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It was a lovely night, one of those nights, dear reader, which can only happen when you are young. The sky was so bright and starry that when you looked at it the first question that came into your mind was whether it was really possible that all sorts of bad-tempered and unstable people could live under such a glorious sky. It is a question, dear reader, that would occur only to a young man, but may the good Lord put it into your head as often as possible! . . . The mention of bad-tempered and unstable people reminds me that during the whole of this day my behaviour has been above reproach. When I woke up in the morning I felt strangely depressed, a feeling I could not shake off for the better part of the day. All of a sudden it seemed to me as though I, the solitary one, had been forsaken by the whole world, and that the whole world would have nothing to do with me. You may ask who the whole world is. For, I am afraid, I have not been lucky in acquiring a single acquaintance in Petersburg during the eight years I have been living there. But what do I want acquaintances for? I know the whole of Petersburg without them, and that, indeed, was the reason why it seemed to me that the whole world had forsaken me when the whole town suddenly arose and left for the country. I was terrified to be left alone, and for three days I wandered about the town plunged into gloom and absolutely at a loss to understand what was the matter with me. Neither on Nevsky Avenue, nor in the park, nor on the embankment did I meet the old familiar faces that I used to meet in the same place and at the same time all through the year. It is true I am a complete stranger to these people, but they are not strangers to me. I know them rather intimately, in fact; I have made a very thorough study of their faces; I am happy when they are happy, and I am sad when they are overcast with care. Why, there is an old gentleman I see every day on the Fontanka Embankment with whom I have practically struck up a friendship. He looks so thoughtful and dignified, and he always mutters under his breath, waving his left hand and holding a big knotty walking-stick with a gold top in his right. I have, I believe, attracted his attention, and I should not be surprised if he took a most friendly interest in me. In fact, I am sure that if he did not meet me at a certain hour on the Fontanka Embankment he would be terribly upset. That is why we sometimes almost bow to one another, especially when we are both in a good humour. Recently we had not seen each other for two days, and on the third day, when we met, we were just about to raise our hats in salute, but fortunately we recollected ourselves in time and, dropping our hands, passed one another in complete understanding and amity. The houses, too, are familiar to me. When I walk along the street, each of them seems to run before me, gazing at me out of all its windows, and practically saying to me, "Good morning, sir! How are you? I'm very well, thank you. They're going to add another storey to me in May"; or, "How do you do, sir? I'm going to be repaired tomorrow"; or, "Dear me, I nearly got burnt down, and, goodness, how I was scared!" and so on and so on. Some of them are great favourites of mine, while others are my good friends. One of them is thinking of undergoing a cure with an architect this summer. I shall certainly make a point of coming to see it every day to make sure that its cure does not prove fatal (which God forbid!). And I shall never forget the incident with a pretty little house of a pale pink hue. It was such a dear little house; it always welcomed me with such a friendly smile, and it looked on its clumsy neighbours with such an air of condescension, that my heart leapt with joy every time I passed it. But when I happened to walk along the street only a week ago and looked up at my friend, I was welcomed with a most plaintive cry, "They are going to paint me yellow!" Fiends! Savages! They spared nothing, neither cornices, nor columns, and my poor friend turned as yellow as a canary. I nearly had an attack of jaundice myself, and even to this day I have not been able to screw up my courage to go and see my mutilated friend, painted in the national colour of the Celestial Empire! So now you see, dear reader, how it is that I know the whole of Petersburg. I have already said that until I realised what was the trouble with me, I had been very worried and upset for three whole days. In the street I felt out of sorts (this one had gone, that one had gone, and where on earth had the other one got to?), and at home I was not my old self, either. For two evenings I had been racking my brains trying hard to discover what was wrong with my room. What was it made me so peevish when I stayed there? And, greatly perplexed, I began examining my grimy green walls and the ceiling covered with cobwebs which Matryona was such a genius at cultivating. I went over my furniture and looked at each chair in turn, wondering whether the trouble lay there (for it upsets me to see even one chair not in its usual place); I looked at the window but all to no purpose: it did not make me feel a bit better! I even went so far as to call in Matryona and rebuke her in a fatherly sort of way about the cobwebs and her untidiness in general. But she just gave me a surprised look and stalked out of the room without saying a word, so that the cobwebs still remain cheerfully in their old places. It was only this morning that at last I discovered the real cause of my unhappiness. Oh, so they are all running away from me to the country, are they?
Table of Contents
|The Honest Thief||59|
|The Christmas Tree and a Wedding||79|
|The Peasant Marey||89|
|Notes from the Underground||95|
|A Gentle Creature||215|
|The Dream of a Ridiculous Man||263|
|Reading Group Guide||291|
Reading Group Guide
1. The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote that Dostoevsky was the "only psychologist" from whom he ever learned anything. Discuss the psychological dimensions of Dostoevsky's stories: in what ways does he illuminate human personality, passion, motivation, and character, and the role of the irrational in the human psyche?
2. What attitudes toward an analysis of religion-one of Dostoevsky's great themes-can you discern in the short works contained in this volume? Are his ideas about or insights into religion consistent from story to story? Do they vary?
3. "Notes from the Underground," Dostoevsky's most important and influential short novel, was in part inspired by distaste for a novel by Nikolai Chernyshevsky entitled What Is to Be Done?, a utopian work that embraces notions of human rationality, scientific determinism, and human progress. In what ways does "Notes from the Underground" respond to or critique such notions? What kinds of insights into human nature and its workings does this crucial work provide?
4. Why does the protagonist in "Notes from the Underground" describe himself as "spiteful"? Why does the protagonist in "The Dream of a Ridiculous Man" consider himself "ridiculous"?
5. Many of Dostoevsky's short works-particularly "A Gentle Creature"-were inspired by events in his own life (see David Magarshack's introduction to this volume). In what ways, in your view, does Dostoevsky put personal experience to work in his art?
6. As David Magarshack notes, "lack of sympathy," or the "failure to realize what is passing in another human being's heart," is a central theme for Dostoevsky, one rendered in an especially poignant way in "A Gentle Creature." How is this theme articulated in the various stories in this collection?
7. Many of Dostoevsky's main characters could be described as dreamers (the protagonists of "White Nights," "Notes from the Underground," and "The Dream of a Ridiculous Man," for instance). Why is dreaming important for Dostoevsky's protagonists?
8. Would you say that Dostoevsky offers a realistic portrayal of Russian life and society?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book collects the following shorter works of Dostoevsky (though calling them "short stories" does not seem completely accurate given the philosophical nature of so many of them): "White Nights," "The Honest Thief," "The Christmas Tree and a Wedding," "The Peasant Marey," "Notes from the Underground," "A Gentle Creature," and "The Dream of a Ridiculous Man." The first story, along with the last three works, each merit five stars in their own right; the other three are a bit more unusual if what you are used to is the novel-length Dostoevsky's more obviously moralistic writing, as they couch their purpose behind a much more symbolic and less transparent veneer. This edition of collected works only merits four stars, however, in that, in addition to omitting "The Gambler" (which is included along with the writings I've designated as five stars in Perennial Classics' "Great Short Works of Fyodor Dostoevsky"), the extras included in the book are nothing spectacular. The "commentary" by Stefan Zweig and André Gide consists simply of a page-long quotation from each, and the list of reading group questions is so broad in its scope ("How does Dostoevsky address psychology? How does Dostoevsky address religion?") that it will bore avid readers of the author who already keep those things in mind when perusing his writings, and do little to provoke specific thoughts among readers who are less familiar with delving into his complex mind.
It is with this broader sampling that we can fully appreciate the reputation of the Russian writers for conveying human essence and spirituality. This collection consists of White Nights, The Honest Thief, The Christmas Tree and a Wedding, The Peasant Marey, Notes from the Underground, A Gentle Creature, and The Dream of a Ridiculous Man.
This collection of seven stories presented in chronological order, by David Magarshack, is not only unique to the Modern Library classics series but to all published works. This celebrated translation explores many of the recurring themes in Dostoyevsky's longer works and presents apropos the silhouettes of his characters in novels. The short works accent his creative power and profundities of thought and manifest his tour de force as a raconteur. 1. White Nights (1848)The title refers to the twilight summer nights in Petersberg. A tender and romantic story, this piece to a large extent is autobiographical of the days Dostoyevsky spent alone in Petersberg. The main character is a dreamer who cannot remember what he was dreaming and sometimes had no recollection of how everything had all happened. A sentimental theme develops against the background of Dostoyevsky's own personal impressions during his nocturnal wanderings, filled with gentle humor and delicate touches of genuine feelings. This piece affords vague hint of theme in Crime and Punishment. It is a story that odes to a moment of bliss that is sufficient for a whole of a man's life.2. The Honest Thief (1848)The central character of this piece is an anti-hero whose tragedy consists of his helplessness to shun and to resist evil. Like "White Nights", this piece again paves the way for the longer work in the sense of punishment. 3. The Christmas Tree and a Wedding (1849)David Magarshack calls this piece the most artistically perfect short story in Dostoyevsky's early days as a fiction writer. It happens to be my personal favorite besides the uncompromisingly cynical "The Notes From Underground." The piece is savagely satiric and ridicules the preposterous, fawning adults in high society. Dostoyevsky delineates an indelible scene of pure joy only perhaps manifested in our children during the very first years of their life. Through the narrator's admiration for the children, the absurdities of their parents are shamelessly magnified to the fullness. A career opportunist, in spite of his importance and dignity, went out of his way to pursue an underage heiress, an object of his desire that could not become a real object at least another five years.4. The Peasant Marey (1876)Dostoyevsky probably adds new touch and imbues his sentiment in depicting this anecdote with a serf during his early childhood. Written during his imprisonment in Siberia, this piece captures the vividness of a brief encounter that must have been hidden in his mind without even his knowing it. Only God perhaps might have seen from above what profound human feeling, delicate tenderness the heart of a serf who neither expected nor dreamed of his emancipation.5. A Gentle Creature (1876)This is one of the least comprehensible pieces in this collection despite the style of writing conveys the reality of the situation. Dostoyevsky himself regarded the story "eminently realistic" and surely accents the psychologist in him. A husband tells of the events that invariably led to the suicide of his wife. The rambling, fragmented, bearing-no-cause narrative style epitomizes the thought-process and speech of an inveterate hypochondriac. Succession of memories dawns on him the truth as the prose takes a more concrete form. The story explores the rare theme of insensibility in human relationships.6. Notes From Underground Doubtless Dostoyevsky's most significant short work, this piece inaugurated existential literature in the 19th century. The Underground Man goes out of his way to offend his hearers, with frequent contradictory comments, rambles on with no reason and bears no cause. So often does he mean to say something but conceal his last word out of fear. The Underground Man is ubiquitous in society and is shadowed in those who feel disgusted with real life. The personage transcends the personal struggles and assumes a universal significance that embraces mankind. It is reminiscent of "White Nights" only that the la