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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece of characterization
I was intrigued when John Updike picked this over Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov as one of the ten greatest works of literature of the millenium. After reading it I still claim that Karamazov is better, but this novel is certainly not to be missed. It is touter than some of Dostoevsky's other works, and it contains some of his best characterizations, all suffused...
Published on November 17, 1998

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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A review of the formatting -- not the novel
I am about two-thirds of the way through this novel, and the novel itself is thus far (as with pretty much all of Dostoevsky's works) outstanding. My review, however, concerns this particular Kindle format of the novel.

The advantage of this format is, of course, that it is free. For that reason alone, it is hard to be overly critical. With this, however,...
Published on September 24, 2011 by Lucas W. Humble


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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece of characterization, November 17, 1998
By A Customer
I was intrigued when John Updike picked this over Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov as one of the ten greatest works of literature of the millenium. After reading it I still claim that Karamazov is better, but this novel is certainly not to be missed. It is touter than some of Dostoevsky's other works, and it contains some of his best characterizations, all suffused with a very dark and very penetrating sense of humor. No one will forget the nihilist Kirilov, who wishes to kill himself in order to become God, the naive aesthete Stepan Trofimovitch and his final, farcical escape into peasant Russia, or Nikolai Stavrogin, haunted by a terrible crime that is made all the worse because it is too ordinary. The whole novel is an unabashed piece of anti-revolutionary (indeed, reactionary) propaganda, but even the characters that are intended as caricatures come across as fascinating and oddly believable. This novel displays as well as any other of his works the author's extraordinary understanding of the tortured ways of the human spirit.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Consequences of Nihilism, September 16, 2007
By 
Lleu Christopher (Hudson Valley, NY) - See all my reviews
I first read this book some years ago and wanted to try it again and see how I reacted to it a second time. It is a strange novel in some ways; alternately brilliant and flawed. The most blatant flaw is in the point of view, which constantly shifts from an omniscient narrator to that of a very minor character in the novel (whose name is only mentioned once). Dostoyevsky seems to forget about this narrator for many pages, then suddenly remembers him and awkwardly explains how he knows this or that fact about what is going on. At other times, we see into the minds of various characters in ways that would be impossible for him. This is something more than a minor flaw as it occurs throughout the book.

Despite this, The Possessed presents a brilliant, if very questionable, picture of one of Dostoyevsky's primary topics -nihilism. As with his other major novels, such as Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoyevsky is passionately concerned about what happens when individuals, and society as a whole, abandons the belief in God. His conclusion is that, without this core belief, man is lost and society breaks down completely. For this, and with some justification, he has been called a reactionary. Indeed, The Possessed is perhaps one of the most fundamentally reactionary novels ever written. I am not saying this as a criticism, but as a simple fact. It is a powerful argument in favor of conservative spiritual and political values. It's thesis is that without these, anarchy and senseless violence will inevitably tear society apart.

The Possessed tells the story of how two amoral, basically sociopathic young men, Nikolai Stavrogin and Peter Verkhovensky, lead a confused and gullible group of radicals and freethinkers on a rampage of destruction. Stavrogin (like more than a few Dostoyevsky characters) is a man who lives in a perpetual existentialist crisis. Nothing has meaning for him, so he randomly experiments with various actions and theories, completely disregarding the consequences. Verkhovensky's character is not quite as well developed. He is presented as a pure nihilist, someone who uses the rhetoric of political radicalism for the purpose of pure destruction. While Stavrogin is, at times, borderline sympathetic because of the pain he suffers, Verkhovensky is portrayed as an almost purely malicious character. Both, however, are responsible, either directly or indirectly for several crimes, including arson and murder.

Dostoyevsky is at least as concerned with the characters who, almost randomly and even, at times, against their will, support the two instigators. These characters are presented as naive, self-centered and frivolous liberals, intellectuals and misfits who are easily led down the path of evil. Central to this is Peter's father, Stepan Verkhovensky, an aging liberal intellectual. He is weak, effete and, often, absurdly sentimental. Dostoyevsky, however, is very good at creating complex characters, and the elder Verkhovensky is no exception. Despite his considerable shortcomings, Mr. Verkhovensky (as he is referred to) is also intelligent, self-aware (at least at times) and able to see the flaws in others -at least to a certain point. Yet, his basically selfish and secular outlook makes him unable to identify pure evil. Mr. Verkhovensky is actually the main character of the novel, if we go by the amount of time devoted to him. I believe he is meant to symbolize the inherent weakness and insubstantiality of the secular intellectual who ends up worshipping, instead of God, romantic and aesthetic ideals.

Despite Dostoyevsky's ability to create extremely complex and nuanced characters, The Possessed actually puts forth a fairly simplistic and reductionist thesis. As deeply complex as the characters often seem, they are nevertheless locked in to playing very predictable roles in the unfolding of events. In this way, Dostoyevsky reminds me of another, in some ways very different author (also Russian born) -Ayn Rand. Yet, I think Dostoyevsky manages to dig a bit deeper into the human soul than Rand did. The Possessed is a quite pessimistic novel, for there are no heroes --only the insipidly neutral and the evil. Dostoyevsky apparently could not conceive of radical ideas grounded in genuine idealism. Unfortunately, events in Russia several decades after Dostoyevsky's death seem to support his dark views of socialism and radical thought. Still, even if you don't agree with the programs of liberals, socialists or radicals, I think it's a bit simplistic to categorize all of them as either idiots or sociopaths. And this is essentially what Dostoyevsky does in this novel -though he manages to hide this simplification with lots of psychological depth. In many ways, the psychological elements, whether they were of central importance to Dostoyevsky or not, are profound enough to overshadow any political or religious arguments his books are making.

Dostoyevsky is the kind of writer who deeply explores the human psyche in a way few modern writers even attempt. A postmodern interpretation could easily dismiss him as morbidly introspective and symptomatic of a decadent bourgeois class with too much leisure time. Indeed, it even occurred to me while reading this that if Stavrogin had to work at a job, and did not have servants attending to his every need, he'd have less time to contemplate the meaninglessness of existence. Still, I don't think we should dismiss Dostoyevsky so readily, whether we agree with him or not. The issues he grapples with are universal and critical. The Possessed does not present much of a positive argument for how life should be lived. Dostoyevsky's cynical view of radicalism does not seem to be rooted in a firm belief in the political status quo of his day. I think his view was that human society and politics are essentially pointless and the only salvation lies in religion and man's relationship to God. While I do not share his spiritual outlook, I find the way he expresses it thought-provoking and fascinating.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I read this a year ago and still think on it often, June 8, 1998
By A Customer
Dostoyevsky is claiming an atheist world can not function - that the godless people who inhabit the earth are without values and morrals (they are the "Possessed" individuals) I don't agree with much what he has to say but I was fascinated by his point of view. His book and particularly the character Kirilov are heavily mentioned in the essay by Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, which argues the opposite claim. The Possessed is long but worth reading - studded with useful aphorisms
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A review of the formatting -- not the novel, September 24, 2011
By 
Lucas W. Humble (Lexington, KY USA) - See all my reviews
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I am about two-thirds of the way through this novel, and the novel itself is thus far (as with pretty much all of Dostoevsky's works) outstanding. My review, however, concerns this particular Kindle format of the novel.

The advantage of this format is, of course, that it is free. For that reason alone, it is hard to be overly critical. With this, however, comes some marked disadvantages. First, there are some significant punctuation and grammar errors. For example, in Book 2, most (maybe all) of the chapters' first sentence are not capitalized. Some words will be interrupted by strange symbols (similar to a Wingding-type font), but it seems like all of the words are still there.

More importantly, and disappointingly, is the lack of translation of the French quotes in the novel. All of the Russian is translated as, I imagine, Constance Garnett originally translated it. One of the main characters of the novel, Stepan, however, has a tendency to speak in French when he gets excited. This is not translated, nor are there any footnotes containing the English translation. Thus, there have been sentences and occasional entire paragraphs that I have just had to either attempt to translate myself or skip.

Again, this version was free, so I cannot be too critical. Still, if you believe these problems would affect your reading of this otherwise great novel, consider investing in a different version.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars prophetic insight, May 17, 2013
This is a great book for anyone who loves ideas. Ideas matter, ideas change the world and shape human action, ideas come before action, ideas can save your life or destroy it! This book is about the destructive nature of certain ideas, namely atheism, socialism, nihilism and other "isms". Ideas are so powerful that people will die and kill for them because ideas deal with the very nature of reality and being and when you believe you have ontological certitude then you can do anything!

The Possessed is about a group of revolutionarys in a province in russia. They do what most do, go to meetings to disscuss ideas, distribute pamphlets and try to organize. But what good does that do?, revolution is about action and one of these revolutionarys is trying to see how far he can push the rest into action, with the ambitious goal of total overthrow of all of russia. There are many characters in the book and they all represent different ideas, in fact that's where the name of the book comes from "the possessed" are these guys compleatly taken over by their ideas and their willingness to do anything to acheive them, kill, die, or whatever it takes.

The thing about leftist revolutionarys is that they all share the same goal, utopia on earth through compleate reorginization of society and even human nature.Now how they get there is the argument.Should they have a bloody revolution like communists?, should they bring these changes gradually like the fabians?,should they burn society down and rise like a pheonix from the ashes like the nihilists? and there are many more ideas on how to achieve utopia.But the goal is always the same,the confusion comes in when people think that all these ideas are compeating. Thats why all progressives don't define utopia they just fight for it instinctually. They are all fighting for "the cause" or for "change" or "progress" but when you understand the goal, a barley defined utopia that will be heaven on earth, then you get their code words and their mindset and that they comit their lives to it. They become "possessed" by it.

This is the other angle of the book, the establishment of the provincial town also belive vaguely in the ideas of the progressives. So not only are they powerless to stop these "demons" from reaking havoc, they basically are duped by and flattered by "the youth" who are just too overzealous in their ideals but in agreement of the goals. The older generation of "liberals" lead to the next generation of radicals, even though the older generation is horrified by their actions, they started them down that road.(just like in u.s.a. the new deal generation gave birth to the 60's radicals and then were shocked by their actions, but these weren't rebelious children as the false narrative goes but just fellow travellers who were tired of the slow pace of revolutionary change.)

This is why people can't understand nihilists, they see them as just evil people who worship destruction.They are very difficult to sympathize with, however when you realize most nihilists belive in utopia as well and that they want to burn and destabilize all society and even kill large numbers of people, they do it to clear the way for a perfect utopian soceity. Like in hinduism the god shiva is "the destroyer", but he's not like our concept of the devil, he is a liberator who destroys to clear the way for rebirth, a fresh start. The other side of nihilism is twisted like this too in that all suffering comes from life and the only thing anyone can count on is death.Life is temporary and pointless so the only constant is nothingness so being the agent of death and nothingness is to relive suffering and bring forth the only truth, death.

Im sorry for the long review but the only way to understand the motives of communists, fascists, nazis, socialists,the french revolution and democrats (yes i went there) is to understand the ideas that motivate them."The fire is in the minds of men." I didn't want to say to much about the plot cause that is fun and intricte read you should definitely experiance, I just wanted to lay down a premise for understanding the book.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars censored versions, May 11, 2012
By 
chrisam (Boston area) - See all my reviews
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I guess it must be the zero price tag on kindle editions of this book that I have checked out. None of these contain the crucial chapter "Stavrogin's Confession," which should follow the chapter "At Tikhon's." I guess the prudish translator Constance Garnettt decided to follow the example of Russian repression and omit this chapter. Several other editions have included the chapter as an appendix. Personally, I recommend (if you can find it) Andrew R. MacAndrew's translation, which I think was published by Signet Books paperback in the 1970's. I hope it shows up on kindle. Mac Andrew's translation restores this controversial chapter to its proper place. That is to say where FD intended it to be. It is a shame that a great novel continues to be censored and mutilated to the present day.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Russian Literature too confusing, September 15, 2013
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You must know Russian Literature in order to understand this book. Names are to long with to many nicknames. I gave up halfway.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Great book but translation misses an important chapter, May 22, 2013
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This review is from: The Possessed (The Devils) (Paperback)
Although there is a significant chapter in which Stavrogin makes a confession, the Russian State had it removed. However, there are modern editions that include the missing Chapter. Otherwise, I highly recommend this Book. It is as relevant today as it was when published.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Events in Our Town, November 23, 2011
By 
Mary E. Sibley (Medina, Ohio, USA) - See all my reviews
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Stepan Verkhovensky cut a special figure the narrator asserts. He relished the idea of himself as a persecuted man. He believed his academic career had been shattered by a whirl of events. Vavara Stavrogin asked him to undertake the education of her son. Verkhovensky's warm friendship with Mrs. Stavrogin, (this translation refers to the characters as Mr. and Mrs. and omits other usages in the rendering of Russian names), has spanned more than twenty years.

The group surrounding Mrs. Stavrogin and Verkhovensky includes Shatov, Virginsky, and Liputin. There are others such as Lebyatkin, Kartuzov, and Lyamshin. Most of the people are idealistic Russian liberals. Mrs. Stavrogin is attached to her son Nikolai. Nikolai's conduct became uncertain in his mid-twenties. He led an old man around by the nose. Then he kissed a married woman. Next he bit the ear of the governor.

Mrs. Stavrogin tries to arrange for her favorite, Dasha Shatov, to marry Stepan Verkhovensky. (She intends to leave money to both of them in her will.) The narrator is Anton Govorov. Stepan Verkhovensky confides in him. Shatov, Govorov, and Liza are concerned that Captain Lebyatkin beats his sister, Maria Lebyatkin. The governor's wife, Julie von Lembke, snubs Mrs. Stavrogin at the cathedral. Liza presses Mrs. Stavrogin, her aunt Vavara, to take her along. (It may be argued that the governor's wife did not snub Mrs. Stavrogin.) At Mrs. Stavrogin's Nikolai Stavrogin and Peter Verkhovensky, Stepan Verkhovensky's son, arrive. Hysteria and chagrin are fates of many of the Dostoyevskian characters in the novel. The freeing of the serfs unleash a great number of ideological discussions.

After a set-to, the Stavrogin and Drozdov houses are closed to visitors. Mere talk creates a myriad of problems. The book is a convincing portrait of nihilism. Shatov hits Nikolai for being married to the lame Maria Lebyatkin. Both Stavrogin and Shatov are members of the society. Gogol is cited in the novel. Turgenev provides the model of a character and one of his fictitious characters is criticized as not being realistic. Critics have compared Dostoyevsky to Dickens. Another reasonable comparison is Charlotte Bronte. The Brontes share the garish nightmarish quality achieved by Dostoyevsky.

Society is fickle. The sane Dasha and insane Maria meet through the medium of Nikolai Stavrogin. The nature of a duel seems to be a throwback to one fought in the 1820's. Some of the characters have been involved in mysterious Swiss ventures, and some have traveled to America. Chernyshevsky's WHAT IS TO BE DONE? is mentioned. A son wants to use his father. The governor's wife plans a gala for the benefit of needy governesses. The local saint is Semyon Yakovlevich. He lives with a merchant. The visit to him ends in misunderstanding. The governor's wife likes both aspects of the aristocracy and of democracy.

What happens in the story is for the reader to discern. Dostoyevsky suffered for his ideals. As a mature person, as a leading novelist, he was able to see the comedy in the philosophical, argumentative intellectuals he portrays in the book. Every social occasion seems to be an opportunity for arguments. Dostoyevsky's Chapter 9 is inserted at the correct place. it was not published initially because it was believed it would create problems for the author. The ferment of proto-revolutionary activity is described in the novel. Young and old men speak of ideas. Women join their conversations. Workers from the factory demonstrate. The novel is multi-leveled, admirable, prophetic.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars political comedy of manners, August 17, 2008
By 
frumiousb "frumiousb" (Amsterdam, the Netherlands) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Possessed (Paperback)
The Possessed (otherwise known as The Devils) the third book that I have read by Dostoevsky. The mandatory Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov were the first two. As usual, I seem to have read the translation which is controversial, largely for being dated. My book is the 1930 Modern Library edition, translated by Constance Garnett. This was the first translation, and the translation is also the reason for the variance in titles with the book. Apparently scholars find The Devils or Demons to be closer to the author's original edition.

Issues with the translation aside, it is a timely read. I actually enjoyed it the most of the three Dostoevsky novels. Although far from intended as primarily humorous, I found it often very funny. If you think of it as a kind of political comedy of manners, then you won't be very far from the truth. (I'm sure that comparison is horrifying somebody, somewhere. Apologies.)

The political sensibilities of the different characters swirl in a palette of nearly slapstick ineffectiveness except in the ability of all to foster discussion. It's as though the writer's stint in Siberia left him with a general distaste for religion of every stripe. The uncomfortable sternness of Nikolai Vsevolodovich Stavrogin dominates the novel as the only possible choice of morality. And it doesn't seem to be the most pleasant choice, if I look at the various critical text about the book that uses words like "sociopath" to describe him. I actually felt enormous sympathy with Stavrogin. With the exception of Shatov, he seemed to me the only character in the novel whose treatment by Dostoevsky wasn't ruthlessly satirical. Positioned as he is between his sympathies, his upbringing and his influences the distorted actions seem much more understandable. Sometimes perhaps a bitten ear is the only reasonable explanation. I'm not sure what that says about my mood or personality that I found Stavrogin understandable, but there you go.

The Wikipedia-fueled Internets tell me that The Possessed was originally two novels-- the story of a real political murder combined with a religious book with Stavrogin as the main character. Given the source and the lack of citations, I am not actually sure if it is true. However, I have to say that if it is true than it was a stroke of genius on the part of the author. Stavrogin's struggles with conventional morality would have risked being self-indulgent and dull without the backdrop of the inane political wrangling. On the other hand, without him, the book would have been a dated satire on contemporary Russian politics-- of interest to scholars and academics. Married, the two aspects feed each other. It seems to me to function very well as a novel.

There is undoubtedly much to say about many of the characters. It is a mistake to see only Stavrogin, or even Stavrogin and Shatov. I'm still in the process of chewing through what I feel/think about characters like Kirilov and Maria Timofeevna Lebyadkin. I may need to re-read to say anything smart about the rest.

As I said, I like this the best of the Dostoevsky that I have read. I found Crime and Punishment terribly lugubrious and too much drama. I must say that I read The Brothers Karamazov when I was far too young to really appreciate the book and it lost me fairly effectively. I am thinking that it might be a good idea to circle around and reread it sometime soon. I kept having distant echoes of that work as I read this one. I have the feeling that I might understand it better now.
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The Possessed (The Devils) by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Paperback - January 1, 2009)
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