Notes from Underground – F. Dostoevsky

Dostoevsky F. (1864), Notes from Underground, Athens: Korontzi, Translated into Greek by Giorgis Simiriotis

Despite the fact that Dostoevsky’s thoughts on society and human position in it occur in most of his novels, I had not yet read any essay-like of his works, such as “Notes from Underground”.

This book is divided in two completely different parts. In the first part the narrator has inherited a small amount of money and has retired at the age of 40, in order to live the rest of his life isolated from the outside world. We learn about his philosophical thoughts on human existence in 11 short, but densely written, chapters.

The second part of the book, entitled “À propos of the wet snow”, is written in a totally different style, one that resembles most of Dostoevsky’s novels. This is the actual story in which the narrator (supposedly the same person as before, although this is never confirmed) narrates three segments of his life. These three events took place while he was still young and lead us to a better understanding of his complicated thoughts that are expressed in part A. We see him interacting with people whom he considers mentally inferior (but actually have superior social positions) and how his mentality is affected by this interaction.

While I was reading the first part, something in it seemed awfully familiar. Both the existential concerns (in terms of content) and the use of a monologue filled in rhetorical questions addressed to an invisible audience (in terms of writing style) brought to my mind Camus’ “Fall”. Not long after, at the beginning of part B, a phrase caught my eye: “[…] and I understood that my co-workers not only considered me to be a weird man, but I believe that they were looking at me with disdain” and who else could have come into my mind, rather than Meursault, the “Stranger”?

Existentialism’s harbinger, this book touches upon fundamental matters that have always troubled great writers. A challenging read that might be one of the readings that inspired Camus to pass his social judgment disguised as a novel.

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