The Dream of a Ridiculous Man (Dostoevsky) & Considering Europe

“For I have seen the truth; I have seen and I know that people can be beautiful and happy without losing the power of living on earth. I will not and cannot believe that evil is the normal condition of mankind” F.Dostoevsky

Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881) was a Russian novelist, journalist, short-story writer whose psychological penetration into the human soul had a profound influence on the 20th century novel.

Dostoevsky was born in Moscow, as 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. It was followed by The Double, which depicted a man who was haunted by a look-alike who eventually usurps his position.

In 1846 he joined a group of utopian socialists. He was arrested in 1849 and sentenced to death. The sentence was 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 periodicalTime, 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, psychological study of an outsider, which marked a watershed in Dostoevsky’s artistic development. The novel starts with the confessions of a mentally ill narrator and continues with the promise of spiritual rebirth. It was followed by Crime and Punishment, (1866) an account of an individual’s fall and redemption, The Idiot, (1868) depicting a Christ-like figure, Prince Myshkin, and The Possessed, (1871) an exploration of philosophical nihilism.

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, which appeared in 1879-80, Dostoevsky was recognized in his own country as one of its great writers.

An epileptic all his life, Dostoevsky died in St. Petersburg on February 9, 1881. He was buried in the Aleksandr Nevsky monastery, St. Petersburg.

As in http://www.online-literature.com/dostoevsky/


The Dream of a Ridiculous Man (1877) 

“I am a ridiculous person. Now they call me a madman. That would be a promotion if it were not that I remain as ridiculous in their eyes as be- fore. But now I do not resent it, they are all dear to me now, even when they laugh at me — and, indeed, it is just then that they are particularly dear to me. I could join in their laughter — not exactly at myself, but through affection for them, if I did not feel so sad as I look at them. Sad because they do not know the truth and I do know it. Oh, how hard it is to be the only one who knows the truth! But they won’t understand that. No, they won’t understand it.”

“Oh, I don’t know, I don’t remember; but soon, very soon the first blood was shed. They marvelled and were horrified, and began to be split up and divided. They formed into unions, but it was against one another. Reproaches, upbraidings followed. They came to know shame, and shame brought them to virtue. The conception of honour sprang up, and every union began waving its flags. They began torturing animals, and the animals withdrew from them into the forests and became hostile to them. They began to struggle for separa- tion, for isolation, for individuality, for mine and thine. They began to talk in different languages. They became acquainted with sorrow and loved sorrow; they thirsted for suffering, and said that truth could only be attained through suffering. Then science appeared. As they became wicked they began talking of brotherhood and humanitarianism, and understood those ideas. As they became criminal, they invented justice and drew up whole legal codes in order to observe it, and to ensure their being kept, set up a guillotine. They hardly remembered what they had lost, in fact refused to believe that they had ever been happy and innocent. They even laughed at the possibility of this happiness in the past, and called it a dream. They could not even imagine it in definite form and shape, but, strange and wonderful to relate, though they lost all faith in their past happiness and called it a legend, they so longed to be happy and innocent once more that they succumbed to this desire like children, made an idol of it, set up temples and worshipped their own idea, their own desire; though at the same time they fully believed that it was unattainable and could not be realised, yet they bowed down to it and adored it with tears!”

“All the combatants at the same time firmly believed that science, wisdom and the instinct of self-preservation would force men at last to unite into a harmonious and rational society; and so, meanwhile, to hasten matters, ‘the wise’ endeavoured to exterminate as rapidly as possible all who were ‘not wise’ and did not understand their idea, that the latter might not hinder its triumph. But the instinct of self-preservation grew rapidly weaker; there arose men, haughty and sensual, who de- manded all or nothing. In order to obtain everything they resorted to crime, and if they did not succeed — to suicide. There arose religions with a cult of non-existence and self-destruction for the sake of the everlasting peace of annihilation. At last these people grew weary of their meaningless toil, and signs of suffering came into their faces, and then they proclaimed that suffering was a beauty, for in suffering alone was there meaning. They glorified suffering in their songs. I moved about among them, wringing my hands and weeping over them, but I loved them perhaps more than in old days when there was no suffering in their faces and when they were innocent and so lovely. I loved the earth they had polluted even more than when it had been a paradise, if only be- cause sorrow had come to it. Alas! I always loved sorrow and tribulation, but only for myself, for myself; but I wept over them, pitying them.”

“…The consciousness of life is higher than life, the knowledge of the laws of happiness is higher than happiness — that is what one must contend against. And I shall. If only everyone wants it, it can be arranged at once.

And I tracked down that little girl … and I shall go on and on!” 

 

As in

http://www.feedbooks.com/book/2138/the-dream-of-a-ridiculous-man

http://www.online-literature.com/dostoevsky/

http://people.brandeis.edu/~teuber/dostoevskybio.html

http://www.dostoevsky.org/

http://www.nndb.com/people/844/000024772/

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