Dostoevsky's Adolescent

2020-07-22 @Literature

I’d recently finished reading Dostoevsky’s Adolescent (Подросток). How many among you, including the Russophiles, have even heard of this novel?

I know it’s not much spoken of. Like Dickens' Edwin Drood. Or Dumas' The Corsican Brothers and The Fencing Master. (These authors' last names all beginning with the letter ’D' sprung by coincidence.)

As always, I’ll speak of the novel, various divergent trains of thought notwithstanding, but ultimately end up saying hardly anything.

Подросток marks Dostoevsky’s penultimate work, penned in 1875, successor to Demons and the predecessor to Brothers Karamazov.

Having already read a major portion (or all) of the author’s keystone material, he still published plenty that I would’ve picked in preference.

But this particular Soviet edition (1970’s printing) just happened to occupy the bookshelf from a time back that it was gifted to me. I couldn’t resist. Especially with the sporadic pencil sketches dispersed throughout.

And therein lies the ecstasy in the old-fashion paper reading. Choice subjected to the bookshelf scarcity, physical interaction enriched by the four-dimensional life imbibed in the older editions, we come to choose the next book by way of the crafty Spontaneity.

It was reading not without effort. Quick reading still. I never considered Dostoevsky’s rhetoric unreasonably challenging. Powerful.

Yet psychologically heavy for my usual palate. Heavy like an 80’s Metallica album. You enjoy the overall experience, but feel increasingly drained in course. Or perhaps I’ve not felt in the proper mood.

Dostoevsky’s novels in general, first and foremost, represent psychologically intense character studies. It’s to be expected.

All characters tend to be flawed to no end. But they likewise tend to demonstrate an admirable virtue on occasion. They inspire. The dramatis personae generally features someone to root for.

Now in Adolescent, all subtleties aside, I’d not identified an admirable creature, insofar as the analysis I cared to direct. Virtually all primary role players I found irredeemably detestable. And no successive act seemed to mend that impression.

Perhaps that was by intent. The human character, once sufficiently decomposed, unveils fairly unpleasant design. Unsavoury design. And Dostoevsky didn’t seem here too concerned over grace nor elegance.

Few characters had I observed free of contradiction. Each invariably defied the self, defied others, or defied the narrative. The only earnest aspects I found in the title and the narrator’s self-critique.

The narrator is, in fact, an adolescent, providing a first person account of the events to have preceded. That sole trivia, should, hopefully, better frame your expectations.

Throughout the development, the narrator calibrates his moral compass one way, then resolves to proceed in a manner entirely divergent, if not plain disdainful. Third-person accounts follow a similar paradigm.

Maybe I hadn’t enough descended the layers of complexity. Maybe successive rereads would manifest further subtle detail.

But I wanted to read this one for the entertainment, already occupied with enough parallel reading that I treat with greater diligence.

Anyhow. We accompany a narrator of adolescent age. An honest narrator where it matters most, but suspiciously unreliable otherwise. We have that, and a bag of despicable characters whose behavior doesn’t inspire much of an element of pathos.

The narrative flows from one confounded affair to the next, ofttimes projecting visceral discomfort upon the reader. One must really sport the stomach for this sort of prose.

And the verdict?

It’s not one of Dostoevsky’s finer efforts, all quality metrics considered. And it’s written to be less likable; yet earnestly, precisely by nature of all the blunt imperfections.

I felt glad in having read the overall novel, yet sour across the journey.

Perhaps it would make sense were the writing differently marketed. Rather than a product of philosophical fiction, reframe it as a philosophical work with a strong storytelling component. I’m imagining, but who knows.

Questions, comments? Connect.