Who doesn’t love bitter, isolated, unnamed ramblings? It’s like the Internet of the late 1800’s! This novella, published in 1864 is an existential look at suffering, reason, logic and ennui (one of my favorite words ever, thanks to the movie “Gigi”). A look at one man’s undoing (namely by himself), his paranoia and his life on the fringes of society. many believe that though a much harder read than Dostoyevsky’s longer books, such as Crime and Punishment, this is a more difficult read, less linear in narrative but ultimately helps one understand everything Dostoyevsky wrote after its publication. Only a man who understood this kind of self-loathing and pain could write this nameless character, who, because of the rather thin plot line, is the main focus of this brilliant short story.
‘I am a sick man. I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I believe my liver is diseased. However, I know nothing at all about my disease, and do not know for certain what ails me. I don’t consult a doctor for it, and never have, though I have a respect for medicine and doctors. Besides, I am extremely superstitious, sufficiently so to respect medicine, anyway (I am well-educated enough not to be superstitious, but I am superstitious). No, I refuse to consult a doctor from spite. That you probably will not understand. Well, I understand it, though. Of course, I can’t explain who it is precisely that I am mortifying in this case by my spite: I am perfectly well aware that I cannot “pay out” the doctors by not consulting them; I know better than anyone that by all this I am only injuring myself and no one else. But still, if I don’t consult a doctor it is from spite. My liver is bad, well–let it get worse!’
Dostoyevsky was preoccupied with Christianity and often wrote about human psychology in the social, political and spiritual atmosphere of 19th Century Russia. Sound like a barrel of laughs? Actually, though considered one of the great analysts of classic literature, many of Dostoyevsky’s short stories and books were steeped in black humor. Though violent and grim, there are always humorous elements. Frequently these come from the narrator, whose ironic attitude to some of the characters results in some brilliant comic moments. Dostoevsky’s image as the world’s gloomiest writer may derive from the fact that a lot of people read him when they’re mainly interested in existential angst — so that’s precisely what they see. However, I challenge you to look deeper, just below the surface at times, and find some biting social wit at a time when not many were willing to expose it.