Notes From Underground Critical Overview - Essay

Fyodor Dostoevsky

Critical Overview

Dostoevsky’s Notes From Underground “evoked little critical comment,” said Richard Peace, writing in his study Dostoevsky’s Notes From Underground. One of the reasons for this was that the story was “seen as an attack on left-wing radical thought,” Peace writes. Notes From Underground was a departure in tone and subject matter from Dostoevsky’s previous writing, and since his reading audience was basically liberal in thought and philosophy, most were concerned with this change. Some critics found the story immoral and antihumanitarian. Others recognized that Dostoevsky’s writing was digging deeper into the human condition and psychology and praised the change. Even his critics, though, recognized Dostoevsky’s talents as a writer. What they did not like about Notes From Underground was the tone and the attitude of the narrator, which they assumed truly belonged to the author. Even Russian officials, such as Vladimir Lenin (1870–1924), the first Soviet leader of communist Russia, belittled this work and crippled its study during his term in office. It was not until the 1960s, after a critical study of all Dostoevsky’s work was published, that scholarship and public appreciation of Notes resumed in Russia.

In 1961, American critic Joseph Frank wrote an article about Notes From Underground, stating (according to Peace’s book) that Dostoevsky’s novel had been misunderstood. The story is written as satire, Frank contends, but Dostoevsky’s talent for creating character produced a narrator that sounded so authentic that what the narrator proclaimed as truth hid Dostoevsky’s own satirical criticism. Harlow Robinson, writing for the New York Times, quotes Joseph Frank: “Few works in modern literature are more widely read than Notes From Underground or so often cited as a key text revelatory of the hidden depths of the sensibility of our time.” However, Robinson points...

(The entire section is 705 words.)