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Title: Netochka Nezvanova
Series: (The Russians)
Author: Fyodor Dostoyevksy
Translator: Jane Kentish
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
The plot unfolds in three distinct sections, corresponding to upheavals in the heroine’s life.
Chapters 1–3 are predominantly concerned with Netochka’s recollections of her childhood with her mother and stepfather in St. Petersburg, up until the time of their deaths. She begins with the background story of her stepfather, Efimov, a talented but self-obsessed violinist, whom she describes as “the strangest and most extraordinary person I have ever known” and a man whose powerful influence over her affected the rest of her life. Efimov’s madness brings terrible poverty and discord to the family, and leaves the child with a premature and painful insight into the dark side of human emotions. This part of her life comes to an end when Efimov kills her mother, after which he himself becomes completely insane and dies.
Netochka is adopted by Prince X., an acquaintance of her stepfather, and chapters 4 and 5 are concerned with the orphaned girl’s immersion in this unfamiliar aristocratic world, focusing particularly on her relationship with the Prince’s daughter Katya. Netochka immediately falls in love with the beautiful Katya, but Katya is initially repelled by the strange newcomer, and is cruel and dismissive toward her. Over time, however, this apparent dislike transforms into an equally passionate reciprocation of Netochka’s feelings. Their young, unashamed love leads to an intimacy that alarms Katya’s mother, who eventually takes steps to ensure their separation. Katya’s family move to Moscow, and Netochka is placed in the care of Katya’s elder half-sister, Alexandra Mikhailovna. According to the narrator, Netochka and Katya will not see each other for another eight years, but as the novel remained unfinished, their reuniting is never described.
The final chapters describe Netochka’s teenage years growing up in the household of the gentle and maternal Alexandra Mikhailovna and her cold and distant husband Pyotr Alexandrovitch. She forms a deeply empathetic relationship with Alexandra Mikhailovna, but is troubled by her friend’s painfully solicitous attitude toward her husband, and by what appears to be calculated indifference and dissimulation on his part. Netochka suspects some mystery from their past, and eventually a clue presents itself in the form of a letter that she accidentally discovers pressed between the pages of an old book in the library. It is a letter to Alexandra Mikhaylovna from a distraught lover, lamenting the necessity of their final separation, and grieving for the irreparable harm he has caused her reputation and her marriage. Netochka’s discovery of the letter sets off a chain of events that bring Alexandra Mikhaylovna to the point of emotional breakdown, and Netochka to the point of womanhood as she confronts Pyotr Alexandrovitch with the truth of what he has done to his wife.
Several narrative threads, as with the relationship between Netochka and Katya, are left unresolved but with clear indications that they would be resumed in future installments of the novel. It is noticed, at first by Alexandra Mikhailovna, that Netochka has a beautiful singing voice, and arrangements are made for her to receive training. Her love of singing and its connection to her emotional life are examined in a number of scenes, but her artistic development is clearly only in its beginning stages. The novel finishes with an enigmatic exchange between Netochka and Ovrov, Pyotr Alexandrovitch’s secretary, that is suggestive of further development of the story relating to the love letter.
This was an unfinished work by Dostoyevsky and you know what? I’m ok with it not being finished. This was super duper ultra totally mega farfanoogan depressing. And if you don’t know what all of that means, well, think Hemingway and a Remington Tactical Magpull, heheheheehe. (I don’t like Hemingway, that’s why it’s funny)
What stood out to me was Netochka’s complete humanity. She loves her dad who uses her to steal money from her mother. She’s classic self-destructionist. It hurt to watch it unfold. But like many other Russian novels, that pain and suffering is cathartic instead of being the dark end of a Remington 😉
Why it affects me that way I don’t know, but I am thankful it does. Because otherwise I wouldn’t be reading this stuff and I LIKE broadening my horizons (well, a little anyway).