Notes from Underground, by Dostoevsky - Chapter 1 - Audio

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Dostoevsky worked on Notes from Underground in 1863.  He published it the next year, in Epoch, the journal which his brother (Mikhail) edited.

The story's narrator is a very disagreeable fellow who seems to despise himself and just about everyone, and everything, else.  He lives in St. Petersburg, barely able to make ends meet - until he inherits some money which allows him to quit his job.  Thereafter, he still lives in Petersburg since the six thousand rubles (which he inherited) didn't go very far.

In a way, Notes seems to be Dostoevsky's method of preparing for his next major novel - Crime and Punishment.  The heroes in each book - if one could call them heroes - are solitary and restless men.  Generally despicable characters, they both seem to have little regard for what is "good and beautiful" in life. Who could stand to be around these people for more than a very short time?

Yet ... maybe there is more to the underground man than meets the eye.  Is he really so narrow-minded and complaining?  Is there no hope for a creature who can't decide whether he's nasty and spiteful or just acting that way? 

Maybe the underground man's uncertainty about life stems from his apparent belief that people are unknowable.  If individuals are unfathomable creatures, generally speaking, why bother to figure out what "makes them tick" (so to speak)? 

And ... what if it isn't true - wonders the underground man - that people act in their own best interests.  Maybe they don't even know what their best interests are!

In this first chapter, of Notes from Underground, we definitely get the sense that Dostoevsky has created a very interesting character!


ISSUES AND QUESTIONS TO PONDER:  Notes contains contemporary ideas and is written with an angst-filled tone.  How is it possible that a book, which was written by a Russian nearly 150 years ago, can sound like it was written in this century? 

What are some of the human insufficiencies which Dostoevsky observed that you have also observed in human beings today?  As you listen to the underground man's rant, does it remind you of anyone you know?  Why (or why not)?  

Notes from Underground has infuenced modern books and movies.  Can you think of any?


By Fyodor Dostoevsky
Translation by Andrew R. MacAndrew (for Signet Classics)


Chapter 1 - Read by Carole Bos, creator of Awesome Stories

I am a sick man ... a mean man.  There's nothing attractive about me.  I think there's something wrong with my liver.  But, actually, I don’t understand a thing about my sickness; I'm not even too sure what it is that's ailing me.

I'm not under treatment and never have been, although I have great respect for medicine and doctors.  Moreover, I'm morbidly superstitious - enough, at least, to respect medicine.  With my education I shouldn't be superstitious, but I am just the same.

No, I'd say I refuse medical help simply out of contrariness.  I don't expect you to understand that, but it's so.  Of course, I can't explain whom I'm trying to fool this way.  I'm fully aware that I can't spite the doctors by refusing their help.  I know very well that I'm harming myself and no one else.  But still, it's out of spite that I refuse to ask for the doctors' help.  So my liver hurts?  Good, let it hurt even more!

I've been living like this for a long time, twenty years or so.  I'm forty now.  I used to be in government service, but I'm not anymore.  I was a nasty official.  I was rude and enjoyed being rude.  Why, since I took no bribes, I had to make up for it somehow.  (That's a poor attempt at wit, but I won't delete it now.  I wrote it thinking it'd sound very sharp.  But now I realize that it's nothing but vulgar showing off, so I'll let it stand if only for that reason.)

When petitioners came up to my desk for information, I snared at them and felt indescribably happy whenever I managed to make one of them feel miserable.  Being petitioners, they were a meek lot.

One, however, wasn't.  He was an officer, and I had a special loathing for him.  He just wouldn't  be subdued.  He had a special way of letting his saber rattle.  Disgusting.  For eighteen months I waged war with him about that saber.  I won out in the end, and he stopped the thing from rattling.

All this, however, happened when I was still young.  But shall I tell you what it was really all about?  Well, the real snag, the most repulsive aspect of my nastiness, was that, even when I was at my liverish worst, I was constantly aware that I was not really wicked nor even embittered, that I was simply chasing pigeons, you might say, and thus passing the time.

And so I might be frothing at the mouth, but if you had brought me a doll to play with or had offered me a nice cup of tea with sugar, chances are I would have calmed down.  I'd even have been deeply touched, although, angry at myself, I would be certain to gnash my teeth later and be unable to sleep for several months.  But that's the way it was.

I was lying just now when I said I used to be a nasty official.  And I lied out of spite.  I was having fun at the expense of the petitioners and that officer, but deep down, I could never be really nasty.  I was always aware of many elements in me that were just the opposite of wicked.  I felt that they'd been swarming inside me all my life, trying to break out, but I had refused to let them. 

They tormented me, they drove me into shame and convulsions, and I was fed up with them.  Ah, how fed up I was with them!  Doesn't it seem to you as if I were trying to justify myself, to ask for your forgiveness?  I'm sure you must think that ... Well, believe me, I don't care if you do think so.

I couldn't manage to make myself nasty or, for that matter, friendly, crooked or honest, a hero or an insect.  Now I'm living out my life in a corner, trying to console myself with the stupid, useless excuse that an intelligent man cannot turn himself into anything, that only a fool can make anything he wants out of himself.

It's true that an intelligent man of the nineteenth century is bound to be a spineless creature, while the man of character, the man of action, is, in most cases, of limited intelligence.  This is my conviction at the age of forty.

I'm forty now, and forty years is a whole life - forty is deep old age.  It's indecent, vulgar, and immoral to live beyond forty!  Who lives beyond forty?  Answer me honestly.  Or let me tell you then:  fools and good-for-nothings.  I'll repeat that to the face of any of those venerable patriarchs, those respected grayheads, for the whole world to hear.  And I have a right to say it, for I'll live to be sixty.  I'll live to be seventy!  I’ll live to be eighty! ... Wait, give me a chance to catch my breath ...

Do you think I'm trying to make you laugh?  Then you've got me wrong again.  I'm not at all the cheerful fellow you think I am, or you may think I am.  But if you're irritated by all my babble (I feel you must be by now) and feel like asking me who the heck I am after all, I'll have to answer that I'm a collegiate assessor.

I entered the service to have something to eat (and for that only).  And so, when a distant relative died, leaving me six thousand rubles, I immediately resigned and installed myself in my corner here. 

I had lived here even before that, but now I've really settled down.  My room is miserable and ugly, on the outskirts of the city.  The maid here is a peasant woman, nasty out of sheer stupidity; moreover, there's always a bad smell about her. 

They tell me that the Petersburg climate is bad for me and that, with my miserable income, it's a very expensive place to live.  I know all that myself.  I know it better than all my would-be advisers.  But I'm going to stay in Petersburg!  I won't leave!  I won't leave because ...

Ah, it's really all the same whether I go or stay.

Now then, what does a decent man like to talk about most?  Himself, of course.  So I'll talk about myself.


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Media Credits

Chapter 1 of Notes from Underground, by Fyodor Doestoevsky (translated by Andrew R. MacAndrew, read by Carole Bos (creator of Awesome Stories).


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"Notes from Underground, by Dostoevsky - Chapter 1 - Audio" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 07, 2013. Dec 07, 2019.
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