My rating: 68/100
See Book Notes for other books I have read.
Translated by Constance Garnett
I read this book when one of my friends said it was his favorite Dostoyevsky novel, and considering I loved the Brother’s Karamazov I thought it was worth a go. In brief, I didn’t think it was that great. There were so many characters with so many names, and so many places, and so many things to follow that I was thoroughly confused throughout. Because of this, I started listing the main and sub-characters on the inside cover of the book, which is included in this post. Hopefully this brief summary might help you understand the book better than I did. With Russian literature, I would also recommend making a small study of how Russian names are passed down. It is not straightforward.
Many times I felt that Dostoevsky was being intentionally cryptic with the hopes of achieving depth in the plot, but instead just confused me (I am, after all, easily confused) and I missed the drama and the depth completely.
However, I did enjoy D’s exploration of Capital Punishment and separately Suicide throughout the story. He expertly wove his views and opinions on those two matters into the characters and story-line in a masterful way that I appreciated.
From here on are my underlined notes from the book:
Perserverence overcomes all obstacles.
Nothing should be concealed from children on the pretext that they are little and that it is too early for them to understand. What a miserable and unfortunate idea!
troikas – three horse Russian carriage
marquise – wife of a nobleman. Below duke, above Earl.
Legitimists – political movement supporting the French crown.
AMD – Ave, Mater Dei – Hail, Mother of God
NFB – Nastasya Filippovna Barashkov
Oh, you may be sure that Columbus was happy not when he had discovered America, but when he was discovering it. Take my word for it, the highest moment of his happiness was just three days before the discovery of the New World, when the mutinous crew were on the point of returning to Europe in despair.
It’s life that matters, nothing but life – the process of discovering, the everlasting and perpetual process, not the discovery itself, at all.
What is there for me in this beauty when, every minute, every second I am obliged, forced, to recognise that even the tiny fly, buzzing in the sunlight beside me, has its share in the banquet and the chorus, knows its place, loves it and is happy; and I alone am an outcast, and only my cowardice has made me refuse to realise it till now.
My note: I really love this poem on pg 361 by Gilbert.
Ah, puissent voir longtemps votre beaute sacree
Tant d’amis, sourds a mes adieux!
Qu’ils meurent pleins de jours, que leur mort soit pleuree,
Qu’un ami leur ferme les yeux!’
Roughly translated with the help of a native French girl I met at a party:
Ah, May your sacred beauty be long seen
by so many friends deaf to my farewell!
May they die full of days, May their death be mourned,
May their eyes be closed by a friend.
Religion! Eternal life I can admit, and perhaps I always have admitted it. Let consciousness, kindled by the will of a higher Power, have looked round upon the world and have said – ‘I am!’ and let it suddenly be doomed by that Power to annihilation, because it’s somehow necessary for some purpose – and even without explanation of the purpose – so be it, I admit it all, but again the eternal question: what need is there of my humility? Can’t I simply be devoured without being expected to praise what devours me? Can there really be Somebody up aloft who will be aggrieved by my not going on for a fortnight longer? I don’t believe it; and it’s a much more likely supposition that all that’s needed is my worthless life, the life of an atom, to complete some universal harmony; for some sort of plus and minus, for the sake of some sort of contrast, and so on, just as the life of millions of creatures is needed every day as a sacrifice, as, without their death, the rest of the world couldn’t go on (thought that’s not a very grand idea in itself, I must observe_. But so be it! I admit that otherwise, that is without the continual devouring of one another, it would have been impossible to arrange the world. I am even ready to admit that I can’t understand anything about that arrangement. But this I do know for certain: that if I have once been allowed to be conscious that ‘I am,’ it doesn’t matter to me that there are mistakes in the construction of the world, and that without them it can’t go on. Who will condemn me after that, and on what charge? Say what you like, it’s all impossible and unjust.
And yet, in spite of all my desire to do it, I could never conceive of there being no future life, no Providence. It seems most likely that they do exist, but that we don’t understand anything about the future life or its laws. But if this is so difficult and even impossible to understand, surely I shan’t be held responsible for not being able to comprehend the inconceivable. It’s true, they tell me, and the prince, of course, is with them there, that submissive faith is needed, that one must obey without reasoning, simply from piety, and that I shall certainly be rewarded in the next world for my humility.
We degrade God too much, ascribing to Him our ideas, in vexation at being unable to understand Him. But, again, if it’s impossible to understand Him, I repeat it’s hard to have an answer for what it is not given to man to understand. And, if it is so, how shall I be judged for being unable to understand the will and laws of Providence? No, we’d better leave religion on one side.
I do not want this life! If I’d had the power not to be born, I would certainly not have accepted existence upon conditions that are such a mockery.
sententious – abounding in pithy aphorisms or maxims
limpid – clear, transparent
an honest man is sometimes, for the sake of being original, ready to do something base.
amour propre – self esteem
I hate you, Gavril Ardalionovitch, simply because – this will perhaps seem marvellous to you – simply because you are the type, the incarnation, the acme of the most insolent and self-satisfied, the most vulgar and loathsome commonplaceness.
Don’t let us forget that the causes of human actions are usually immeasurably more complex and varied than our subsequent explanations of them.
apropos – fitting; at the right time; to the purpose; opportunely
It could never have entered his head that all this simple frankness and nobility, wit, and refined personal dignity was perhaps only an exquisite artistic veneer. The majority of the guests, in spite oft heir prepossessing exterior, were rather empty-headed people, who were themselves unaware, however, that much of their superiority was mere veneer, for which they were not responsible indeed, as they had adopted it unconsciously and by inheritance.