Nels Mattson's Reviews > Notes from Underground

Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
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's review
Oct 19, 2007

it was amazing

I read this book back as a Freshman and I really enjoyed it, but I don't think I understood it much at all. For example, the second part of the book is titled "Apropos of Wet Snow" and I had no idea what "apropos of" meant, much less what the importance of the wet snow was. This time through the book I looked up apropos and learned that it's an adverb, adjective and a preposition (when used with "of"). In this case it means "concerning". As for the wet snow, I'll get to that later. In Richard Pevear's introduction he writes at length about how Dostoevsky wrote Notes from Underground to satirize Cherneshevsky's novel "What is to Be Done?" Cherneshevsky is a utopian rationalist materialist socialist egoist, to put it briefly. It took me quite some time reading Notes from Underground to stumble upon what I think Dostoevsky's point is. The book is confusing for several reasons. It takes place in two parts- the part taking place after the second, although the second was written after the first part. The second part is the narrator's reflections on times past and not his actual feelings at the time. Also, he contradicts himself constantly. Most confusingly, the censors at the time took out large chunks of the first part which, according to Dostoevsky himself, make it so that it doesn't make sense. Dostoevsky never corrected the omissions from the censors. It should come as no surprise, then, that I only started to understand the "point" of the book about halfway through the second part. Those like Cherneshevsky were promoting a Crystal Palace where everyone wanted to do good things for themselves and others. The narrator is forever trying to do bad things like insult an officer or partake in a duel. His inability to do these bad things stops him from doing anything and his life as a whole stagnates. He becomes utterly miserable and retreats underground. The wet snow, as I understand it, is symbolic for what is weighing him down. Wet snow is heavier than colder, drier snow. Here, the wet snow is the Underground Man's attempt and failure to do bad things, while the colder, drier snow would be his actual performance of bad deeds. Because he's incapable of doing anything "bad," he is weighed down by his inaction for a number of reasons. In a nutshell, Dostoevsky is saying that if people are not given the right to do bad things, even if they don't do them, they will be miserable.

It is altogether possible that my reading of this book is way, way off and I'd love to hear alternate (or more accurate) readings. There's a lot more to it where this came from too.
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