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Main page » Audiobooks » Fyodor Dostoevsky: Notes From Underground

Fyodor Dostoevsky: Notes From Underground


  Notes From Underground

(Read George Guidall)

Notes from Underground was first published in January and February of 1864 as the featured presentation in the first two issues of The Epoch, Dostoevsky’s second journal of the 1860s. The novel was written at one of the lowest points of Dostoevsky’s career. His first journal, Time, had recently failed, his new journal was threatened with failure, his wife was dying, his financial position was becoming ever more difficult and embarrassing, his conservatism was eroding his popularity with the liberal majority of the reading public, and he was increasingly the subject of attack in the liberal and radical press. On March 20, 1864, Dostoevsky wrote to his brother, Mikhail: "I sat down to work on my novel. I want to get it off my back as soon as possible, but I still want to do it as well as possible. It has been harder to write than I thought it would be. Still it is absolutely necessary that it be good: I personally want it to be good. The tone now seems too strange, sharp, and wild; perhaps it will not right itself; if not, the poetry will have to soften it and carry it off".
___Many aspects of Notes from Underground–and especially, as Dostoevsky himself noticed, the tone–seem strange, sharp, and even bitter. To some extent, the bitterness of the novel is traceable to the many personal misfortunes Dostoevsky suffered while the novel was being written. Much more important, however, was the influence of his maturing world-view with its ever colder and more distant attitude toward the European liberalism, materialism, and utopianism of his younger years. Dostoevsky had begun his career as a writer in the 1840s as a romantic idealist, even a dreamer. (See his portrait of the young dreamer in his early story “White Nights.”) At that time he had devoted a great deal of attention to utopian socialism and its vision of a perfectly satisfying, perfectly regulated life for humankind. This perfection of life was thought to be achievable solely through the application of the principles of reason and enlightened self-interest. In fact, it was maintained that given the dominance of the rational and the spread of enlightenment, perfection of life must necessarily follow.
___While Dostoevsky was in prison and in exile, these ideas of utopian socialism were becoming stronger in Russia. They passed from the dreams of the 1840s to the basic revolutionary program of the late 1850s and 1860s. Dostoevsky, however, had concluded from his observations while in exile that there was more to ”man” than reason and enlightenment. (Note that Dostoevsky, as did other writers of his time, used the term ”man” or ”men” to refer to all humankind.) He became convinced that men were capable of the irrational as well as the rational, and that, in fact, the irrational was in many ways man’s essential element and the rational was often only a flimsy construction built upon it. More than any of his other fictional works, Notes from Underground clearly expresses this conclusion about the essential composition of the human mind.
___In addition to expressing Dostoevsky’s debate with the liberals and radicals of his time, Notes from Underground can also be seen as a specific and direct polemic with one of the most famous revolutionary novels of the 1860s, N. G. Chernyshevsky’s What Is To Be Done.


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