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"It is the modern city in extremis."

At The New Yorker, David Denby has an interesting piece on Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground. Though I haven't read that book, for my annual Summer of Classics I'm currently reading Crime and Punishment, and Denby draws this parallel between the two books:

"Notes from Underground" feels like a warmup for the colossus that came next, "Crime and Punishment," though, in certain key ways, it’s a more uncompromising book. What the two fictions share is a solitary, restless, irritable hero and a feeling for the feverish, crowded streets and dives of St. Petersburg - an atmosphere of careless improvidence, neglect, self-neglect, cruelty, even sordidness. It is the modern city in extremis.

I'm a quarter of the way through C&P, but still haven't gotten a strong feel for Dostoevsky's St. Petersburg. Many of the scenes have been indoors, and dominated by lengthy dialogue. Now that Raskolnikov has committed his crime, perhaps he will take to the streets in a frenzy of guilt and remorse, and put more of the city on display. But the rest of Denby's assessment is spot-on: Raskolnikov is certainly solitary, restless and irritable, and the book is definitely a colossus.

June 12, 2012 in Books | Permalink

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