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Notes from Underground and The Double Paperback – 26 Jun 2003

4.5 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (26 Jun. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140442529
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140442526
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 1.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 542,284 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

About the Author

Fyodor Dostoyevsky was born in Moscow in 1821. His first story 'Poor Folk' was published in 1846 and was a great success. He was exiled to Siberia for five years for his participation in the 'Petrashevsky Circle'. He returned to Moscow to begin the review 'Vremya' (Time). Later in life he fell deeply in debt but his second marriage to Anna Snitkina helped him to put his affairs in order. He died in 1881, six months after delivering his famous speech for the unveiling of Pushkin's memorial.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
You get two short novels for the price of one in this fantastic book. Spanning eighteen years you can also see here how Dostoyevsky's writing developed over the years. I know some people don't like reading his stuff, but really it is well worth doing so as he shows some great psychological insight and you can always gain new insights in re-reading his work. Indeed I have been reading and re-reading all his works ever since I was commuting to and from work in my late teens.

Notes From the Underground

Although this is the later of the two pieces this appears first in this book, and it was published shortly before Dostoyevsky started his wonderful 'Crime and Punishment'. The tale has an anonymous narrator who sees himself as cleverer and better than the normal person. Slowly becoming more alienated and lonely he can't seem to understand how others can get on in life, whilst he still stays in the same job with no prospects, indeed he believes people are exaggerating or lying. Being hyper-sensitve he feels every insult - however minor, and tries to provoke arguments that others just simply ignore. Being felt put upon he tries to take it out on those in a lower strata. He does come to some type of epiphany about himself, and his self doubts and self questioning, but he never changes who he is. Quite bleak but also with a trace of deeply black humour running through it, this shows why Dostoyevsky is one of the world's greatest writers.

The Double

This is an early work by Dostoyevsky and is sometimes overlooked in this country as it isn't considered to be one of his later great masterpieces, but don't ignore it because of that. Building upon the German tradition of the Doppelganger, our hapless hero comes face to face with himself.
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Format: Paperback
In the first section of this novel, the story begins with the ‘underground man’, an anonymous narrator in St. Petersburg, in the 1860’s. He is 40 and is reflecting on his life, in the form of ‘notes’. In them he makes a damning, scathing assault on modern society and this serves as a way of introduction to the central character.

In the story, the character sees all action, all goals; all desires and dreams as completely futile. As such, he does nothing. Indeed, one of the fundamental flaws in the character is his inability to take action. Because any action is a total waste of time. Furthermore, anybody that does take any action, to further one’s career for example, is a fool or a horse. This outlook makes him a bitter and lonely man and this in turn fuels his disillusionment.

The second section of the novel, goes back in time to when the narrator was in his twenties and although he has several interactions with other characters (usually of a confrontational nature), the isolated, disillusioned, and contemptible character we see in the first section starts to surface, giving us an insight as to why he turned out like he did.

Being 40 myself, this made for some scary reading. Not a page-turner of a story but a brilliant psychological study of the human mind, before psychology was even termed.

I first read Saramago’s ‘The Double’ before this version but I suspect he might’ve lifted the concept of an ‘identical’ other from Dostoyevsky. In any case, this novella centres on the mental breakdown of Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin and follows his trials and tribulations as a clerk in a Government office.
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Format: Paperback
This 'double bill’ of Notes From Underground and The Double, whose original publication was separated by almost two decades and, importantly, by Dostoyevsky’s imprisonment and exile, provides for an intriguing contrast, both thematically and stylistically. It seems to me odd that Penguin orders them with the later work (Notes) first, though I guess that does not (necessarily) determine the order in which they can be read. Both exploring themes of identity, sanity and the 'ordinary man’s’ place in (constrictive) society, The Double’s narrative structure is the more conventional (and has been criticised for plagiarising Gogol) and sets up a disturbing, dream-like tale of paranoia around office worker Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin and his apparent doppelganger, even if the novella’s denouement I found to be rather anti-climactic. The more renowned, innovative and influential Notes From Underground, whose anonymous author Dostoyevsky ‘introduces’ via a note, takes the form (in its first part, certainly) more of a nihilistic, philosophical/psychological stream of consciousness – the first, and chronologically later part, of which could almost be read as a natural progression in the further decline of Golyadkin from The Double. It is particularly interesting to try to map how these formative works fed through into the author’s later, grander and more narratively sophisticated works.
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Format: Paperback
Here is an interesting passage taken from the first chapter of Notes From Underground where the author talks about why he writes.

`Precisely why, for what purpose do I want to write? If it isn`t for readers, surely I could just remember everything without putting it down on paper.
Exactly; but on paper it will be somehow more impressive. There is something awe inspiring about it, one sits more severely in judgement on oneself, one`s style is enhanced. Besides, perhaps I really shall get relief from writing it down. Now, for example, I am particularly oppressed by one ancient memory. It sprang clearly in to my mind the other day, and since then has remained with me like a tiresome tune that keeps on nagging at one. And yet one must get rid of it. I have hundreds of memories like it; but from time to time, one out of the hundreds becomes prominent and oppresses me. For some reason I believe that if I write it down I shall get rid of it. Why not try?`

Elsewhere in this chapter there is a notion of the psychotic. He seems to be constantly contradicting himself and tormented and converses with the reader in a neurotic fashion, struggling to justify himself. Communicating from a place of uncertainty - underground. He is probably one of the few authors who will confess that he is lying most of the time and emitting a constant stream of fabrication. The hoax is a fascinating theme. The artist creates an impression. What is reality? It`s there for the taking.
Predictably perhaps, there is little relief to the darkness shrouding this story - the protagonist reminding me of Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment. But there is something compelling about the writer.
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