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The Possessed (In Russian: Бесы, tr. Besy), also translated as The Devils or Demons, is an 1872 novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky. For an explanation of the marked difference in the English-language title, please see the section "Note on the title" below.

An extremely political book, The Possessed is a testimonial of life in Imperial Russia in the late 19th century.

As the revolutionary democrats begin to rise in Russia, different ideologies begin to collide. Dostoevsky casts a critical eye on both the left-wing idealists, exposing their ideas and ideological foundation as demonic, and the conservative establishment's ineptitude in dealing with those ideas and their social consequences.

This form of intellectual conservativism tied to the Slavophil movement of Dostoevsky's day, is seen to have continued on into its modern manifestation in individuals like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Dostoevsky's novels focusing on the idea that utopias and positivists ideas, in being utilitarian, were unrealistic and unobtainable.

The book has five primary ideological characters: Verkhovensky, Shatov, Stavrogin, Stepan Trofimovich, and Kirilov. Through their philosophies, Dostoevsky describes the political chaos seen in 19th-Century Russia.

Published: Sheba Blake Publishing an imprint of Vearsa Limited on
ISBN: 9781304775047
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I liked The Demons, mostly its characters, though sometimes the dialogue devolves in such funny ways. The translation may be a bit uneven. This is not the translation I read, actually, but the one by Magarshack.more
Demons is a very political novel about extreme political views and the ineptitude of the conservative status quo to control them. The book centers around Pyotr Verkhovensky, who is a nihilist and a bit of an opportunist, whose political views lead to death and destruction. Also present is Shigalovism, which is kind of a twisted sort of Communism, and the conservatism of the local governor, Lembke. Meanwhile, the reader is left to make sense of Pyotr's intellectual father, Stepan, who seems to be muddled in his beliefs, and there is also the enigmatic Nickolay Stavrogin, who seems to lack any real convictions at all. This interplay of different characters and their beliefs, both harmless and destructive, lie at the heart of the novel and tell us a lot about Dostoyevsky's view of Russia at this time.While I found the characters and the politics interesting, I was a bit put off by this book. For one thing, it took Dostoyevsky way too long to get past basic characterization and get to the plot of the novel. For this reason, I thought that this was not nearly as well crafted as the other three Dostoyevsky novels that I have read. Additionally, the use of first person narrator who was a confidante of Stepan was off-putting as well. There were several scenes that seemed to drift into third person as the narrator could not have possibly have known about what was happening. An example of this would be a conversation between two people who would not live long enough to share their conversation with anyone else. However, just when I thought that Dostoyevsky had switched narrative styles, the narrator would start telling you things that had happened in the first person. It was very jarring and made it difficult for me to enjoy the novel. For these reasons, while this is a decent novel, I didn't find it to be nearly as good as the other three Dostoyevsky novels that I haver read.more
This is by far the most readable Dostoevsky work I have yet come across, and one with a spell-bindingly unputdownable plot once you get past page 300 or so. The book is narrated, after the fact of its action, by a character who acts as a close observer but who does not participate as actively in the plot as the other characters do. There are times when this device seems far-fetched (how does he know so much about everything relevant?), but just when you begin to think so, the author has his narrator explain exactly how he came to know things, whether second-hand or by viewing from a distance. Dostoevsky very deftly handles actions and conversation as if they are occurring among real people, and thus not always privy to all equally. This establishes a reality that more than compensates for the slight distance attributable to the non-omniscient narration.Likewise, some readers may find that the first 300 or so pages, which primarily set up the romantic and domestic backgrounds of the essential personnel, have little to do with the action that eventually takes place. On the contrary, it is just this which comes back to give so much weight to the characters in the end. As the plot becomes more and more political, they are not simply men caught up in their "great idea," but fallible humans who come home to wives and lovers and have a great deal more to give and receive in their relationships than simply the philosophical intrigues that occupy the bulk of their moral concern. The back cover of the Barnes & Noble edition suggests that for Dostoevsky, these grand political ideas were not considerate enough of the everyday person. With his attention to detail, it could be argued that few people were as considerate of the everyday person and his psyche as Dostoevsky.The book has garnered tremendous praise for its prescient resemblance to the events of the Bolshevik Revolution. It is clear that the author's concern was primarily for his native land. In the words of Stepan Trofimovitch, "You see, that's exactly like our Russia, those devils that come out of the sick man and enter into the swine. They are all the sores, all the foul contagions, all the impurities, all the devils great and small that have multiplied in that great invalid, our beloved Russia, in the course of ages and ages. . . . But a great idea and a great Will will encompass it from on high, as with that lunatic possessed of devils. . . and all those devils will come forth, all the impurity, all the rottenness that was putrefying on the surface. . . and they will beg of themselves to enter into swine; and indeed maybe they have entered into them already! They are we, we and those. . . ." Dostoevsky's thoughts may have been only of Russia, but his novel endures precisely because "we and those" are all nations who turn to devils other than that "great idea and great Will." Even in utterly democratic America, the havoc that can be wrought by men in the name of great political ideas will cause the reader to shudder.The Barnes & Noble edition of this book includes an introduction by scholar Elizabeth Dalton, the "Stavrogin's Confession" chapter excised by Dostoevsky's editors and translated by Virginia Woolf, a final note on the work's importance to the philosophies of Sartre and Camus, and a selection of quotations about the book and questions for further consideration. I was particularly surprised at the book's influence on existentialist thinking in spite of what to me seemed obvious Christian messages. However, this is perhaps best captured in the quotation by André Glucksmann included in the supplementary material: "The inner nature of this nihilistic terrorism is that everything is permissible, whether because God exists and I am his representative, or because God does not exist and I take his place. That is what I find so impressive about Dostoevsky: he is a secret, a riddle." I find the idea that one can take an author to be whatever one wants somewhat troubling, but this novel is proof positive of why Dostoevsky continues to be a riddle worth trying to figure out: it offers a great story wrapped up in great thought; or, if you prefer, great thought wrapped up in a great story.more
I've read this great political novel, but in a crappy old translation with no footnotes. The Pevear / Volokhonsky translation of Karamazov was such an improvement that I'm now working on going back and reading all of the great Russians in their versions.more
I like this novel better than most of the rest of Dostoevsky's work - things actually *happen,* and they're interesting, to boot. That being said, I'm not super-fond of this translation (Pevear and Volokhonsky) I think it's miles better than their translation of The Idiot - this novel, for example, doesn't have any instances of very awkward and/or confusing word choice - but their treatment of the French phrases really grates on me. I feel like there should have been a smoother way to integrate them. I'm not a French speaker, and there is a character who speaks half his dialogue in French - it was very frustrating to have to refer back to the translation every sentence or so. It was this that made me positively *hate* the character Stepan Trofimovich, though I think the author meant me to feel sympathy towards him.more
This is my second Dostoyevsky novel, after the Brothers Karamazov. Like that work, I was engaged by Dostoyevsky's narrative voice, which always has a hint of ironic humor, even when he is discussing truly terrible things - and there are a lot of them in this book. In the end, it descends into a maelstrom of nihilism (OK - that's a bit overdone, but you get in that mood after reading this author.) The book isn't as good as the Brothers Karamazov because the events and characters are even more inexplicable. I guess my problem with Dostoyevsky is that I'm not Russian. His characters do and say things that just don't seem very logical to me - but obviously THEY feel very deeply about what they are doing. I don't know if it is the "19th century"-ness or the Russian-ness of the novel that creates the most problems. Still, I'm intrigued, and the next time I'm heading out for a vacation and want to take a book I can be sure I won't finish in two weeks, I may pick up another one of his. There is considerable pleasure to be found spending a few disoriented weeks in his company and that of his fascinating, if ultimately tragic, characters.more
: Another really good book by what is becoming my favourite author behind Charles Dickens. The way he presents philosophic ideas and then takes them to their disastrous conclusions makes for very powerful reading. The one thing disappointing about this novel is the removal of Stavorgin's Confession to the back of the book. The chapter, probably the best in the book, would have given a better understanding of Stavrogin's actions later in the book. The description of pedophilia though makes it understandable why it wasn't included in the main canon, but surely in these immoral days it could be included in the book.more
I read it about 35 years ago, but include it here to go with other more recently read Dostoyevsky books. The emphasis was mainly on the cynical and, from Dostoyevsky's point of view, misguided activities of political radicals in Russia at that time. There are some interesting portraits, such as that of Stavrogin, but the book is not as compelling as Crime and Punishment, which I also read at that time.more
Certainly an underappreciated work of Dostoevsky's, but also not the place to begin reading. Demons is better crafted, as regards plot, than The Idiot but lacks a lot of the latter's charm. The first section of the book is terribly dull -- things begin to pick up when we return to the present and Pyotr Stepanovich arrives. Stavrogin is fascinating. It's frustrating that he doesn't get a real conclusion. Demons might actually be more heartbreaking than the average novel of Dostoevsky, in part because F.M. doesn't get around to fleshing out a couple of the most sympathetic characters until their fates have caught up with them. Worth readings -- but only after reading several of his other novels.more
As with all books by Dostoyevsky, the characters are what makes it. He takes one plot incident and builds around it, circling like an eagle, then jumps on his prey, which is you the reader.more
better the 2nd time through... can hardly stand the whole russian tendency to stereotype themselves, or their continual rebelling against their government.... but yeah, decent.more
It hurt me to read, and I loved every second of it.more
Read all 17 reviews

Reviews

I liked The Demons, mostly its characters, though sometimes the dialogue devolves in such funny ways. The translation may be a bit uneven. This is not the translation I read, actually, but the one by Magarshack.more
Demons is a very political novel about extreme political views and the ineptitude of the conservative status quo to control them. The book centers around Pyotr Verkhovensky, who is a nihilist and a bit of an opportunist, whose political views lead to death and destruction. Also present is Shigalovism, which is kind of a twisted sort of Communism, and the conservatism of the local governor, Lembke. Meanwhile, the reader is left to make sense of Pyotr's intellectual father, Stepan, who seems to be muddled in his beliefs, and there is also the enigmatic Nickolay Stavrogin, who seems to lack any real convictions at all. This interplay of different characters and their beliefs, both harmless and destructive, lie at the heart of the novel and tell us a lot about Dostoyevsky's view of Russia at this time.While I found the characters and the politics interesting, I was a bit put off by this book. For one thing, it took Dostoyevsky way too long to get past basic characterization and get to the plot of the novel. For this reason, I thought that this was not nearly as well crafted as the other three Dostoyevsky novels that I have read. Additionally, the use of first person narrator who was a confidante of Stepan was off-putting as well. There were several scenes that seemed to drift into third person as the narrator could not have possibly have known about what was happening. An example of this would be a conversation between two people who would not live long enough to share their conversation with anyone else. However, just when I thought that Dostoyevsky had switched narrative styles, the narrator would start telling you things that had happened in the first person. It was very jarring and made it difficult for me to enjoy the novel. For these reasons, while this is a decent novel, I didn't find it to be nearly as good as the other three Dostoyevsky novels that I haver read.more
This is by far the most readable Dostoevsky work I have yet come across, and one with a spell-bindingly unputdownable plot once you get past page 300 or so. The book is narrated, after the fact of its action, by a character who acts as a close observer but who does not participate as actively in the plot as the other characters do. There are times when this device seems far-fetched (how does he know so much about everything relevant?), but just when you begin to think so, the author has his narrator explain exactly how he came to know things, whether second-hand or by viewing from a distance. Dostoevsky very deftly handles actions and conversation as if they are occurring among real people, and thus not always privy to all equally. This establishes a reality that more than compensates for the slight distance attributable to the non-omniscient narration.Likewise, some readers may find that the first 300 or so pages, which primarily set up the romantic and domestic backgrounds of the essential personnel, have little to do with the action that eventually takes place. On the contrary, it is just this which comes back to give so much weight to the characters in the end. As the plot becomes more and more political, they are not simply men caught up in their "great idea," but fallible humans who come home to wives and lovers and have a great deal more to give and receive in their relationships than simply the philosophical intrigues that occupy the bulk of their moral concern. The back cover of the Barnes & Noble edition suggests that for Dostoevsky, these grand political ideas were not considerate enough of the everyday person. With his attention to detail, it could be argued that few people were as considerate of the everyday person and his psyche as Dostoevsky.The book has garnered tremendous praise for its prescient resemblance to the events of the Bolshevik Revolution. It is clear that the author's concern was primarily for his native land. In the words of Stepan Trofimovitch, "You see, that's exactly like our Russia, those devils that come out of the sick man and enter into the swine. They are all the sores, all the foul contagions, all the impurities, all the devils great and small that have multiplied in that great invalid, our beloved Russia, in the course of ages and ages. . . . But a great idea and a great Will will encompass it from on high, as with that lunatic possessed of devils. . . and all those devils will come forth, all the impurity, all the rottenness that was putrefying on the surface. . . and they will beg of themselves to enter into swine; and indeed maybe they have entered into them already! They are we, we and those. . . ." Dostoevsky's thoughts may have been only of Russia, but his novel endures precisely because "we and those" are all nations who turn to devils other than that "great idea and great Will." Even in utterly democratic America, the havoc that can be wrought by men in the name of great political ideas will cause the reader to shudder.The Barnes & Noble edition of this book includes an introduction by scholar Elizabeth Dalton, the "Stavrogin's Confession" chapter excised by Dostoevsky's editors and translated by Virginia Woolf, a final note on the work's importance to the philosophies of Sartre and Camus, and a selection of quotations about the book and questions for further consideration. I was particularly surprised at the book's influence on existentialist thinking in spite of what to me seemed obvious Christian messages. However, this is perhaps best captured in the quotation by André Glucksmann included in the supplementary material: "The inner nature of this nihilistic terrorism is that everything is permissible, whether because God exists and I am his representative, or because God does not exist and I take his place. That is what I find so impressive about Dostoevsky: he is a secret, a riddle." I find the idea that one can take an author to be whatever one wants somewhat troubling, but this novel is proof positive of why Dostoevsky continues to be a riddle worth trying to figure out: it offers a great story wrapped up in great thought; or, if you prefer, great thought wrapped up in a great story.more
I've read this great political novel, but in a crappy old translation with no footnotes. The Pevear / Volokhonsky translation of Karamazov was such an improvement that I'm now working on going back and reading all of the great Russians in their versions.more
I like this novel better than most of the rest of Dostoevsky's work - things actually *happen,* and they're interesting, to boot. That being said, I'm not super-fond of this translation (Pevear and Volokhonsky) I think it's miles better than their translation of The Idiot - this novel, for example, doesn't have any instances of very awkward and/or confusing word choice - but their treatment of the French phrases really grates on me. I feel like there should have been a smoother way to integrate them. I'm not a French speaker, and there is a character who speaks half his dialogue in French - it was very frustrating to have to refer back to the translation every sentence or so. It was this that made me positively *hate* the character Stepan Trofimovich, though I think the author meant me to feel sympathy towards him.more
This is my second Dostoyevsky novel, after the Brothers Karamazov. Like that work, I was engaged by Dostoyevsky's narrative voice, which always has a hint of ironic humor, even when he is discussing truly terrible things - and there are a lot of them in this book. In the end, it descends into a maelstrom of nihilism (OK - that's a bit overdone, but you get in that mood after reading this author.) The book isn't as good as the Brothers Karamazov because the events and characters are even more inexplicable. I guess my problem with Dostoyevsky is that I'm not Russian. His characters do and say things that just don't seem very logical to me - but obviously THEY feel very deeply about what they are doing. I don't know if it is the "19th century"-ness or the Russian-ness of the novel that creates the most problems. Still, I'm intrigued, and the next time I'm heading out for a vacation and want to take a book I can be sure I won't finish in two weeks, I may pick up another one of his. There is considerable pleasure to be found spending a few disoriented weeks in his company and that of his fascinating, if ultimately tragic, characters.more
: Another really good book by what is becoming my favourite author behind Charles Dickens. The way he presents philosophic ideas and then takes them to their disastrous conclusions makes for very powerful reading. The one thing disappointing about this novel is the removal of Stavorgin's Confession to the back of the book. The chapter, probably the best in the book, would have given a better understanding of Stavrogin's actions later in the book. The description of pedophilia though makes it understandable why it wasn't included in the main canon, but surely in these immoral days it could be included in the book.more
I read it about 35 years ago, but include it here to go with other more recently read Dostoyevsky books. The emphasis was mainly on the cynical and, from Dostoyevsky's point of view, misguided activities of political radicals in Russia at that time. There are some interesting portraits, such as that of Stavrogin, but the book is not as compelling as Crime and Punishment, which I also read at that time.more
Certainly an underappreciated work of Dostoevsky's, but also not the place to begin reading. Demons is better crafted, as regards plot, than The Idiot but lacks a lot of the latter's charm. The first section of the book is terribly dull -- things begin to pick up when we return to the present and Pyotr Stepanovich arrives. Stavrogin is fascinating. It's frustrating that he doesn't get a real conclusion. Demons might actually be more heartbreaking than the average novel of Dostoevsky, in part because F.M. doesn't get around to fleshing out a couple of the most sympathetic characters until their fates have caught up with them. Worth readings -- but only after reading several of his other novels.more
As with all books by Dostoyevsky, the characters are what makes it. He takes one plot incident and builds around it, circling like an eagle, then jumps on his prey, which is you the reader.more
better the 2nd time through... can hardly stand the whole russian tendency to stereotype themselves, or their continual rebelling against their government.... but yeah, decent.more
It hurt me to read, and I loved every second of it.more
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