Or is the basic unit of personality a protean one? Dostoevsky has long been recognized as a master of doubling, whether through narrative devices, plot motifs or through representation of character. Those that occur in Poor People put forth a unique quartet of doublings and interactions between the virtual and the real that, far from seeming outdated as they did several decades ago, now seem unusually fresh and relevant.
The old man ran after him, weeping loudly, his weeping shaken and punctuated by his wailing. The poor fellow had lost his hat and had not stopped to pick it up.
His hair was sodden with rain The sleet was lashing and stinging his face The skirts of his threadbare coat fluttered in the wind like wings. Books peeped from every one of his pockets; in his arms he was carrying an enormous tome, to which he clung tightly. Passers-by would remove their hats and cross themselves. The more rarified atmosphere of the literary salon described so well by William Mills Todd III had given way in the s to somewhat more unruly, more ubiquitous reading circles.
I brought the manuscript, saw Nekrasov for a minute, and we shook hands. Many, many of the young people of the day seemed to be filled with a spirit of some sort and seemed to be awaiting something. His doorbell rings — his visitors? Another group of readers! Suddenly the bell rang, giving me a great start, and then Grigorovich and Nekrasov, in utter rapture and both almost in tears, burst in to embrace me. And so we kept on all night. And so begins a second sleepless night of reading.
But this anecdote is equally a tale about reading — reading aloud, dropping everything to read something new, reading with hunger and devotion. The space of this short novel is crowded with impoverished, nearly destitute readers — reading grammars, almanacs, journals, autobiographies, letters, stories, satires, poems, novels — both actual and fictive, that is, written by other characters. Writing and reading in the poverty-stricken urban underworld Dostoevsky creates are not simply leisure activities; they are as essential as food, shelter, money and work.
Man does not live by bread alone but, for better or worse, by the written word. He defines himself by it. He writes numerous feverish letters about all kinds of literature during this period. In a single letter of 24 March, , for example, he describes, as he often does, his literary thoughts, his progress in writing, and the degree of his financial woe and debt, to his brother Mikhail:.
And now about food! You know, brother, that in this regard I am left to my own resources. I read a terrible lot, and reading acts on me strangely. But what are these characters actually reading? Oh, those storytellers!
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I mean, have you ever known the like? A man reads… and finds himself reflecting — and before he knows where he is, all kinds of rubbish come into his head. He tells Varvara that he is reading a book that makes similar comparisons to his own wish to live as free as a bird. Senkovsky, the editor of the conservative The Library of Reading — a journal popular, as Gogol himself had noted, among civil servants and other less well-educated readers.
The world of these poor people teems with printed matter. On July 1, Devushkin confesses to Varvara that thus far he has read little:. Although both write to convey the narratives of their lives, Devushkin is, above all, struggling to discover his own writing style. Presentation of self means nearly everything to him. Devushkin is aware that his search for style leads him to a kind of verbosity. When he and Varvara do finally have an outing together, he delights in the concise manner in which she then represents it in a letter.
As we will see, however, this kind of reading — when the heart is moved and painful thoughts come to mind — becomes increasingly fraught with danger for Devushkin once he encounters Gogol. Pushkin may have been bearable, but Gogol is not. Nevertheless, her letter to him of June 11 th inspires him to tell her about his life and, from the age of seventeen onward, his experiences of having been bullied.
Both these intensities have reading at their core. I discovered that from being with those people […].
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It is a profound thing! Indeed, some days he writes five […]. Should literature delight or instruct? Devushkin seems torn. In either of its guises, Dostoevsky shows us in this first novel, it can have both a positive and a negative effect. Dostoevsky was to continue to explore the myriad ramifications of the double-edged power of literature and art all his life. In the first letter to Varvara, he had told her that his tender expressions of his dreams were taken from a book. But in his second letter to her, he was already rejecting that style.
And never could I forget it thereafter. It was the most delightful moment of my entire life.
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Recalling it while in prison used to strengthen my spirit. But when Devushkin rereads these remarks, he writes to Varvara that he finds his letter to be incoherent, concluding in a P. I have grown too old […] to show my teeth in vain! In this letter of April 8 he has played for Varvara the tripartite role of writer, reader and critic of his own words.
Throughout the novel Devushkin searches for a style. What use do they serve? Will a person who reads that story make me an overcoat? Although writers may frequently write to provoke a burst of self-recognition in their readers, and readers may read for this experience, such recognition brings Devushkin no catharsis, only horror and shame. His identification with Akaky Akakevich is complete; the line between real life and fiction has vanished. Yet is perhaps Devushkin partly right in his critique? Do more well-off readers go out and purchase overcoats for the poor or do they merely demand a sequel?
Unwittingly he is finding that very style he has been seeking but is now too devastated to notice it. While his reading of Gogol crushes him, our reading about the effects of his reading, even as it moves us, may also make us smile.
The House of the Dead/Poor Folk by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
In his suffering he never realizes that he has found his style, even if he is about to lose Varvara, both virtually and in reality. For Devushkin in particular, reading has become increasingly fraught with danger; it has burdened him with a degree of self-recognition and shame that is too intense, that can drive him to drink and even be life-threatening. His recognition of himself in Akaky Akakevich is a tragedy that offers him no catharsis.
At the present moment, I am writing merely for the sake of writing, and to put as much as possible into this last letter of mine…. No, she will not write. Perhaps they will both live out their lives with the delusion of a great love lost, though, in the end what did that love amount to except a pile of letters, in the language of love that sometimes seems in its abstractions more about itself than about another.
How much we live sincerely in the grip of our half-awareness, loving in ways that seem both self-giving and selfish at the same time, love seeming both to reveal to us the world as it really is and to grip us with a fantasy about who we might become. There are probably books that do this better. Maybe even books by Dostoevsky.
But even second rate Dostoevsky seems to do this well. I really enjoyed your blog post.
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I also really enjoyed your post. Although currently recovering from a depression often made me feel a little too connected to the characters. I love your analysis though! Great blog! She does, though, return a large portion of the rubles that he sends her from the he receives from his Excellency.
I think she realized how much it meant to Makar to be able to help her out, it really was his reason for existence, so she accepted what she felt was needed, and nothing more. It seems clear that Makar would have only squandered his money in some other way booze and gambling , or given it charitably to someone else Gorshkov , such was the fateful nature of the man. You are commenting using your WordPress. You are commenting using your Google account. You are commenting using your Twitter account.
Hogarth, the translator, while doing an excellent, exemplary job of converting Dostoevsky's style to English, managed to get really loads of things very badly wrong. In fact, on average every 10thth sentence of his translation contains some grave misunderstanding. For example, the following bit from Chapter 2, quote: "Unfortunately, Thedora, who, with her sweeping and polishing, makes a perfect sanctuary of my room, is not over-pleased at the arrangement.
Little misreadings like this one are abundant and do spoil the experience a lot Please submit a quiz here. Here is where you find links to related content on this site or other sites, possibly including full books or essays about Fyodor Dostoevsky written by other authors featured on this site. Poor Folk Search. Advanced Search.