About The Possessed novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Free eBook The Possessed, The Devils, or Demons is an allegory of the potentially catastrophic consequences of the political and moral nihilism that were becoming prevalent in Russia in the 1860s. A fictional town descends into chaos as it becomes the focal point of an attempted revolution, orchestrated by master conspirator Pyotr Verkhovensky. The mysterious aristocratic figure of Nikolai Stavrogin—Verkhovensky's counterpart in the moral sphere—dominates the book, exercising an extraordinary influence over the hearts and minds of almost all the other characters. The idealistic, western-influenced generation of the 1840s, epitomized in the character of Stepan Verkhovensky (who is both Pyotr Verkhovensky's father and Nikolai Stavrogin's childhood teacher), are presented as the unconscious progenitors and helpless accomplices of the 'demonic' forces that take possession of the town.
The original Russian title is Bésy, which means "demons". There are three English translations: The Possessed, The Devils, and Demons. Constance Garnett's 1916 translation popularized the novel and gained it notoriety as The Possessed, but this title has been disputed by later translators. They argue that "The Possessed" points in the wrong direction because Bésy refers to active subjects rather than passive objects—"possessors" rather than "the possessed". However, 'Demons' refers not to individuals who act in various immoral or criminal ways, but rather to the ideas that possess them: non-material but living forces that subordinate the individual (and collective) consciousness, distorting it and impelling it toward catastrophe. According to translator Richard Pevear, the demons are "that legion of isms that came to Russia from the West: idealism, rationalism, empiricism, materialism, utilitarianism, positivism, socialism, anarchism, nihilism, and, underlying them all, atheism." The counter-ideal (expressed in the novel through the character of Ivan Shatov) is that of an authentically Russian culture growing out of the people's inherent spirituality and faith.
In a letter to his friend Apollon Maykov, Dostoevsky alludes to the episode of the Exorcism of the Gerasene demoniac in the Gospel of Luke as the inspiration for the title: "Exactly the same thing happened in our country: the devils went out of the Russian man and entered into a herd of swine... These are drowned or will be drowned, and the healed man, from whom the devils have departed, sits at the feet of Jesus." Part of the passage is used as an epigraph, and Dostoyevsky's thoughts on its relevance to Russia are given voice by Stepan Verkhovensky on his deathbed near the end of the novel.
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