Fyodor Dostoevsky

Lending Library copy to decide whose translation to buy

The Possessed

or

The Devils (Demons)

A Novel in Three Parts

by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Translated From The Russian By Constance Garnett

1916

This copy seems a “print on demand” and is not easy to read because the lines are crammed together and the wide format (7½”) (192 mm) is hard to hold. It seems meant to be on a desk with reader perched on a chair rather than posed on a comfortable daybed or lounge. Dostoyevsky appears on the cover also apparently a mis-spell – most probably publisher error because inside the author-name is as in the heading above, Fyodor Dostoevsky, which the Gutenberg Project (whose web page I cruised through) also would do as per the original.

The translation from Russian by Constance Garnett is good so I gather but due to mores of the time of translation, a chapter had to be omitted and other bits damped down.

I love the opening quote from A. Pushkin:

 
     “Strike me dead, the track has vanished,
     Well, what now? We’ve lost the way,
     Demons have bewitched our horses,
     Led us in the wilds astray.

     “What a number! Whither drift they?
     What’s the mournful dirge they sing?
     Do they hail a witch’s marriage
     Or a goblin’s burying?”

     A. Pushkin.

and I’m thoroughly enjoying the read. I felt compelled to look up who was in power at the time, what regimes were in force and, various ways of life apart from those encountered in The Possessed .

Initially I intended to buy Constance Garnett’s translation but now am considering Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky‘s. Blurb for their Vintage Classics edition says: “Inspired by the true story of a political murder that horrified Russians in 1869, Fyodor Dostoevsky conceived of Demons as a “novel phamphlet” in which he would say everything about the plague of materialist ideology that he saw infecting his native land. What emerged was a prophetic and ferociously funny masterpiece of ideology and murder in pre-revolutionary Russia.

What are your thoughts on these translations?

Meantime, I’ve got deeper into Constance Garnett’s copy and well-engrossed by the story which does appear to be rather prophetic of 20th Century and perhaps the 21st too.

From a writer’s point-of-view, the portraits of people are wonderful particularly the descriptions on pages 64-66 of this Library copy which will be much farther on in a regular-sized novel.

The complexities of day-to-day matters full with gossip and emotional outbursts in what otherwise should be controlled social order, character manipulations even to marriage along with emerging revolutionaries and suicides, stitch into some “strange friendships” and “vortex of combined circumstances” which see the downfall or declined activity of otherwise celebrated characters.

I like the strength and cunning, plotting and gossiping of the aristrocratic Vavara Petrovna Stavrogina who resides on the magnificent estate of Skvoreshniki. To what end is all that?

Subtle tempters to read on, innocent hints of what may happen next are strewn through the 69 of 394 pages (Vintage Classics stands at 768 pages 5.2″ width) so far I’ve read: like Vavara Petrovna’s matchmaking to cover-up “the sins of others”. She advises young Darya to keep a sharp look-out as Stepan Trofimovitch (idealised romantic poet) may hang himself. A voice whispers in the girl’s head, “Will he really do that? Or just threaten to?” And Vavara Petrovna tells her, “It’s not through strength of will but through weakness that people hang themselves, and so never drive him to an extreme, that’s the first rule in married life.”

(I really must put this book aside until I’ve got through my newly started next round of edits of A Greek Matinee – but I’m compulsive, want to see both to their ends!)

And there’s Pyotre Stepanovitch Verkhovensky (inspired by the revolutionary Sergey Nechayev) sewing dischord and breakdown of society. (Nechayev’s manifesto revolutionaries were encouraged to “aid the growth of calamity and every evil, which must at last exhaust the patience of the people and force them into general uprising”. His murder of Ivanov is the base for Vekhovensky’s murder of Shatov in Demons.)

As I read The Possessed (Demons) although meaning is pretty evident, I have my smart-phone handy with its Bixby Vision because in certain dialogues, French language mingles!… Ouch! We should have studied this book at school and integrated it’s French into those classes. But I suppose for young ladies in our then society a lot of the content would not have been appropriate as noted above, although my schooling was many-many decades after Constance Garnett made her translation and as said, she had to leave out a whole chapter and tone down much else due to social mores of the time.

PS: And on page 65 is the quote Ioana Pârvulescu used at the beginning of her Viitorul începe luni (The Future Begins on Monday): Quote from Demons

“One life is over and another is begun, then that one is over – a third begins.”

70

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