My best laid plans of blogging daily throughout the summer on my Dostoevsky experience is all for naught. I had dreams of blogging a couple of pages a day on my thoughts, attitudes and experiences related to GREAT RUSSIAN. In truth, however, if I stopped to write about my reading, I’d have no time to read at all, then what would I have to write about? Nevertheless, since my last post on July 2, I’ve gorged on Dostoevsky–all/most of the early work and in to the middle period after the period in the labor camps. What follows is the reading list and my three sentence reviews.
The Double–Absolute best of the early Dostoevsky. A kafkaesque tale of a poor clerk’s descent into madness as he loses his station in life to a man who appears in every respect to be himself. Which begs the question, why do we call Dostoevsky kafkaesque when we do not call Kafka Dostoevskian.
Netochka Nezvanova–Dostoevsky’s version of the stock poor orphan story of nineteenth century fiction. Defenseless girls, brutal and unfeeling fathers, sickly mothers. Haven’t we been here before? Sometimes I feel like D. is trying to work against convention, which keeps things interesting, but it’s only a fragment and so impossible to tell what the achievement might ultimately have been. For Dostoevsky addicts only.
“The Landlady” (a novella)–The early Dostoevsky makes me think he must be the master of the novella or short novel, at odds with my picture of him as the writer of the big book. An eerie, nearly surreal tale in which our hero falls tragically for a young woman who is apparently in some kind of demonic sexual thrall to an elderly spiritualist. The fallen woman as irresistably attractive is a feature of others of Dostoevsky’s early stories as well. Then again, of what writer’s work is the fallen woman not a feature.
“Mr. Prokharchin” (short story)–too slight to remember.
“White Nights” (short story)–I ought to remember it but can’t.
The House of the Dead–Not really a novel, though presented as one. More of a sociological study of life in the labor camps. Competent and interesting, but probably only of interests to Dostoevsky fanatics.
Humiliated and Insulted–A Dickensian novel of the poor oppresssed — humiliated and insulted — by the rich. Brings back Dostoevsky’s fascination with doubling, and for my taste ties things together all too neatly in the end. I feel Dostoevsky trying to work agains the conventions of the sentimental novel, but not entirely successfully. Still, a decently good read. I see why some critics say D is too repetitive by half.
Well that’s it. Hardly astutue observations, but I’ve done my duty.
One thing I’ve discovered during the last four weeks–it is indeed possible to read a book while doing the elliptical trainer at the Y and not fall flat on my back. I’m sure D never imagined himself as reading material for the sweating set of baby boomers trying to beat back the flab and hold off impending old age.