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Demons: A Novel in Three Parts (Vintage Classics) Paperback – August 1, 1995
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From Library Journal
Pevear and Volokhonsky have found critical acclaim with previous translations of Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov (Classic Returns, LJ 8/90), Crime and Punishment (Classic Returns, LJ 1/92), and Notes from Underground (Classic Returns, LJ 7/93). Their Demons should be equally respected.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Kirkus Reviews
Dostoevsky's sprawling political novel is given new life in this fresh translation. The previous translations of the husband-and-wife team of Larissa Volokhonsky and Richard Pevear--The Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment, and Notes From Underground--have been universally praised for capturing Dostoevsky's force and subtlety, and all three works are now considered the English standards. Now they have successfully tackled one of Dostoevsky's most complex and dense works. Mistakenly translated in the past as ``The Possessed,'' the title refers to the infestation of foreign political and philosophical ideas that swept Russia in the second half of the 19th century. Pevear writes in the introduction, ``These demons, then, are ideas, that legion of -isms that came to Russia from the West: idealism, rationalism, empiricism, materialism, utilitarianism, positivism, socialism, anarchism, nihilism, and, underlying them all, atheism.'' Dostoevsky, taking as his starting point the political chaos around him at the time, constructs an elaborate morality tale in which the people of a provincial town turn against one another because they are convinced of the infallibility of their ideas. Stepan Trofimovich, an affable thinker who does little to turn his liberal ideas into action, creates a monster in his student, Nikolai Vsevolodovich Stavrogin, who takes his spiritual father's teaching to heart, joining a circle of other nihilists who will justify any and all violent excesses for the sake of their ideas. Stavrogin aims for a ``systematic corrupting of society and all its principles'' so that out of the resulting destruction he may ``raise the banner of rebellion.'' A chilling foreshadowing of Stalinist logic. Volokhonsky and Pevear's translation brings to the surface all of Dostoevsky's subtle linguistic and nationalist humor, and the copious notes are indispensable for making one's way through the thicket of 19th-century Russian politics. -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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I bought the Pevear and Volokhonsky version. The translation itself I thought was better than other Dostoevsky works I've read from other translators (The Brothers K by Garnett and Borders Classic's version of C&P), because I thought that it had fewer awkward and repetitive phrases when describing people. It also had many helpful historical notes lending extra context (needed for the author's then contemporary references). The intro was very helpful as well, giving some interpretive guidance for reading this, as well as other, Dostoevsky works.
I've read that some folks find the revolutionary characters in the book unrealistic, a fabrication of the author's mind. However, I would suggest that all who hold this opinion read The Gulag Archipelago by Solzhenitsyn. You will see that his characters are actually quite reasonable compared to the real-life leaders in Stalin's Russia. The P&V version also contains helpful footnotes that point out some events in the book that may seem unbelievable were actually based on real events; including the climax.
I think one of my favorite traits about this work is how well explained and logical all the evil ideas seem, but that which is pure and beautiful does not answer this attack with a logical discourse; goodness is beheld in a sort-of silence, a response to truth deeper than a dissertation can express. The main characters always give a convincing why as to their murders and abuses (the real evil characters usually commit wrong from philosophical motives and not from lust), but the one would-be redemptive moment in the book is accompanied by no wordy explanation, only the description of joy and tenderness in the characters participating. Perhaps a hint that the good in humanity is more deeply rooted and hidden than the corruption. This hints at the Orthodox conception of man after the fall, which contrasts with the Calvinistic vision of total depravity that often taints Western thought.
His philosophical presentation of the importance of ideas (especially bad ones, "demons") is truly significant and relevant.
While, for me, Demons lacks the accessibility of Crime and Punishment (Everyman's Library), the poignancy of The Brothers Karamazov (Everyman's Library (Cloth)) The Brothers Karamazov, or the emotion of Notes from Underground (Everyman's Library) Dostoevsky still managed to turn a highly political, extremely cerebral, and academically dense novel into something that, in the end, managed to pull me into the novel for more than simple academic curiosity. I am not a student a Russian history, political or otherwise. I am not Russian. It felt like much of the novel was so mired in the history of Russian thought and identity that I became lost and distant from the characters early on. Making my way through Part 1 was a chore. I found it difficult to relate to the characters, difficult to understand, and difficult to keep track of everyone moving in and out of the story. I knew that I wouldn't, but I nearly wanted to give up - hence my foray into the playful sadness of Italo Calvino and the personal narrative of Ham on Rye: A Novel.
Once I was able to return to this book and made it to Part II the story finally began to gell, and the characters began to come into their own for me. While this may just make it clear that I was reading this for the wrong reasons, an emotional connection is what I desired and Demons eventually delivered. I can't pretend to understand all of the symbolism, historical touchstones, or philosophical debates that this novel endeavors to bring to the forefront of my mind. I found few passages concise enough that I could even underline - a rarity for me with Dostoevsky. I am, obviously, not the target audience for this book. Nor could I pretend to truly understand the depth of the generational and idealistic clash that was truly the centerpiece of this novel. I felt it... underneath... but it rarely struck me as the raison d'etre for this book. (if he can throw French around incessantly, then surely I get one!) Dostoevsky, however, is a Master and how anyone could walk away from this without gaining something is beyond me.
Philosophically, while I found the earlier conversations around the necessity of God for the existence of a great nation, it was Kirillov who finally grabbed my attention and pulled me in. If there is no God then, certainly, I am God. Perhaps this is because I'm still stuck on Albert Camus, but this - to the best of my memory - was one of the first (if not *the* first) things to truly resonate with me. Seen in juxtaposition with Trofimovich's revelations toward the end of the novel these two ideas are the bookends of the piece for me.
"My immortality is necessary if only because God will not want to do an injustice and extinguish the fire of love for him once it is kindled in my heart. And what is more precious than Love? Love is higher than being, love is the crown of being, and is it possible for being not to bow before it? If I have come to love him and rejoice in my love - is it possible that he should extinguish both me and my joy and turn us to naught? If there is God, I am immortal!"
Emotionally... I was afraid this was going to leave me dry. I was taken aback when Liza entered the crowd, but I couldn't tell if I was more surprised by what happened to her or that I found myself caring. The murders covered up by the fire did not shock me - surprising as I kept seeing unrequited love everywhere I looked yet could not empathize Maria Timofeevna. If I was taken aback by my feelings for Liza, I was completely shocked by my care for Shatov. Looking back, it is easy to see why I felt for him more than the others (up to that point), but the story was woven so well and so tightly that I did not even realize I was becoming involved. I felt like a frog in a pot of water with ever-increasing temperature, and once the water boiled, it was too late. Shatov's happiness is my own. My own as I see it. I knew this was fleeting and temporal... Pyotr wouldn't have let it be any other way. Yet still I hoped - and was devastated by the inevitable conclusion. The final fate of his wife and "son" was, I suppose, just as inevitable, but it still felt like a twist of a knife that had already delivered its fatal blow.
The way in which Dostoevsky set me up to care about these characters was absolutely brilliant, and I feel he must be wringing his hands and laughing at me as hammer blow after hammer blow fell on the hopes for happiness that he instilled in me for these characters. And then there's Trofimovich... Ever the fool for love. Ever hopeful yet always accepting that this hope could never be realized. Tragic. And, like Shatov, finally finding that for which he was searching only as his story comes to an end. I have to stop reading these types of books because this is just making me setup my own life to end in a similar way, but the feelings evoked in those final scenes were magical. "Enough! Twenty years are gone, there's no bringing them back; I'm a fool, too." That single sentence drove me nearly to tears as if reading a tome like this at the bar wasn't already fool enough. As I said, I suppose I always knew that I would only be let down by the time this story had finished, but I had no idea I would care quite so much.
Even for Nikolai... love... happiness, perhaps, was on its way to him. Would it have assuaged his guilt enough to prevent his actions? I do not know. Neither for him nor for myself nor for anyone left in the bloody wake of this story that ripped apart this small town.
I wavered on my rating for this... I wanted to give it 3 stars based just on how difficult I felt it was to get into the book at the beginning. Given how much that I know I didn't get and given how much I was eventually affected by the events that unfolded that seemed extremely unfair. This is another one that, given enough time, I'd really like to reread as I think I would get much more out of it. Maybe if I manage to get old I will one day have time to revisit the sins of these little demons.
Good eats. Crunchy and complex.
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Fyodor Dostoevsky’s 1872 novel, ‘Demons’, has more frequently been...Read more