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Notes from Underground (Vintage Classics) Paperback – August 30, 1994
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Praise for previous translations by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, winners of the PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Prize
The Brothers Karamazov
“One finally gets the musical whole of Dostoevsky’s original.” –New York Times Book Review
“It may well be that Dostoevsky’s [world], with all its resourceful energies of life and language, is only now–and through the medium of [this] new translation–beginning to come home to the English-speaking reader.” –New York Review of Books
Crime and Punishment
“The best [translation] currently available…An especially faithful re-creation…with a coiled-spring kinetic energy… Don’t miss it.” –Washington Post Book World
“Reaches as close to Dostoevsky’s Russian as is possible in English…The original’s force and frightening immediacy is captured…The Pevear and Volokhonsky translation will become the standard version.” –Chicago Tribune
“The merit in this edition of Demons resides in the technical virtuosity of the translators…They capture the feverishly intense, personal explosions of activity and emotion that manifest themselves in Russian life.” –New York Times Book Review
“[Pevear and Volokhonsky] have managed to capture and differentiate the characters’ many voices…They come into their own when faced with Dostoevsky’s wonderfully quirky use of varied speech patterns…A capital job of restoration.” –Los Angeles Times
With an Introduction by Richard Pevear
From the Hardcover edition.
Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Russian
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Top Customer Reviews
Ironically the underground man lives in a basement alone it is no utopia and is scattered in his thoughts to the point of being totally whack. The second story revolves around a school friend who is being assigned somewhere in Russia and his friends want to throw him a going away party. The underground man is disliked by all the attendees including Zverkov the officer going away but the underground man gets himself invited anyway. The whole thing ends badly of course with the underground man attempting to challenge Zverlov to a duel. When he goes to the whore house, he finds them gone and ends up spending the night with Liza a new recruit to the establishment. He talks her out of being a prostitute abut when she comes to his house to be with him he's totally changed his mind. In the end even Liza pities him and won't take his money - next stop the basement.
Oddly the underground man is not a revolutionary at all. There's nothing there that makes hime even political so why he was acting out Chernyshevsky's political philosophy is beyond me. People who actually did act on Chernyshevsky's philosophy actually did some damage (or good depending on your political bent) including the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881 and Lenin and the Bolsheviks who actually help rid Russia of Tsar Nicholas II as well as greatly diminishing the power of the Russian Orthodox church. Dostoevsky died in 1881 and never saw these things and would have strongly disagreed with those socialists and nihilists who, unlike the underground man, actually did something other than equivocate. Dostoevsky after being sent to Siberia for his radicalism turned to the Russian Orhodox church and embraced the tsar as the father figure of the Russian people.
This book, however, distant the philosophies that drove it become is relevant because Dostoevsky was a great writer and this book represents the working out of problems and ideas he would carry through to his greates novels, Crime and Punishment, The Demons and The Brothers Karamazov. It's a tough 42 pages at the beginning but once through that the rest is a pretty easy read. I had just finished Pevear and Volokhosky's translation of War and Peace and I wanted to see how they did with Dostoevsky. It's probably the best book to begin reading Dostoevsky but it was worth the effort and there's never been a character quite like the underground man in literature.
The second part of the book tells us how he got to where he is. This part of the story is a more traditional narrative. The three main stories told are about how the underground man goes about seeking revenge on an officer who offends him. He finally decides he will bump into him.
As the Underground Man moved forward to explain and prove the statement, I found myself simultaneously attracted and repulsed by his story and thoughts. Until, ultimately, I said to myself, as I imagine many others have done, "I am a sick man, too . . ."
I will not cover ground that dozens of critics before me have trod--Dostoevsky's parody of the `rational egoism of philosopher Chernyshevsky, specifically his utopian novel What is to Be Done? or the movement of radical socialism with which Dostoevsky parted ways after his prison sentence to Siberia. All of Dostoevsky's works reflect the issues and philosophical/social movements of the Russia of his time and many have commented extensively on how those movements made their way into his stories and novels. If Dostoevsky were merely a chronicler of his time I don't think he would have exerted such a powerful influence on philosophers and literary artists of subsequent generations or that his works would still be in print via fresh translations such as Richard Pevear's and Larissa Volokonsky's acclaimed works.
Dostoevsky was writing of the Russia of his time and yet his depiction and dissection of human nature is universally relevant to the present day. In Notes from Underground the nameless Underground Man is an anti-hero of sorts or has been taken as one and he has also been interpreted as an exaggerated fictional counterpart to Dostoevsky himself. While he shares many of his creator's characteristics I do not think Dostoevsky ever intended this character to be a model to aspire to for anyone although the character is a mouthpiece for what Dostoevsky considered valid criticisms of his society. Like Dickens' Ebenezer Scrooge, the Underground Man has become bitter and cold-hearted and has retreated from the warmth of human companionship. However, whereas Scrooge's journey could be summarized as youthful idealism corrupted by love of the acquisition of material wealth to the exclusion of human relationships redeemed by spiritual, godly intervention, the Underground Man was only slightly less bitter in his youth and now his inheritance has given him the opportunity to retire and retreat from even the minimal human contact that an occupation would require of him. There are no benevolent spirits ready to administer tough love on the Underground Man. He is rooted in his rut and will probably never emerge from it.
Sixteen years earlier, he briefly yielded to compassionate impulses as he urged a prostitute named Liza to leave her life of degradation. After his inevitable humiliation and the collapse of his fortress of egoism, Liza did reach out to him with unselfish concern. He could not accept unconditional compassion and retreated into his current misanthropic state. Dostoevsky's depiction of the Underground Man is more than simply a matter of opening or closing the heart. The Underground Man, like Hamlet, is very intelligent. Like Hamlet, he also overanalyzes. In fact, his intelligence and his overactive mind is his undoing more than anything else. He thinks himself into a state of misery. He possesses warring, contradictory impulses that most of us possess. Whereas most of us temper and censor these thought, the Underground Man's mind and imagination run rampant. He is self-analytical and at one point says that underground men such as him should be tethered. Everything that he accuses others of doing he does in multiples. He criticizes others for being cowardly and yet by retreating to his hovel he is the ultimate coward. Perhaps his bravest act is in writing these `notes' where he is relentlessly ruthless in his honesty, to the extent that he can be honest with himself. He is not only the forerunner of Dostoevsky's series of conflicted protagonists but also provides a template for many of the anti-heroes of literature for the next century and a half.
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