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Notes From Underground [Paperback]

Fyodor Dostoevsky , Richard Pevear , Larissa Volokhonsky
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

21 Oct 1993

From the award-winning translators of Crime and Punishment, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

The apology and confession of a minor mid-19th-century Russian official, Notes from Underground is a half-desperate, half-mocking political critique and a powerful, at times absurdly comical, account of man's breakaway from society and descent 'underground'.


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Product details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Classics; New Ed edition (21 Oct 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 009914011X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099140115
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 141,427 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky was born in Moscow in 1821, the second of a physician's seven children. His mother died in 1837 and his father was murdered a little over two years later. When he left his private boarding school in Moscow he studied from 1838 to 1843 at the Military Engineering College in St Petersburg, graduating with officer's rank. His first story to be published, 'Poor Folk' (1846), was a great success.

In 1849 he was arrested and sentenced to death for participating in the 'Petrashevsky circle'; he was reprieved at the last moment but sentenced to penal servitude, and until 1854 he lived in a convict prison at Omsk, Siberia. In the decade following his return from exile he wrote The Village of Stepanchikovo (1859) and The House of the Dead (1860). Whereas the latter draws heavily on his experiences in prison, the former inhabits a completely different world, shot through with comedy and satire.

In 1861 he began the review Vremya (Time) with his brother; in 1862 and 1863 he went abroad, where he strengthened his anti-European outlook, met Mlle Suslova, who was the model for many of his heroines, and gave way to his passion for gambling. In the following years he fell deeply in debt, but in 1867 he married Anna Grigoryevna Snitkina (his second wife), who helped to rescue him from his financial morass. They lived abroad for four years, then in 1873 he was invited to edit Grazhdanin (The Citizen), to which he contributed his Diary of a Writer. From 1876 the latter was issued separately and had a large circulation. In 1880 he delivered his famous address at the unveiling of Pushkin's memorial in Moscow; he died six months later in 1881. Most of his important works were written after 1864: Notes from Underground (1864), Crime and Punishment (1865-6), The Gambler (1866), The Idiot (1869), The Devils (1871) and The Brothers Karamazov (1880).



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Review

"You read every shimmering, tormented word, mesmerised. This is Dostoevsky in distillation, a prelude not just to his leading works, but to the entire 20th century... How is it possible to have a character who evokes aspects of Hitler and Pooter, who is hilarious yet disturbing, and both villain and victim? Because Dostoevsky was a genius, and the narrator of Notes From Underground his most protean character, with whom you never quite know how you stand" (Sunday Times)

"Dostoevsky's is a genuinely disembodied voice, speaking for all sufferers and victims" (Guardian)

Book Description

'Notes from Underground establishing Dostoevsky's reputation as the most innovative and challenging writer of fiction in his generation in Russia' Rowan Williams, Guardian

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
By Mad Dan
Format:Paperback
I don't usually read novels and was worried that "Notes from Underground" would be one of those "books that get recommended because they are difficult to understand and make you sound intelligent". Not at all. This is the best novel I have ever read in my life: a thorough, lucid analysis of what it means to be existentially and ethically nihilistic. Being philosophically-minded (though not educated), I found it very easy to read and literally couldn't put it down.

The nameless anti-hero ("Underground Man") despises the way that humans want to flaunt their arrogance, put on a performance for others, and judge others based on their performances rather than their intellect alone.

The more intelligent you are, the more you realise the deterministic and relativistic nature of life and ethics and the lack of objective knowledge... and the less capable you are of being resolute and certain, or even blaming anyone for their actions. Intellect does not allow you to rise above evolution or "the anthill" of society; it merely constrains you to a life of inaction and inner torment, and the realisation of the limitations of being human.

Human nature is, in many ways, quite despicably egocentric. But, in a deterministic world, revenge and justice are meaningless concepts. Underground Man struggles with this (and the realisation that he is as egocentrically abhorrent as anyone else), and tries to demonstrate his freedom by acting irrationally: to seek a form of personal justice not for its own sake, but purely in order to gain comfort from the humiliation of others. He craves understanding and recognition of his anguish about the futility of life, yet realises that in getting it he will drag others down to his level of despair, rather than pull himself out.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Two Twos Four But Man Is Still Man 21 Sep 2008
By demola
Format:Paperback
"Give me man" was Oblomov's cry in Goncharov's novel Oblomov. That is exactly the same clamor from Dostoyevsky's narrator. Well then, who is man? Who am I - mind or spirit? Should my life follow reason's path or should I follow my heart? This reminds me so much of Nietszche's Human, All Too Human. The narrator is extremely self-critical. He's mean and malicious, he tells lies, takes bribes and is more intelligent than anyone else around. He refutes rational economic man and just celebrates man - the whole man complete with his wilful (and perhaps destructive?) desires. Incidentally, Dostoyevsky revisits the arguments of reason versus spirit in Crime and Punishment. The last third of this book is about the narrator's seduction of a prostitute. This part is a wee bit dull after the dizzying and dazzling pace of what goes before.

Overall, an impressive story.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  75 reviews
54 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Story and toughts of a self made social outcast. 17 Jan 1997
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
A seemingly in-depth look into the life of a depressive recluse. The main character gives us many views on everyday people and their actions that should cause us, the reader, to evaluate our own understanding of the people who surround us. (Example: Why people will moan for days before seeing a dentist.)

The writing is absolutely brilliant. Dostoyevsky does not seem to have created this character but instead pulled him from the street. The character was not one dimensional, an attribute that I found personally refreshing . The thoughts and emotions are complex and real and were constantly understated, adding to the impression that the book was written by the character himself, who lacks writing experience needed to capture these feelings.

The main character views himself cut off and removed from society, rejected by all in nearly every way. He has become so obsessed with this notion that he has created this exact situation as a result of searching for justification of this impression. He has in fact created most of his own misery, and only continues to propagate more. Yet he seem himself as miserable and rejected and finds pride in this image. He imagines himself to be pitiful and also to be strong and fiercely independent as a result of his social isolation. He feels he poses a strength of spirit for being able to endure the loneliness and envisions himself as a martyr.

This fuels his ego and he plans heroic acts in order to show the proof of his worth or to win attention and love. He however lacks the courage to complete the monumental self serving tasks he set before himself. Through a strange twist of logic these failures are also seen as something to be admired. It only makes him more pitiful and thus a greater martyr. When these failures are personally humiliating he retreats within in himself. Hating everyone and again fortifying his independence, claiming that all who depend on others are weak. Only to re-emerge more hungry for the affections of a companion.

An emotional ebbing between pride of independence and ability to bravely endure the suffering quickly switching to the opposite pole of resenting people in general. Sustaining himself on the imagined praises or pity that he thinks would be lavished upon him if he were to be seen by others as he sees himself.

A terribly tragic tale that emphasis the importance of perspective and removing one's self from a problem in order to perhaps gain a helpful assessment of it. The ideas and emotions presented give a haunting impression. The book should be read slowly and turned over in ones mind again and again.
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Which is better - cheap happiness or exalted suffering?" 15 Mar 2006
By M. S. Bowden - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
`Notes From The Underground' is a formidable work of philosophy and of psychology, not to mention its worth as a novel. In the space of around one hundred pages, Dostoyevsky manages to expound theories on reason, alienation, suffering, and human inaction. The book's importance and influence on generations of writers cannot be over-emphasised; Sartre and Camus are only two examples of people who have been directly influenced by this book.

The book is presented in two parts. Part one `Underground' is written in the form of the nameless narrator's rambling thoughts on reason and his claim that throughout history, human actions have been anything but influenced by reason. Underground Man's charge is that man values most the freedom to choose to act in opposition to reason's dictates. Dostoyevsky's critique of reason then, although it demands attention and is somewhat difficult to follow, sets the philosophical foundations for the rest of the book.

Part two `A Propos of the Wet Snow' is much easier to read, as the narrator recounts three episodes which happened when he was fifteen years younger and working as a civil servant in St. Petersburg. The first considers an incident in which an army officer insults him and goes on to detail Underground Man's subsequent internal anguish at his inability to commit an act of retribution. The second episode takes place at a farewell dinner for an acquaintance named Zverkov. The narrator is utterly disgusted with the company in which he finds himself but despite this, he is unable - even though he desires it - to make them realise this. The third episode details Underground Man's brief, painful and emotional relationship with a prostitute.

Dostoyevsky is refreshing in this book thanks not only to his incredibly powerful prose, but also for the intense but subtle way in which the stories reflect and indeed embody his philosophical theories. This dark and pessimistic portrayal of the nature of man may not sit very comfortably with many readers, however the ideas expressed in `Notes From The Underground' are as relevant and worthy of deliberation now as I am sure they were in 1864.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Paradox...conflict... Irony..Good work 5 Jun 2008
By Medusa - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Even though Doetoevsky's underground man perceives himself as a deep, conscious, brilliant man, he still knows that he is skeptical of every thought or feeling he might have. He tries to convince himself of being smarter than any body he encounters, but in reality he has a deep feeling of inferiority that ultimately manages to isolate him from people and society.
The underground man never had any experiences of love or emotional relationship, thus he relies in his youth on literature and drama where he gets high expectations of ideal relationships and morals. However, real life interactions and relationships traumatize him with reality that he doesn't know how to accept.

In his forties, the underground man doesn't crave human interactions or attention any more, or have passionate ideas about any thing like he did in his youth, and he knows no other way than anger and bitterness to deal with people. Even though his intimidating way of dealing with people brings him humiliation and pain, he still enjoys thinking that he is practicing his free will. Ironically, the humiliation he brings down on himself is empowering and satisfying to the underground man. As long as he has choice and free will, he is still alive and active like others, regardless of the consequences of the choices he makes.

Whether Dostoevsky wrote notes from Underground as a scream against rationalism and utopianism, or if he was symbolizing his own alienation from the modern Russian society, he just did a great job. Every detail in the book is worth reading.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The "cultivated" man must be a coward and a slave. 31 Jan 2006
By OAKSHAMAN - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
_This is the first book to accurately describe the mind-set and situation of the modern man. This is because the sort of 19th century man that Dostoevsky described here is modern man- the differences are only superficial. A Western European could not have written a book like this- he would have been too close to the problem, since western European rationalism is the problem. A Russian like Dostoevsky was still close enough to Feudalism and the land that he could feel in his bones that something was profoundly wrong.

_The "underground" writer of these tales is a man that has come to loath himself. He loathes himself because he knows that he is not a true human being in any sense. He knows that he is a cog in a machine. He is told that logic, rationalism, and materialism are everything. He has been told that he has no free will that everything is predetermined by natural laws and statistics. He has even been told that he is no more than an evolved ape, so even his religion has been stripped from him. All that is important is profit and comfort- and to serve the machine in his own minor soul killing way as a petty bureaucrat. This is what has convinced him that it is better to resign from society and live as a recluse. Far better not to contribute to the great, inescapable soul-killing system.

_But that is just it- Dostoevsky is making a point in order to forcibly shake his reader out of his or her complacency. He is trying to demonstrate the unnatural nature of a materialistic life lived neurotically and pettily from the head and not the heart. He is also trying to point out those events in ordinary life that hint at there being something more- things that cannot be described with a formula or a chart. Dostoevsky had found the truth in his deep mystic faith in God. This book was a wake-up call to put others on the transcendent path by demonstrating just how inhuman the modern westernized mind-set was.

_This is not an existential novel- it is a transcendent one. This book demonstrates what a hell results when you forcibly amputate the Holy from Holy Russia. It is what happens when you exile the sacred from all our lives.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars notes......... 8 Nov 2001
By Jimena - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is the first book of a series of novels that form Dostoievsky's "second period" works, which includes "Crime and Punishment", "Karamazov Brothers", "The Idiot" and others. Though a short novel compared to the ones mentioned, we can find here the seeds of many subjects Dostoievsky was to develop further in his subsequent works.
The book is divided into two parts. In the first one, the main character -an obscure student whose name is not even mentioned- introduces himself as a sick and spiteful man. He makes a long diatribe against subjects such as free will, rationalism and romanticism. He attempts to explain his ideas of life and the quest of being, relating man with a piano keyboard: man does not want to think of himself as an instrument that can be played by a superior force without having the power to use his will; rather he has to demonstrate he is a human being with an inner and singular self and not just a piece that belongs to a bigger mechanism.
In the second part, this troubled man engages in telling us his difficulties to relate to other people. Here the author brings some characters into the scene, whose principal role is to show the main character's incapability to interact in society. The scene in which he delivers a wordy speech to a young prostitute in a dark cubicle is particularly touching.
Dostoievsky is great. What else may I say?.
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