Notes from Underground by Fyodor DostoyevskyDostoevsky’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 One of the most remarkable characters in literature, the unnamed narrator is a former official who has defiantly withdrawn into an underground existence.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 complete 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.
Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, whose Dostoevsky translations have become the standard, give us a brilliantly faithful edition of this classic novel, conveying all the tragedy and tormented comedy of the original.
Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes From Underground - Revenge, Anger, and Justice - Core Concepts
Discussion Questions for Notes from the Underground
Arguably one of the greatest novelists in history, Fyodor Dostoevsky is especially notable for interweaving deep philosophical, psychological and theological threads into his brilliant fiction. As a result, his works become much more than stimulating, entertaining stories but actual representation of 19th century intellectual history. This can not be any more true for his most philosophical work of all, Notes from Underground. Notes is Dostoevsky's groundbreaking philosophical prologue to his later novels, and it wrestles with modern existential questions which deal with Man's role in a world where the idea of God was being rejected more and more. The Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries espoused the value of reason, proclaimed the potential improvement of Man and Society, and freed humanity from superstition. By the 19th century, with the belief in God declining, Dostoevsky saw mankind having lost its moral bearing, wafting directionless in the tempest that is life.
What or where is the underground? Why do you take this stand? If it is not a physical place, is it possible for others to also be in the underground? Why does the author seek out companionship if he's not truly friends with any of these people? What do others seem to think of the writer? Who is Liza? How do they meet?
It is perhaps no surprise that Fyodor Dostoevsky is known as one of the greatest psychological writers of all time, given his own dramatic history of suffering. What may surprise readers of Notes from Underground , written in , is its sardonic edge and philosophical bite. By satirizing the hyper-rationalism and utopian sentiments of his time, the Russian novelist forces us to confront some of the more uncomfortable tendencies of modernity. More recently and closer to home, scientific developments such as cloning, robotics, artificial intelligence, and genetic engineering seem to be unstoppable and raise many of the same ethical and philosophical questions. While Notes from Underground can be seen as a critique of the progressive view of history, government, and human perfectibility in general, the text is also a direct satire of the Russian novel What Is to Be Done by Nikolai Chernyshevsky.
How does the book group work?
We doubt we are giving away anything worthy of a spoiler alert when we state from the outset that Dostoevsky despised the nihilists. Indeed, his novel The Demons is based on the life of Sergei Nechaev, a self-professed nihilist of the s who advocated political terror in the service of revolution. In a socialist version of the utilitarianism proposed by Jeremy Bentham, Chernyshevskii had argued that every individual needed to pursue her rational and enlightened self-interest. The greater good, he believed, would emerge as everyone achieves individual fulfillment. As you may know, Dostoevsky was a passionate nationalist, rabid anti-Semite, and fervent Orthodox Christian who believed that the Russian people had a messianic calling to spread the Gospel of Christ.
How much should we trust what the Underground Man tells us? Pick one section of the text in which you feel he is particularly reliable or unreliable, and discuss what this might tell us about the text as a whole. We must also consider that an important component of what we know about the Underground Man comes from his interactions with other people. The crystal palace symbolizes the ideal utopian society that humanity will be able to achieve once it has discovered all of the laws of nature that govern human behavior. The application of laws such as these is what will make the crystal palace possible.
What significant correlations are there between Parts I and II? Liza says very little and yet emerges as the strongest person in Part 2. How does Dostoevsky accomplish this? What are the Underground Man's objections to scientific progress? Are these same objections valid today?