The Possessed by Fyodor Dostoevsky

A Book Review

Arrest of a Nihilist (late 1800’s)

“What is far more essential for man than personal happiness is to know and to believe at every instant that there is somewhere a perfect and serene happiness for all men and for everything.… The one essential condition of human existence is that man should always be able to bow down before something infinitely great. If men are deprived of the infinitely great they will not go on living and will die of despair. The Infinite and the Eternal are as essential for man as the little planet on which he dwells.”

This was the first piece of literature by Fyodor Dostoevsky that I picked up for myself at Barnes & Noble in early January of 2018, and the second book that I’ve read written by him after his fantastic dystopian novel “Notes from Underground”. I was not as disciplined of a reader at the time in 2018 as I have been the past year, therefore, I made it an effort to complete “The Possessed”, also known as “Demons”, before the year 2020 comes to an end.

The Possessed was published in 1872. A near 700 page fiction novel (depending on which edition) regarding the time when Russia was drawing closer to an Age of Revolution; narrating on a sect of atheists, socialists, terrorists, intellectuals, and nihilists in a Russian town known as, Skvoreshniki, as it leads to a collective and individual chaos. Much of what Dostoevsky wrote was drawn from his personal experience while in his late 20’s; as he involved himself in a closed group of intellectuals and nihilists. After being caught, Dostoevsky was accused of writing anti material on Russia’s monarchy and Orthodox Christianity structure. In his defense he replied to the accusations that his works were in the form “as a literary monument, neither more nor less” along with “personality and human egoism” as oppose to writing directly about politics and religion itself. He was also accused for distributing banned writing materials. He and his fellow conspirators were sentenced to death by a firing squad, but at the very last minute their life was spared, and instead exiled into Siberia to work at a labor camp for about four years. The Possessed is a novel exposing the fearful insights into Nihilism and how dangerous the ideology can manifest itself with frightening consequences. Not just from a collective standpoint, but more so individually. However, Dostoevsky writes out the nihilist characters by revealing their reasoning and desires to reform Russia and set a new path for the Russian people. On the other side of the coin, they often confuse the desires for the country with the desires of themselves. In those moments, Dostoevsky reflects much on the human weakness that we all suffer, no matter what ideology we choose to build our church on. Overall, man is easily susceptible, and each generation is filled with an arrogant notion that we can fix mankind. 

The emotions I felt after reading the last line in this grand novel left me not only in excitement because I finally read the book, but it also left me a bit in despair. It truly was a tragic story. I felt that the theme itself is applicable to the current society I live in. The last act was most enjoyable, in regards to the scenes, the dialogue and the overall tension that was felt while turning page after page to see what would happen next! The first half of the book is lengthy and may bore the reader, but I encourage them to just listen and seek to understand the characters that the author gives life to. Many who are appalling and nasty. Dostoevsky paints an honest portrait of the society that he himself was experiencing and keeping a careful eye on during his time. The investment into all those characters, and keeping up with the plot paid off in my perspective. Before the term existentialism was even born, Dostoevsky expresses existential elements beautifully in his writing. One of many reasons why I enjoy reading anything by him. 

Without a doubt, I know that I will reread this throughout my life, along with the other works by Dostoevsky. He inspired my personal conviction to not only read more often but also to write. Next year of 2021 will mark this legendary writer’s 200th birthday! So it will definitely be the year for me, and hopefully to many more fellow Dostoevsky fans, to read much of his treasures that we have access too thanks to the accessible modern age that we live in. To those who are haven’t read anything, or perhaps never heard of Dostoevsky until now, I exhort them to read his works, such as “Brothers Karamazov”, “Crime and Punishment” and many more novels which I myself have yet to read, with only about 1/4 way through Brothers Karamazov. But also to especially read his short stories such as “White Nights” or “A Gentle Creature”. As for being my favorite writer, he is for sure a rewarding author to read from. 

“Every minute, every instant of life ought to be a blessing to man … they ought to be, they certainly ought to be! It’s the duty of man to make it so; that’s the law of his nature, which always exists even if hidden.”


 

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