B0nnie's Reviews > Poor Folk

Poor Folk by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
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Feb 14, 2012

it was amazing
Read from April 03 to 04, 2012

The first works of Dostoyevsky were translations of French fiction. He was translating Eugénie Grandet, and, on an evening stroll, he has "the vision on the Neva".

Да! я могу это сделать!

In his mind he sees two sad and hopeless people that just break his heart. He sat down and wrote Poor Folk, his first novel. He did it in just nine months. And he never quite got out of Balzac's grip: obviously Puskin and Gogol too - but it was the inspiration from Balzac that got him to pick up a pen and write this novel, and he uses those characters and themes again and again.

It's an important work because it is Dostoyevsky's first novel, it is written before he faced the firing squad, it was the beginning of a new type of literature. It is social criticism, psychological realism, and it is ironic. The critics were practically running in the street, his manuscript in hand, yelling "We have a new Gogol!"

The new Gogol was only 25 years old.

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The Varenka narrative from June 1 - June 11 is incredible, building up to this scene:

It seemed as though he were impervious to the cruel elements as he ran from one side of the hearse to the other—the skirts of his old greatcoat flapping about him like a pair of wings. From every pocket of the garment protruded books, while in his hand he carried a specially large volume, which he hugged closely to his breast. The passers-by uncovered their heads and crossed themselves as the cortege passed, and some of them, having done so, remained staring in amazement at the poor old man. Every now and then a book would slip from one of his pockets and fall into the mud; whereupon somebody, stopping him, would direct his attention to his loss, and he would stop, pick up the book, and again set off in pursuit of the hearse. At the corner of the street he was joined by a ragged old woman; until at length the hearse turned a corner, and became hidden from my eyes.

This book is worth 5 stars for that section alone.

It's interesting that at the time when Dostoyevsky was translating, it wasn't considered so important to exactly adhere to the original, as long as the main idea was gotten across. Now translators try for something closer.

Compare several translations of a sample paragraph from Poor Folk and decide for yourself how successful this is:

1. A gay little child was I—my one idea being ceaselessly to run about the fields and the woods and the garden. No one ever gave me a thought, for my father was always occupied with business affairs, and my mother with her housekeeping. Nor did anyone ever give me any lessons—a circumstance for which I was not sorry. At earliest dawn I would hie me to a pond or a copse, or to a hay or a harvest field, where the sun could warm me, and I could roam wherever I liked, and scratch my hands with bushes, and tear my clothes in pieces. For this I used to get blamed afterwards, but I did not care.
- C.J. Hogarth

2. I was ever such a playful little child; all I ever did was run around the fields, the woods and the orchard, and no one ever paid me the slightest attention. Father was constantly preoccupied with business matters, and my mother took care of the household; no one tried to give me any education, for which I was grateful. I can remember that from the earliest morning onwards I would be running off to the pond, or the wood, or the haymaking, or the reapers - and never mind that the sun was baking down, that I had wandered heaven only knows where away from the village, was covered in scratches from the bushes, and had torn my clothes - I would be given a scolding at home later on, but I did not care.
- David McDuff

3. I was a playful little thing; I used to do nothing but run about the fields, the copses and the gardens, and no one troubled about me. My father was constantly busy about his work, my mother looked after the house; no one taught me anything, for which I was very glad. Sometimes at daybreak I would run away either to the pond or to the copse or to the hayfield or to the reapers - and it did not matter that the sun was baking, that I was running, I did not know where , away from the village, that I was scratched by the bushes, that I tore my dress…. I should be scolded afterwards at home, but I did not care for that.
- Contance Garnett

4. I was a wild little girl who did nothing but scamper about in the woods, fields and pastures, and no one bothered me. Often I was up as dawn, running out to the fishpond or into the woods or far down the meadow to where the mowers were. I never minded the hot sun or going astray far beyond the houseds and buildings or that the bushes scratched me and tor my dress. When I finally came home, I got a scolding, but I didn't care.
- Geir Kjetsaa

The other translators of Poor Folk (also called Poor People) are Hugh Aplin, Lena Milman and David Magarshack. The free Hogarth translation is here and it's the same one as the Kindle edition (I used it for the quotations, but prefer the McDuff or Garnett).
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Quotes B0nnie Liked

Fyodor Dostoyevsky
“Perhaps one may be out late, and had got separated from one's companions. Oh horrors! Suddenly one starts and trembles as one seems to see a strange-looking being peering from out of the darkness of a hollow tree, while all the while the wind is moaning and rattling and howling through the forest—moaning with a hungry sound as it strips the leaves from the bare boughs, and whirls them into the air. High over the tree-tops, in a widespread, trailing, noisy crew, there fly, with resounding cries, flocks of birds which seem to darken and overlay the very heavens. Then a strange feeling comes over one, until one seems to hear the voice of some one whispering: "Run, run, little child! Do not be out late, for this place will soon have become dreadful! Run, little child! Run!" And at the words terror will possess one's soul, and one will rush and rush until one's breath is spent—until, panting, one has reached home.”
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Poor Folk

Fyodor Dostoyevsky
“Before you there lie the Steppes, my darling—only the Steppes, the naked Steppes, the Steppes that are as bare as the palm of my hand. There there live only heartless old women and rude peasants and drunkards. There the trees have already shed their leaves. There abide but rain and cold.”
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Poor Folk

Fyodor Dostoyevsky
“Yet as the evening of Sunday came on, a sadness as of death would overtake me, for at nine o'clock I had to return to school, where everything was cold and strange and severe—where the governesses, on Mondays, lost their tempers, and nipped my ears, and made me cry.”
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Poor Folk

Fyodor Dostoyevsky
“Clouds overlaid the sky as with a shroud of mist, and everything looked sad, rainy, and threatening under a fine drizzle which was beating against the window-panes, and streaking their dull, dark surfaces with runlets of cold, dirty moisture. Only a scanty modicum of daylight entered to war with the trembling rays of the ikon lamp. The dying man threw me a wistful look, and nodded. The next moment he had passed away.”
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Poor Folk


Comments (showing 1-13 of 13) (13 new)

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

I agonize over translations. It almost leaves me paralyzed. Russian: Garnett; P&V; McDuff; Briggs? French: (Proust) Davis or Montcrief/Kilmartin? (Flaubert) Davis, Wall, or Steegmuller? English Bible: KJV/AV; NRSV; RSV; Jerusalem; NAB; NABRE? What is a pitiful but earnest monoglot to do? Invariably, I prefer bits and pieces of each translation. Thus, I have read “Brothers Karamazov” and “Crime and Punishment” three times but in a different translation each time. Yet, I still don’t have an informed opinion. Naturally, each time I reread, I enjoy it more, but that is because I get more out of Dostoevsky with each new reading, not because the translation is better. I know that P&V are the darlings of the decade, but I’m not sure I prefer what I perceive to be their strict literalism (the old functional equivalence vs. dynamic equivalence argument). Some of your previous comments/reviews have led me to suspect that you might be a linguist. I’m just saying!!! Perhaps you read everything in the original. To your larger point, I need to read Poor Folk– as well as “The Gambler” and “The Double.” Also, I need to settle on a translator of Proust, so I can finish “In Search of Lost Time” before time runs out for me.


message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

Sorry, I can't even settle on a consistent spelling of Dostoyevsky Dostoevski, so I mangle the two together.


B0nnie You make some very interesting observations Steve, thanks for your comment. The point in the four samples of Poor Folk is that they all basically paint the same mental image. I think it's not that big a deal. But I do have my favourites, lol. And probably all for the wrong reasons - I like Magarshack and Garnett. They might have made some errors, but they do not need "updating". I have nothing against Volokhonsky and Pevear per se, although I remember seeing 'buddy' for 'friend' (?)I think it was their work. Anyway, *that* was jarring. yes I love languages & I've studied several (including russian - the most difficult - but I'm painfulllly slow in it & have all but given up)


message 4: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell Fantastic.


message 5: by Manny (new)

Manny Да! я могу это сделать!

I had never heard this quotation before! I shall say it to myself every morning when I get up...


message 6: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy Wonderful review. Very interesting, about the translations. I run a literature-in-translation group here on GR: http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/3...

Could I by any chance re-post portions of this review in the group? Or better yet, if you do it? Let me know, thanks.


message 7: by Ted (new)

Ted Да! я могу это сделать! ????

I guess it's an in joke.


message 8: by Manny (new)

Manny Ted wrote: "Да! я могу это сделать! ????

I guess it's an in joke."


Yes! I can do it (too)!


message 9: by Ted (new)

Ted And he was right!


B0nnie thanks everyone for your comments - yes I'm a little free with Dostoyevsky's words. The quote is from my new book "Fedya: cries and whispers" ;-)

- Jimmy, be my guest & repost as you see fit


message 11: by Prashant (new)

Prashant Nice review Bonnie!

I always wanted to read Gogol. I heard about him for the first time when I watched the movie 'The Namesake'. The actor names his first son Gogol after his favorite author.
The movie is based on an award winning work by Jhumpa Lahiri [Book: The Namesake]. I haven't read the book but the movie is awesome.
Any particular work of Gogol that you would recommend?


B0nnie Thanks Prashant, and thanks for the reminder about The Namesake. I've been meaning to see that movie - and I'm going to get my hands on it as soon as I can. I've only read Gogol's The Overcoat(a short story) and Dead Souls. That was long ago, but I think these are the most essential. But waaa I know I need to read more of his work.


message 13: by Prashant (new)

Prashant Oh! How can I forget. Even the protagonist in Namesake kept on saying that "this world is like Gogol's overcoat".

Thanks Bonnie. I will try to find and read his works very soon. :)


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