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Tomcatmurr's Dostoevsky Challenge part 2

Club Read 2010

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Edited: Apr 28, 2010, 12:51am Top

Previous thread is here.

As regular readers of my thread will know, last year I started a challenge of reading the complete works of Dostoevsky. I got up to 1862 with Winter Notes on Summer Impressions and was then distracted by other things, including Pushkin.

In November, le salon will be having a group read of The Brothers Karamazov, so I thought it would be a good incentive for me to complete my Dostoevsky challenge, culminating in the group read of that book, Dostoevsky's last.

So, my challenge is this:

To complete all of Dostoevsky's works from 1863 up until BK 1881 before November 1.

Will I make it? Or will I be distracted by another Russian lying in wait for me? The tension is palpable, the suspense gripping, I know, but try to relax. Here is herring, sturgeon and vodka, and the proctologist under the sofa has finally learnt Glazunov's piano concertos, so we won't have to tolerate anymore of his ghastly Wagner renditions.

I am focusing only on primary material, with the exception of Mochulsky's life of Dostoevsky, his letters, and various books from my library, the usual suspects, on Russian culture and history.

Help me stay focused, dear friends!

Apr 28, 2010, 1:28am Top

Murr, the first book I read on my kindle 18 months ago was Crime and Punishment... what a strange trip that was! ;-)

I have never done a group read but after reading C&P and then Anna Karenina and War and Peace (again on my kindle) I have found a love for these Russians. What would be your suggestions for me getting up to speed before The Brothers Karamazov? I think I should be able to get most if not all on amazon or Gutenberg, just need a list and a suggested reading order.

Edited: Apr 28, 2010, 2:07am Top

tc, was it strange because of the book, or the kindle, or both, or neither?

You could join us for a quick group read of Notes from Underground in le salon starting May 1st: everyone is welcome btw.

Otherwise, here is a list of the 7 major novels in order. If you can't read all of them, I strongly recommend The Idiot and Demons. Dodo also wrote lots of short stories and shorter tales. If that's more your thing, let me know, and I'll happily put up a list of those as well.

Poor Folk
The Double
Notes from the House of the Dead
Notes from Underground
Crime and Punishment
The Idiot
Demons (aka The Possessed)

Apr 28, 2010, 2:36am Top

I guess it was the book... I liked it, a lot, but it was just strange to me. Possibly the story or maybe because it was my first classic literature. I don't know... I don't find it easy to translate my thoughts. hmmm

Anyway, Cool! I am in between books right now and what a great time to start! And BTW, I LOVE long books. I have all but Notes from the House of the Dead and will look for that now.

While I was waiting for your response I found a bibliography and would like your opinion on it.

Thanks, Murr!

Apr 28, 2010, 3:07am Top

There is also Murr's syllabus, here: http://www.librarything.com/topic/80887#1789285

I still hang over it and purr occasionally.

Apr 28, 2010, 3:59am Top

Thanks ms Muse.

tc, that looks pretty comprehensive to me. The alternative names are very useful!

Apr 28, 2010, 4:04am Top

Sweet! Thanks, Rena! Thanks, Murr! Mauww!

Apr 28, 2010, 8:28am Top

Murr - My prep for The Brothers Karamazov will be reading your thread, reviews and Lectern posts. I'm looking forward to following along.

Apr 30, 2010, 9:27am Top


isn't Orlando Figes one of your heroes, and a Dodo scholar?

Historian Orlando Figes admits posting Amazon reviews that trashed rivals. Professor 'apologises wholeheartedly to all concerned' as he retracts denials and legal threats


Apr 30, 2010, 11:03am Top

Dan, that's great! I will try to keep you informed.

P, thanks for that, I saw that story in the Guardian as well. I wouldn't say he is one of my heroes, or that he is a Dodo scholar. His book Natsha's Dance is well written and informative but pales in comparison with Billington's for example.

Robert Service is the Doyen of Sovietology in English and has written definitive studies of Stalin, Lenin, Trotsky and the Revolution. I think Figes -the next generation- is trying to steal Service's overcoat (geddit? lol)

This sounds like a good bit of publicity for academics anxious to maintain a high profile, either that or a storm in an academic teacup.

May 3, 2010, 9:20pm Top

SO, I have finished Notes from Underground, and am writing up my thoughts on it now. I read it twice, in two different translations: first the new translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky, and then again by Magarshack.

I think on the whole, I prefer the former, although the Magarshack has some good things going for it as well. However, I hate the way he changed 'Liza' to 'Lisa'. There was a specific reason why Dostoevsky called his heroine Liza: to echo one of the most famous novels in Russian Lit: Poor Liza by Karamzin, which also tells of the redemption of a prostitute. I am puzzled as to why Magarshack made this change.

I have read Notes from Underground so many times that I cannot remember the first time I read it, which is strange. I can usually remember where I was and when it was of all the books I have read, but not this. It seems always to have been part of my mind.

Crime and Punishment up next.

May 5, 2010, 12:20pm Top

Preliminary notes on C&P:

There is a lot of yellow.

This is the first Dostoevsky novel in which Christianity makes an appearance. So far it has appeared three times:

1. Marmaladov stands and spontaniously proselytises to the whole assembly in the pub. There is a shocked silence, and then uproarious laughter.

2. Raskolnikov's mother in her letter repeatedly mentions God and how she is praying for her son. She is devoutly religious.

3. Raskolnikov before the murder in a mental torment beseeches God to show him the way. He murders the old woman. and then her sister. with an axe. Is that a sign from God?

There are of course lots of Icons, but that's just decor.

May 10, 2010, 10:23pm Top

Crime and Punishment continues apace. On the one had it's hard to put down, and on the other it's so exhausting, I keep needing to take a break from it, to think. I am about two thirds of the way through.

One thing that's becoming clear to me is that way that Dostoevsky puts the points of view he disagrees with into the mouths of the characters he is trying to persuade the reader to build sympathy with. This makes it easy to confuse the character's point of view with Dostoevsky's.

Tto take a break from the intense inwardness of Dostoevsky, I have been dipping in and out of Tatyana Tolstoya's collection of essays and reviews: Pushkin's Children. In the title essay she has this to say about Russian lit, and it's importance for the Russian people:

The word, whether spoken or printed, represents a power greater than the atom. This is an entirely Russian view of literature, without parallel in the West and everyone in Russia, it seems, shares it: the tsars and their slaves, censors and dissidents, writers and critics, liberals and conservatives. He who has articulated a Word has accomplished a Deed. He has taken all the power and responsibility on himself. He is dangerous. He is free. He is destructive. He is God's rival. and for this reason, all of those daring, bold, outspoken, powerful magicians, from Alexander Radishchev in the eighteenth century to Andrei Sinyavsky in the twentieth century have been playing with life and death.

She puts her finger on what it is about Russian lit that so attracts me.

May 10, 2010, 10:47pm Top

Wow... I agree.

May 20, 2010, 10:16pm Top

It's been rather busy here at the casa Murr, and the summer has definitely arrived, so less time to spend at the computer, and more time at the pool!

I have finished Crime and Punishment and am writing about it now. I also completed The Gambler, which was an incredible good read, with some very amusing incidents and one of the funniest old ladies in 19th century lit.

I am now on to The Idiot. Blown away by it. This is the fourth time I have read it, as I was counting the other day. First time was when I was 16, I think, then again at 19, and then again in my early 20s. What can such a young reader gain from it? nothing compared to what I am getting now!

In a recent discussion with Dan about Notes from Underground, the notion of a turning point in Dostoevsky's career was raised. I see this book as a turning point, unlike anything D had written previously.

i am poor and naked and an atom in the whirl of people. Who will honour Lebedev?

This book is amazing.

May 23, 2010, 4:06am Top

I have posted my Crime and Punishment review here:


And now I am on part 3 of the Idiot. It strikes me that this is the most European of his novels so far. It reads like Jane Austen. Part 1 was stunning, part 2 lost it a bit, though I'm not sure if that's my fault or Fyodor's. I'm eager to see how part 3 is going to develop.

Jun 1, 2010, 6:40am Top

Things have been getting quieter and quieter on LT.... is anyone still interested in my further Dostoevsky exploits, I wonder? Undaunted, I persevere.

I have finished The Idiot and am currently working on a piece about it. While I wait for my ideas to mature, and for time to write, I have been reading some Turgenev tales: The Diary of a Superfluous Man, and Mumu.

The former has the distinction of having one of the funnniest similes in Russian lit: "She was wearing a rose coloured gown that looked as if it was recovering from a serious illness..." A generally very funny story, quite unlike anything else by Turgenev.

I have also been dipping in and out of more essays by Tolstaya, whose work I am appreciating more and more.

Next up: Demons

Jun 1, 2010, 12:42pm Top

I do read your posts with interest but, since you have not been able to convert me into a Dostoyevsky lover, I have nothing to say after I read them.

Jun 1, 2010, 4:00pm Top

You make me want to reread Crime and Punishment as it's clear I barely skimmed the surface, and it's been a long time.

Jun 1, 2010, 5:54pm Top

I'm definitely interested in Dostoevsky (and your excellent reviews, of course!), but other books have caught my eye. Hmm...I really should read at least one of his books this summer; I think I'll make The Idiot one of my summer reads for July or August.

Jun 1, 2010, 9:24pm Top

Murr - look, I'm bowing in supplication. Please, keep the D-themed posts coming. I'm not ready to re-read C&P, but The Brothers K is coming to Le Salon, and I'm pretty darn excited. And your comments on The Idiot are the only commentary I've ever read about it. It's wonderful to read, even though I can't really comment on it.

The club -has- gotten mighty quiet lately, but then I have too. I can't seem to find time to think before posting...which (among other things) limits the long review-ish posts.

Jun 1, 2010, 9:41pm Top

I started The Brothers K last fall...think I will try to pick it up again this summer. Enjoying the commentary on this thread and the links.

Jun 1, 2010, 11:24pm Top

Wow, there are people here! Thanks everyone! I feel greatly encouraged now!

Rebeccanyc, thanks for reading! I will try harder to convert you!

Ridgewaygirl, I do recommend C&P. I much prefer it to The Idiot.

Doc, if you make it the Idiot, I will be very interested to hear what you have to say about it.

Drdawnffl, welcome! do you know that we are doing a group read of BK in the salon in November?

Edited: Jun 1, 2010, 11:45pm Top

Murr, me too! It's just that I've never read what you read and therefore have nothing to add. Most of your posts are like a milestone marker in the distance that I'll reach one day; in the meantime, I read you as an academic acolyte might. :)

ETA: 'academic acolyte'? Is that right?

Jun 2, 2010, 6:46am Top

'Murr, put me down as another academic acolyte! Better yet, I've bookmarked The Lectern! (It's brilliant, by the way.) I've just yet to leap fully into the Russians, but one day...

Jun 2, 2010, 7:15am Top

#23, Well, if you keep trying to convert me to Dostoyevsky, I will keep trying to convert you to Mann!

Jun 2, 2010, 8:12am Top

Hey Cat, of course I follow you here, and your message #3 is one of a very select few messages that I have marked as "favorites." However, having only read Notes from Underground (and sadly, being disappointed with it on a personal "does it speak to me, do I love it" level, while still seeing what gives it "great work" status), thus far I have no comments in this thread. I'll let you know when I get to C&P and The Idiot. :)

Jun 2, 2010, 8:56am Top

Most Beloved Murr,

you are read and pondered. Your erudition is overwhelming, your views authoritative and challenging. I love CM's comment above about your posts being "milestone markers in the distance". Exactly. How can one dare to comment?

But please keep posting!

Edited: Jun 2, 2010, 1:55pm Top

Hi Mr Tomcat

course we're interested -- keep it coming.

I've been bogged down in work and hardly had time to do my own reading. But you did make me restart part 1 of notes from underground (not read since an uindergrad, and I don't have part 2 cos its in a collection of existential writings I have) and wanted to finish it befor reading your review.

I have no excuse for not having read your C&P review though -- thats my favourite of the few I have read of his, though I agree with Isiah Berlin (I think) that in a way it made a murderer of me (well, not a practicing one (and I should say not a lapsed one either cos I never practiced it -- to be clear!). Will read the review asap. I used to think the final part needed more to be said about it, but maybe not.

Jun 2, 2010, 2:28pm Top

I just read your C&P review. Wonderful! I have not read C&P in thirty years and will not be going back to it now, but your ideas will, I am sure, help me read Notes from the Underground which I will read soon.

Thanks again.

Jun 2, 2010, 8:36pm Top

Right, time for a group hug!

Jun 2, 2010, 10:02pm Top

I agree. You are all adorable and excellent people, never will I doubt that I am posting into the void again. I am chastened and humbled by your responses.

rebecca, it's a deal! Tony, I didn't know that Isiah Berlin quote! it's excellent! Haha!

Edited: Jun 2, 2010, 10:19pm Top

In The Idiot, this picture by Holbein plays an important part:


Ippolit Ivolgin says of it:
Looking at that picture, you get the impression of nature as some enormous, implacable, and dumb beast, or, to put it more correctly, much more correctly, though it may seem strange, as some huge engine of the latest design, which has senselessly seized, cut to pieces, and swallowed up–impassively and unfeelingly–a great and priceless Being, a Being worth the whole of nature and all its laws, worth the entire earth, which was perhaps created solely for the coming of that Being! The picture seems to give expression to the idea of a dark, insolent, and senselessly eternal power, to which everything is subordinated, and this idea is suggested to you unconsciously.

Rogozhin (another character in the novel) says looking at the painting would cause you to lose your faith.

Jun 2, 2010, 10:20pm Top

Amazing picture -- I never thought Holbein painted anything like that.

Actually, at this moment, what it makes me think of is the Gulf of Mexico -- swallowed up by the oil gushing from the corporate well of our greed
and need to desecrate "the whole of nature and all its laws, worth the entire earth" -- and that's all there is for us. We're destroying the nature that has
sustained us -- it will outlive us, but we won't outlive it.

Jun 3, 2010, 12:15am Top


You know my literally, literarily lascivious thoughts regarding The Lectern - and you. How I lustfully devour its doctoral contents as I'm able, The Lecterns, as precious time allows. Let me tell you how close I've been in time-freer moments - this close, a whisker close - to starting an LT group devoted solely to The Lectern, and to your writings and musings, my Lord, Murrstoyevski. If we are your prolific and vociferous proletariat, you, tomcatMurrstoyevski, are our blessed, most beneficent, pre-Bolshevik, yet 21st century, British-expatriate, of Taipei, Taiwan, Czar of all reincarnated Czars, a singular pre-Soviet-like RED STAR - YOU! - whom we read and dare critique and analyze and look forward to reading with insight and pleasure, from afar: you, the tomcatMurrstoyevski who does not drive a car! No! A Moped, sans license, as your august linguistic emenince deserves.

Murrstoyevski, remember that silence may endureth for a night (or a week), but the accolades and the praises and the props come abundantly like Russian potato crops, always, forever and ever, amen....

May you never endure again, such an insidious Siberian exile of silence....

Jun 3, 2010, 12:27am Top

OMG! what is he on? (and can I get some too?)

If it were possible for a cat to blush, i would be displaying a distinct tinge of pink.

Jun 3, 2010, 8:30am Top

well, cats I know that hear they’re handsome tend to come even further into the light with a look of, “More, please.”

So some more: I hold your Russian syllabus precious; every one of your posts either exposes me to a work I’ll never get to or encourages me closer to one I will. How great is that! though so little I can add to that forum...

Jun 3, 2010, 11:16am Top

oh you are all too too kind.

Here is a huge pile of herring freshly arrived. Enjoy!

Jun 6, 2010, 10:58am Top

I have posted my review on The Idiot here.

I confess to feeling somewhat confused by this book. I don't feel I have really grasped it in the way that I have perhaps the other novels of Dostoevsky, although I have read it so many times. But I have since read some criticism on it, and it appears that many people feel the same way about the book, and is perhaps part of its nature. If anyone has read the Idiot, I would love to hear what you think about it.

For a minute there I was madly tempted to read it again immediately. But you can all breathe a sigh of relief, I managed to dissuade myself (it was not hard).

I am pressing on with Demons.

More on that later.

Jun 7, 2010, 2:31pm Top

Murr - thanks for that absolutely-brilliant-in-depth-study-posted-as-a-review on The Idiot. Wow.

When I read this:

"In a letter to his friend Maikov he {FD} described his aim to portray a wholly beautiful individual; then the next day, in a letter to his niece he described his aim thus: the basic idea is the representation of a truly perfect and noble man."

I thought to myself, Levin? But, Tolstoy hadn't created Levin yet. Still, it might would interesting to compare Levin and FD's prince.

Also, reading this discussion on Orthodox Christianity made me think FD must have LOVED (read with appropriate sarcasm) Jews. I've heard general comments on his antisemitism, but have never come a across a clear picture of his take.

Edited: Jun 8, 2010, 3:13am Top

Thanks dan!

Interesting parallel between Levin and Myshkin. Let me think on it some more. I'm not sure what Tolstoy's aim was in the creation of Levin, and it's been about 20 years since I read Karenina. There's is no doubt that Levin is a thoroughly good sort, though.

Dostoevsky was notoriously anti-semitic, virulently so, in fact. But then, most Russians appear to be/have been.

However, having said that, I have not found any anti-semitism in his work or his letters so far (I am up to 1871), so it must be coming. I'll keep you informed.

Jun 8, 2010, 8:57am Top

Murr, have you read The Adolescent? If so, what's your take on it?

Jun 8, 2010, 10:59am Top

Doc, it's up next after I finish Demons. I have never read it, and am looking forward to it.

Have you read it?

Jun 8, 2010, 11:09am Top

No, but I did buy the new P/V translation last year.

Jun 8, 2010, 3:19pm Top

I read all your posts here (and sometimes the Lecturn). I don't respond since the depth and breadth of your knowledge awes me, and I don't know what my average brain could add. I can only aspire to your erudition and wit (and I think I'm probably about twice your age, so I don't have much time left). Thanks for all your contributions.

Jun 8, 2010, 3:34pm Top

I'm impressed by your dedication to Russian lit, but I was surprised that your syllabus omitted Nabokov, one of the greatest Russian novelists of the last century. Have you not gotten around to him yet?

Jun 8, 2010, 9:16pm Top

Thank you arubabookwoman, for your kind words!

Languagehat, thank you for visiting and for your comment! I omitted Nabokov, coz I wanted to avoid the whole "Is Nabokov Russian or American?" argument.

So far my reading of Nabokov has been restricted to his criticism, and his translations, and I am not so well read in his fiction. Yet.

Jun 9, 2010, 8:09am Top

Well, the argument is pretty irrelevant to everything he wrote before he moved to the U.S.; while he was living in Berlin and Paris, he was unquestionably a Russian writer, and many thought even at the time he was the best alive. In my opinion Dar ("The Gift") is not only his best, it's one of the best Russian novels of the 20th century. You have a lot to look forward to!

Jun 9, 2010, 10:26am Top

Nabokov is, I think, on the top of my list of authors I want to explore in greater detail next year (assuming that I finish my Library of America editions of Carson McCullers and Flannery O'Connor this year). I haven't read anything by him yet, but I probably have at least four or five of his books, and I'll add The Gift to my collection soon.

Jun 9, 2010, 9:17pm Top

48 > yes, I know, I read The real life of Sebastian Knight couple months ago, and loved it. I just recently managed to get hold of Pale Fire, which I am really looking forward to. Doc, I'll see if I can get the gift as well. (cheeky touchstone there.)

on other matters, I am about halfway through Demons, and loving it.

Jun 16, 2010, 11:19am Top

Dear Murr, while I don't get over here very often, there is always some interesting stuff being read and reported on here! I have not read any Dostoyevsky for a very long time, but you make it tempting to revisit (alas! though, there are so many books to explore!). Like ms. rebeccanyc somewhere back there in an earlier post, I don't always have something to say (I'm sure my husband would find that very amusing).

Jun 17, 2010, 2:55am Top

Murrrr, have you finished Demons yet? Haveyouhaveyouhaveyou?

I was just looking at the current selection of LT reviews of it, which are ok and all that, but they're not Murr essais. But it looks like the kind of book that I might want to make my first Dostoevsky. maybe.

Jun 17, 2010, 4:17am Top

>51 avaland: lol thanks for dropping by Avaland. You never know, we might persuade you to reread some Dostoevsky, maybe something short?

Yes, Choco, I have finished Demons, and I am working on an essai for you at this very moment. While doing that, I am bringing myself up to date (1873) in Dostoevsky's letters, and the relevant chapters in Mochulsky. I am having lots of ideas that I'm in the process of developing.

I am also finishing off Tatiana Tolstaya's essays, which are totally brilliant. The more I read of her work, the more I like it. Someone in the Club read The Slynx, a while ago (forgive me, I cannot remember who) and I want to try that one next, if I can get hold of it. She has a lovely view of things, warm, funny, biting. Her essay on Russian cooking is excellent.

The American manner of drinking vodka - on an empty stomach and either warm or diluted by being "on the rocks"- is as destructive for humans as it is for the product. It's rather like drinking yesterday's champagne from a tea cup...

A real Russian is always thinking about vodka.....

Kitchen Conversations
from Pushkin's Children

Jun 17, 2010, 7:19am Top

>53 tomcatMurr: possibly!

Jun 17, 2010, 9:46am Top

Murr, speaking of D's letters - in the C&P review you mention "a famous letter written in 1854 to Fonvizina" - Any chance you know of a place online I can find that?

Jun 17, 2010, 9:35pm Top

Dan, I have done some digging around online, and I found the letter in question here.


Actually, Dostoevsky's letters are hard to find in English (any publishers out there, please provide us with a new edition of ALL the extant letters with footnotes. Thank you kindly). To my knowledge the only version which is readily available is the Kessinger facsimile of the 1917 edition, long out of print, which does not include all of them.

Jun 17, 2010, 9:50pm Top

Murr, thank you so much!...Quite a letter, phew! Straight from hell, it would seem. It gives a potent sense of the mental & physical strain he was enduring, I think. Something to think about.

Edited: Jun 19, 2010, 12:20pm Top

oh golly.

How do you think 3250 words on Demons will go down?

Edited: Jun 19, 2010, 12:37pm Top

>%7 Dan it is quite a letter, you are right. It was written like four weeks after he was released from prison, so these must have been things he had been thinking about for a long time and was desperate to tell someone about.

His corespondant was interesting as well. She was the wife of one of the previous generation of revolutionaries, the Decembrists, who tried and failed to engineer a coup against the Romanov dynasty in 1825. THe wives of the Decembrists were given the choice by the government, to divorce, their husbands, or join them voluntarily in exile. Most of the wives chose exile, including Fonvizina. They endured lives of great loneliness and hardship in the Siberian wastes.

Jun 20, 2010, 9:19am Top

I'm totally ignorant in re 19th C Russian novels..have only read Notes from the Underground, unlike Patty who went through a hs/college phase of finishing a bunch of 'em. A suggestion for a 2nd? (you know, one of those damn bucket list things).

Slightly better (though not much so) once into the 20th C after i found Anna Akhmatova, Mandlestam, Bakunin (joke -though he's one of the few 19thC Russians i've read).

Knowing that i was Russian/(Jewish) on my mom's side i had this sadness that my first name wasn't something "romantic" like .. Fydor or Dimitri in HS..but then a friend pointed out that my name REALLY would have most likely been Schlomo. so much for romance..

Jun 21, 2010, 9:37am Top

Bob, I'm sure we can all agree to call you Bob Fyodorovich Schlomo, if it will console you? :)

For more 19th century reading, have you not seen my syllabus in >5 ChocolateMuse:?

Or, this review of Demons might stimulate you. It's a brilliant book, and I strongly recommend it.


Jun 21, 2010, 12:17pm Top

Murr, I'm just finishing your Demons/The possessed review - first rate stuff and fascinating. I had no idea how much on the cusp of the eventual "revolution" D wrote in. I'm wondering what the 20th century would have been if Russian and drank in his warnings of socialism and rationalism.

Also, thanks for the extra info on the letter.

Bob - I guess I did better than you, same background (Russiaan-Jewish), but chaikin is roughly the Russian word for seagull, which seems pretty benign.

Jun 21, 2010, 11:02pm Top

Yay! And wow. Demons sounds marvellous. I shall print it out and keep it by me when I do read the book, which will officially be my first Dostoevsky.

Jun 22, 2010, 12:09am Top

Thank you Dan and Choco!

I think, after Notes from Underground, Demons is my favourite Dostoevsky novel so far. I still have A Raw Youth to read, which is totally new to me, and then Karamazov, which I read about 20 years ago, but can't really remember.

I am taking a break from reading Dostoevsky while I think through some ideas I've had regarding his Christianity, and his humour. More on that later.

Currently reading something light and easy: Cosmopolis, but Diary of a Writer for 1873 is up next.

Jun 22, 2010, 12:14pm Top

I've been slowly reading through this incredible anthology since I discovered it (and POUNCED upon it) in Kinokinuya in Bangkok. What a find!


And this:


Jun 22, 2010, 1:12pm Top

Murr, I stumbled across that at my library - the Russian Poetry anthology...but, alas, my poetry intake is quite simplistic. I didn't get very far. I was wondering whether it was me (as it seems) or the translations - translators vary.

Edited: Jun 29, 2010, 2:24am Top

I was offline for a four days, with no internet connection. Something to do with the torrential rain we've been having.

I am about halfway through A Writer's Diary for 1873.

in 1873 Dostoevsky was the editor of the extreme nationalist conservative magazine The Citizen, founded by Prince Meshchersky. in addition to his editorial duties, D aslo wrote a regular column. These consist of 18 short pieces ranging from social and literary criticism, to the short story Bobok. Most of the pieces are incredibly interesting, giving a wider picture of D's activities, ideas and position in the culture than the novels do. But I have to say I hate it when he starts sounding off about the glories of Russian Orthodoxy and how it will save the world. I am reminded of Belinsky's saying on Orthodoxy:

In the words 'God' and 'Religion' I see only black darkness, chains, and the knout.

There are interesting portraits of Belinsky and Herzen as well, in these pieces.

In one piece called 'Apropos of the Exhibition', D discuses contemporary Russian art, including this famous picture 'Volga Barge Haulers' by Repin:

He says this of it:

Why, you can't help but love them, these defenseless creatures; you can't walk away without loving them. you can't help but think that you are indebted, truly, indebted to the People, you will be dreaming of this whole group of barge haulers afterwards, you will still recall them fifteeen years later.

Jun 29, 2010, 2:24am Top

I noticed you were gone, and glad you're back with us.

I know next to nothing about Tsarist Russia - would such nationalism be entirely unforced and voluntary, Murr? Or is the emphaisis entirely religious and not nationalist at all?

Jul 1, 2010, 10:02pm Top

well, it's a mixture of both:

"You cannot be Russian if you are not Orthodox, and you cannot be Orthodox if you are not Russian" is kind of how he sums it up.

Anyway, I have finished Diary of a Writer for 1873. Probably I will not review it. I have been taking notes on it but they are probably not very interesting for people to read.

I have been trying to take a step back a bit and think about Dostoevsky in more general terms, trying to reflect on what i have learnt about his work so far.

Here, for example, are some thoughts about the importance of the insult in Dostoevsky's work:


I'll post more of these fragments as I go. I have a quite a number of them.

Meanwhile, I regret to say, I am taking a small break from Dostoevsky to read something else. I have only A Raw Youth, a Writers Diary for 176-1881, and Karamazov, which is scheduled for November, so I have heaps of time.

I just started Armadale one of the few Wilkie Collins I have not read before.

There is nothing like reading a Wilkie Collins mystery for the first time. I love it!

Jul 1, 2010, 10:29pm Top

oh incidentally, dan, while I remember, I said I would look out for references to D's anti- semitism. The first really rancid one appears in an essay called 'Dreams and Musings' which contains this charming sentence:

The wretched Yids will be drinking the blood of the people and feeding themselves on the People's debauchery and humiliation...

He is talking about the way the Jews made money by selling vodka to the peasants. However, immediately afterwards he says:

It is a nasty, picture, a terrible picture, and thank god it is only a dream! The dream of Titular Councillor Poprischin, I agree

Poprishchin is the main Character in Gogol's Diary of a Madman, so there is always the possibility that this sentence about the Yids is a parody of the mad rantings of Russian anti-semitism and not D's own mad rantings.

Edited: Jul 1, 2010, 10:58pm Top

#69 - A short lectern post? For a second I though the link must be wrong.

This bit about FD seeing an insult as resulting in increased consciousness - is this an interpretation, or something FD is known to have believed? I'm just thinking, I see an insult as striking at a level that gets our more primitive and less understood emotions going- something unconscious, if you like.

#70 - disturbing, but also confusing... I do feel insulted.

Edited: Jul 1, 2010, 11:10pm Top

Hola gato,
Just curious if you've gotten "into" Nikolai Leskov? I recently mentioned on Tim's thread in this group Leskov's Siberian Lady McBeth (or Lady McBeth From Mtsensk). His satirical short stories are classic. Leskov ranks with Gogol, etc. Also just watched the Wajda film again. Talk about unrelenting despair!
Also, ever get into Andrei Sinyavski? Fantastic Stories is an old favorite.

Jul 1, 2010, 11:19pm Top

71, yes, but an insult brings those primitive feelings to the surface of the conscious mind, no? It's my interpretation, but the insult appears again and again, and it is always linked to further soul searching on the part of the insulted. Probably someone has has written a phd on this somewhere.

Hola Tros!
I just read an essay by Dostoevsky on Leskov, in which he engages with Leskov on a polemic. They were not enamoured of each other, it would seem. I know the Lady Macbeth story from Shostakovich's opera of the same name, a magnificent masterpiece (the opera). I saw a gripping performance of this 20 years ago in London. It was so good, I went three times to see it. I am always on the look out for Leskov's stories.

Sinayavski? now let me check that out!


Jul 2, 2010, 12:26am Top

Also the russian constellation wouldn't be complete without Leonid Andreyev.
Seven That Were Hanged is an all-time classic.

Jul 4, 2010, 9:44pm Top

oh good, more for the TBR list.

I will be glad to put Dostoevsky behind me, I think, and move on to other writers and other lands.

I am enjoying immensely my Wilkie Collins.

Jul 7, 2010, 10:55pm Top

it is so hot that I cannot really concentrate. Dostoevsky and Russia have been abandoned. I cannot really focus on this Wilkie Collins, even. I am spending most of my time gasping in the shade by the pool, which is frankly, too hot to swim in.

It's another funky summer.

Meanwhile, here are some thoughts I recently posted on Dostoevsky's humour:


and a nice double entendre from Collins:


one of the joys of reading 19th century Eng Lit is these little inadvertent obscenities that one finds in the text.

Jul 8, 2010, 7:39am Top

How hot does it get there, Murr? I bet it's worse than what we've been suffering with this week in the northeastern US. And thanks for the links.

Jul 8, 2010, 10:17pm Top

well, yesterday down town temp at 5.00pm was 37 celsius. But it's not even August yet. Oh golly. It's really hot this year. and the humidity is very high. Slightest movement results in very sweaty gussets.

I'm hoping that someone at Apple will come up with a waterproof ithing that one can use in the shower or at the bottom of the pool.

Jul 8, 2010, 11:41pm Top


I DO sympathize, don't think I don't. But in my neck of the woods (southwest Ontario, 150 miles west of Toronto) we have been at over 40 Celsius every day for the last week. The government stopped doing roadwork because they are afraid the tar will hurt the workers. A downtown parking garage collapsed, due somehow to the weather.

And most hardy Ontarians greet each other with "Sure prefer this to winter, don't you?" And we do, we do. (That sometimes means 40 BELOW)

Who needs to concentrate, anyway?

Jul 9, 2010, 8:09am Top

That IS hot -- we got up slightly higher earlier this week in NYC but that is abnormal for us. At least I hope it is.

Jul 9, 2010, 10:57am Top

Golly that is hot for Canada! Jeeesh!

When I lived in Morrocco it was normal for it to be in the 40s, but that was dry dry heat, straight out of the desert, which somehow made it more bearable. Heat coupled with tropical humidity such as we have here is much more difficult.

But don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. At least up here on my mountain there is some breeze. I feel sorry for the people who live down in the city, though.

Who needs to concentrate! lol, absolutely!

Edited: Jul 25, 2010, 11:45pm Top

Gosh it's been a while since I posted.

Since finishing Aramdale, I have read:

The Brazen Head (review here)

I first read JCP when I was 18. A Glastonbury Romance blew me away, and I have always meant to reread it, and other novels by JCP, but they are hard to come by. Over the years I have built up a collection of odd little bits and pieces of Powysania. I stumbled across this novel in the bookstore here and snatched it up. I feel a John Cowper Powys binge coming on after I complete Dostoevsky.

Then I read Olivia Manning's The Levant Trilogy, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Ideal summer, pooolside reading, compulsive, and not too taxing.

I also read Hav by Jan Morris, another lucky find in the second hand bookstore here. I love Jan Morris, and I will be reviewing this book in a short while.

Now I am reading The Same River Twice by LT author Ted Moody, which is doing the rounds of the Salon at the moment. A thinking person's thriller.

Jul 26, 2010, 7:45am Top

Murr, how did you like The Levant Trilogy compared to The Balkan Trilogy? I enjoyed it, but thought it was much less complex and thought-provoking.

Jul 26, 2010, 9:34am Top

Intriguing review of A Glastonbury Romance, Murr. I've never read any John Cooper Powys -- I'll have to be on the lookout for his books.

Jul 26, 2010, 11:02am Top

Rebecca, I only read the first volume of the Balkan trilogy and that was over a hundred years ago. I am on the look out for it. The Levant Trilogy was not very complex or thought provoking, you are right, but I did think about the characters and the book a lot when I was not actually reading it, always a good sign, I think, of a book's worth and power. Her descriptions of the battle of El Alamein were brilliantly evocative and gripping. Her descriptions of Cairo and Alexandria reminded me of Durrell's treatment of the same time and place.

Thanks Jane. Just to be clear, the book I reviewed was not The Glastonbury Romance, but the Brazen Head. I recommend both of them. JCP is not everyone's cup of tea, but I think he's worth reading if you like the weird and wacky. Yeat's rated him highly, as does Margaret Drabble. He was an English visionary, I think, in the line of Blake perhaps, on his own, strange, but definitely great.

Jul 26, 2010, 11:04am Top

A thought which just occurred to me: The Brazen Head is a very late Powys novel, in mood very similar to Cymbeline, a very late play.

Edited: Jul 26, 2010, 11:21am Top

I don't know if you get these in Taiwan, but NYRB recently published a new edition of The Balkan Trilogy -- that's what introduced me to Olivia Manning. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed The Levant Trilogy, but I had been so thrilled by The Balkan Trilogy that the Levant was something of a let-down. I also rented the BBC miniseries which combines both books, and it wasn't bad; it just left out too much.

ETA Trying again for touchstone!

Aug 1, 2010, 10:57pm Top

I have just finished a supremely trashy biography of Nureyev. A friend in UK, a dancer, recommended a bio of Nureyev, and I picked this one up under the mistaken assumption that it was the one she was talking about. I have since confirmed with her that it was not. Thank god.

review here:

When I was a student in London 25 years ago, I worked as a dresser in the Opera House in Covent Garden. I dressed the men's opera chorus, and the men's corp de ballet. It was a fascinating job. Reading this bio brought it all back.

Now dipping in and out of Malgudi Days. I love RK Narayan,and these very short vignettes of Indian life are just right for August. I am building up the courage to tackle another Dostoevsky novel in a couple days.

Aug 2, 2010, 7:41am Top

What a fascinating job, indeed! An inside look at the personalities and the behind-the-scenes action.

Aug 8, 2010, 12:40am Top

Murrushka... so what was the name of the actual bio of Nureyev you were supposed to read? I am all a twitter.

Aug 8, 2010, 11:27am Top

tc I don't know.
I will find out and get back to you.

Rebecca, life seems to have been a lot more exciting back then. p'raps just coz I was younger....

I just posted a review of LT Author Ted Mooney's book The Same River Twice which some of the salonistas are reading.


I really enjoyed it. thought provoking, gripping and thoroughly entertaining.

I am now about halfway through The Adolescent by Dostoevsky. it's a slog, punctuated by moments of breathtaking originality and genius. i'll post some
quotes later.

Aug 8, 2010, 2:14pm Top

Thanks, Murr. After reading your reviews on Ted Mooney I am on pins and needles waiting for our Muse to finish and send up my way. Thumbed it, too!

Edited: Aug 8, 2010, 11:44pm Top

Tc, apparently it's this one we should all be reading. My friend speaks very highly of it, and I always respect her reading opinions.



Aug 9, 2010, 2:57am Top

Thank you, Murr! You're wonderful.

Aug 9, 2010, 5:20pm Top

Privyet, Murrushka... what are your thoughts on Tolstoy's Confession? I am reading it, presently, and wanted to know what our resident Russian expert thinks/thought of it.

Aug 10, 2010, 8:46am Top

Murr, Did you ever do the Jan Morris review? I also found this book recently at a library sale, after noting a sequel of some kind of an awards list. I'd definitely be interested in your thoughts.

Aug 10, 2010, 10:03pm Top

Avaland, yes I did. I'll post it in a few days, just polishing. I love Jan Morris, and recommend anything by her.

TC, I have not read Tolstoy's confession, but I know a man who has:


I will be very interested to know what you make of it.

Aug 11, 2010, 2:01am Top

Still digesting it...

Aug 12, 2010, 4:56am Top

Without meaning to butt in, I read Tolstoy's Confession -- I have only read a little of his other work, I'm not sure about what enrique says about no more classics after -- but also think writers or poets who have interesting things to day are condemned to disappoint those earlier fans who want more of the same (think Goethe said somethign like that). I like very much some of his later short stories. I remember being struck by how much it seemed Tolstoy was re-learning what he already knew and challenging himself to live accordingly, its a wonderful account of a process of self questioning and finding his place in the world. I haven't looked at it for at least five or six years, but its impact was so strong I can't resist talking about it. At the time I was researching my counselling disstertation, which it certainly affected.

Aug 12, 2010, 1:43pm Top

I'll just bet it did, Tony. It definitely has affected me. I have been clinically depressed for most of my life and felt/did a lot of the things Tolstoy wrote about in A Confession. I am still trying to process it, but will get back here with my thoughts soon.

Aug 12, 2010, 9:39pm Top

well, this is obviously something I need to read soon. it's amazing how Russian literature elicits such deep and lasting responses. I'm most interested to hear how Tolstoy impacted your counselling dissertation. Personally, I have found Dostoevsky's depiction of the struggles of consciousness most helpful and dare I say it consoling.

Do you think a counselling method based on the insights of Russian thought would be helpful/viable, Tony?

I'm looking forward to your response to the book TC.

Aug 12, 2010, 9:52pm Top

and other news today, here are some pictures of me and some of my friends celebrating the birthday of Matilda, the cat owner of the Algonquin Hotel in New York, home of Dorothy Parker and the Round Table.


Much herring was consumed.


When my eyes are weeds,
And my lips are petals, spinning
Down the wind that has beginning
Where the crumpled beeches start
In a fringe of salty reeds;
When my arms are elder-bushes,
And the rangy lilac pushes
Upward, upward through my heart;

Summer, do your worst!
Light your tinsel moon, and call on
Your performing stars to fall on
Headlong through your paper sky;
Nevermore shall I be cursed
By a flushed and amorous slattern,
With her dusty laces' pattern
Trailing, as she straggles by.

Dorothy Parker
in honour of Matilda

Aug 12, 2010, 10:13pm Top

I had not thought you were a studded leather type of cat, but surprises are everywhere.

Aug 12, 2010, 11:10pm Top

dammit ridgwaygirl, I thought my disguise was impenetrable!!!!!!

Edited: Aug 13, 2010, 5:59pm Top

I'm sure there is room for such a counselling method tomcat. there are so many. Consoling, yes, interesting, but maybe best not by trying to be so.

Are you teasing a little about how it impacted my diss? I'm not sure I can say clearly -- except this -- my diss was about person centred theory and about my ability to provide that sort of relationship. Literary sources were extremely helpful and I put in many - I reenergised my interest in literature at the time. Perhaps more than the content of Tolstoy's Confession, his method influenced me or served as an example of the sort of thing I was looking for - it was phenomenologcal, hermeneutic and heuristic, (in my opinion) all of which I aimed for. I have it as a separate volume but I believe the confession is part of a larger work, another part is his interpretation of the gospel in brief, that so helped Wittgenstein during the Great War, and which I came to a little later and on one of my reading threads on LT.

Aug 13, 2010, 4:16pm Top

Tony, were you asking me if I was teasing or Murrushka?

Aug 13, 2010, 5:57pm Top

oh it was tomcat -- when I first read what he said I wondered, i was not so sure he was though when i came to reply.

Aug 13, 2010, 7:55pm Top

No no no I wasn't teasing at all, and your response in 105 is very interesting. I'm going to come back to it when I read The Confession. Thanks for taking the time to explain, Tony.

Aug 14, 2010, 9:34am Top

#102/103: *swoon* You mustn't do that to me, Cat, I'm a married woman.

Yes, that was fascinating, Tony. Thanks for sharing.

Aug 27, 2010, 12:04am Top

oh dear, I am a bit behind, aren't I?

I have been reading Dostoevsky's A Writer's Diary for 1876, a journal he put out composed entirely of articles by himself. He addresses many topics, ranging from literature to the Eastern Question- the war in the Balkans. A lot of it is just nasty ranting about how great Russia is compared to those low Germans and French, and the glorious wonder of Orthodoxy, and it's a long haul to plough through it all.

Occasionally there are witty things, and flashes of humour, but it's all a bit turgid. Dostoevsky's novels are wonders of open minded humanity, his journalism is a marvel of close-minded chauvenism.

However, it is an interesting insight into the weird and wonderful world of Fyodor Mikhailovich, as well as a slice of Russian cultural life in the year 1876, so I persevere.

Everyone in Russia is waiting for something to happen.

I am also trying to put together a review of The Adolescent ( I know, I know, I"ll stop procrastinating next week, ok?)

Aug 31, 2010, 12:50am Top

Here is my review of Hav for the assembled company.


Aug 31, 2010, 9:11am Top

What a wonderful review, Murr!

I am left feeling I must read the book, but I cannot, on pain of banishment to mythical places, buy any more. It is not a book to borrow from the library, I fear, for I will need to underline and annotate. It will have to go an a longterm wishlist.

Sep 1, 2010, 9:17am Top

Great review, really enjoyable to read.

Sep 2, 2010, 5:48am Top

Great review, Murr! Since it's a Faber and Faber book I'll look for this when I go to London in a couple of weeks.

Sep 2, 2010, 11:25am Top

Thanks for your responses everyone.

Anything by Jan Morris, I've decided, is worth reading.
She is delightful, informative and a great stylist. What more could you want?

P, It's great to see you again!! Where have you been???? What are you reading? You don't need to annotate Hav. Get it from the library if you can and just read it. Hav will stay with you/you will stay in Hav for a long time, I think. I have been taking refuge there occasionally and it's just the tonic one needs.

Thanks Dan! not half as good as the actual book.

Doc, happy hunting. My mother tells me that bookshops in london are not what they used to be. But I will be interested to see what you manage to find. do be sure to post a list of your haul when you return.

Has anyone read any other Jan Morris?

Edited: Sep 2, 2010, 3:09pm Top

Only Fifty years of Europe which i liked very much.

I particularly remember a piece speculating on what would have happened if the ancestors of the Windsors had not been called to the UK. I seem to remember this centred around Charles as a Saxe Coburg prince, wandering the villages, talking German to the plant life (something in this vein - it has been some few years since I read this).

I also remember being taken by the Trieste and the meaning of nowhere reviews when it appeared several years back.

Sep 4, 2010, 3:06pm Top

I read conundrum once and some short travel pieces collected, remember one about hong kong and another about edinburgh.

Sep 5, 2010, 8:04am Top

Zeno, the Trieste book has been on my wishlist for a while. It looks really good.

Tony, I managed to find Conundrum today in a second hand bookstore!

Hao Chiau!

Sep 5, 2010, 8:11am Top

I was reading Dostoevsky's letters the other night, and he tells this lovely little anecdote about ageing, that chimed with me very much.

Like Goncharov, I also feel more and more out of touch with things, and not really that interested in keeping up.


Sep 13, 2010, 10:30pm Top

Well, my review of the Adolescent is at long last complete, and up and running.

Here are the links:


the full review on The Lectern: (warning, VV long...)


you may have noticed my series of reviews for Jodi Picoult. I hope to get her some more attention, as she is surely one of the most significant typists of our age.

It has been a week of life changes here at the Casa Murr. After 10 years of driving my scooter with no licence, I was finally captured by a zealous and anal cop and given a HUGE fine, whcih has severely effected my book buying budget for a couple of months. THe worst part about it was that I had to go for my scooter test. It involved a written test, and a practical test. The written test can be found here on line. I recommend it, as it gives an interesting insight into the weird and whacky world of Taiwanese thinking. I was cracking up all the time during the test, due to the ludicrous (but it must be said, quite charming) test questions.


choose your language, then written test, or audio, then motorcycle or car, then test yourself on the Confucian highway code! you need 85 % to pass.

I passed, and am now a legal road user. I feel defiled, soiled, violated.

Edited: Sep 13, 2010, 11:53pm Top

This is my favourite:

Which of the following is the most important protection for motorcycle riders?
( 1) a fancy leather belt
( 2) safety helmet
( 3) goggle.

And this one:

I see a vehicle in front has overturned and no one is taking care of the victims. I am in a hurry. I have to leave them alone although I hear the victims yelling for help.

I assume 'O' means yes?

Sep 14, 2010, 12:16am Top

yes, it's the Japanese symbol for a tick, which is used more commonly here in Taiwan than a tick symbol.

the irony of it is that in the second question, this is usually what people in Taiwan do. The rule is never help anyone in an accident: just dial 199 and tell them the location of the accident and get the hell out. if you stop to help, you can be held liable by the victims. sad but true.

Sep 14, 2010, 8:56am Top

You law breaker you ;) I feel ya due to a stupid little city here in Ks I too will probably be on lock down to my house for a couple of month so www.half.com will be my friend since bookstores, libraries etc will be out of the question. So yes I feel ya.

Sep 14, 2010, 4:05pm Top

Reduced book purchases! Surely not. Can't you skip paying rent instead?

Explain this one: The freeway is straight up all the way with flat road surface. Therefore, drivers may keep their mental condition and physical condition normally.

I picked yes, but got it wrong. Does that mean if the road is flat and heterosexual, a driver is free to do shots of tequila or read sad poems while driving?

Sep 14, 2010, 8:39pm Top

>124 RidgewayGirl: I think my random set of questions were second rate. Mine were quite normal compared to that one. How bewilderingly gorgeous.

Sep 14, 2010, 9:19pm Top

>124 RidgewayGirl: HAH yes, something like that. Did you do the car test?

What about this:

Yielding and forgiveness are the best way to demonstrate driving morals.

Sep 19, 2010, 11:16pm Top

I have finished A Writers's Diary now, (thank god!) and am working on a piece about it. Very difficult to say how I really feel about it. On the one hand when D is writing about language or literature, there is no one more insightful and brilliant. On the other, when he is writing about Orthodoxy and Russia's divine mission, it's incredibly unpleasant bullshit. I have tried to keep an open mind and place him in the context of his times and mores, but still it's not nice, especially given his propensity to repeat and repeat repeat himself oh gawd Fyodor Mikhailovich shut up dear!

HE does have a brilliant way with paradoxes though, and this is one of the things that the Writer's Diary has really brought out in my understanding of him: he's as brilliant a paradoxicalist as Oscar Wilde:

Happiness lies not in happiness, but only in the attempt to achieve it.

Mystical ideas love persecution; they are created by it.

I have a gap now of a few weeks while I put some ideas together about the Diary, so I am filling it with some background reading on The Romanovs: incredibly interesting: they were a bloody lot those Tsars.

I mentioned at the beginning of the thread my intention to read all of Dostoevsky before November, so it seems I am on schedule, as the Writer's Diary is the last book before Brothers Karamazov. Actually, I am thinking now of reading BK once through before the group read, so that I can read some secondary material while the group read is happening, the better to guide inspire and deal with questions etc.

Sep 21, 2010, 8:21pm Top

Damn, it takes me forever to get around to everyone's threads. The Jan Morris review is terrific. I do believe what I hav is the first novella you mention, so that's the place to start, right?

Sorry to hear about your ticket. Perhaps they hadn't hit their scooter quota that month. Hey, got to pay for the coffee and donuts somehow (or whatever the Taiwanese equivalent would be).

Sep 21, 2010, 8:41pm Top

betel nuts and beer

Sep 21, 2010, 8:46pm Top

aren't those the nuts that make your teeth red?

Sep 21, 2010, 9:00pm Top

yes dear. leering gowarrrn, givusakiss!

Sep 21, 2010, 9:03pm Top

This message has been deleted by its author.

Sep 22, 2010, 8:41pm Top


Edited: Sep 22, 2010, 10:09pm Top

For some reason I am envisioning Keith Moon as Uncle Ernie singing "Fiddling About"... ewww


Oct 4, 2010, 12:28pm Top

On Dostoevsky's fall from fame from The Guardian:

Has any author's reputation fallen further or faster than Dostoevsky's?Few writers' esteem can have been demolished as quickly as the Russian master's fall from critical grace in 1846

My favourite Russian author is Dostoevsky, whose best books are not just profound examinations of the human soul etc, but also nasty, violent, ironic, caustic, and (at times) extremely funny. Recently I picked up Henri Troyat's Firebrand which is an old-fashioned, novelistic account of FD's life. It's a great read, so much so that I decided to ride the wave of pleasure and seize the moment to simultaneously plough through some of the heavier Dostoevsky tomes sitting on my shelves, including the selected letters and the joyless prose of Konstantin Mochulsky's critical biography. (I'm saving Joseph Frank's five-volume epic for later).

It's fascinating to observe how both the racy volume and dryly critical work were constructed from the same source materials. Meanwhile I have been reminded of Dostoevsky's dramatic life story: his father's murder; his mock execution and exile; his gambling madness; and his calamitous debut on the St Petersburg literary scene. For those who don't know the story, Dostoevsky's first novel Poor Folk was passed before publication to a legendary critic/blowhard called Vissarion Belinsky who promptly declared that Dostoevsky was the heir to Gogol. This was nonsense: Poor Folk is a mawkish tale that would have been forgotten had the same author not also written Crime and Punishment et al. Still, the 24-year-old Fedya D was suddenly feted everywhere as the new literary genius of St Petersburg. It went to his head and he soon became insufferable, alienating all his new literary "friends", who revenged themselves when he published his second novel, The Double. Not merely trashed, the book was denounced. Dostoevsky became a bad joke.

What I didn't know until now was the length of time between his moment of glory and terrible downfall. Authors then wrote much more quickly than they do today, and some of those impossibly fat 19th-century mega-books were composed in a quarter of the time it takes Milan Kundera to crank out a boring late novella. Bearing that in mind, take a guess: how long did Fedya D last as a cause celebre? A year? Nine months? Six? Three?

The correct answer is: 15 days. That's right. Poor Folk was published on 15 January 1846; The Double followed on 30 January. Cue the reputation apocalypse.

Now that has to be some kind of record. Thirteen years later he did emerge from exile to score a comeback with his novel-memoir House of the Dead, but according to Mochulsky, Dostoevsky never recovered his confidence. Even as he was writing some of the greatest books in world literature he remained consumed with anxiety that he had not yet "established his reputation".

Anyway, this led me to wonder: has anybody else ever suffered such a calamitous decline in popularity as Dostoevsky did in January 1846? (Nobody has experienced such a resurrection, that's for sure). The first author to pop into my head was Martin Amis. Critics loved his early books, but giving his recent efforts a vigorous kicking has become a national sport. But it took decades for Amis to reach that point, and he's pompous enough to believe he will be vindicated by posterity.

Plenty of authors suffer a precipitous decline after they die, of course: Somerset Maugham was once ubiquitous; now he isn't. Back in the 70s, 80s and even 90s you could rely on encountering Anthony Powell in the pages of your Sunday paper on an almost weekly basis. Since he went to meet the worms, total reputational collapse has not yet occurred but increasingly few people care about him. Were it not for the enduring cult popularity of A Clockwork Orange, much the same could be said about another once-celebrated Anthony.

Then I thought about all those winsome fauns and beardless youths, the teenage writing sensations cruelly hyped by publishers only to be dropped as soon as they emerge from the chrysalis of puberty. There have been so many of these literary zygotes I have lost count. I see them on the Waterstone's table and shed a tiny tear for the stars that burn so briefly before blinking out. Lord knows I don't remember their names. Well, Irina Denezhkina I do. Her Give Me was published by Simon & Schuster and then completely forgotten, although she still plies her trade in her native Russia. Or what about that chap wot wrote The Drowning People? He's still about, but now he's no longer 18 or 20 or whatever, media folk are far less excited.

Indeed, surveying the Somme-like charnel-fields of butchered reputations laid out before us, the closest thing I can find to Dostoevsky's experience is that of Gautam Malkani, author of Londonstani. Massive hype, a £380,000 advance – and hardly any sales. He didn't even get round to writing a second book before people started pissing on him. His website has not been updated since May 2007. Like most people I haven't read the book so I can't comment on whether Malkani's fate is fair (whose is?) but he seems like a (willing) victim of impossible expectations, and an attempt by slavishly unoriginal publishing/media tossers to create a new Brick Lane/White Teeth sensation by throwing a lot of dosh at a book about multicultural London. It's not his fault they were idiots.

But is that a decline in reputation, or simply the sound of a bubble popping? Was there any reputation to begin with? For Dostoevsky there was: even before Poor Folk was published the most famous critic of his age had declared him a genius. Still, at least Malkani can take comfort in the fact that his massive advance cannot be clawed back from him, and that nobody is going to threaten to shoot him before shipping him off to hard labour – although it was that very experience which rescued Dostoevsky's reputation in the long run, of course.

Oct 4, 2010, 3:35pm Top

There is an emphasis on the new young talent, isn't there? And then even if that first novel does spectacularly, the author has raised expectations (not to mention their advance) to levels they can't hope to meet, especially with all that new-found fame as distraction. Has anyone under thirty survived a really hyped first novel?

Honestly, if I were 24 and suddenly feted as the next great thing, I would also become instantly conceited and ditch all my former friends in favor of Paris Hilton and the cast of those vampire movies.

Oct 5, 2010, 12:54am Top

Thanks for posting this, P, and for your response, Ridgewaygirl.

Couple of things. The author of the article is not quite accurate. Although there was only 15 days between the publication of Poor Folk and The Double, that does not mean that the period between Dostoevsky's sudden ascent to the pinnacle of success and his subsequent fall only lasted for 15 days. In fact, it was more like three years. It also needs to be placed in the context of the vicious infighting and rivalry that was centred around various journals. D lost his popularity with one group, but kept it with another group.

There is no doubt that his early success went to his head, and that he behaved badly.

Poor Folk is an astonishing first novel, not mawkish as the article states (naive reader there- its mawkishness is part of its artistic strategy). The Double is even better. It is not surprising that the circle around Belinsky didn't like it. It is completely unlike anything that had been written in Russian lit before, and is the first of Dostoevsky's great masterpieces of interiority. Belinsky and his circle were simply unequipped to deal with The Double. It went right over their heads.

Oct 16, 2010, 11:28pm Top

Nothing much since my last post. I have been inundated with work, and stupid stuff with my job, so not much time for reading. I am still trying to get some time to write up a piece on Dostoevsky's Diary of a Writer, but not having much luck with that

I have started reading my final novel in my Dostoevsky quest: Karamazov, in preparation for the group read in le salon. I'm reading the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation, and then intend to read the Ignat Avsey version along with the group.

What an incredible book. I"d forgotten how funny it is. There are moments of extreme hilarity mixed in with all the high seriousness.

THere is light at the end of the tunnel, and I am beginning to dream of a life after Dostoevsky. Hurrah!

Oct 17, 2010, 7:43am Top

What do you dream of in your post-Dostoyevsky dreams?

Oct 17, 2010, 9:01am Top


And working through the TBR pile. I have some really great books under the Still Unread Tag in my library, so I want to get to work on those. I am itching to read Bolano, for starters, more David Foster Wallace, some criticism and theory.

and some Thomas Mann......

Oct 17, 2010, 9:53am Top

You tease, you! Start with Buddenbrooks -- it is his most accessible and, since I know (I think?) that you love A Suitable Boy, I can't imagine that you wouldn't love Buddenbrooks.

But surely you can eat herring while you read Dostoyevsky . . .

Oct 17, 2010, 10:30am Top

You would be surprised at what other things I can do while eating herring......

thing is, I started Buddenbrooks (years ago, I admit) and it was one of the few books I have never been able to finish. I also started watching the German TV series of it, and couldn't finish that either. It just screamed boredom at me.

My friend Mac swears that I should read The Magic Mountain. Please advise.

Edited: Oct 18, 2010, 7:34am Top

Too bad about Buddenbrooks -- I loved both the novel and the German TV series. About The Magic Mountain: it took me several tries over several decades to be able to get through it, but when I finally did, several years ago, I did enjoy it, but it takes a lot of work. Doctor Faustus is the most difficult Mann I've read, and I'm quite sure I missed a lot of it; on the other hand Joseph and His Brothers, which is truly voluminous, is much more straightforward* and utterly fascinating.

One thing I would strongly advise is to look for the new translations of John Woods. I can't personally compare them to earlier translations, but I found them very readable and Woods's introduction to Joseph and His Brothers, in which he talks a little about how his translation differs from earlier ones, is persuasive and informative.

Still, I may never convince you to like Mann, as you have failed to convince me to like Dostoyevsky!

* ETA Though more straightforward, it is still quite complex; this is just a relative comment.

Oct 17, 2010, 9:20pm Top

oh no, don't say that, I have not given up on Mann yet. :)

The Karamazov group read intro thread is up and running now:


If anyone from Club Read would like to join, you will be welcomed with open arms.

Oct 29, 2010, 12:58am Top

I spent the last week in Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, a beautiful city crammed full of second hand bookstores. I came away with a huge haul of treasure, including The Towers of Trebizond, which I read while there. I'm not going to review it, but I loved it. It reminded me very much of Stevie Smith, whom I adore. The ending was savage and totally shocking.

I completed Karamazov while away, and now I am reading Summer in Baden Baden, which is annoying me very much, as it is the kind of book I want to write. In fact it should have been written by me, not Tsypkin. A love letter to Dostoevsky, a tapestry of references and citations from the works, from his wife's diary, from their letters. A work of genius that I will be reviewing in more detail later.

I have had time, also, to complete part 1 of a projected two part essai on Dostoevsky's A Writer's Diary, which you can read here:


and here:


Nov 23, 2010, 1:09pm Top

>145 tomcatMurr: These were books in English? On my recent Iceland stay, I perused the Icelandic-authors-translated-in-English section and, to my disappointment, there wasn't many authors there that I didn't already know about. It surprises me a bit because we were told what a highly educated population Iceland has (8 universities in Reykjavik alone!). Perhaps they are all blogging instead. Or perhaps there are great discoveries yet untranslated.

Nov 29, 2010, 11:28pm Top

i have fallen very behind, but that's because I am locked in the cupboard under the stairs with the Karamazov brothers and it's rather crowded. Apart from that no new news, and no new reading.

Dec 9, 2010, 9:01am Top

Sometimes I like to amuse myself by considering that Alyosha did it.

Hope the brothers have not done you in?

Dec 9, 2010, 12:07pm Top

#148 Ooh, there's an idea! What if...?!!

Dec 9, 2010, 8:39pm Top

>148 tonikat:

well, I am up to neck in it, with no time for any other reading. I"m enjoying it though, going through the book chapter by chapter and producing commentary on it, it's the summation of the last two years' work on Dostoevsky.

I appreciate the patience and indulgence of my fellow salonistas, and their input.

Dec 11, 2010, 1:54pm Top

Well, I have enjoyed the journey and reading the commentary brought me to a level of understanding I would not otherwise have reached. Thanks for letting me sit at your feet, without kicking me or dripping oil from the herring on my head.

Dec 11, 2010, 9:47pm Top

no no no, thanks for letting me sit on your lap while I hold forth!

well done on The Tenant, btw, ridgeway girl! I thumbed it. now I need to read the book!

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