The details in the Devils

6 February 2011 § 1 Comment

I’m reading the Devils, and, as usual wondering how long to go before the story gets going. The first time I read it, I didn’t finish it, which is unusual for me; it was probably becuase life got in the way.  I did finish it eventually, although my memory of it is that it was mostly hard slog, before suddenly ending in a blaze of action.

What I’m already noticing this time is how much I’m benefitting from reading Joseph Frank’s biography of Dostoevsky, and I’m not even close to the time when he’s writing The Devils yet. Frank’s book is brilliant on 19th century politics and philosophy, and is filling in all sorts of gaps, especially on socialism. So I’m reading some of the political caricatures and discussions with a bit more awareness of what’s going on, I can put labels on people. I expect that as I go on with the biography more details will become clearer.

Another thing that passed me by last time was the absolutely vicious attack on Turgenev in the character of Karmazinov. You can read the first description of Karmazinov and think, “oh Dostoevksy has gone to town creating an affected, pompous old wind-bag” but then when you realise it’s based on a real person, it suddenly looks shockingly cruel, and makes for rather uncomfortable reading.

I think, of all the Big Novels, the Devils is more firmly rooted in the ideas of its time than the others, and as such, it’s worth knowing more about Dostoevksy and the lines of thought being explored in his time. This is its weakness, and probably why it’s harder work than the others. It’ll be interesting to see what I make of it all on this reading.

And, by the way, I’d love to know who is reading this blog. The stats counter tells me I’m getting several visits every day – they can’t all be from my mother! Do say hello and tell me what you think, especially if you don’t agree with me.  janeshuttleworth (at) gmail

Idiots and Devils

26 January 2011 § Leave a comment

I’ve finished the Idiot, and finally written something about it as well. I have to admit that I struggled a bit with this one – not the book itself, or even finding something to say about it, but with ordering the whirlwind of thoughts and impressions that was swirling around my head afterwards.  I still think there’s a lot that I haven’t said yet, but there are things like biographical details that I want to check, so some of it will have to wait. The point of the things I’m writing at the moment is to get down my own, raw impressions, before I go and read what everyone else has to say. I wouldn’t be able to do this if I were producing an academic study, or even when writing a student essay, but this way is fun.

One thing I didn’t manage to work into my first piece on the Idiot, but which I’m going to share now, is Lebedev’s very silly attempt at interpreting the book of Revelation, because it made me smile. He thinks he has identified the “star of wormwood” that the angel hurls to earth and which poisons all the rivers (Rev 8 v 11):

And would you go so far as to say that the waters of life had not weakened and become polluted beneath this “star”, under this network in which men are entangled? And don’t try to frighten me with your prosperity, your riches…and the rapidity of the means of communication! There is more wealth, but less strength; the binding idea is no more; everything has become soft, everything is flabby and everyone is flabby.

Which “network” does he mean? It sounds like a technophobic evangelical railing against the evils of the internet doesn’t it. Oh, is Dostoevsky being prophetic again?

No, the network that has got Lebedev so worked up is the railway network.

Now I’m starting on the Devils, or the Demons, or the Possessed, whichever translation you prefer. My edition has Devils.

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