Notes from Underground

Notes from Underground

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One of the most profound and most unsettling works of modern literature, Notes from Underground (first published in 1864) remains a cultural and literary watershed. In these pages Dostoevsky unflinchingly examines the dark, mysterious depths of the human heart. The Underground Man so chillingly depicted here has become an archetypal figure -- loathsome and prophetic -- in contemporary culture.

This vivid new rendering by Boris Jakim is more faithful to Dostoevsky’s original Russian than any previous translation; it maintains the coarse, vivid language underscoring the "visceral experimentalism" that made both the book and its protagonist groundbreaking and iconic.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780553211443
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/10/1983
Series: Bantam Classics Series
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 176
Sales rank: 750,863
Product dimensions: 4.14(w) x 6.86(h) x 0.40(d)
Age Range: 16 - 18 Years

About the Author

Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821–1881) was a prominentRussiannovelist and writer and is widely considered one of themost outstanding and influential writers of modernliterature.

Boris Jakim is the foremost translator of Russian religiousthought into English. His published translations includeworks by S.L. Frank, Pavel Florensky, Vladimir Solovyov,and Sergius Bulgakov.

Read an Excerpt




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 besides.

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.

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Notes from Underground 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 41 reviews.
StephenBarkley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I've met the underground man before. After years of pastoring, I've seen traces of him in all sorts of people¿even myself. I've witnessed the painfully thorough introspection that causes otherwise rational people's thoughts to cycle through an internal feedback loop. I've been privy to the inflated sense of pride that imagines absurd revenge scenarios in response to the slightest unintentional personal infraction. There's plenty of underground man in our world today.It's uncanny how a nineteenth century Russian man is reflected so clearly in our capitalistic western culture. Perhaps the rejection of any sort of utopian vision is the common thread. The idea that the world isn't getting better and better draws strange people together.This was my first foray into Dostoyevsky (I'm ashamed to say). He's created a compelling character that elicits empathy while simultaneously thoroughly frustrating the reader. This sort of tortured complexity will keep me coming back to Dostoyevsky for a long time.
akimkabo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A terrifying look into one man's confession. The end is more haunting after you have swam through his thoughts at the start of the story.
MissTeacher on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have virtually no idea why this book is considered a classic. More of a "personal manifesto" than an actual story, this is a disjointed reasoning of why the narrator feels and acts so outlandishly. Though I can sympathize with some of his emotions on my very worst days, 'Notes' as a whole left me feeling exhausted and a little dull. The second part of the book does try to assume some semblance of a story, yet the other characters are hardly developed, the plot is weak, and the climax is wholly anticlimactic. The only saving grace is the scene with the prostitute, yet even that promise is not only not fulfilled, it is swept with disgust under the carpet.
Ljrei77 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a fantastic book that addresses the question of "what is the self?". The underground man can only represent us who find ourselves lost and unsure yet despised by our own ineptitude. For those who have not yet to begin exploring "what a self is" or "what and why makes the self?" I highly suggest you start here.
poetontheone on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Dostoevsky's novella is part narrative and part manifesto, all awash in anguish. The book is the indelible cornerstone of existential literature, being a violent confrontation with the human condition and the nature of life. There are a number of quotable passages here, and the writing is smooth and digestible in contrast to the narrator. He is not likable, though he is interesting in much the same way as a car crash or the aftermath of disaster, and it is probable that most readers can relate to his bitterness, though maybe not at such extreme levels.
willnapier on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Typically Dostoyevskian black humour and sense of angst. Themes of the admiribility of conscienceless evil, and free will. His protagonist insists that we do not operate by some calculus of our best interests, and that it is an essential part of being human that we exercise our right not to operate in such a mathematical way.
mattviews on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"So long live the underground. I already carried the underground in my soul." This best epitomizes Dostoyevsky's Notes from Underground.The book is not easy to read let alone to digest. Dostoyevsky again placed some of his favorite arguments in the moth of a character (the 40-year-old underground man) he despised. The underground man self-proclaims to be angry and sick at the very beginning and goes out of his way to offend his readers. The book reads like a delirious man's babbling, in his own shy, wounded, and exorbitant pride. While a novel usually needs a hero, but here Dostoyevsky had purposely collected all the features of an anti-hero: self-contempt, wounded vanity, conceit, and sensitive ego. Even though the underground man might be extremely egotistical and has no respect for others, Dostoyevsky never meant for him to have any surface appeal. The recurring themes of the narrative revolve around the underground man's alienation from society, which he despises, his bitter sarcasm, and the heightened awareness of self-consciousness. He larks to revenge himself for his humiliation by humiliating others. I don't think Dostoyevsky meant for the underground man to be liked and pitied by the readers. In fact, our anti-hero is inevitably targeted for Dostoyevsky's harsh satire. The first part of the book (titled The Underground) introduces the anonymous underground man and his outlook on life. The second part (titled A Story of the Falling Sleet) sees how the man with heightened senses of ego and awareness submerges voluptuously into his underground, motivated by many contradictory impulses. Dostoyevsky paints not only a complex portrait of an anonymous personage who lacks surface appeal, but also a society in which people are so unaccustomed to living and the manners of which that they feel a loathing for real life. Notes from Underground is an egocentric man's monologue that is abound with fascinating nuance which reveals itself only upon close reading.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I won't go into detail but this is a book to read and contemplate on with out judgement
otterly More than 1 year ago
Most of this was philosophical, but there was an interesting section where he was attending a dinner with a bunch of his acquaintances, despite a large yellow mustard stain on his trousers. He was quite poor and didn't comport himself well. On Nook, it is only 133 pages.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was torn between giving this 3 or 4 starts, but I went with four because no doubt it is profound, engaging and thought-provoking, though not very entertaining a read. This was probably my least favorite of the 5 Dostoevsky novels I've read so far (Demons, The Idiot, C&P, TBK, and Notes) but it's still a good book, and certainly a lot better than most of what is being written nowadays. The ramblings and actions of our narrator, though they may seem to be complete nonsense at times, actually constitute a pretty accurate description of the human condition as it relates to dignity, self-worth, and one's perceived place in society. That being said, as far as entertainment value is concerned, this book has a rather disjointed flow to it (intentional no doubt), there is very little semblance of a plot, the characters are difficult to relate to at times, and the book ends just as soon as it finally starts to get going. I really don't think I would recommend this book to someone looking for an entertaining read, as this book didn't entertain me much at all. That being said it still gives one a good think if they devote the energy to reading it, so I wouldn't have any reservations recommending it to my nihilistic, cynical, and jaded intellectual buddies. 
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This translation of "Notes from Underground" is essential for an understanding of Dostoevsky's critique of traditions within Western Philosophy and his analysis of consciousness. Overall, this novel grabs the reader from his high and lofty comfort and drags him down to the raw, unmitigated center of his own humanity. One should enjoy it as a invigorating philosophical read or as a slow literary read; either way, it is an essential book to the reader who wants to be intellectually stimulated.
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