The Possessed


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The Devils


A Novel in Three Parts First published in 1871.


Translated from the Russian by Constance Garnett (1861-1946) in 1916.




"Strike me dead, the track has vanished, Well, what now? We've lost the way, Demons have bewitched our horses, Led us in the wilds astray. "What a number! Whither drift they? What's the mournful dirge they sing? Do they hail a witch's marriage, Or a goblin's burying?"--A. Pushkin.


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Recent Forum Posts on The Possessed

Stepan/Lady Stavrogina

I've read and read this book more times than I can count, I jus absolutely love it. One thing I am trying to do more of this time around, is focusing on the beginning portions as the characters are being introduced. The Lady Stavrogina/Stepan relationship is one that is definitely amusing to me and which brings a smirk to my face. His fits of "summer cholera" upon her receiving wine bills that he has run up does give me a good chuckle. On a more serious note, I have to wonder if FD wasn't speaking about a greater problem in his time-the problem of wealthy Russians flirting with extreme ideologies and paying heed or money to them. Any thoughts?


Maria Lebyadkin (spoilers)

Though Mademoiselle Lebyadkin is clearly described throughout the novel as being crippled, there is never any real explanation regarding what, exactly, is wrong with her. She is plainly ambulatory, and can move from one place to another of her own accord (as is evident during the chapter in which she approaches Varvara Stavrogina in the church), though she presumably moves with a gait of some kind. As to her 'feeble mindedness,' she could readily be classified as an isolate, given the fact that her brother more or less kept her quarantined in their home and gained custody of her simply as a means to secure cash payments from Stavrogin. She could be considered the only morally upstanding character in the novel, due to the fact that she is more or less a tabula rasa. That being said, she is only ever vaguely described as a 'cripple.' Did Dostoevsky have any specific condition in mind when he wrote that character?


Better Translation

Which of the two translations is more closer to the original Russian one?


Night, Part II (Continued)

I have just completed reading up to and including section II of "Night (Continued) --> this is how it is in the text; "Night" is seperated into two different sub-sections. Question:It appears as if Lebyadkin has a lot of powerful and damning information that can be harmful to the "secret society" to which both Nicholas and "Peter" belong. What is this information? Why does Lebyadkin want to go to (St.) Petersburg? What is in (St.) Petersburg that is so important? Is it really true that if Nicholas reveals to society (and the police) that he is indeed married to "Mary" (The Cripple) that the "Captain" will become desitute? Question: Is there a section on this site (or is there a place somewhere else on the Internet) that has a synospis as well as other detailed information about this novel? I ask because I looked for the "hard copy" of "Sparknotes" for "Demons" in the local bookstore, and they did not carry one for this specific novel (whereas they did have one for "Les Miserables," which I am also currently reading).


Part II, Chapter I: Night

I have just started Part II; the first chapter, entitled "Night" starts off sort of slow, and it also reflects upon the previous chapter, when the infamous "slap" was administered. No one seems to know who "spilled the beans" with respect to what happened on Sunday night. Question: I still don't know what the relationship is between the "Crippled" (I call her Mary) and Shatov. What is the relationship, other than their being merely friends? Specific Questions About Chapter: In Chapter I, Part II, I am assuming that Pyotr went around trying to find his father, Stepan -- but why? And, later in the section, the following is stated: ==> "They are cunning; they were acting in collusion on Sunday." (Question:) What does this mean? Later, they talk about the people during the meeting being totally "transparent." Does this mean that the meeting was "set up" by those who were part of the meeting? Are the only ones who don't know "why" the meeting took place are G____ and Stepan? Question: What is the underlining meaning of section I, Chapter I. It does not seem to make much sense. Question: In Part III, Chapter I, Pyotr (whom I call "Peter") talks with Nicholas, telling him that he came to the town, knowing that he will act as a fool, rather than acting with his own character. Is this a means by which he is able to obtain information from people? By acting as if he does not know everything? He makes a statement at the end of this paragraph: "neither wise nor foolish, rather stupid, and dropped from the moon, as sensible people say here, isn't that it?" (this statement sort of answers my own question, I think; but what say you about this? Does Peter act as if he is a fool in order to make others believe that he really does not know what happened on that Sunday, in order to extract information from others? In the same section, "Peter" tells Nicholas that he (Peter) is acting "Stupid" so that others do not understand that there are "secret designs." What does he mean by this? Is this a prelude to what might be happening later in the novel? Is "Peter" warning the reader about what might come to pass later? Is there some sort of special relationship that will endure throughout the novel between this "Peter" and Nicholas? Later in that same section, "Peter" tells Nicholas that the "secret designs" have to do with publishing "Manifestoes," so I think that I am on the right track, as the essential plot of this novel has to do with politics -- and the publication of these manifestoes, in which Nicholas himself will later be heavily involved. So, tell me, Ivan, am I reading this material correctly? Question: In part III, of Chapter I (which happens to be a very important part of this chapter), Nicholas suggests that "Peter" told a "story" on Sunday -- in order to "hide" from others that there is some sort of "relationship" between "Peter" and Nicholas. What story did he tell? I don't recall "Peter" telling a story on that Sunday (the day of the infamous "slap"). There is a lot more to section III of this chapter, but I have only highlighted the important parts with respect to the first portion(s) of section IV, which, as I said, is an important section to understand. It seems to lead the reader into an understanding that Nicholas is becoming the main character of the novel, and "Peter" is becoming the leading (second) charcter of the novel.. There is evidence that a "story" was told during the meeting on there Sunday, as reflected in the following text, taken from section III, chapter I: ==>"That is, you told your story as as to leave them in doubt and suggest some compact and collusion between us, when there was no collusion and I'd not asked you to do anything" Later in the same section, we learn that "Peter" is the one who moved the Lebyadkins. He also gave the new location (of them) to Nicholas, in a letter. Question: Why did "Peter" find it necessary to move the Lebyadkins? Where did he move them to? (the text is not clear on that). And, then, afterwards, Nicholas asks that "Peter" no longer send him any more letters......why? I am moving on to Sections IV and V of the chapter, without totally understanding the reason for section I and section II; but I proceed in any event.


Chapter VI: The Subtle Serpent

Chapter VI is perhaps one of the most difficult chapters to understand. The author of the novel keeps interchanging the names of the characters. As an example, when I completed the chapter, and then "dared" to move onto Part II of the novel, chapter I, the name "Stavrogin" was used, as the "receiver of the slap" in the previous chapter. Is this Nicholas? Why on Earth does the author keep changing the names of the characters? This makes the novel that much more difficult to understand and follow. Question: In the following chapter, Part II, Chapter I (Night), the name Yulia Mihaillovna is mentioned. Who is this person? The name is mentioned during the first portion of the chapter, as the story about the "rumors being spread throughout the city or town" are being mentioned. Another appropriate question: What are the three "things" that happened in the last chapter that are now comprising the many rumors that are being told throughout the city or town? One of them is the slap. What are the others? Again, this note will most likely be edited later, as the chapter is read, to include more information, and possibly some questions. --Mark


Chapter V: The Cripple

Note: This thread will be edited as the study continues with respect to chapter V. Question: In part V of chapter V, why does the author have Mlle. Labyadkin tell "Shatushka" a number of stories (which are actually, for the most part, nothing more than dreams)? What is the significance of these dreams and why are they being told? Are they to be reflections to be used later in the book, or is she reflecting into the past? As with the other chapters of this novel,, I will most likely re-read it for comprehension purposes. This novel is somewhat difficult to follow and fully understand because the author constantly inter-changed the Russian names for the characters. It will behoove most readers to follow suit, as the book is certainly not an easy one to understand during the first reading. Examples of this problem are mentioned throughout these threads and with respect to the next thread, next chapter and the following chapter, for those of you whom are following. I am finding this novel to be extremely interesting and I enjoin others (for those of you who may also be reading the book) to come aboard with us and discuss the novel. We want to dissect it. There is one issue that concerns me at this point: it is supposed to be a politically-based novel, but thus far, I see only minute examples of politics within the text, and therefore, I am assuming that Nicholas, who is the main character of the book, comes out from behind his "mask" and shows his true self in the next section(s).


Reading "Demons" Along with Figes

Although the two books have nothing in common (other than information), I have found that reading "Demons" along with "Natasha's Dance: A Cultural History of Russia," by Orlando Figes, is extremely helpful. Demons is a novel, whereas Natasha's Dance is an academic book; but reading something about the cultural history of Russia has been extremely helpful in understanding some of the things that are said and done in "Demons," so much so that I encourage others to read "something" about the cultural history while or before tackling "Demons." One can find "Natasha's Dance," by Orlando Figes online, specifically at Barnes and Noble Bookstore. I have often found this to be true when reading novels, specifically those that have originated from some form of historical value, as has "Demons." It is actually a combination of two other books that the author was working on at the time, well before attempting to write "Demons." Reading other material certainly does help, and in this case, it helps one understand why the characters "do" certain things. Concerning another aspect of the novel, "Demons," it is sometimes extremely difficult to ascertain the subject of sentences in the book because of the author's overuse of the pronoun. This can be appreciated by an example in the text, as follows: She jumped up at once and threw on a black shawl. Dasha flushed a little again, and watched her with questioning eyes. Varvara Petrovna turned suddenly to her with a face flaming with anger. Of course, it is obvious, if one reads the sentences more than once, along with the other material that is in the book, who the author is trying to refer to; however, at first glance, it is almost impossible to understand who "she is" and who "her is" in the three sentences described. QUESTION: In the 3rd Chapter of the novel, "Demons," what is "The Sins of Others?" What does it represent? Is it real, or is it an imaginary and fictional force thought up by the characters in the chapter? --- Mark


Demons: Main Character

This information is very useful for those who may be interested and reading the book, "Demons." It explains the main character of the novel and a brief synopsis of his actions throughout the text: Nikolai Vsevolodovich Stavrogin is the main character of the novel. A complex figure, he has many anti-social traits that mark him as a manipulative psychopathic personality. He attracts both the best and worst characters in the novel who are fascinated by him. He inspires both good and evil. In a stirring and originally censored chapter, he confesses he is a pedophile and refuses to repent. At the very end of the novel, he commits suicide. Additionally, I found this information concerning the other charcters in the novel and their individual sigificance: Stepan Trofimovich Verkhovensky is the philosopher and intellectual that is partly to blame for the revolutionary ideas that fuel the destruction that occurs in the book, whose one famous work was based on the idea of Apocatastasis. He served as a father figure to Nikolai Vsevolodovich when Stavrogin was a child. His character may be based on the intellectual Timofey Granovsky. Pyotr Stepanovich Verkhovensky is the son of Stepan and the cause of much of the destruction. He is at the center of what may be a vast conspiracy to overthrow the church, government, and the family across Russia. He is a nihilist and a master charlatan and manipulator. He despises family ties. Though he has followers and his revolutionary groups look to him for guidance, his only regard is for Stavrogin. His character may be based on the revolutionary Sergey Nechayev. Lizaveta Nikolaevna is a vivacious local beauty who becomes engaged to Mavriky Nikolaevitch, but is fatally attracted to Stavrogin. Alexei Nilych Kirilov (or Kirillov) is an engineer. He is a thorough nihilist, and has decided his own will is the ultimate reality. He means to commit suicide, and Pyotr Stepanovich means to use his suicide to further his revolutionary purposes. Shigalyov is a self-confessed anarchistic social theorist. He is a member of Pyotr Stepanovich's revolutionary His character is intended to embody everything that Dostoyevsky's image of Christ does not; he is, in essence, the antithesis of Christ. Ivan Shatov is a son of former serf, as well as a former university student and another intellectual who has turned his back on his leftist ideas. This change of heart is what attracts Pyotr Stepanovich Verkhovensky to plot Shatov's murder. Shatov is based on I. I. Ivanov, a student who was murdered by Sergey Nechayev for speaking out against Nechayev's radical propaganda, an actual event which served as the initial impetus for Dostoyevsky's novel. Varvara Stavrogina is Nikolai's mother and is a rich lady who plays at being leftist. Captain Lebyadkin is the drunken former officer whose sister is secretly married to Nikolai. Fedka the Convict is a roaming criminal suspected of several thefts and murders in the novel. Mavriky Nikolaevich Drozdov is a visiting gentleman and guest of Ms. Stavrogin, and is Lizaveta Nikolaevna's fiancée. He is quiet, sensible, and traditional. Maria Timofeevna Lebyadkin is Captain Lebyadkin's sister, rumored to be married to Nikolai Stavrogin's past. She is crippled. Bishop Tikhon is a bishop who, in Dostoevsky's original drafts, Stavrogin visited for guidance, and revealed some of the disturbing events of his past. Their interview has little effect on Stavrogin, but provides the reader a better understanding of his background. However, this chapter was not accepted by the censors and Dostoevsky excised it from the original version, in which Bishop Tikhon is not mentioned. Most modern editions of The Possessed include this chapter, called "Stavrogin's Confession" or "At Tikhon's" in an appendix. Question: Does anyone know why the author, and the translator continued with the French in the text? This just adds to the mounting confusion when trying to read the material. Why did not the translator merely place the English in place of the French within the text? Does it add any significant value to the material? Does it add meaning? The only issue here is (that I am aware) that the Russians held the French language as the "wordly language" of the time -- the language of the intelligentsia, much like the English language is today. Other than that assumption, I have no other clue. Thanks, Mark


Chapter II: Prince Harry, Matchmaking

Chapter II of "Demons" is entitled "Prince Harry, Matchmaking." For those who know a little bit about Shakespeare, why is Nicholas called "Prince Harry?" What is the significance of the author telling us about Nicholas performing the number of actions, which are later determined to be caused by a "brain fever," such as pulling Mr. Gaganov by the nose, about two or three feet, while in the club? What about when "Prince Harry" kisses the wife of Mr. Lupitin? And, then what does it mean when "Prince Harry" then bites the ear of the govenor? I am particularly interested in the above material, because it has a direct bearing on the rest of the chapter. If anyone can address these issues, I would be indebted to him or her. Thanks, Mark


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