Frankie's Reviews > The Eternal Husband and Other Stories

The Eternal Husband and Other Stories by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
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Mar 04, 10

bookshelves: russian
Read from January 15 to March 04, 2010

A Nasty Anecdote, also known as An Unpleasant Predicament along with every other possible translation of the words, is not as pristine of plot as D's previous stories. The paralleled figures, Pralinsky and Pseldonymov, seem to be developed fully, but many of the detailed characters like Mlekopitaev remain offstage. The main idea behind the conflict of the story is brilliant, and apropos to the subject matter of the day. Alexander II had just freed Russia from serfdom, and the intelligentsia were discussing how to relate with their new free fellow citizens. In the story, Pralinsky argues for his superficial thoughts of "humaneness," which he acts upon, and by cutting the cords of class distinction too early, gets himself and everyone around him into trouble. His type is a dreaming everyman of extremes, with lofty ideals and (simultaneously) despicable egoism and pretension. Comic quality wins out in the end, though Pralinsky "doesn't hold out."

Note on this Bantam Classic copy of the PV translation: An important line is missing from the top of the final page 66 of A Nasty Anecdote. If I didn't have another translation available I would've been lost.

The Eternal Husband as a novella epitomizes Dostoevsky's versatility. Here, he takes a break from political, moral and societal causes, focusing on marriage and fidelity. A man, Velchaninov, lives in guilt and must come to terms with the consequences of his youth. He eventually comes around to earning the hero position in the work, while balancing his karma through various injustices instigated by the cuckolded husband of his past lover. This husband, Pavel Pavlovich, is a character with no nobility, who appears to learn nothing during the course of the plot. Only Velchaninov sees the horror of their actions on Liza and, to some degree, everyone else in the plot. Ironically, the paralleled characters use guilt on each other, trading it back and forth in every scene. There are very few women in the cast, amplifying the misguided decisions and responsibilities of the two men.

Bobok is a brief tale Dostoevsky published in the first season of his Diary of a Writer while he was editor of The Citizen. As an answer to criticism for his fantastic character types, Dostoevsky creates a gothic circus of absurd characters speaking from the grave. These "undead" happen to be upper class citizens with stereotypically vile and disgusting traits. (Their bodily decay can only be smelled by others, the more evil they are – the more they stink.) Much of the allegory here is obvious. The corpses prize their lascivious lifestyles and are not ashamed, as if the only change for them beyond the grave is the unfettering of social inhibitions. Perhaps Dostoevsky considered the new political movements of his day to be a sort of "death" to the upper class. If so, the voices he heard in the gradually-uncensored journals seemed to be the ugly, remorseless voices of the dead in graves. Further, if this allegory stands, the grave he was lying on (of the indignant yet equally repulsive General) represents The Citizen.

The Meek One (also translated A Gentle Creature) is a morose account of a man's response to his wife's suicide. After a simple author's intro (this story was published in his own journal A Writer's Diary), Dostoevsky uses first person narration to recount the events surrounding the marriage of a lonely pawnbroker and an impoverished orphan. Usually Dostoevsky's narrators look back on events with a calm understanding – as with Arkady in The Adolescent or Anton Lavrentevich in Demons – though their accounts are sometimes tarnished by their connection to other characters. In this story, Dostoevsky's narrator tortures his sweet wife with first a complete lack of emotional contact, then with his raving, desperate worship. By the end, the reader understands but the narrator still does not. This is a true denouement – a character doomed to deceive himself and repeat his blunders.

The Dream of a Ridiculous Man is the most fantastical and yet most plausible of Dostoevsky's stories by virtue of the dream structure. A suicidal existentialist dreams that he dies and is delivered to a perfect world, then unintentionally corrupts it. When he awakes, his faith in life is restored, he preaches the truth of his dream and is ridiculed for it. The genius in Dostoevsky's delivery of the message is his preparation of the perfect narrator – the self-proclaimed "ridiculous man" and his nihilist renunciation of life. His anguish at bringing sin to the dream utopia redeems him, and he even bizarrely offers himself to be crucified by the natives. I feel that this brief parable of Dostoevsky's is his clearest secular argument against utopianism in general – whether Fourierism or Marxism. It's a convincing one, though his narrator remains an "underground" type, regardless of his reversed solution. The implication here is that the much-debated topic cannot stand outside of the Christ idea.
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