14 January 2011


I'm almost ashamed that this post reveals how slowly I'm reading Demons, but here, on p 327, a young man has killed himself after wasting the family fortune, and the inquisitive ladies of the town have gone to see the body.
Generally, in every misfortune of one's neighbour there is always something that gladdens the observer's eye - and that even no matter who you are. Our ladies stared silently, their companions distinguished themselves by by sharpness of wit and a supreme presence of mind. One of them observed that this was the best solution and that the boy even could not have come up with anything smarter;

Two uses of the word "even" there, neither of which seems to fit. I suspect there's a word in the Russian that doesn't easily translate into English, like doch in German. It's a kind of modifier of the tone of the sentence, which in English would be rendered by inflection. P-V have translated it, but probably shouldn't have. They've produced awkward English sentences when - I bet - there's nothing awkward about the originals.

But while I'm here, let's note that Dostoevsky has no qualms about using fairly obvious plot structures. There's a duel, and we see the preliminaries with the narrator expressing sorrow that he has to recount what happened too quickly, but he then delays, to give a description of one of the duellers.

And there's also a strange, almost picaresque, structure, as in the scene I've quoted from. I feel fairly sure that the suicide has no importance in the plot, but it's a "state of the nation" vignette. It also, of course, delays the main plot movement, which, as I've realised, is what writing is all about.

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