Notes from Underground, Poor People, The Friend of the FamilyFyodor Dostoyevsky
Notes from Underground
Dostoevsky’s most revolutionary novel, Notes from Underground marks the dividing line between nineteenth- and twentieth-century fiction, and between the visions of self each century embodied. One of the most remarkable characters in literature, the unnamed narrator is a former official who has defiantly withdrawn into an underground existence. In full retreat from society, he scrawls a passionate, obsessive, self-contradictory narrative that serves as a devastating attack on social utopianism and an assertion of man’s essentially irrational nature.
Presented as a series of letters between the humble copying clerk Devushkin and a distant relative of his, the young Varenka, Poor People brings to the fore the underclass of St Petersburg, who live at the margins of society in the most appalling conditions and abject poverty. As Devushkin tries to help Varenka improve her plight by selling anything he can, he is reduced to even more desperate circumstances and seeks refuge in alcohol, looking on helplessly as the object of his impossible love is taken away from him. Introducing the first in a long line of underground characters, Poor People, Dostoevsky’s first full-length work of fiction, is a poignant, tragi-comic tale which foreshadows the greatness of his later novels.
Excerpt from The Friend of the Family
I must confess I announce this new personage with a certain solemnity. There is no denying that he is one of the princi characters in my story. How far he has a claim on the attention of the reader I will not explain; the reader can answer that question more suitably and more readily himself.