The Dostoevsky Project Wrap-Up #2: Superlatives

Here’s just a little snapshot of my reading.


Best Opening Line: Notes from Underground – “I AM A SICK MAN… I am a wicked man.  An unattractive man.  I think my liver hurts.”  D. seems not to have thought to much about the effect of opening lines (unlike, say, Tolstoy, Dickens, or Jane Austen).  Still, this one stands out.

Favorite BookCrime and Punishment.  Funny that I had to read thousands of pages before coming to this conclusion, considering Wikipedia would likely have told me this was a popular favorite.

Least Favorite Book – The Adolescent.  It’s not that I hated it, but it was much more confusing and therefore much less affecting than everything else.

Funniest Book – The Village of Stepanchikovo – Foma Fovich the imposter and intellectual bully is funny in the most nerve-wracking, anxious way.

Book of Which my Understanding Most Improved upon Reading it a Second Time – Demons.  I defy you to read this once, on your own, without any assistance, and then tell me what happened.

Most Disappointing Piece to Read Given My Initial Expectations about It – The Diary of a Writer.  I thought this would be cool, (and this will sound simplistic but) Dostoevsky is just a way better writer of fiction than non-fiction, but still –

Favorite Non-Fiction Piece – “Mr. -Bov and the Question of Art.”  The House of the Dead was good too, but actually much more mundane and not uniquely “Dostoevsky-ian.”

Most Surprising Revelation about Dostoevsky – He seems to have been an unreconstructed anti-Semite. This is especially evident in The Diary of a Writer.

Book I Forgot to Blog About – The Gambler.  I liked it, I guess I just never wrote anything about it.

Most Haunting Short Story – “Bobok.”  The dead in the cemetery talking about issues of bourgeois insignificance is one thing: the post-dead soul that has degenerated to the point of only being able to say “bobok” over and over again is quite another.

Book about Which I Most Disagreed with Joseph Frank – Two actually.  The Double – he thought it was disappointing and pretentious.  I thought it was clever.  “White Nights” – he found “charming,” I found forced and boringly self-referential.

Favorite Cafe Diatribe about Nihilism (there are a surprisingly high number of candidates) – Prince Valkovsky’s in The Insulted and Injured.  I like Ivan Karamazov too but that selection would be so mainstream.  This one is more obscure.

Funniest Short Story –  “The Jealous Husband – or – Another Man’s Wife.”  Not a lot of deep intellectual content there but if Dostoevsky had just wanted to write madcap comedy, he could have.

Favorite “Scandal” Scene (Again, a lot of candidates here) – Three-way tie between the “literary fete” of Demons, the final party in The Idiot, and the Karamazov family counseling session at Elder Zosima’s cell in The Brothers Karamazov.

Favorite Narrative Editorial Comment –  the narrator of The Brothers Karamazov describing Fyodor Karamazov: “precisely the type of man who is not only worthless and depraved but muddleheaded as well.”

Favorite Awkward Turn of Literary Criticism Phrase used by Joseph Frank – “hoary topos.”

Favorite Dream/Surreal Sequence – Ivan Karamazov’s conversation with the devil.


I’m sure there are more, but that’s enough for now.

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