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Notes From Underground

Notes From Underground

Book - 2004
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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 One of the most remarkable characters in literature, the unnamed narrator is a former official who has defiantly withdrawn into an underground existence.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.

Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2004.
ISBN: 9781400041916
Branch Call Number: FICTION
Characteristics: xxxi, 126 p. ; 22 cm.


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Oct 27, 2020

As W.S. commented: "The more I read this, the more I enjoy my toothaches." This will be my first and last Dostoyevsky.

May 24, 2018

An important novel that delves down the rabbit hole of the human psyche to peer at the ugliest but truest impulses in all of us. If you were to look deeply into the mind of any reasonable person, you will find these same self-destructive psychological impulses at work. What makes this novel timeless is that it has not lost its relevance, in fact, in our age of personas and transparency, it has become required reading. We all have to come to terms with our imagined insults and our mission to right the wrongs that have supposedly occurred to us. Most people are not honest enough to admit to themselves that they can be just as sick and spiteful as the underground man. The novel is about the lies we tell ourselves to make us feel better about the terrible things we say and do to other people and ourselves, and ultimately, how and why people ruin their chances at happiness by making the wrong decisions knowingly, unleashing chaos and sabotaging themselves as an expression of free will and their humanity. The novel is a lesson to all of us; a warning against how we can be cruelest when we tell ourselves we are attempting to be kind. The novel exposes our dark side's imagination to the light of reason and ethics without ever resolving the fundamental paradox of being human.

Sep 05, 2017

This is a very unusual story from Dostoevsky. It is divided into two parts, the first part a philosophical rant by an alienated narrator who is a total miscreant. It is very insightful in many ways and the over all tone is ironic and darkly humorous in a cringe inducing way.

The second part is the real story as the misanthropic narrator recounts an incident that caused him to hide from society and become an "underground" man. Dostoevsky really turns up the cringe levels here as we explore the inner most thoughts and emotions of the main character. Never have I felt so much loathing and pity for a character at the same time.

Highly recommended.

May 03, 2017

The more I read this, the more I enjoy my toothaches.

Andrew Kyle Bacon
Sep 19, 2016

This book, while well written and engaging, is very involved in the political and philosophical scene in Russia of its day. This makes it difficult to understand the point of without doing some research beforehand on the novella's context. That said, as is typical with Dostoyevsky, the character voice in this book is very strong, and we very quickly gain an understanding of the Underground Man's thought process. Dostoyevsky clearly likes to deal with people on the fringes of society, especially those who seem to have psychological disorders of one sort or another.

The first half of the book is the Underground Man's ranting on contemporary philosophy and culture. The second half is a story told by the Underground Man about an encounter with old school "friends" and finally a poor, down on her luck prostitute.

The biggest draw for this book is its language and narration. The unreliable narrator is in full force here, so much so that at times he even admits he is a liar and sometimes cannot stand to tell us events at all.

Notes from Underground is a fascinating little book, and a very light and quick read despite the density of its language and content.

May 09, 2016

“I am a sick man … I am a wicked man. I am an unattractive man.”

Notes from Underground is a work that belies the abilities of reason and progress, and offers an uncomfortably close look at the potential wickedness that can be bred in us all. A wickedness that a person is not doomed to live by, or even born with, but wickedness that is itself a haze masking something much deeper. There are times when this book feels like stomping through a snow storm, but this uncertainty, created by an untrustworthy yet equally honest narrator, is how Dostoyevsky conveys his truth about society and human needs.

How can a narrator be both honest and untrustworthy? These two terms seem irreconcilable, but in a story where the narrator claims order and disorder to be things different than what society perceives them to be, it’s hard to imagine a better suited storyteller. He is always rationalizing, yet his actions are impulsive; he is terribly concerned with what others think, yet dislikes everyone around him; and though he is often contradictory, he is not a contradiction. He has in himself both order and disorder. Luckily for the reader the narrator does not hide these conflicting qualities for long, often admitting them outright (albeit the confessions are also, at times, conflicting). It’s clear from the text that the narrator has a depreciating sense of self. “The worst of it is, he himself, his very own self, looks on himself as a mouse; no one asks him to do so; and that is an important point.” And it is an important point! The narrator is highly aware of the disorder in his mind, but he sees a benefit in being honest about it. He is, himself, the best proof for the argument made against rationalism and progress. If our narrator was a well-balanced, healthy individual, Notes from Underground would make no sense.

Let us imagine a society that is built on reason, and committed to progress. They are held above all else. A society where people who have position, possessions, and/or pedigree are people of value, as these things prove progress. What will happen to a person who does not have these things? He must acquire them. If he does not, he will be of no real value to society. Likewise, the longer it takes to acquire these things the lower his esteem in the eyes of reason and progress, and the harder it will be to ever acquire a right standing. Our narrator, as one of these people of lesser value would be expected to do, hates and fights against such a society. However, he hates it not because he has been infringed by it, but because he has noticed something missing in this society, something fundamental that society won't acknowledge. “If necessary (man) is ready to act in opposition to all laws; that is, in opposition to reason, honor, peace, prosperity … if only he can attain that fundamental, most advantageous advantage which is dearer to him than all.”

The argument is not that these qualities of progress are bad, but that they possess only a mock importance when they, alone, are held in such high regard. Reading Notes from Underground with this in mind, it becomes clear that the narrator, in all his despicable acts and thoughts, is not trying to be cruel, but to be noticed. Most everything, from his obsession with gaining respect from the man at the Nevsky to his behavior at Zverkov’s going away party, can be explained by a desire, a need, to be noticed. He is eventually noticed by one individual, but it is by a person whom the narrator, and perhaps the reader, would not suspect.

Feb 18, 2014

A short story of a troubled 19th c. Russian bureaucrat in two parts. The first is a bit confusing as it is only a psychological prologue by the man on himself. The second part is the actual story.

This is a great introduction to Dostoevsky.

Jun 28, 2011

Absolutely hilarious! The narrator is so much like Michael Scott from The Office (US), it makes me wonder if they didn't create his character after Dostoevsky's awkward and ridiculous lead.
Split into two parts, the first half is a monologue of little snippets of viewpoints and behaviours held by the narrator, and strung together by his outrageous ideas and insecurities.
In Part II, the narrator takes a look back on his own life, and we get an even deeper look into the embarrassing, cringe-worthy and at times, hard-to-read-because-it's-just-so-painfully-awkward moments that helped shape the narrator into the unique man he would become.

Feb 18, 2009

Loved it! The "notes" (events of his life) shows self-justification leads to self-indictment.
Definitely a must read!


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Feb 18, 2014

A short story of a troubled 19th c. Russian bureaucrat in two parts. The first is a bit confusing as it is only a psychological prologue by the man on himself.

The second part is the actual story, which involves the man and his terrible relations with his old school colleagues, and with a young prostitute.

This is a great introduction to Dostoevsky I think, since it is so short and yet fully "Dostoevskian."


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