The Possessed (The Devils)

The Possessed (The Devils)

by Fyodor Dostoevsky


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The Possessed (In Russian: Бесы, tr. Besy), also translated as The Devils or Demons, is an 1872 novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky. The Possessed is an extremely political book, and is a testimonial of life in Imperial Russia in the late 19th century.

As the revolutionary democrats begin to rise in Russia, different ideologies begin to collide. Dostoevsky casts a critical eye on both the left-wing idealists, exposing their ideas and ideological foundation as demonic, and the conservative establishment's ineptitude in dealing with those ideas and their social consequences.

This form of intellectual conservativism tied to the Slavophil movement of Dostoevsky's day, is seen to have continued on into its modern manifestation in individuals like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Dostoevsky's novels focusing on the idea that utopias and positivist ideas, in being utilitarian, were unrealistic and unobtainable.

The book has five primary ideological characters: Verkhovensky, Shatov, Stavrogin, Stepan Trofimovich, and Kirilov. Through their philosophies, Dostoevsky describes the political chaos seen in 19th-Century Russia.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781615340620
Publisher: EZreads Publications
Publication date: 03/04/2009
Pages: 676
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.63(d)

About the Author

Fyodor Mikhaylovich Dostoyevsky (Russian: Фёдор Михайлович Достоевский) was a Russian novelist, journalist, and short-story writer whose psychological penetration into the human soul had a profound influence on the 20th century novel.

Dostoevsky was the second son of a former army doctor. He was educated at home and at a private school. Shortly after the death of his mother in 1837 he was sent to St. Petersburg, where he entered the Army Engineering College. In 1839 Dostoevsky's father died probably of apoplexy but there were strong rumors that he was murdered by his own serfs. Dostoevsky graduated as a military engineer, but resigned in 1844 to devote himself to writing. His first novel, Poor Folk appeared in 1846.

In 1846 he joined a group of utopian socialists. He was arrested in 1849 and sentenced to death, commuted to imprisonment in Siberia. Dostoevsky spent four years in hard labor and four years as a soldier in Semipalatinsk.

Dostoevsky returned to St. Petersburg in 1854 as a writer with a religious mission and published three works that derive in different ways from his Siberia experiences: The House of the Dead , (1860) a fictional account of prison life, The Insulted and Injured, which reflects the author's refutation of naive Utopianism in the face of evil, and Winter Notes on Summer Impressions, his account of a trip to Western Europe.

In 1857 Dostoevsky married Maria Isaev, a 29-year old widow. He resigned from the army two years later. Between the years 1861 and 1863 he served as editor of the monthly periodical Time, which was later suppressed because of an article on the Polish uprising.

In 1864-65 his wife and brother died and he was burdened with debts, and his situation was made even worse by gambling. From the turmoil of the 1860s emerged Notes from the Underground, a psychological study of an outsider, which marked a watershed in Dostoevsky's artistic development.

In 1867 Dostoevsky married Anna Snitkin, his 22-year old stenographer, who seems to have understood her husband's manias and rages. They traveled abroad and returned in 1871. By the time of The Brothers Karamazov (1879-80), Dostoevsky was recognized in his own country as one of its great writers

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Possessed (Barnes & Noble Classics Series) 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found this on the classics rack at B&N, and wondered why I couldn't recall having heard of this Dostoyevsky novel. The subject matter is so timely, I couldn't wait to read it, even though I was committing to another big, long book... Well, I suppose this is the Dostoyevsky novel your professors DON'T want you to read. It makes socialists look bad. It predicted, several decades in advance, the violence and horror of Stalin's U.S.S.R. This book transported me to 19th-century Russia and I didn't want it to end. It instantly has earned a place in my top-ten books list. It alternates between being horrific and laugh-out-loud funny. Some basic info: Constance Garnett's translation is fine, and I don't see a need for a more modern one. What I have the most difficulty with is the Russian names and their variations, and keeping track of who's who in the large cast of characters. I suggest keeping a list for yourself or writing them down somewhere in the book. I also advise reading the censored chapter when you reach the part of the book where the author intended it to be. Ah yes - the introduction by Elizabeth Dalton is very good, but it will give away some of the story, so I suggest reading it as an afterword. The notes are very helpful. There is a character in the story who constantly speaks French, and this version gives you footnotes with a translation of all the French. I was reading concurrently another copy of The Possessed without the French translations, and while I understand some French, I was so thankful for my B&N copy so I could understand it all. I recommend this as a good quality version of the book to buy, with lots of useful extras.
RobertTyler More than 1 year ago
The people and passions of the 19th century clash in this masterpiece, which comments on political conditions in Russia. The politics and ideas of the day entangle all the characters as the action unfolds, and the moral that unfolds along alongside the plot is that ideas have consequences. The accuracy of the predictions made about what would happen politically to Russia is so astonishing that the novel could be read for that reason alone. In any case, it knocked my socks off. Always lurks more than one reason to read a Dostoyevsky, and politics does not obsure a well-turned plot. The author's ability to present every point of view uncontaminated by his own biases is a hallmark of his genius, and this talent adds immeasurably to the narrative power. Here one might find the secret of the book's excellence. My own favorite character in the story is Kirillov, and the care the author takes with him hints at a soft spot Dostoyevsky nurtures even for this young nihilist. Shatov I found a warmly sympathetic character, the vessel that carries Russia in its hold. The characterization of a political meeting in a safehouse stands out in my mind for it's cunning humor, the best in 19th century literature. One small note: it's better to read the chapter "Savrogin's Confession" in the order the author originally intended, not at the end. I prefer the Garnett translation to the current title, "Demons." Although that was the correct Russian word, it carries a religious connotation absent from the novel except in certain places. "The Possessed" better captures in English what is happening in the novel -- the fact that ideas are driving the action, as opposed to persons, that ideas are taking posssession over people. Garnett was on-target to choose that as the English title.
quaintlittlehead on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is by far the most readable Dostoevsky work I have yet come across, and one with a spell-bindingly unputdownable plot once you get past page 300 or so. The book is narrated, after the fact of its action, by a character who acts as a close observer but who does not participate as actively in the plot as the other characters do. There are times when this device seems far-fetched (how does he know so much about everything relevant?), but just when you begin to think so, the author has his narrator explain exactly how he came to know things, whether second-hand or by viewing from a distance. Dostoevsky very deftly handles actions and conversation as if they are occurring among real people, and thus not always privy to all equally. This establishes a reality that more than compensates for the slight distance attributable to the non-omniscient narration.Likewise, some readers may find that the first 300 or so pages, which primarily set up the romantic and domestic backgrounds of the essential personnel, have little to do with the action that eventually takes place. On the contrary, it is just this which comes back to give so much weight to the characters in the end. As the plot becomes more and more political, they are not simply men caught up in their "great idea," but fallible humans who come home to wives and lovers and have a great deal more to give and receive in their relationships than simply the philosophical intrigues that occupy the bulk of their moral concern. The back cover of the Barnes & Noble edition suggests that for Dostoevsky, these grand political ideas were not considerate enough of the everyday person. With his attention to detail, it could be argued that few people were as considerate of the everyday person and his psyche as Dostoevsky.The book has garnered tremendous praise for its prescient resemblance to the events of the Bolshevik Revolution. It is clear that the author's concern was primarily for his native land. In the words of Stepan Trofimovitch, "You see, that's exactly like our Russia, those devils that come out of the sick man and enter into the swine. They are all the sores, all the foul contagions, all the impurities, all the devils great and small that have multiplied in that great invalid, our beloved Russia, in the course of ages and ages. . . . But a great idea and a great Will will encompass it from on high, as with that lunatic possessed of devils. . . and all those devils will come forth, all the impurity, all the rottenness that was putrefying on the surface. . . and they will beg of themselves to enter into swine; and indeed maybe they have entered into them already! They are we, we and those. . . ." Dostoevsky's thoughts may have been only of Russia, but his novel endures precisely because "we and those" are all nations who turn to devils other than that "great idea and great Will." Even in utterly democratic America, the havoc that can be wrought by men in the name of great political ideas will cause the reader to shudder.The Barnes & Noble edition of this book includes an introduction by scholar Elizabeth Dalton, the "Stavrogin's Confession" chapter excised by Dostoevsky's editors and translated by Virginia Woolf, a final note on the work's importance to the philosophies of Sartre and Camus, and a selection of quotations about the book and questions for further consideration. I was particularly surprised at the book's influence on existentialist thinking in spite of what to me seemed obvious Christian messages. However, this is perhaps best captured in the quotation by André Glucksmann included in the supplementary material: "The inner nature of this nihilistic terrorism is that everything is permissible, whether because God exists and I am his representative, or because God does not exist and I take his place. That is what I find so impressive about Dostoevsky: he is a secret, a riddle." I find the idea that one can take an author to be whatever one wants somewhat troublin
datrappert on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is my second Dostoyevsky novel, after the Brothers Karamazov. Like that work, I was engaged by Dostoyevsky's narrative voice, which always has a hint of ironic humor, even when he is discussing truly terrible things - and there are a lot of them in this book. In the end, it descends into a maelstrom of nihilism (OK - that's a bit overdone, but you get in that mood after reading this author.) The book isn't as good as the Brothers Karamazov because the events and characters are even more inexplicable. I guess my problem with Dostoyevsky is that I'm not Russian. His characters do and say things that just don't seem very logical to me - but obviously THEY feel very deeply about what they are doing. I don't know if it is the "19th century"-ness or the Russian-ness of the novel that creates the most problems. Still, I'm intrigued, and the next time I'm heading out for a vacation and want to take a book I can be sure I won't finish in two weeks, I may pick up another one of his. There is considerable pleasure to be found spending a few disoriented weeks in his company and that of his fascinating, if ultimately tragic, characters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This novel is harder to digest than Crime & Punishment and The Idiot. The author has a whole lot of build up before the end of the book takes off. I guess he did it for readers to get a feeling for the characters because Dostoevsky is good at characterization. In all of his books you feel like you get a first hand view of the charcters' souls and personalties. In this story which is set in a small russisn town, the characters form a secret society to create a hotbed of social unrest and start a revolution. The chaos that ensues causes the quintet of leaders to turn devilish and turn on each other. One observation I have is that Dostoevsky makes the point that anyone can manipulate and control a group even if they are off their rocker with the right rhetoric and how dangerous that can be. His social commentary in this book may still have some use today. I highly recommend this book and Dostoevsky's other works. I will be reading Brothers Karamazov next. Also, give Tolstoy's War and Peace and Anna Karenina a read if you like russian 19th century lit. War and Peace is LONG but worthwhile and Anna Karenina may be the best novel ever written.
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Tennesseedog More than 1 year ago
In high school (a while ago) I also read Notes from the Underground. Don't remember much of it to comment on it. A couple of days ago I finished this monster (710 pages), The Possessed. I found it very interesting and entertaining. I enjoyed the somewhat convoluted story line but was able to follow plot developments by concentrating on the story. The characters were richly developed though the bizarre nature of many of them made me laugh and then cringe sometimes within the space of a few minutes of reading. More importantly I found the author's placement of political and philosophical arguments and expositions to be stunning in their effect. He craftily combined plot actions that occurred simultaneously into distinct sections that were overseen by the omniscient narrator and then presented to the reader in a rational manner. It is a dark novel and reflects on the mind of the author who saw much and lived much in a cruel and dangerous 19th Century Tsarist Russia. One can feel sympathy for some characters and outright distaste for others. Their bumblings and stupid actions seem to actually reflect quite accurately how some human beings really are. Woe with us if we find ourselves reflected in this generally dismal cast.
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49typecast More than 1 year ago
I chose this book as my summer reading last year. I made my own list of characters because this edition does not list them. I wanted to know what "nihilism" was. I was not disappointed. This was not the first Dostoevsky book for me. (In high school we read 'Notes From The Underground.') The most striking image for me are the clandestine meetings of pre-Bolshevik revolutionaries; the discussion over 'the woman question,' and the fact that in the Gulags, Dostoevsky was given one book to read: the Bible. God bless this author. I love Dostoevsky!
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Simply Outstanding. Once you understand it.. you'll love it. Fyodor Dostoevsky does not disappoint. If you want a nice long read, where you'd learn something interesting, and have a chance to look into the literary texts of one of the most influential and highly acclaimed novelists in all of literature, then this book would be a good start.