I’ve begun my Joseph Frank/Fyodor Dostoevsky summer reading project. Below is the first installment:
When I was 8 or 9, I got my own bedroom for the first time. Until then, my two brothers and I shared a bunk-bed-trundle-bed setup, which once resulted in my covering Matt with vomit in his sleep. We moved all my stuff into the new bedroom, including one half of the bunk bed, disconnected from its mate. Sometime soon after that, we got our first computer. As luck would have it, it ended up residing in this new bedroom with me. This room had previously been my father’s study, and the announced intent was that it would retain that purpose as well, hence the computer. Around that time, my dad declared that this was my “garret.” I asked him what the word meant – the only associations it held for me (ironically I suppose) were those of the Garrett Theological Union at Northwestern, at which my father had studied, and from which our babysitters were often hired. My dad told me that in books by Dostoevesky (that name also meant little to me at the time) the character had a garret – I secret attic room with no windows. He described it as a place where the character hides from the world and scribbles manic missives.
Fastfoward twenty-five years or so. It seems oddly appropriate, perhaps even Dostoevskyian, that my biography/novel/short story/critical essay/letter reading project has hit a snag – and I’ve just spent the better part of a day proceeding frantically around Chicago attempting to secure all the proper resources.
The idea was simple – I read a David Foster Wallace essay called “Joseph Frank’s Dostoevsky” (in Consider the Lobster) in which essay DFW reported that he had just completed a massive reading project, having read (or re-read) all Dostoevsky’s original works along with the five-part biography. I thought – that sounds so cool! I should do that. Maybe before I started this, I should have remembered that Foster Wallace, among other things, was bipolar and committed suicide just a couple of years ago after going off his meds. No matter – my mental life has always been just stable enough to endure the company of the bipolar, the depressed, the anxious, the manic and hypo-manic – no, endure is the wrong word. It seems like I’ve always just attracted their company, but then, maybe I’m the one attracted to them. Friends, girlfriends, parents and siblings, and now students too. I’ve always found these people interesting, and established real relationships with them; it’s like 10% of my brain, if it could get control, would make me one of their number. But it doesn’t; the other 90% maintains hold.
I’ve read a few of these Dostoevsky books before. I remember reading Crime and Punishment and Notes from Underground in college. That came while I had the closest thing I’ve ever had to an existentialist phase (which is to say, not really). One summer day I was street-side book shopping in Manhattan, and found a copy of The Stranger for something like $2.00 on a table near 86th Street (this still might be my favorite feature of the Upper West Side). I read the whole book that night – by continental-masterpiece standards it’s quite short. I was most struck by what seemed to me to be the text’s central allusion. I’ve never bothered to see if there was any truth in this, but while I was reading, I kept thinking about Exodus (apparently it’s 2:11-15):
And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens: and he spied an Egyptian smiting a Hebrew, one of his brethren. And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand. And when he went out the second day, behold, two men of the Hebrews strove together: and he said to him that did the wrong, Wherefore smitest thou thy fellow? And he said, Who made thee a prince and a judge over us? intendest thou to kill me, as thou killedst the Egyptian? And Moses feared, and said, Surely this thing is known. Now when Pharaoh heard this thing, he sought to slay Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh, and dwelt in the land of Midian: and he sat down by a well.
It seemed like The Stranger was a book-long meditation on this story: again, I don’t care to consult the secondary literature on this point. If I do, I fear I will discover one of two things. Either (a) this will be found to be such a truism of Camus scholarship that the sense of profundity I experience in noticing it will evaporate, or (b) it will be revealed as having nothing whatever to do with Camus, and again, this will result in evaporation of said profundity of experience. So, as is the right of every autodidact, I reserve the privilege of my potentially obvious and/or misinformed status. By the way – only later did I hear the Cure’s “Staring at the Sea” – it’s important to me to establish that none of this owes to Cure fandom.
That semester, my senior year in college, I enrolled in Stephen Crites’ course “From Hegel to Nietzsche.” This included a stop along the way at Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling. I think somewhere I got the idea that if I read Crime and Punishment, I would have completed some sort of holy trinity. As it turned out, though Camus had a certain minimalist, even nihilistic appeal, and Kierkegaard had lyricism and some more apparent understanding of Hegel (though, at least in translation, his prose turns purple and precious sometimes) – and of course, with Kierkegaard, I didn’t need to suspect the importance of Old Testament violence… but Dostoevsky was the one that brought me the rare pleasure of experiencing a page-turner and a massive monumental work of western culture at the same time. I was intellectually and emotionally riveted throughout. Roskolnikov I found to be quite a sympathetic figure. I wasn’t sure if that’s how I was supposed to see things but it’s how I did. I read Notes from Underground around that time, but remember feeling underwhelmed. It felt like a second-rate Crime and Punishment. But again – I didn’t sense the condemnation I think I was supposed to (at least according to the introductions to those texts I had read).
After carrying abound The Brothers Karamazov for years, on various vacations, in various bags, and apparently through various rainstorms (based on the state of the cover), two winters ago I finally read it. I moved on to Demons at that point. I did like both of them – but with Karamazov in particular, I think I spread the reading out over too long of a time. Upon finishing Demons I thought, that is a book I should re-read, once I have a general sense of what’s going on perhaps I can get more out of it. Which is a polite way of saying I was utterly confused for most of the text.
So here I am – over the weekend, I read the opening 100+ pages of volume one of the Frank – The Seeds of Revolt, 1821-1849. I brought myself to the point of the publication of Dostoevsky’s first novel, Poor Folk, and then read it. I’ve got some thoughts about this reading, but those will come in another post.
After spending the better part of the morning flipping between Wikipedia, Google books and amazon.com, I’ve discovered just how many books I need to get hold of if I’m going to make the thorough effort this project deserves. The main problem is there is no definitive collection of works on English. This is not so much a problem for the novels – they’re all widely available in several editions – but the occasional nonfiction and the short stories are just not that easy to find. In fact, by my count, to read in-print translations containing all of the short stories, you will need Poor Folk and Other Stories, the Penguin Classics text, translated by David McDuff, An Honest Thief and other Short Stories, translated by Constance Garnett and possibly out-of-print, Uncle’s Dream and Other Short Stories, also translated by David McDuff (only really for “A Weak Heart”), as well as The Best Short Stories of Fyodor Dostoevsky, translated by David Magarshack (this last, just to ensure you have access to, as yet unread by me, “The Christmas Tree and a Wedding”). None of these books is redundant – though several of them have the same stories, they all contain at least one story the other books do not hold. And that doesn’t even speak to the non-fiction writing, somewhat covered by Dostoevsky’s Occasional Writings, The Diary of a Writer (only available abridged in English currently) or the letters (I just bought a collection of “selected letters” edited by Frank and someone else, in a used bookstore). I haven’t even investigated yet – there are probably unpublished manuscripts, journals, and so on – but one has to draw the line somewhere. Hopefully it will come before I have mortgaged my estate, developed a gambling addiction and begun trying to “save” prostitutes against perceived slights to their honor.
Below is a chart I’ve just spent a few hours compiling – this isn’t necessarily chronological intra-year, but is ordered by year of publication. The dates are not authoritative; they’re just lifted off of a Wikipedia chart and cross-referenced with some other random literature site. I can, however, vouch for the final column, which has been generated by obsessive checking and re-checking of tables of contents. There are no doubt numerous other books containing these texts, and I’ve made no effort to discover which are the most critically acclaimed translations.
Several translations are also available free as e-texts (not listed here), though again, not most of the hardest-to-find short stories.
|Year of Publication||Russian Title||Usual English Title(s)||English Publication Information|
|1846||Bednye lyudi (Бедные люди)||Poor Folk||The House of the Dead and Poor Folk, trans Constant Garnett, Barnes and Noble Classics, 2004 and Poor Folk and Other Stories, trans. David McDuff, Penguin Classics, 1988 and Poor People & A Little Hero, Doubleday 1968|
|1846||?||The Petersburg Feuilletons||Dostoevsky’s Occasional Writings, Northwestern University Press, 1963|
|1846||Dvojnik (Двойник. Петербургская поэма)||The Double||The Double and the Gambler, trans. Pevear and Volokhonsky|
|1846||Gospodin Prokharchin (Господин Прохарчин)||Mr. Prokharchin||Poor Folk and Other Stories, trans. David McDuff, Penguin Classics, 1988|
|1847||Roman v devyati pis’mah (Роман в девяти письмах)||Novel in Nine Letters||An Honest Thief and other Short Stories, trans. Constance Garnett, 1921|
|1847||Hozyajka (Хозяйка)||The Landlady||Poor Folk and Other Stories, trans. David McDuff, Penguin Classics, 1988|
|1848||Polzunkov (Ползунков)||Polzunkov||Poor Folk and Other Stories, trans. David McDuff, Penguin Classics, 1988|
|1848||Chestnyj vor (Честный вор)||An Honest Thief||An Honest Thief and other Short Stories, trans. Constance Garnett, 1921 and The Best Short Stories of Fyodor Dostoevsky, trans. David Magarshack, Modern Library Classics 2001|
|1848||Slaboe serdze (Слабое сердце)||A Weak Heart||Uncle’s Dream and Other Short Stories, trans. David McDuff, Penguin Classics|
|1848||Elka i svad’ba (Елка и свадьба)||The Christmas Tree and a Wedding||The Best Short Stories of Fyodor Dostoevsky, trans. David Magarshack, Modern Library Classics 2001|
|1848||Chuzhaya zhena i muzh pod krovat’yu (Чужая жена и муж под кроватью||The Jealous Husband (Another Man’s Wife)||An Honest Thief and other Short Stories, trans. Constance Garnett, 1921|
|1848||Belye nochi (Белые ночи||White Nights||The Best Short Stories of Fyodor Dostoevsky, trans. David Magarshack, Modern Library Classics 2001 and Uncle’s Dream and Other Short Stories, trans. David McDuff, Penguin Classics|
|1849||Netochka Nezvanova (Неточка Незванова)||Netochka Nezvanova||Netochka Nezvanova, trans. Jane Kentish, Penguin Classics]|
|1849||Malen’kij geroj (Маленький герой)||A Little Hero||Poor People & A Little Hero, Doubleday 1968|
|1859||Dyadyushkin son (Дядюшкин сон)||The Uncle’s Dream||An Honest Thief and other Short Stories, trans. Constance Garnett and in Uncle’s Dream and Other Short Stories, trans. David McDuff, Penguin Classics|
|1859||Selo Stepanchikovo i ego obitateli (Село Степанчиково и его обитатели)||The Village of Stepanchikovo||The Village of Stepanchikovo, trans. Ignat Avsey, Penguin Classics|
|1861||Unizhennye i oskorblennye (Униженные и оскорбленные)||The Insulted and Humiliated||Humiliated and Insulted, trans. Ignat Avsey, Oneworld Classics|
|1862||Skvernyj anekdot (Скверный анекдот)||A Nasty Story||The Eternal Husband and other Stories, trans. Pevear and Volokhonsky, Bantam Classics and An Honest Thief and other Short Stories, trans. Constance Garnett|
|1863||?||Winter Notes on Summer Impressions||Winter Notes on Summer Impressions, trans. David Patterson, Northwestern University Press|
|1864||Zapiski iz podpolya (Записки из подполья||Notes from Underground||Notes from Underground, trans. Pevear and Volokhonsky, Vintage Classics|
|1865||Krokodil (Крокодил)||The Crocodile||An Honest Thief and other Short Stories, trans. Constance Garnett|
|1866||Prestuplenie i nakazanie (Преступление и наказание)||Crime and Punishment||Crime and Punishment, trans. Pevear and Volokhonsky, Vintage Classics|
|1867||Igrok (Игрок)||The Gambler||The Double and the Gambler, trans. Pevear and Volokhonsky, Vintage Classics|
|1869||Idiot (Идиот)||The Idiot||The Idiot, trans. Pevear and Volokhonsky, Vintage Classics|
|1870||Vechnyj muzh (Вечный муж)||The Eternal Husband||The Eternal Husband and Other Stories, trans. Pevear and Volokhonsky, Bantam Classics]|
|1872||Besy (Бесы)||The Possessed/ Demons/Devils||Demons, trans. Pevear and Volokhonsky, Vintage Classics|
|1873||Bobok (Бобок)||Bobok||The Eternal Husband and Other Stories, trans. Pevear and Volokhonsky, Bantam Classics|
|1873-1881||Дневник писателя||A Writer’s Diary||A Writer’s Diary [Abridged], trans. Kenneth Lantz, Northwestern University Press, 2009|
|1875||Podrostok (Подросток)||A Raw Youth/The Adolescent||The Adolescent, trans. Pevear and Volokhonsky, Vintage Classics|
|1876||Krotkaja (Кроткая)||A Gentle Creature/The Meek One/The Meek Girl||The Eternal Husband and Other Stories, trans. Pevear and Volokhonsky, Bantam Classics and The Best Short Stories of Fyodor Dostoevsky, trans. David Magarshack, Modern Library 2001, Uncle’s Dream and Other Short Stories, trans. David McDuff, Penguin Classics|
|1876||Muzhik Marej (Мужик Марей)||The Peasant Marey||An Honest Thief and other Short Stories, trans. Constance Garnett and The House of the Dead and Poor Folk, trans Constant Garnett, Barnes and Noble Classics, 2004|
|1876||Mal’chik u Hrista na elke (Мальчик у Христа на ёлке)||The Heavenly Christmas Tree||An Honest Thief and other Short Stories, trans. Constance Garnett|
|1877||Son smeshnogo cheloveka (Сон смешного человека)||The Dream of a Ridiculous Man||The Best Short Stories of Fyodor Dostoevsky, trans. David Magarshack and The Eternal Husband and Other Stories, trans. Pevear and Volokhonsky and An Honest Thief and other Short Stories, trans. Constance Garnett|
|1881||Brat’ya Karamazovy (Братья Карамазовы)||The Brothers Maramazov||The Brothers Karamazov, trans. Pevear and Volokhonsky|