Humiliated and Insulted

8 April 2011 § Leave a comment

Or, All Men Are Bastards.

This is brilliant – and a fabulous starting point for anyone who might be tempted by what I’ve said about Dostoevsky’s story-telling, but put off by the prospect of all the heavy theology and philosophy. It’s been out of print in English for many years – I’ve been reading a new translation by Ignat Avsey published in 2008 and I don’t understand why it’s been so neglected.

It’s not great literature, in the way that the Big Four novels are, but it’s a cracking good story, and Ignat Avsey’s translation is lively and fresh (although I wonder how it will stand up over the years, as some of the language seems too sharply contemporary, so it may date. But maybe the same is true of all translations).

“Humiliated and Insulted” was Dostoevsky’s first major novel, and it begins to explore some of the themes and characters that he develops in the later works. It’s set in the slums of St Petersburg and features an utterly doomed love affair, an impoverished, abandoned orphan girl rescued by the narrator from prostitution, a fallen woman, and an utterly evil, depraved aristrocrat. We have a useless, spoilt young princeling torn between two beautiful young girls, both of whom are desperately in love with him, despite all his obvious faults. Oh and a splendidly cynical, drunken private detective. If you enjoy Dickens, or Wilkie Collins, read this, it’s wonderful. Keep a hankie to hand though, it made me cry.

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