In 1849 Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881) was sentenced to death. He was member of a society which were considered dangerous for their liberal ideas. As the execution was about to set off, he was reprieved and instead sent to prison camp, and afterwards sent off for military service. Notes from Underground (written 1864) is one of his first major works after this period, and it clearly marked a turn in his writing career. Before he had affiliated himself with the ideals of the enlightment and romanticism, rationality, the beautiful and the sublime, but in Notes from Underground these ideals are to large extent ridiculed and instead more doubt, cynism and existential delving arises. The new tone in the narrative is also evident in the later works of Dostoevsky such as Crime and Punishment (1866), The Idiot (1868), and The Brothers Karamazov (1879-1880) and because of this Notes from Underground has been called a prologue to these works.
Here I’ll try to present some of the characteristics which marks this turn in Dostoevsky’s writing. I’ll argue that in Notes from Underground it is Dostoevsky the philosopher who presents himself. The emphasis in the narration alters from a literary depiction to the presentation of ideas. However, Dostoevsky’s philosophising is not characterized by an inclination for argumentation, but rather the ability to create images and incorporate feelings – or as Nikolay Strakhov put it, Dostoevsky “felt thought with unusual liveliness”. Another characteristic is that Dostoevsky gets personal and starts to use more of himself in the narration and dares to be self-critical and radically honest. This honesty is both evident in description of narcissistic day-dreaming, fantasies of how he (the main character of the book) donates millions to humanity and how everyone falls in love with him and kisses his feet, and on the other hand descriptions of radical self-blame, for example when he yells to a girl “I hated you already for all the lies I had told you”.
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