Here are three novellas that are concerned with showing the pitfalls of solitude and egoism, and how these can alienate the individual against other people as well as their own happiness. White Nights (1848) is a snapshot of Dostoevsky before his Siberian exile. It is much like his later fiction, a first person narration of a man who is in thrall to his reveries and imagination, which exist at the expense of relations with those around him. Meanwhile, A Gentle Creature (1876) depicts a pawn-broker whose miserly, proud, reticent and spiteful ways cause the suicide of his young wife at the outset of the story; in the narration he struggles to come to terms with her act. Lastly, Dream Of A Ridiculous Man (1877) depicts a ‘progressive and vile’ St. Petersberg man who resolves to kill himself, after which he dreams vividly of his death and his transportation to a utopian Earth before the fall of man.
The three stories are all first person explorations with reclusive, bookish and egoist narrators, who by their vicissitudes realise Dostoevsky’s truth of how men should negotiate life. Here, we should reject pride, spite, and jealousy, avoid separation from others and live life based on Christian ideals of being humble and loving one another.
Given how these methods and ideas also figure in his later works, I would call this volume a great introduction to the author. They are engrossing and profound pieces that can be read in one sitting. Myer’s translation feels fluid, avoiding the clunky and ponderous, so that Dostoesky’s febrile passages roll off the page. Leatherbarrow’s introduction is mindful of the reader by advising them to read it after the stories. It simply unravels the meaning of them by reference to the author’s life and his larger works.