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Kirsten Lodge is Assistant Professor of Comparative and World Literature and Humanities at Midwestern State University, Wichita Falls, Texas.
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Notes from the Underground
By Fyodor Dostoevsky Wildside Press
Copyright © 2003 Fyodor Dostoevsky
All right reserved.
I AM a sick man. . . . I am a spiteful man. An unattractive man. I
think that my liver hurts. But actually, I don't know a damn thing
about my illness. I am not even sure what it is that hurts. I am not
in treatment and never have been, although I respect both medicine
and doctors. Besides, I am superstitious in the extreme; well, at
least to the extent of respecting medicine. (I am sufficiently
educated not to be superstitious, but I am.) No, sir, I refuse to see
a doctor simply out of spite. Now, that is something that you
probably will fail to understand. Well, I understand it. Naturally, I
will not be able to explain to you precisely whom I will injure in
this instance by my spite. I know perfectly well that I am certainly
not giving the doctors a "dirty deal" by not seeking treatment. I
know better than anyone that I will only harm myself by this, and no
one else. And yet, if I don't seek a cure, it is out of spite. My
liver hurts? Good, let it hurt still more!
I have been living like this for a long time-about twenty years. Now
I am forty. I used to be in the civil service; today I am not. I was
a mean official. I was rude, and found pleasure in it. After all, I
took no bribes,and so I had to recompense myself at least by this.
(A poor joke, but I will not cross it out. I wrote it, thinking it
would be extremely witty; but now I see that it was only a vile
little attempt at showing off, and just for that I'll let it stand!)
When petitioners came to my desk seeking information, I gnashed my
teeth at them, and gloated insatiably whenever I succeeded in
distressing them. I almost always succeeded. Most of them were timid
folk: naturally-petitioners. But there were also some fops, and among
these I particularly detested a certain officer. He absolutely
refused to submit and clattered revoltingly with his sword. I battled
him over that sword for a year and a half. And finally I got the best
of him. He stopped clattering. This, however, happened long ago, when
I was still a young man. But do you know, gentlemen, what was the
main thing about my spite? Why, the whole point, the vilest part of
it, was that I was constantly and shamefully aware, even at moments
of the most violent spleen, that I was not at all a spiteful, no, not
even an embittered, man. That I was merely frightening sparrows to no
purpose, diverting myself. I might be foaming at the mouth, but bring
me a doll, give me some tea, with a bit of sugar, and I'd most likely
calm down. Indeed, I would be deeply touched, my very heart would
melt, though later I'd surely gnash my teeth at myself and suffer
from insomnia for months. That's how it is with me.
I lied just now when I said that I had been a mean official. I lied
out of sheer spite. I was merely fooling around, both with the
petitioners and with the officer, but in reality I could never have
become malicious. I was aware at every moment of many, many
altogether contrary elements. I felt them swarming inside me, those
contrary elements. I knew that they had swarmed inside me all my
life, begging to be let out, but I never, never allowed them to come
out, just for spite. They tormented me to the point of shame, they
drove me to convulsions-I was so sick and tired of them in the end.
Sick and tired! But perhaps you think, dear sirs, that I am now
repenting of something before you, asking your forgiveness for
something? . . . Indeed, I am quite certain that you think so. But
then, I assure you it doesn't make the slightest difference to me if
you do. . . .
I could not become malicious. In fact, I could not become anything:
neither bad nor good, neither a scoundrel nor an honest man, neither
a hero nor an insect. And now I am eking out my days in my corner,
taunting myself with the bitter and entirely useless consolation that
an intelligent man cannot seriously become anything; that only a fool
can become something. Yes, sir, an intelligent nineteenth-century man
must be, is morally bound to be, an essentially characterless
creature; and a man of character, a man of action-an essentially
limited creature. This is my conviction at the age of forty. I am
forty now, and forty years-why, it is all of a lifetime, it is the
deepest old age. Living past forty is indecent, vulgar, immoral! Now
answer me, sincerely, honestly, who lives past forty? I'll tell you
who does: fools and scoundrels. I will say this right to the face of
all those venerable old men, all those silver-haired, sweet-smelling
old men! I have a right to say it, because I will live to sixty
myself. To seventy! To eighty! . . . Wait, let me catch my breath. .
You might be imagining, gentlemen, that I am trying to amuse you, to
make you laugh? Wrong again. I am not at all the jolly character you
think I am, or may perhaps think I am. But then, if, irritated by all
this prattle (and I feel it already, I feel you are irritated),
you'll take it into your heads to ask me what I am, I'll answer you:
I am a certain collegiate assessor. I worked in order to eat (but
solely for that reason), and when a distant relation left me six
thousand rubles in his will last year, I immediately retired and
settled down in my corner. I had lived here previously as well, but
now I've settled down in this corner. My room is dismal, squalid, at
the very edge of town. My servant is a peasant woman, old, stupid,
vicious out of stupidity, and she always has a foul smell about her
I am told that the Petersburg climate is becoming bad for me, that
with my niggling means it's too expensive to live in Petersburg. I
know all that, I know it better than all those wise, experienced
counselors and head-shakers. But I stay on in Petersburg; I shall not
leave Petersburg! I shall not leave because. . . . Ah, but what
difference does it make whether I leave or don't leave.
To go on, however-what can a decent man talk about with the greatest pleasure?
Answer: about himself.
Well, then, I too shall talk about myself.
Excerpted from Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky Copyright © 2003 by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of ContentsPreface
The Text of Notes From Underground
Backgrounds and Sources
Selected Letters from Fyodor Dostoevsky to Mikhail Dostoevsky (1859-64)
Fyodor Dostoevsky · [Socialism and Christianity]
Fyodor Dostoevsky · From Winter Notes on Summer Impressions
N.G. Chernyshevsky · From What Is To Be Done?
M.E. Salykov-Shchedrin · From "The Swallows"
Woody Allen · Notes from the Overfed
Robert Walser · The Child
Ralph Ellison · From The Invisible Man
John Lennon and Paul McCartney · "Nowhere Man"
Nicolai Mikhailovsky · [Dostoevsky's Cruel Intent]
Vasily Rozanov · [Thought and Art in Notes From Underground]
Lev Shestov · [Dostoevsky and Nietzsche]
M.M. Bakhtin [Discourse in Dostoevsky]
Ralph E. Matlaw · Structure and Integration in Notes From Underground
Victor Erlich · Notes on the Uses of Monologue in Artistic Prose
Robert Louis Jackson · [Freedom in Notes From Underground]
Gary Saul Morson · [Anti-Utopianism in Notes From Undergound]
Richard H. Weisberg · The Formalistic Model: Notes From Underground
Joseph Frank · Notes From Underground
A Chronology of Dostoevsky's Life and Work
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I am from Russia and I believe this book is great. Dostoyevsky is one of my favorite authors and I recommend this book to everyone who is interested in Dostoyevsky. Thank you for listening to me, I thankful for such nice behavior from United States.
In this book dostoevsky historicly draws the line between nihalism and existentialism.The 1st part is almost pure philosophical:the author/hero write his thoughts about the confused,and over-knowledged modern man, that results a negative modern human being.Kafka and Musil took that example and developed it,the existentialists tried to solve the problem aroused.The 2nd part is the prose story and it's magnificent.Dostoevsky is not the best user of words in fiction, but he is genius regardless - describing human nature,both psychologiclly and philosophiclly.
I can see what it is that literary critics like about this book but I found that it required a bit more concentration than I was willing to give it.
My favourite Dostoyevsky and have read several times.
Notes from Underground is a distinctly Russian novel, it deals with a Russian character facing a Russian problem. I did not notice this my first time reading it, however, because the Underground Man's spite and resentment transcends his particular Russian situation and can be applied to anyone who is out of step with his culture and times. It should be noted, though, that the particular problem that the Underground Man faces is that his view of life is derived from European romantic literature ¿ which of course is literature and not real life. A distinctly Russian problem in that he is trying to lead a Russian life according to the fantasies and emotions of Western European authors (perhaps a modern day analog would be American teenagers who lead their lives with values and fantasies they get from Japanese anime ¿ although somehow that feels insulting to the Underground Man and to European romanticism). He cannot be the man he wishes to be or lead the life he wishes to live because both cannot be found in the real world, certainly not the practical Russian society he rails against.In the first half of the book, the Underground Man rails against both himself and his times. He rails against modern science and the effect that determinism has on free will. He rails against utopianism and the idea that reason and science will one day build a ¿crystal palace.¿ He rails against himself for being ¿too conscious¿ which leads to a kind of paralysis and both praises and condemns the men of action who, while less aware than him, are productive and able to attain their ends in the world. He is indeed a spiteful man who realizes (or at least perceives) that there is no way to get society and reality to work the way he wants it to, but refusing to reconcile himself to that fact, preferring instead to be spiteful. It is tempting to judge the first half of the book as a work of philosophy, which it is to an extent except that it is a fictional work of philosophy, it exists to give insight into the Underground Man's character not to genuinely critique anything (of course, that's my conclusion. Make your own). In the second half of the book ¿ Apropos of the Wet Snow ¿ the man tries unsuccessfully to live real life according to the rules of romantic fiction. He imagines an epic confrontation between himself and a soldier who has disrespected him, he imagines a duel to the death with an old classmate of his to defend his honor, and he imagines himself saving the soul of a diamond-in-the-rough prostitute. All tropes of romantic literature, and all ending in failure when the Underground Man tries to live them out in real life ¿ particularly his attempts to save the prostitute's soul when she instead becomes the one to help him, leading him to become spiteful toward her. He has grand visions and grand dreams for his life, but he can't get anyone else to play along with him. They go about their lives in a practical way, and he is just left being ridiculous and, at best, a minor irritant.Even though the particulars of the man's situation are Russian, the feelings and attitudes the man has belong to humanity in general. The essential feeling the book deals with is that spite one feels when one knows that things will not go their way, but they refuse to get on board with the rest of society. It's self-destructive, it's senseless, but there's something (I say) noble in preferring to be oneself and miserable than to allow oneself to adopt the prevailing hopes and values in hopes of being united with everyone else. Surely everyone has felt it at one time or another, and for that reason I say that this book has universal appeal. It is also a short read, which lends itself easily to contemplation, re-reading, dissection, and enjoyment. Highly recommended to anyone and everyone.
For such a short work I was finding this hard going until I realised the problem was with my mindset and over reverent reading of Russian literature. When I realised it was a comedy and worked out something of the Russian sense of humour it all clicked - it's viciously funny enough to anticipate the satire boom of the mid 20th century. Still have problems with the sort of existentialist viewpoint presented here, but at least Dostoyevsky's wit makes it enjoyably palatable.
As a freshman in high school and having a deep, deep admiration of literature, I fear I do not have much good to say about this novella. I was expecting some form of plot from FyodorDostoevsky, and was a bit pleased towards the end to see it begin to take form, but for the most part was displeased. I am glad, that I did finish all 95 pages and am able to say that I did read a book by Dostoevsky.