Notes from underground
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Notes from Underground. by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Existentialism. Notes from Underground is considered by many to be the world's first existentialist novel.

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Notes from Underground

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Notes from underground

Notes from Underground


Fyodor Dostoevsky



  • Notes from Underground is considered by many to be the world's first existentialist novel.

  • Existentialism is a philosophical movement that posits that individuals create the meaning and essence of their lives, as opposed to deities or authorities creating it for them.

  • Existentialism emerged as a movement in twentieth-century literature and philosophy, though it had forerunners in earlier centuries.

  • Walter Kaufmann described existentialism as "The refusal to belong to any school of thought, the repudiation of the adequacy of any body of beliefs whatever, and especially of systems, and a marked dissatisfaction with traditional philosophy as superficial, academic, and remote from life".

Notes from underground

The philosophers Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche are considered fundamental to the existentialist movement, though neither used the term "existentialism".

  • Existentialism generally postulates that the absence of a transcendent force (such as God) means that the individual is entirely free, and, therefore, ultimately responsible.

  • It is up to humans to create an ethos of personal responsibility outside any branded belief system.

  • In existentialist views, personal articulation of being is the only way to rise above humanity's absurd condition of much suffering and inevitable death.

Underground and what is to be done

Underground and What is to Be Done?

  • What is to be Done? (alternatively translated as What Shall we Do?) is a novel written by Nikolai Chernyshevsky when he was in Peter and Paul Fortress. It was written in response to Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev.

  • The novel's hero, named Rakhemtov, became an emblem of the philosophical materialism and nobility of Russian radicalism. The novel also expresses, in one character's dream, a society gaining "eternal joy" of an earthly kind. The novel has been called "a handbook of radicalism" and led to the founding of a Land and Liberty society.

Notes from underground

  • The book is perhaps best known for the responses it created than as a novel in its own right. Leo Tolstoy wrote a different What is to be Done? based on moral responsibility. Fyodor Dostoevsky mocked the utilitarianism and utopianism of the novel in his Notes from Underground.

  • Vladimir Lenin, however, found it inspiring and named a pamphlet for it.

  • Remember that Lenin had also been deeply moved by Chekhov's short story “Ward No. 6”

Notes from underground1

Notes from Underground

Image taken from the poster for the film released on March 6, 1998

  • The role of man in a world in which the belief of God does not exist.

  • In Notes, Dostoevsky shows us the Underground Man, (a new “type”)

    • A despicable and pitiable creature who betrays himself and is not even aware of it.

    • “The Underground Man” becomes a common character type in many of the works that followed Notes. He is present in Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina in the milder form of the character Nikolai Levin, in Anton Chekhov's Ward No. 6, Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, and in Joseph Heller's Catch-22 as Yossarian the 28-year-old Army Air Corps Captain.

Written at a time of great difficulty for dostoevsky

Written at a time of Great Difficulty for Dostoevsky

  • His wife was dying

  • His business ventures as an editor of journals were failing

  • His own health was in difficulty with more and more epileptic fits becoming a major hindrance.

  • In The Underground Man is Dostoevsky attempt as a thoroughly anti-modern author to implore his fellow Russians to resign from the West and its atheistic liberalism

What was going on around him

What was going on around him?

  • To some extent, the bitterness of the novel is traceable to the many personal misfortunes Dostoevsky suffered while the novel was being written.

  • Much more important was the influence of his maturing world-view with its ever colder and more distant attitude toward the European liberalism, materialism and utopianism of his younger years.

  • Dostoevsky had begun his writing career in the 1840's as a romantic idealist, even as a dreamer.

Notes from underground

  • At that time he had devoted a great deal of attention to utopian socialism and its vision of a perfectly satisfying, perfectly regulated life for humankind.

  • This perfection of life was thought to be achievable solely through the application of the principles of reason and enlightened self-interest. In fact, it was maintained that given the dominance of the rational and the spread of enlightenment, perfection of life must necessarily follow.

  • Dostoyevsky is noted for his skill in interweaving deep philosophical, psychological and theological threads into his brilliant fiction.

  • As a result, Notes for Underground is much more than stimulating, entertaining stories but is an actual representation of 19th century intellectual history.

Notes from underground

  • Notes from Underground wrestles with modern existential questions which deal with Man's role in a world where the idea of God was being rejected more and more.

  • The Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries espoused the value of reason, proclaimed the potential improvement of Man and Society, and freed humanity from superstition.

  • By the 19th century, with the belief in God declining, Dostoevsky saw mankind having lost its moral bearing, wafting directionless in the tempest that is life. Instead of liberating Man for the better, the Enlightenment had renounced his spiritual connection.

  • Where Dostoevsky saw a creature of God, his contemporary philosophers were seeking a new definition of modern man, out from under the definition of God.

  • “The Underground Man” is what he sees as their final product.

Works and sites cited

Works and Sites Cited

  • Lawall, Sarah. Ed. “Fyodor Dostoevsky.” The Norton Anthology of world Literature Vol. E. New York: Norton: 1301-1306.

  • Marder, Jen,Mike Meyer, and Fred Wyshak“Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground.” 3 April 2008

  • “Notes from Underground.” Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia. April 2008.

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