostoevsky (both here and in Crime and Punishment) has – by necessity – been so hard-won. It seems a common habit for this writer to critique and parody philosophical texts and movements of his own time and place, the flavour and immediacy of which is obviously lost in reading it over 150 years later in a different language. (In this respect, the assured translation and footnotes by Pevear & Volokhonsky are again welcome.)

Nevertheless, Notes from Underground is a very human piece of writing, betraying insecurities and conceits and restlessness, and it is this which gives it its enduring artistic value. Dostoevsky's narrator is an everyman ("I never even managed to become anything: neither wicked nor good, neither a scoundrel nor an honest man, neither a hero nor an insect." (pg. 5)), though an everyman deliberately turned up to eleven by the writer so that our own lives are illuminated through him. Observe one of the final lines in the book:

"... I have merely carried to an extreme in my life what you have not dared to carry even halfway, and, what's more, you've taken your cowardice for good sense, and found comfort in thus deceiving yourselves." (pp 129-30).

By making us bear witness to the narrator's idiosyncrasies/ramblings, Dostoevsky encourages us to shake off our own complacency about our lives. "Observe yourselves more closely," the defensive narrator urges us on page 16, and if you're willing to engage with this book, you'll certainly find yourself doing so. For in observing the narrator, we soon find we are appraising a strange and unflattering aspect of ourselves. Notes from Underground is a scrap of our psyche being given electric shocks to see how it twitches. ( )
  MikeFutcher | Mar 18, 2017 |
This guy is batcrap crazy. I don't think I'd ever want him as a friend (though I guarantee I would be his friend, because I seem to attract crazy), but he's certainly amusing to watch/listen to. ( )
  benuathanasia | Mar 16, 2017 |
A forty year old man introduces himself: "I AM A SICK MAN . . . I am a wicked (nasty) man." This comes from a man who immediately demonstrates his unsureness and his unreliability, as he touts his superstitiousness and refusal to be treated for his (imagined?) sickness. With a few lines of prose Dostoevsky has introduced the reader to a new type of man, one that we will see traces of in characters like Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment and others in subsequent novels. What do we make of this narrator and his story?

It is a story that is bifurcated into two parts that are very different from each other but intimately connected. The narrator is talking to someone. Perhaps it is the reader or perhaps it is himself, but he is passionate as he speaks out from his "corner" bemoaning the fact that he is not even able to become an insect, much as he would like to. The narration, upon first reading, is strange, but it changes when he draws in the reader by observing that he is not the only one who takes pride in his "sickness". Everyone takes pride in their own sickness. Suddenly we have come upon, become part of, the modern condition. This is the world that Nietzsche and others would later describe and that we live in.

The first part is entitled "Underground" and it is a world where the certainties of "2+2=4" and the philosophies of rationalism and utilitarianism are not welcome. The narrator, in his hole, cannot act and is overcome with inertia -- being constantly offended by "the laws of nature". What is a man without wants or desires who is living a life that is determined? Reason is not the answer, so he speculates that "two times two is five is sometimes also a most charming little thing". (p 34) He is bored and so he begins to write as the falling snow reminds him of an anecdote that occurred when he was twenty-four years old.

Thus the narration changes as the second part, "Apropos of the Wet Snow" begins. The nature of his pathology and his paranoia becomes clear as he reacts with coworkers and meets a young girl. The bifurcation of the story begins to appear in the narrator who, shortly after meeting the girl, starts to have doubts, thoughts like this:
"A sullen thought was born in my brain and passed through my whole body like some vile sensation, similar to what one feels on entering an underground cellar, damp and musty. It was somehow unnatural . . . " (p 88)
He begins to doubt himself (maybe he always has). The girl tries to reach out to him but he cannot reciprocate. Ultimately he concludes that life lived in books is better than his real life. He does little, is disappointed, and begins to write.

This novel is a tragicomedy of ideas, powerful in the sense that it identifies the direction that much of modern thought will pursue. The dramatic expressiveness of the prose betrays a narrator who is bereft of the will to engage in life. It is a form of nihilism that eats away at the narrator. Dostoevsky's answer, not given in this short novel but found in The Brothers Karamazov and elsewhere, is a faith that is absent here. That does not mean that this is not a rich text, filled with ideas and deep with meaning. It is a book that challenges the reader in ways that resonate forward more than a century later. ( )
  jwhenderson | Mar 6, 2017 |
Yes, this is a classic; it's the sort of book that other people write books about. While Part 1, the more philosophical section, is an intense read with plenty of depth and quotable quotes, Part 2 verges on the burlesque in its tragicomic depiction of a series of events that exemplify, in more tangible form, the nature of 'underground'. While the initial philosophy clearly sets the stage for the pastiche that follows, in some way it might be an easier 'in' to the work of Dostoyevsky to read the two in reverse order. The lack of a reliable narrator figure, in particular, is one literary dimension that a reader new to Dostoyevsky needs to discover, and this can become one of the perversely enjoyable facets of the work: navigating the paradoxically self-aware yet simultaneously unaware nature of the 'underground man'. ( )
  Kanikoski | Feb 26, 2017 |
Dostoevsky leads us into the deepest recesses of human consciousness, a mire of stinky sewers, feted pits and foul-smelling rat holes -- . novel as existential torment and alienation. Do you envision a utopia founded on the principals of love and universal brotherhood? If so, beware the underground man. And what is it about the underground? Well, ladies and gentlemen, here are several quotes from the text with my comments:

"I would now like to tell you, gentlemen, whether you do or do not wish to hear it, why I never managed to become even an insect. I'll tell you solemnly that I wanted many times to become an insect."----------The underground man's opening reflections form the first part of this short novel. He is forty years old, sits in his apartment, arms folded, brooding about life and death, telling us all about his underbelly-ish plight as a man-mouse, speaking about the subject giving him the greatest pleasure: himself.

"If man has not become more bloodthirsty from civilization, at any rate he has certainly become bloodthirsty in a worse, a viler way than formerly.” ----------The underground man spews out his view of others. If all humankind were to succumb to plague and die a horrible, anguished death, we can see in our mind's eye the underground man chuckling to himself and thinking every single minute of the excruciating pain of all those millions of men and women and children were well deserved. But, in all fairness, the underground man tells us he has a sensitive streak, being as insecure and touchy as a hunchback or dwarf.

"Two times two is four has a cocky look; it stands across your path, arms akimbo, and spits. I agree that two times two is four is an excellent thing; but if we're going to start praising everything, then two times two is five is sometimes also a most charming little thing."----------The underground man despises nature and the laws of nature. One can imagine how he would react if someone spoke of the philosophy of harmony or compassion – squinting his eyes, grinding his teeth and clenching his fists so hard blood would appear on his palms.

"Of Simonov's two guests, one was Ferfichkin, from Russian-German stock--short, monkey-faced, a fool who comically mimicked everyone, my bitterest enemy even in the lower grades--a mean, impudent little fanfaron who played at being most ticklish ambitious, though of course he was a coward at heart." ----------Here we have the underground man's reflections on encountering someone from his boyhood past. If you think the underground man would have less flattering things to say about you if he saw you talking in a railway station or eating at a restaurant, please continue reading. The underground man's hatred and bitterness reaches a high pitch by simply being around three of his former acquaintances. Has there ever been a more comical and compelling scene in all of literature?

"That night I had the most hideous dreams. No wonder: all evening I was oppressed by recollections of the penal servitude of my school years, and I could not get rid of them. I had been tucked away in that school by distant relations whose dependent I was and of whom I had no notion thereafter--tucked away, orphaned, already beaten down by their reproaches, already pensive, taciturn, gazing wildly about at everything. My schoolfellows met me with spiteful and merciless derision, because I was not like any of them. . . . I immediately began to hate them, and shut myself away from everyone in timorous, wounded, and inordinate pride."----------The underground man deals with a cab driver, a young prostitute and his servant. Such nastiness, such viciousness -- every single encounter vivid and memorable. Dostoyevsky at his finest.

"We're stillborn, and have long ceased to be born of living fathers, and we like this more and more. We're acquiring a taste for it. Soon we'll contrive to be born somehow from an idea. But enough; I don't want to write any more "from Underground" . . . "----------You may forget other works of literature you have read; however, I can assure you, once you have read the underground man's notes it will be an experience you will not soon forget.
( )
  GlennRussell | Feb 16, 2017 |
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» Add other authors (455 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Dostoevsky, Fyodorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Adrian, EsaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Coulson, JessieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dekker, PietTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Garnett, ConstanceTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Geier, SwetlanaÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ginzburg, LeoneContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Guidall, GeorgeNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ingold, Felix PhilippTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kallama, ValtoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lönnqvist, BarbaraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pevear, RichardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Polledro, AlfredoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Praag, S. vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Roseen, UllaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Volokhonsky, LarissaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Wokół mrok, choć wykol oczy;
Co tu robić? Będzie źle!
Bies nas widać w polu toczy
I kołuje nami we mgle.

Biesy kręcą się szalone,
Jako liście w słotny dzień.
Skąd ich tyle? Dokąd pędzą,
Zawodzące straszną pieśń?
Czy to czart się żeni z jędzą?

A była tam duża trzoda świń, pasących się na górze. Prosiły go więc (złe duchy) żeby im pozwolił wejść w nie. I pozwolił im. Wtedy złe duchy wyszły z człowieka i weszły w świnie, a trzoda ruszyła pędem po urwistym zboczu do jeziora i utonęła. Na widok tego, co zaszło, pasterze uciekli i rozpowiedzieli to po mieście i po zagrodach. Ludzie wyszli zobaczyć, co się stało. Przyszli do Jezusa i zastali człowieka, z którego wyszły złe duchy, ubranego i przy zdrowych zmysłach, siedzącego u nóg Jezusa. Strach ich ogarnął. A ci, którzy widzieli, opowiedzieli im, w jaki sposób opętany został uzdrowiony.

(Łuk. VIII, 32-36)
First words
I am a sick man. ... I am a spiteful man.
I am a sick man... I am a wicked man.
"I wished to stifle with external sensations all that was ceaselessly boiling up inside me."
"...because for a woman it is in love that all resurrection, all salvation from ruin of whatever sort, and all regenerations consists, nor can it revel itself in anything but this."
"Leave us to ourselves without a book and we'll immediately get confused, lost -- we won't know what to join, what to hold to, what to love and what to hate, what to respect and what to despise."
At home, I merely used to read. Reading stirred, delighted, and tormented me.
It is impossible for an intelligent man seriously to become anything, and only fools become something.
Last words
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Wikipedia in English (2)

Book description
Nella prima parte, "Il sottosuolo", il protagonista racconta la sua infanzia e la formazione della personalità più nascosta (il sottosuolo per l'appunto). Nella seconda, "A proposito della neve fradicia", ripercorre alcuni episodi della sua vita dove più emerge il "sottosuolo". Segue alcuni compagni di scuola ad una cena, sfoga poi l'amarezza per le offese subite su Liza, una prostituta incontrata in una casa di tolleranza, mostrandole con durezza che cosa l'aspetta nel futuro. Dopo qualche giorno Liza ritorna da lui col desiderio di una vita pura, ma viene trattata con disprezzo e volgarità. Per umiliarla le mette in mano un biglietto da cinque rubli, che poi ritroverà sul suo tavolo quando la donna se ne sarà andata, testimonianza della grande dignità di Liza.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 067973452X, Paperback)

(Book Jacket Status: Jacketed)Dostoevsky’s most revolutionary novel, Notes from Underground marks the dividing line between nineteenth- and twentieth-century fiction, and between the visions of self each century embodied. One of the most remarkable characters in literature, the unnamed narrator is a former official who has defiantly withdrawn into an underground existence. In full retreat from society, he scrawls a passionate, obsessive, self-contradictory narrative that serves as a devastating attack on social utopianism and an assertion of man’s essentially irrational nature.Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, whose Dostoevsky translations have become the standard, give us a brilliantly faithful edition of this classic novel, conveying all the tragedy and tormented comedy of the original.

From the Hardcover edition.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:28 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

A faithful translation of the classic written at the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century follows the narrator's withdrawal from his life as an official to the underground, where he makes passionate and obsessive observations on social utopianism and the irrational nature of humankind.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 10 descriptions

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