DEMONS by Fyodor Dostoevsky


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 Dostoevsky's sprawling political novel is given new life in this fresh translation. The previous translations of the husband-and-wife team of Larissa Volokhonsky and Richard Pevear--The Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment, and Notes From Underground--have been universally praised for capturing Dostoevsky's force and subtlety, and all three works are now considered the English standards. Now they have successfully tackled one of Dostoevsky's most complex and dense works. Mistakenly translated in the past as ``The Possessed,'' the title refers to the infestation of foreign political and philosophical ideas that swept Russia in the second half of the 19th century. Pevear writes in the introduction, ``These demons, then, are ideas, that legion of -isms that came to Russia from the West: idealism, rationalism, empiricism, materialism, utilitarianism, positivism, socialism, anarchism, nihilism, and, underlying them all, atheism.'' Dostoevsky, taking as his starting point the political chaos around him at the time, constructs an elaborate morality tale in which the people of a provincial town turn against one another because they are convinced of the infallibility of their ideas. Stepan Trofimovich, an affable thinker who does little to turn his liberal ideas into action, creates a monster in his student, Nikolai Vsevolodovich Stavrogin, who takes his spiritual father's teaching to heart, joining a circle of other nihilists who will justify any and all violent excesses for the sake of their ideas. Stavrogin aims for a ``systematic corrupting of society and all its principles'' so that out of the resulting destruction he may ``raise the banner of rebellion.'' A chilling foreshadowing of Stalinist logic. Volokhonsky and Pevear's translation brings to the surface all of Dostoevsky's subtle linguistic and nationalist humor, and the copious notes are indispensable for making one's way through the thicket of 19th-century Russian politics.

Pub Date: July 18th, 1994
ISBN: 0-679-42314-1
Page count: 720pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1994


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