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Netochka Nezvanova

Author Theme Reads

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Mar 16, 2009, 6:37am Top

Okay - who's read it? I've just finished and I'm deeply depressed but deeply intrigued. Are all the women in Dostoyevsky's novels so hysterical???? so breathless....so teary.....Is this a commentary on what happens to "broken" families? Am I being too simplistic? Your thoughts please before I descend into the Brothers Karamazov.....

Mar 20, 2009, 6:01am Top

well now that explains everything !!! Thankyou tomcatMurr. Hmm consciousness/psychology - all very interesting stuff indeed. At what age does everyone think they became conscious of self? I think it was about 7 for me. It involved deeply important stuff like velvet dresses and black patent leather shoes and lace collars...but also boredom......anyone else care to share first conscious or self-conscious memories????

Mar 20, 2009, 6:22am Top

Lost in the mists of time for me I'm afraid. Joseph Brodsky said his first self awareness came with his first lie.

You're welcome!

Mar 21, 2009, 11:20am Top

tomcat, I'm glad you posted that review - putting this book into historical and literary context gave me a little bit of understanding of what D. was trying to do, and some appreciation for the attempt. Other than that, this book did not work for me at all. The different parts seemed so unconnected. I don't know the proper literary term to describe what I mean, but it didn't seem like one fluid story.

I'm so glad I decided to read in chronological order; I think if I had read this immediately after C&P I wouldn't have been able to finish it.

Mar 21, 2009, 11:24am Top

To answer alexdaw's question - my first memory of myself as a "self" was when I was 5ish, I think. I was in the car with my parents driving past the school where I would start kindergarten the next year, and I announced that it was 'my' school. Being told in other situations that certain items did not belong to me, but to other people, reinforced the "me" idea.

Apr 5, 2009, 9:41am Top

There are pros and cons to this book in my opinion. I did not like that all women are depressive and overwhelmed by emotion. I thought the ending was quite abrupt, but that is probably due to the fact that this book was intended to be a character study and was never officially finished. I did, however, enjoy the story and the development of the title character, Netochka Nezvanova, which is "loosely translated as 'nameless nobody' ". She lives a bleak life epitomized by passionate love for her stepfather, her adoptive sister, Katya, and adoptive mother, Mikhaila, and passionate despair at the loss, pain, and betrayals in her life. Everything is left unfinished in this book, which leaves me wanting just a bit more of it all!

Apr 5, 2009, 6:49pm Top

I just finished the 1970 translation by Ann Dunnigan. In "A Note from the Publisher," Dostoevsky "was able to complete approximately half his projected masterpiece, bringing Netochka to the verge of womanhood. But in April of 1949, Dostoyevsky was imprisoned . . ." Wiki quotes Jane Kentish, translator of the 1986 version, "this first publication was intended as 'no more than a prologue to the novel.'"

The passive voice begs the question, intended by whom? After a mock execution, where he thought he was next to go, Dostoevsky was exiled until 1858. He never returned to Netochka Nezvanova. So whether this is prologue or half a masterpiece (perhaps they are the same thing), it is all that Dostoevsky decided in the end to write.

Netochka clearly narrates in an adult, sophisticated voice, so we suspect that she does not share the fate of The Little Match Girl, but lives and thrives to some extent to be able to look back on her childhood. To me her fictional self-awareness is not as important as Dostoevsky's actual awareness of psychology. We see this insight in The Double, where is it chilling, and we see it here, where it is the thread which shows us how Netochka comes to the "verge of womanhood."

And just in time (we hope). In a cataclysmic ending, Netochka unravels a family secret and is emotionally strong enough to confront the perpetrator of a cruel hoax. This puts her in a powerful position, especially with a friendly Prince in the wings and his emissary immediately at hand. Who knows where this will lead? The details are left to the reader.

Apr 5, 2009, 8:20pm Top

Great comments.

Edited: Mar 27, 6:40am Top

I am commenting on a 10 year old topic (!) on the search for enlightenment...

Since I have always admired Dostoevsky's grasp of human nature, I was rather disturbed by all the overblown hysteria in Netochka's interior life, which the other women appear to reciprocate. The tragedy of the drunken violinist also seemed strangely unattachrd to the main story (thanks to >2 tomcatMurr: for explainong that). I could expect such a portrayal of women in a Victorian melodrama, but not from him.

Then I realised that Dostoevsky, even is his early work here, is focussing on broken people. Netochka, with a self-absorbed, obsessed drunkard for a step-father, and a strict mother, who is too busy trying to keep her family from starving, and having no friends, is completely emotionally isolated.

I thought the setting of her first conscious remembrance at age 9 as rather late - my own dates from age 3. My initial impression was simply tgat Dostoevsky was simply unfamiliar with children. But now I think it is another signal to the reader: starved of demonstrations of affection, Netochka has shut down emotionally. She comes out of it when her stepfather shows her brief attention. This is meant to be abnormally late, but Netochka herself, with her limited frames of reference, is not herself aware of this.

Once she permits herself to feel, the emotional starvation manifests itself in abnormally strong responses: like a duckling imprinting on the first thing it sees. Being intelligent, at a subconscious level she knows whst sort of man her stepfather is, but rational reaction cannot overcome her love for the first person to show her kindness.

When she is multiply bereaved in such a traumatic manner, losing at the same time any illusion that her stepfather cared about her, she shuts down again, again imprinting on the first person to demonstrate kindness - even though the little princess actually cared very little.

There is a cycle of her being dumped, cast adrift and losing everything in a state of emotional turmoil, and responding passionately to the first person, male or female, to show her affection.

The other women appear equally emotional, but we are seeing them through Netochka's eyes. And with the prologue, Dostoevsky has warned us that she misreads emotions, failing to recognise her mother's quiet devotion, while falling for her stepfather's glib displays.

In Siberia, Dostoevsky met many people who had traumatically lost everything. His own loss of his former life must have affected him in a similar way. In Notes from the House of the Dead he explores the range of responses the convicts have to such trauma. I can see why he did not feel the need to return to a long form examination of a single response.

Nevertheless, it is interesting to speculate how the novel would have continued. There is a progression in Netochka's crushes:
1. Stepfather - completely unrequited;
2. Katya - gets emotionally involved, but with no long-term effects;
3. Aleksandra Mikhailovna - is deeply emotionally involved in return, until eventually unintentionally harmed by the relationship...

Who is next? And what will be the outcome for them? Netochka's powerlessness is decreasing. Her talent for singing has been nurtured, and she is likely to be both economically independent and have the power to bewitch.

I suspect that her next relationship will be more equally committed. But whst then? Would the second half of the book have seen the progression continue, and her development into a full-blown femme fatale? After all, no man has actually treated her well. Or would it stop when she finds someone with whom she can develop a real relationship, and love them, flaws and all, rather than projecting her own idealisation of the relationship upon them?
Although I can understand why Dostoevsky did not feel the need to return to this novel, I really wish I could read the rest of it.

Edited: Mar 31, 9:56am Top

None of the men in Netochka Nezvanova come out well - except B. I disagree that Prince X is philanthropic: I think his rescue of the orphan is motivated by guilt, after driving her stepfather to suicide out of "curiosity". With that in mind, I am very curious as to what the role of the secretary would have turned out to be: her next abuser or, perhaps, her first victim?

>8 WilfGehlen: What is the "cruel hoax" referred to here?

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