One of the most profound and disturbing works of nineteenth-century literature, Notes from the Underground is a probing and speculative work, often regarded as a forerunner to the Existentialist movement. The Gambler explores the compulsive nature of gambling, one of Dostoevsky's own vices and a subject he describes with extraordinary acumen and drama. Both works are new translations, specially commissioned for the World's Classics series.
Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky was a Russian novelist, short story writer, essayist, and journalist. His literary works explore human psychology in the troubled political, social, and spiritual atmospheres of 19th-century Russia, and engage with a variety of philosophical and religious themes. His most acclaimed novels include Crime and Punishment (1866), The Idiot (1869), Demons (1872), and The Brothers Karamazov (1880).
Many literary critics rate him as one of the greatest novelists in all of world literature, as multiple of his works are considered highly influential masterpieces. His 1864 novella Notes from Underground is considered to be one of the first works of existentialist literature. As such, he is also looked upon as a philosopher and theologian as well.
At the end of last year I finally completed another one of my life reading goals. That is to say I finished the classic Crime and Punishment. Having found this masterpiece to be a fascinating piece of literature I decided that I would have to tackle another work of Dostoyevsky's and so when I stumbled upon Notes from the Underground and The Gambler at my library I picked up the volume and began to read.
There is something about the nature of suffering that the classic Russian authors seem to understand better than nearly anyone else. Or perhaps it is that they are more capable of conveying the quintessential ingredients behind suffering. Either way, it appears to me that Dostoyevsky's novels serve as the means by which the psychological connection to suffering and pain can be discussed. In Crime and Punishment the suffering of a man who has murdered another individual is the key point of discussion. However in Notes from the Underground the psychology of a man who suffers in love and in life - a miserable man - is the greater discussion point. And further in The Gambler the addiction compulsion of gambling is shown to the reader.
Dostoyevsky's novels here have far less scope than Crime and Punishment and are in more ways novellas than actual novels. However, they each still are self contained and excellently discuss the dilemmas of the mind in times of strife and anguish. It is for these reasons (as well as a very humorous narrator in Notes from the Underground) that they deserve to be read. It is particularly interesting to note that these books in particular were written while Dostoyevsky was in periods of turmoil himself (such as in times of death and debt). Which all goes to show that the axiom of 'write what you know' is very, very true.
Two short novels which together give me a sense of the range in Dostoyevsky’s writing. Notes From Underground begins as somewhat disjointed, seemingly insane pronouncements to “You gentlemen” by a bitter and antisocial man who thinks his intellect far superior to that of his contemporaries. He feels an irrepressible need to insult and diminish his former classmates even though they themselves find him risible, and invites himself to a farewell dinner which he can’t afford and where he proceeds to make his dislike known to the guest of honour and stays well past the hour when he has provoked one fellow to a duel and is laughed off as a drunken fool, pacing back and forth in front of the group of friends who ignore him for hours on end. Then he must push the exercise further of debasing himself in front of a prostitute whom he has brief illusions of saving from a life of abject misery. The whole is very gloomy, an existentialist exercise in which the protagonist takes himself very seriously indeed, but there are unexpected lighter moments when he describes the impossibly hateful relationship between himself and his servant, who shows very little respect for his master. 4 stars
In The Gambler, the author shares his personal experience of his addiction to gambling, telling the story of a young aristocrat employed as a tutor by a Russian family who are on a trip in Germany. The family and the General in particular are every day waiting in expectation of receiving a letter telling them that an old ill Russian grandmother with great wealth has finally succumbed, leaving them with their inheritance. The General has accumulated debts and is badly in need of cash, all the more so as he wishes to wed a French beauty but cannot do so without the means to keep her in style and comfort.
But rather than conveniently dying, or responding to their latest entreaty via telegraph, the old woman joins them unexpectedly at their vacation spot and insists the young tutor, a gambling addict himself, take her to the casino, and soon she takes to roulette with a singleness of mind that nobody can detract her from, and rather than take her as an example and a warning that no one is immune from the dangers of gaming addiction, the young man continues to feed his addiction with delusions, feeling sure that if he can just win enough money, he’ll also win the loyalty and respect of the woman he believes himself to be in love with. 4.5 stars
To go into this one thinking some great action would take place then one is 100% mistaken. This book is all about thoughts and reflections of thoughts, that they start to creep into your own mind. I think that's the beauty of it.
I enjoyed Notes from the Underground way more than The Gambler. Yes the Underground Man will piss you off, and at points all you want to do is to just Slap the hell out of him !! But I can't say that I didn't enjoy some of his rants.
The Gambler wasn't enjoyable for me. I got bored quite a lot while reading it. Still it's worth checking ~
The edition I read included both Notes from the Underground and The Gambler, which seemed like a useful comparison. Both novellas are, in a word, bonkers. There is the disturbing, thrilling instability of the underground man - the reader cannot trust him, but at the same time his self-lacerating cycles of thought feel so brutally honest (and so, how much do we trust ourselves and our own narratives?). In The Gambler we see an underground man climb out from under the floorboards, only to find that even in triumph and wealth he is still always underground. But, The Gambler is fascinating in another way as well since Dostoevsky wrote the book while his own life was in the grip of a devastating gambling addiction. It's fascinating to think of Dostoevsky studying his own self-destruction so intently and writing so acutely about the experience (while the experience was still going on). For Dostoevsky fans both books also act as sort of first drafts of ideas that are developed in later books - with the Notes from the Underground mapping onto Crime and Punishment and The Gambler with The Idiot.
I'm wary to even write about Dostoevsky because he's one of those novelists that gets discussed to gauge one's depth and it's almost like his work has become secondary to his name, at least for my generation, and I don't feel like namedropping on 'goodreads,' just to score some political points. These were the first Dostoevsky novels I read probably because they were shorter than "Crime and Punishment," "The Brothers Karamazov," and "The Idiot," but I'm being harsh on myself, because I think anyone reading Dostoevsky might want to start on these books, because they aren't as daunting, or immutable, as those bigger works, that many people have spent a life defending. The truth is Dostoevsky is a very relatable and comprehensible writer without any of the stylistic impediments of some of the 20th century greats (not Russian) like Joyce, Stein, or Faulkner, and in that way, he really shouldn't be as daunting as he is because these books are a joy to read. I just think Dostoevsky has such a clear potent way of seeping into your consciousness that he's almost like water that finds a crack and just keeps dripping, and I guess that's his greatness as an artist, not his prose style, though I've only read him in translation.
I can't remember much about "The Gambler," excpet that it's a tale of ruin, like many of Dostoevsky's stories, and I think what people don't realize before reading him is that he really writes about very passionate people in a very raw manner that makes complete sense, nor are his protagonists as inscrutable as say the 'Consul' in Lowry's "Under the Volcano," though at root their problems are the same. Usually, they are involved in a ruined love affair that drives them to drink and gambling, or unspeakable thoughts, or both, and this in turn leads them to a search for God. Dostoevsky leaves no stone unturned to highlight the depths of despair and enlightenment his characters much reach before God comes to them, and I guess in that way he epitomizes the idea that only the sinner can rise to the heights of spiritual purity, and that the man who goes to the depths of Hell, will be more able to find God in his most divine state, rather than being a humble servant of God, without any of the passions that drove Dostoevsky's characters mad, and that I could only imagine drove Dostoevsky mad, but he had the objective mind to take his suffering and somehow make it universal, because his narrative ability and dialogue is great. He gives hope to the sinner in all of us, and the madman, because he speaks to us, and then gives hope, rather than a sanctimonious preacher that is completely unrelatable.
A Dostoyevsky Force Majeure! The sheer shamefulness of life...your heart is rendered for the narrator as he wrestles his inner demons and the 'men of action'. The standard themes of respectable decrepitude, existentialism and bravado are explored in uncomfortable detail. Shorter than other works but he is pitiless in this one, if you know what I'm talking about.
Notes from the underground almost made me tear the pages and throw it somewhere I couldn't possibly have a sense of its existence in my possession ever. The cycle of perplexing thoughts, seeing oneself as a messiah before an act and then completely betraying the plan altogether for some sick or twisted deed instead, notwithstanding the consciousness of the decision, gives insight to that one little hypocrite inside us who wants to seek the glory and be the empitome of justice and all there is to fairness and selflessness but ends up doing what is simple and expected at best. The myopia of the character and how he is different from the rest is gore and true to perception as how people see world around, though quite extremely exaggerated in the novel. This is a dark tunnel, so I would suggest you to enter at your own discretion.
Gambler is your typical Dostoevsky book (like The Idiot), having enough to talk about complicated and sometimes spontaneous relationships, portraying sense of being a Russian in 19th centry as a doomed, complicated and an intriguing yet altogether patriotic character, the lavish lifestyle of a certain characters, and that villian like yet out of the world beautiful lady who is clever enough to be straightforward and get her way out of one of the side as well as main character. But that's just for the story, and believe me, while the elements are somewhat similar, the stroy nonetheless is very interesting and gets into the psychological aspects of gambling in a mix of sublte and not so subtle way. The randomness of gambling, entrapping anyone who shows even slightest of interest, is the premise as expected, but the larger trap is somwhat unanticipated throughout the story. Why does money motivates one to do so? Even if the person doesn't have any use of money in the first place? These kind of subtle questions along with the final trap will be unfolded through this yet another beautiful work by Dostoevsky.
I started this short novel with some despair as the first few pages seemed like Psychobabble philosophies. However when the story itself started to unfold I was mesmerised with it. My feelings towards the nameless protagonist swung round 360 degrees. A man of confusion, demoralised and sad and never recognising the wisdom at times he had within himself. His words of advice to Liza the prostitute are riveting. As with other Dostoyevsky books I have read I found it very powerful.
This is the first work that I’ve read by Dostoevsky. In many ways, it is eye-opening. Professor Jordan Peterson said on Youtube that Tolstoy was about sociology, whilst Dostoevsky was about psychology. Back then, I had just finished reading Anna Karenina, so I initially disagreed. I didn’t understand why Professor Peterson ignored Tolstoy’s knowledge of psychology (take Anna’s pre-suicide thoughts for example). But now I understand why. It is not that Tolstoy’s works lack psychological analysis. It is because Dostoevsky spent far more ink on the inner monologues of his characters, to the extent that you feel as if you are prying into someone else’s mind. Dostoevsky weaved an intricate web of thoughts, and invited a reader to enter the web if not get lost in it.
That was exactly how I felt why I read the Notes from the Underground. The opening sentence is “I am a sick man…I’m a spiteful man. I’m an unattractive man.” These words, simple and powerful, set the tone for the novel. Although the leading nameless character, the ’underground man‘, immediately complains about his physical illness, the word “illness” itself can imply something else as well – his mental illness.
I found part one difficult and unpleasant to read. I felt as if I was sitting opposite to a mentally ill patient. He stared at me and mumbled something incoherent, yet I strongly sensed his mocking tone and his spiteful smile. I wanted to move on (hoping that the next sentence or the next chapter will be something different!) but I couldn’t. He grabbed my wrist and forced me to sit down so that he could continue to vent his anger and bitterness about the outside world.
His mind was chaotic, as he jumped from one topic to another with a grimace. His narrative was unreliable because he kept lying. This was a hint. He was an egoist who cared more about his external image than his internal thoughts.
He was buried in the ‘underground world’ – a castle that he had purposely built to isolate himself from others. Maybe he thought it would bring “tranquillity” to him. But often, it dampened his conscience and darkened his mind. When he reached forty, he and the underground world were like inseparable twins. The light of “the sublime and beautiful” and “goodness” can’t penetrate the thick wall of his dark cellar.
Whilst reading part one, I wanted to feel sorry for him, but I couldn’t. I only felt uncomfortable and confused. I could see that he was suffering from a conflicted mind. For example, he wanted to win over others’ recognition but he despised them at the same time. But his bitterness, his hatred, his lame excuses, his willingness to be buried in his underground world and forsake anything that was “alive” took away my empathy. I simply couldn’t relate to him.
It was only in part two that he became more like a person (rather than a “fly” and a “mouse” in his own words). I saw myself in him and couldn’t help reminding myself that if I was as unfortunate as him (unloved and uncared for whilst young), I might choose the same path of escapism and self-destruction – shutting down my heart and cutting myself off from the outside world which meant that I would neither taste the bitterness of the world nor its loveliness. Like him, I would live in an abyss of darkness where it snows all the time (dreariness), where there was nothing but my imagination, my thoughts, and my feelings. I would exist as an individual. But that’s all. Nothing else.
He did have a choice. After all, he met Liza, a lost woman who had a pure heart, and was willing to love him. But he refused to be awakened by noble instincts that she aroused, and deceived himself by gloriously justifying all his cowardly behaviours. Even at the age of twenty-four, he was already trapped in his underground world, meaning that he lost the capacity to love and trust another person. Liza exposed his scar and wakened his conscience. He was moved, but then immediately, he feared that he would have to abandon his old familiar world and to pursue light – something, despite its beauty and worthiness, symbolised a drastic change. Therefore, he gave up and once again opted for his comfort zone - “inertia”.
I don’t know what message Dostoevsky wanted to send in this dark, gloomy, and miserable story about the underground man. But for me, the take-home message is to never give up on love, on humanity, on anything that is beautiful and sublime, and on anything that is greater than my ego. The underground man is an extreme example, but seeing myself in him is a wake-up call that should serve as a constant reminder. No matter how comfortable and secure the underground world seems, a step away from it is a step closer towards my true self, a more meaningful life, and more adventurous world.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Read these two novellas back to back as part of my read everything by Dostoevsky quest.
Notes from the Underground is written in two parts. The first part was fairly hard to read I found - mostly about theories and philosophy and paints the Underground Man as quite negative and lonely as a result of his take on like.
The second part was reflective, sharing experiences of a younger Underground Man, post student years, and how his life played out as he lived his theories. His anti-socialness made me think of struggles some people who have autism may experience. He invited himself to a party organized by former schoolmates who don't want to social with him and he acts in such an anti-social manner that he just embarrasses himself. And he is cruel to the plight of a sex trade worker whom he reaches out to with compassion, only to withdraw when she reaches out in response.
But in true Dostoevsky fashion, the author really gets into the psyche of the Underground Man, presents his reality in all its detail - puts him right into our face.
I became engaged in the story and trying to understand the Underground Man and his quest for freedom to express himself fully.
The Gambler was also really engaging. The novel starts in the middle - with a Russian tutor serving a formerly aristocratic Russian family living in a hotel in a spa city in Germany - and various members of the household in play. It takes some time to sort out who everyone is and the roles they play in the family and story. Lots of gambling in this novel, both by the tutor and by the Grandmother, which takes us right into the heart of that particular addiction. An addiction that Dostoevsky knew well personally. Really takes you into the mind of the gambler as well as into the culture that surrounded and accepted gambling, specifically Russian Roulette.
Because of the nature of the characters in the novel, a number are French from Paris, there is a fair amount of French dialogue in the book, that is translated in an index at the back, which is very helpful.
Notes from Underground is one of the best studies on the delusions of the insecure mind that I've ever read. At times highly cringeworthy, always poignant, and highly relatable to what I observe now in the present across social media. The chapter about the toothache and how we moan from the pain more to be heard moaning than from the actual pain itself was the perfect metaphor for my Facebook feed. There is not a lot of character growth in this story, but rather character regression as he slides away from dealing with society and isolates himself in his own personal underground. If I was in a worse mood when I read this, it would likely be a harrowing experience. Instead, I found its observations enlightening and I actually ended up ordering a copy for one of my best friends as I sadly felt that this story really reflected his current state of mind over the last few years, and I hope he sees enough of himself inside this book to reflect and hopefully change his attitude a bit.
The Gambler was wild and completely not what I was expecting. I don't think I've ever used the word "romp" before, but this was a fun romp through mid 19th Century resort towns in Europe where gambling is the only way to truly live. I thought this was going to end up being a frenetic ride to the lowest of human lows as the energy and addiction of the games led our narrator down an ever-darkening path, but instead I was given the lovely surprise of Dostoevsky just having a good time and enthusiastically spinning a yarn that he clearly had a great time writing. Very well paced and packed with some of my new favourite characters in literature, I had to keep forcing myself to put this one down for fear of finishing it too quickly as I wanted it to last for as long as possible.
These are classics for good reason. The reader receives deep insight not only into Dostoyevsky's person (I understand these to be semi-autobiographical), but into every human's. This is truer for Notes from the Underground. The Gambler is more piercingly revealing of what those with a deep addiction (essentially almost everyone) go through. Highly recommended.
My only criticism? I get a nagging sense that this translation doesn't do justice to what Dostoyevsky originally wrote in Russian. But bear in mind that I have yet to read other translations; this may very well be the most superior.
*only read notes from the underground*. Very good book. The philosophy in the first part was interesting and brought up many unique points. The book is a warning not to be neurotic and that overthinking can only harm you. I like the first sections points about how suffering is necessary and the author's attitudes presented really makes you not want to be a nihilist. Live in society and live with meaning!
notes from the underground: short but DENSE. lots of writing that is symbolic of the narrator's isolation from society. very character driven. 4/5
the gambler: the main theme of this story was gambling/the addiction of gambling, but i think the narrator's character was written with much attention to detail. one of the more likeable/relatable characters from dostoyevsky. less character driven but it was refreshing. strangely, i liked it better than notes. 5/5
Really fantastic. Even in translation, Dostoevsky cuts to the heart of the character and their respective issues (Depression and addiction). It’s scary how accurate he is. Great book, although Underground is far better than Gambler.
The Notes begins with rather bizarre, but the second section is more entertaining - and also enlightening in a rather Russian way! It does not seem to me, however, an existentialist work. The Gambler is a fine novella with diverse characters, and lots of gambling! Dostoevsky often ceded to the allure of the casino; so his depictions of the agony and ecstasy of are undoubtedly accurate.
“…the best definition of man is – a creature who walks on two legs and is ungrateful.”
“Notes from the Underground”, which is considered as the first existentialist novel, is the story of an anti-social person who is disconnected from the society and while hiding himself from others in a place underground criticized society bitterly and described his ideas. Dostoevsky is the master of digging deep in to peoples mind and psychoanalysis of his characters. And by using this ability combined with genius plots and interesting stories, he is one of the only classic authors that you could expect being surprised reading his books.
“The excellent ant began with the ant-hill and with the ant-hill they will most certainly end, which does great credit to their steadfastness and perseverance. But man is a frivolous and unaccountable creature, and perhaps, like a chess-player, he is only fond of the process of achieving his aim, but not of the aim itself. And who knows (if is impossible to be absolutely sure about it), perhaps the whole aim mankind is striving to achieve on earth merely lies in this incessant process of achievement, or (to put it differently) in life itself, and not really in the attainment of any goal, which, needless to say, can be nothing else but twice-two-makes-four, that is to say, a formula; but twice-two-makes-four is not life, gentlemen. It is the beginning of death. At least, man seems always to have been afraid of this twice-two-makes-four, and I am afraid of it now. Let us assume that man dose nothing but search for this twice-two-makes-four, sails across oceans and sacrifices his life in this search; but to succeed in his quest, really to find what he is looking for, he is afraid – yes, he really seems to be afraid of it. For he feels that when he has found it there will be nothing more for him to look for. When workmen have finished their work they at least receive their wages, and they go to a pub and later find themselves in a police cell – well, there’s an occupation for a week. But where can man go? At all events, one observes a certain awkwardness about him every time he achieves one of these aims. He loves the process of achievement but not achievement itself, which, I’m sure you will agree, is very absurd. In a word, man is a comical creature.”
Well, there is nothing I can say about Dostoevsky that others haven't said many times over, but these two stories are so provoking that I feel like I have to write something... I'm not sure at what point you realise that the man from the underground is pretty unhinged. maybe 10 pages in, maybe less. He starts out with an extended argument about the human will being the central element of human life as opposed to reason (the basic existential position). And it kind of makes sense, but he goes on an on and on. he is obsessive about this point, which granted is a pretty important one, though most people likely don't spend much time thinking about it. The man from the underground has anticipated all the arguments and counterarguments. His frenetic train of thought is unsettling. Then to illustrate his argument he tells you about an episode that occurred in his life which ostensibly perfectly illustrates his point - that people not only do not make choices according to reason (and hence their advantage) but make choices simply to demonstrate their will, however destructive it might be. No matter how many times you read this section you'll feel like you just want to read it again to reinterpret what he says and does. Mostly it seems to me to be pure masochism, mixed with desperation, a genuine desire to connect with someone, and immense vanity. The Gambler, connects with the themes from Notes from the Underground, in my view, as another illustration of will triumphing over reason. particularly when you start to lose. I am not a fan of gambling, for some reason i am a real moralist on this topic. or maybe more of a pragmatist. I do not find it fun to spend money with the hopes of getting more of it, when the greatest likelihood is that it will just all be lost. I also thinking it is kind of exasperating to hear people talk about it as though they are somehow smarter than chance and can manage probabilities. I thought I would find this story tedious, but actually it is a totally fascinating look at high-class gambling in nineteenth century Europe. The types of people and their attitudes are probably not that different from what one would see today in the Casinos in Monaco or where ever.