Notes from the Underground Paperback
Part of the Dover Thrift Editions series
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 96 pages
- Publisher: Dover Publications Inc.
- Publication Date: 20/07/1992
- Category: Classic fiction (pre c 1945)
- ISBN: 9780486270531
Showing 1 - 5 of 6 reviews.
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Review by hellbent
My favourite Dostoyevsky and have read several times.
Review by JonArnold
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.
Review by gmillar
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.
Review by GTWise
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.
Review by BirdBrian
Who knew Dostoyevsky wrote comedy? Oh, what’s that? This tale of an embittered middle-aged bureaucrat baring his soul wasn’t supposed to be funny? It’s unvarnished human nature, told as honestly as you’re likely to ever hear it, and naturally it’s ugly, twisted, pathetic and petty. You can either weep for the tragedy of human folly, or find humor in it. I’ve done both, and I guess I’m more prone to the weeping, but with a character so removed from present day, living as he does in Czarist Russia of the 19th century- it is somehow easier to stand back and find the perspective to laugh. This is the same sort of humor that made <I>Seinfeld</I>, <I>Curb Your Enthusiasm</I>, and most of Woody Allen’s oeuvre so popular. Neurotic, bored, self-absorbed twits meticulously reliving their every human interaction, sifting for subtle hidden meanings and nuances, rarely finding more than regrets? I’m not a fancified city-slicker psychologist, but I’m pretty confident the book’s unnamed narrator is a high-energy introvert (HEI). HEI’s feel drained by interacting with people, so prefer to keep to themselves, but they have a lot of energy so they spend a lot of time alone either thinking about stuff and/or talking to themselves. Ask me how I know this. On a daily basis, I would say that after my wife and the partner I share a practice with, the person I speak with third most often is myself. What’s there to talk about? Well, current business at work, GoodReads reviews (mine and others’), and repetitious dissections of all the little exchanges I have with other people throughout the day. <I>What did my secretary mean by it, asking me what I had eaten, just as I returned from lunch? Did my breath smell? Was she trying to tell me I look like I’m getting fat? Was she just being nice?… I check my shirt for a mustard stain or some other little clue which might have prompted her to pose the question…</I> Being a cynic, the narrator is prone to take most cryptic comments and meaningful glances as slights and insults. Thus he perceives himself to be frequently surrounded by enemies and frienemies. He is somewhat arrogant, probably in part due to his lack of perspective. Because he is so often alone, he doesn’t see the achievements of others nearly as much as his own. Thus, he believes himself to be perpetually underappreciated. In one scene, our narrator insinuates himself into a group of former classmates, annoyed that they haven’t invited him to hang out. He hears they are planning a farewell party for another classmate whom he never particularly liked, but of course he will not stand to be excluded from their little celebration, so he invites himself. At the party, he fumes over what a jackass the guest of honor is, and how much more deserving he is of the affections being lavished. He gets drunk, makes a scene, insults everybody… and then fumes at home about how badly the evening went, and plans his “revenge“!Okay, so maybe that is a more heartbreaking than funny, being so petty and needlessly put-upon. That’s part of the human tragedy isn’t it? That so much of our misery is needless and self-imposed? We are each so alone in our brains, yet our species has found survival in cooperation, so we have evolved elaborate social systems which demand our participation. But getting along can be so stressful. It requires compromise, exhausting debate and a frequent yielding to group will. Isn’t the struggle to socialize (small “s”) one of the core themes of the canon of literature? Elements of <I>Notes From the Underground</I> are seen in [book:Winesburg Ohio|80176] and [book:Infinite Jest|6759]. The narrator’s competing loneliness and disdain for his fellow man, his simultaneous arrogance and longing to be accepted remind me of Holden Caulfield, Sinclair Lewis’ [book:Babbitt|11374], Raskolnikov (from another Dostoyevsky great, [book:Crime and Punishment|7144]) and maybe even a little bit of Alex from [book:A Clockwork Orange|227463]. Further tragicomedy ensues when our narrator lectures the prostitute Liza on her poor choice of career. Is he doing so because he genuinely wants to help her, because he wants to cast himself as a savior, or just because he likes to hear himself talk? Maybe he’d rather focus on her problems, which seem somehow manageable from his perspective, to distract from his own. I can’t help but love this narrator, if only for his authenticity. Regardless of his flaws, I at least feel I’m getting the straight story from him. His humanity- warts and all- is on full display, whereas the other characters hide (as we all do at times) behind obscuring veneers of civility and propriety. Do the old schoolmates really like their guest of honor as much as they let on? Surely they must have noticed in him some of the same character defects which our narrator points out. Why don’t they speak as honestly and directly? I often find myself wondering things like this. It’s an ongoing project, but I at least have some pieces of the puzzle: For one thing, not everybody sees the world the same as I do. Extroverts are energized by the company of others, and seek out frequent social interaction... practice makes perfect, so they tend to have less issues getting along with people. I’m also pretty sure extroverts don’t spend as much time talking to themselves, hashing over the past… if for no other reason than they have less “alone time” in their lives. Less cynical people than our narrator are probably less likely to take minor comments as intended insults; they’re likely to give people the benefit of the doubt. In just over one-hundred pages, Dostoyevsky paints such a rich, fleshed-out character, I have to wonder whether this is just a masterful creation, or whether he is drawing from elements in his own personality. I did a very cursory search of the man, and it didn’t shed much light on what he would have been like to hang out with. I know he was once almost executed by firing squad. A last-minute pardon saved him, but the experience was transformative. I kind of hope Dostoyevsky doesn’t resemble the narrator <I>too</I> much, because when Liza returns to our narrator for help escaping her life of prostitution, he isn’t very helpful, and is in fact a bit of a dick about the whole thing. Meh, maybe this wasn’t so comic after all.
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