The Possessed/ the Devils by Fyodor Dostoevsky Book Review

images (4)The Possessed is among the best, yet complex books ever written by Dostoevsky. It has a deep political embedding of Russian, merging it with pure realism, exposing nihilism, portraying existentialism, plus dark atrocities, among them the murder of Shatov; the brother of Darya Pavlovna, along with Captain Lebyadkin, with his sister Marya Timofyevna, their elderly servant, as well as the death of Stepan Trofimovitch, Varvara Petrovna old friend for over twenty years.

The book further illustrates the murder of Fedka: the runaway convict; the suicide of Kirillov; the death of Lizaveta, Marya Ignatyevna, and her toddler. It exposes the movement of an underground Secret Society plotted by Pyotr Stepanovitch, which aims to bring havoc, moral decadence, undermining all foundations, thus destroying the society with its principles and create social disorder in Russia with the concept of a guiding idea to overtake the present government under the rule of AndreyAntonovitch and his wife Yulia Mihailovna during the author’s time, and the demise of Nikolay stravrogin Vsyevolodovitch; the son of Varvara Petrovna, along with his mental instability, and countless love affairs with Lizaveta Nikolaevna, Darya, and Shatov’s wife Marya Ignatyevna, despite being married to the crippled, ugly Marya.

The novel is set in a small town of Skvoreshniki, and is narrated by Govorov; who is both a respected member of the society plus a journalist, and follows to tell the story as it is written from the Biography of Stepan Trofimovitch, who is an ardent thinker, poet, and philosopher. From his narration, we are introduced to the relationship between Stephan and Varvara Petrovna, and it leads us to the development of Nikolay stravrogin Vsyevolodovitch, who is the central character in the book, and who further is home schooled by Stepan, until he reaches the age of joining the army.

As it is with Dostoevsky novels, the Possessed seeks to explore existentialism; the human condition as to why we live, and the ideals that guide us. It further brings out the concept of redemption that perturbs the human conscience after committing an evil deed. The author analyses the self, and whether we have a prime idea for our existence.images (2)

Unfolding Events in the Possessed/ the Devils by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Stepan Trofimovitch, Pyotr Stepanovitch’s father, who they are not in good terms, is a devoted friend to Varvara Petrovna; who has a notable reputation in Skvoreshniki and throughout Russia, and is separated from her husband General Stavrogin, a close friend to the governor. The two have a close relationship, and Stephan wishes to marry Varvara, but he never suggests anything to her. In the end their relationship turns out disastrous, and their friendship ends as Stephan leaves Skvoreshniki, only to fall sick in Spasov, where he is nursed by Sofya Matveyevna, until Varvara comes for him, but dies three days later. Varvara Petrovna carries his body back to Skvoreshniki, where it is buried in the precincts of a church covered with a marble slab.

Pyotr Stepanovitch, Tolkatchenko, Shigalov, Lyamshin, Erkel, Liputin, and Virginsky, who are all members of the Quintet of the Secret Society, plot to kill Shatov; who they believe will turn traitor even after his wife Marie returning to him to give birth to a baby that belongs to Stavrogin. However Shigalov: an inherent thinker, walks out at the moment of the crime with his own conviction that their deed is nothing more than a personal vendetta rather than a threat to their Secret Society, and that it is no different from acts done by shallow rulers in the past, who did not have a sharp mental faculty to reason out things.

Pyotr requires of Kirillov to shoot himself after writing a letter criminating him to murdering Shatov. This, we learn, is something that had been planned earlier by the Secret Society, and Kirillov, with his own ideas of self-will; disbelieve in God: Christ, and dying without any cause other than his self-will had agreed to it. Yet before he shoots himself, he fights and bites Pyotr’s hand; who is determined to kill him, if he does not commit suicide. In the end Kirillov shoots himself, as Pytor leaves for Petersburg.

It is Shatov’s wife Marya, who discovers the body of Kirillov in the morning preceding her child birth, and she runs in frenzy almost naked with a light dress on, holding her baby knocking on every door, until Titov finally opens. She screams that her husband has been murdered, thinking that if his friend Kirillov is dead, Shatov must certainly been killed too. At first everyone thinks she is hallucinating, but after visiting Filipov’s house and seeing Kirillov’s dead body, they believe her. For she is traumatised, towards midday Marya Ignatyevna becomes unconscious and dies three days later, along with her child, due to being exposed to the dawn cold.

The body of Shatov is found dumped in a pond in Skvoreshniki Park towards evening, after the police reading the incriminating letter of Kirillov. After the medical examination, it becomes clear that Kirillov must have had accomplice in committing the misdemeanour. Speculations go about that it must be the Secret Society that must be behind it, and that it actually exists, and it is no longer a fallacy. However, everything comes to light after Leyamshin confesses to the crime after an unsuccessful suicide. This leads to the arrest of Virginsky, Shigalov, Erkel, Liputin – who had run to Petersburg, plus Tolkatchenko.

Stavrogan sends a letter to Darya to join him, and go live in a small house in Canton of Uri, where both will be happy, as he recovers from his hallucinations, for he feels directly responsible for the murder of his crippled wife Mayra. Even before she sets out to meet him in company of Varvara Petrovna, Alexey Yegorytch comes and informs her that Nikolay has arrived on a train and is now in Skvoreshniki in his house. Quickly they set out to meet him, only to find him hanging behind a door in the attic with a note lying on the table written, ‘No one is to blame, I did it myself’, alongside a hammer, a nail, and soap. Upon analysing the silk cord, it becomes evident that his death was premeditated, and that Nikolay had attained consciousness all through.

images (1)The Symbolism of Demons in Possessed/ the Devils by Fyodor Dostoevsky

The analogy of demons in the novel Possessed/ the Devils by Fyodor Dostoevsky is used to show how certain ideals influence individuals and led them to alienation of the spirit from the body like Hegel states in his philosophy of freedom, God, and the State. For instance when we look at Nikolay, the main character, Lizaveta says that he is overpowered by a prime ideal, which does not allow him to be attached to anyone or anything. This leads us to imagine that the idea is greater than the character, and that is why he does preposterous, lugubrious actions like puling Liputin’s nose, biting the ear of the Andrey Antonovitch, the governor, and marrying the cripple Marya.

The actions of Nikolay can only be described as one who is possessed by demons/ idea, and goes out of his way to do what the demons/idea commands him. When he commits suicide and leaves a note saying no one is to blame, it shows us that sometimes a particular way of thinking can ruin us: it can make us nihilists with no cause in life; therefore we commit actions beyond us.

The demons also symbolize freedom. This is illustrated well by Pyotr Stepanovitch, who coordinates the events of the Secret Society. He himself like Dostoevsky (who was served a sentence for being radical before he became a successful author) embraces the need for freedom, and he forms the Quintet with the idea of bringing up a new revolution in Russia. His main motive is to create disorder, chaos, and conflict in the present government, so that a revolution will arise and overthrow the government and bring him in power with Nikolay as the ruler.

Pyotr Stepanovitch goes in so far as writing a manifesto and bamboozles other members of the Quintet into thinking that they are many such groups in Russia, and soon enough they would overthrow the government. He is of course possessed with the idea that the present government in Russia is ruled by the rich, it is undemocratic; corrupt, and elitist, but his government will be ruled by the poor, weak, and arsonists following the philosophy of Shigalovism, whereby the weak will form an up rise to structure a government of the people by the people, with equality, justice, and freedom without the tyranny of the majority like the philosophy of John Stuart Mill on freedom.images (3)

Every character in the novel is possessed by demons/idea, and the author through Stepan Trofimovitch reads the Bible where Christ casts out demons from a possessed man and throws them into the pigs, which run down the cliff and drown into the sea. This analogy is used to show that in the end, when the possessed man’s idea comes into fruition, it eventually leads to his demise, for nearly all the characters in the novel die one way or the other driven by a madden idea about their existence. This brings out the theme of existentialism in the novel. A character like Lizaveta is insanely driven by the idea that Nikolay is no longer chaste, is a murderer, and that he does not love her. This leads to her demise, same as Stepan the philosopher, who is driven by the idea that Varvara Petrovna no longer values and loves him, thus he leaves Skvoreshniki, only to die a few days later in Spasov.

The idea/demons affect all the characters in the novel, leading to many deaths. It seems that the characters in Possessed suffer, as they try to unravel why it is they are alive. This is sonorous to us human beings, as we try every day to discover why we alive, and not just end it all and commit suicide. Fyodor Dostoevsky has captured the essence of existentialism in this deep political book, which is a pleasure to read and ponder on.

 

 

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