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Notes from Underground

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Notes from Underground (also translated in English as Notes from the Underground or Letters from the Underworld) (1864) is a short novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky. It is considered the world's first existentialist work. It presents itself as an excerpt from the rambling memoirs of a bitter, isolated, unnamed narrator (generally referred to by critics as Underground Man), a retired civil servant living in St. Petersburg.

The novel is divided into two rough parts. Part 1 falls into three main sections. The short introduction propounds a number of riddles whose meanings will be further developed. Section two, three and four deal with suffering and the enjoyment of suffering; sections five and six with intellectual and moral vacillation and with conscious "inertia"-inaction; sections seven through nine with theories of reason and advantage; the last two sections are a summary and a transition into Part 2. Part 2 focuses on three incidents. The first,the incident with the officer on the Nevsky Prospect illustrates the narrator's theories on insults and suffering; the second, the farewell dinner for Zverkov is clearly connected with vacillation and "inertia"; the third and most crucial episode, that with the prostitute Liza, is the extension and embodiment of the narrator's theories on reason and advantage, and of his views on the nature of man.


Like many of Dostoevsky's novels, Notes from Underground was unpopular with Soviet literary critics due to its explicit rejection of socialist utopianism and its portrait of humans as irrational, uncontrollable, and uncooperative. Many existentialist critics, notably Jean-Paul Sartre, considered the novel to be a forerunner of existentialist thought and an inspiration to their own philosophies.

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