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Demons: A Novel in Three Parts (Vintage Classics) Paperback – August 1, 1995

4.2 out of 5 stars 66 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage Classics
  • Paperback: 768 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; First Printing Thus edition (August 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679734511
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679734512
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #86,789 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Most readers probably know that the character of the amoral nihilist Peter Verkhovensky is based--not too loosely, either--on the real-life figure of Sergei Nechayev (pronounced neech-aye-eff), who collaborated with the anarchist Bakunin while they were both hiding out in Western Europe. (Bakunin finally learned that Nechayev was a total fanatic who'd stop at nothing--even blackmail, betrayal, and murder--and disassociated himself with Nechayev, warning friends against him.) Nechayev murdered a member of his conspiratorial group, suspecting the victim of betrayal, a scene portrayed in the novel.
What most readers may not know is that Lenin was fascinated with the career of Nechayev (who was eventually caught for the murder and extradited to Russia, where he died in prison), called him a "titanic revolutionary," and said that Bolsheviks should try to find everything Nechayev had ever written, and study it. If Peter Verkhovensky was a caricature, he turned out to be a caricature that came to life in Lenin and Hitler and Stalin. Yet it is important to remember that these men were not, and could not be, dangerous all by themselves. It is only the possession of an ideology that makes them dangerous, ESPECIALLY if it is one that claims to be supremely moral and virtuous. Why is this so? Because self-righteous people who believe themselves to following a supremely moral path would almost certainly conclude that anyone who OPPOSES this supreme virtue must therefore be supremely IMMORAL--and what should be done with immoral people? Dostoevsky tells us something very important here: ideology kills, especially if it's the kind that exudes proclamations of goodness and virtue.
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I don't know what it is, but I get the feeling that reading Dostoevsky is an addiction. Whether it's a longing for creepy reality-based stories set in the whirlwind of 1870's Russia or those moments where Dostoevsky's genius for emotional writing lets loose, I think I'm addicted.

I say this because there are clearly a lot of moments in this 700 page book where I plod on, just wondering where the action is headed, could I recommend this book to someone else?, the answer is "No", but I still want to read on.

The first couple hundred pages describe the various characters. The action takes place in the second part of the book. The writing is typical D, not some dry polemic I had feared, as I had read so much about Demons being D's most "political" book. Don't worry; it's a novel first, not a manifesto.

I had a hard time following some of the characters, but maybe that was just me, maybe not. Figuring out the narrator is also problematic, though very interesting to think about (discussed in an essay in Leatherbarrow's book, see below).

There's also humor, which many reviewers talk about, but this is mostly in the latter sections, where D satirizes the characters of the group that want to tear down society. Clearly, one of the main attractions of this book is that D seemingly and very accurately foreshadows what happens in Russia 45 years later during the 1917 Revolution and rise of Communism. He couldn't have been more on target.

So, if you're reading this for enjoyment and haven't read several of Dostoevsky's other major books, read them first. This book, as well as many other of D's books, was printed and written as a serial and isn't as smooth and refined as The Brother's Karamazov or Crime and Punishment.
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Demons (also known as Possessed & The Devils) is a 1878 novel by literary genius Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881). The novel is long, difficult and rife with Russian names easy to confuse. The novel is also a work of art of peerless genius.
The massive novel is set in the unimportant provincial Russian town of
Skvorishniki. The major characters are:
Vavara Stavrogin-She is the wealthy widow of a Russian general. Vavara is an aristocrat who is cultured and kind.
Stavrogin-A nihilist who is involved in the budding communist movement to overturn the Russian government. He is cruel, self-centered and self-loathing. An intellectual bored with life and love. He marries a crippled and ugly woman whom he later has murdered at his behest. He is Vavara's wastrel son.
Stepan-The old liberal of the 1840s who is a failed professor. He is the tutor to the young Stavrogin and is supported by the kindness of Vavara. He will later flee the town to die on the road. I found him to be a pathetic foolish character.
Lembke-The ridiculous head of the local town government. Dostoevsky did not like government officials and has fun with this pathetic creature. His wife seeks to climb society's slippery ladder by holding a literary fete in the town.
Lisa-The love interest of the novel who has suitors but is drawn to Stavrogin in a hopeless and tragic love.
The long novel is many books wrapped into one:
a. A mystery and suspense story about the conspirators and the destruction they perpetuate in the town. The town is a microcosm of Russian Tsarist society. These are the "demons" of the title based on Christ's driving out the demons from the Gerasene demoniac in the gospel accounts.
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