Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky (+ vote in our Russian writers poll)

by |June 13, 2011

Oh, if I had done nothing simply from laziness! Heavens, how I should have respected myself, then.

I should have respected myself because I should at least have been capable of being lazy; there would at least have been one quality, as it were, positive in me, in which I could have believed myself. Question: What is he? Answer: A sluggard; how very pleasant it would have been to hear that of oneself!

It would mean that I was positively defined, it would mean that there was something to say about me. “Sluggard”–why, it is a calling and vocation, it is a career.

Do not jest, it is so. I should then be a member of the best club by right, and should find my occupation in continually respecting myself.

from Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Back of the book: The apology and confession of a minor mid-19th-century Russian official, Notes from the Underground is a half-desperate, half-mocking political critique and a powerful, at times absurdly comical, account of man’s breakaway from society and descent ‘underground’.

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About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

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  • traceyb65

    June 13, 2011 at 11:57 am

    no Nabokov? guess you have to draw the line somewhere … xt

  • June 13, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    Ooh, fabulous post. Notes from Underground is a fine book indeed, although Notes From the House of the Dead remains my favourite Dostoyevsky.

    I struggled a bit with the poll, as there are so many greats on there, and all with such different styles. Chekhov and Pushkin so very beautiful, Dostoyevsky so incisive, and Bulgakov and Golgol rather good fun. Solzhenitsyn is a writer I really want to like, but A Day in the Live of Ivan Denisovich was quite the slog for such a short little volume (although deeply moving).

    And, er, I haven’t read Tolstoy yet. The shame!

    • June 13, 2011 at 12:56 pm

      Nicely put!

      I loved House of the Dead, too. Reading A Day in the Life of … showed how little the revolution had changed life in the camps.

      Thanks for the comment. (And get to Anna Karenina ASAP)

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