Thursday, September 11, 2008

Dostoevsky is hilarious.

Well, funny. Or at least he writes in a comic style. Let's try a passage - Golyadkin, The Double's man with a double, has just decided to call in sick to work:

"At last by means of such arguments, Mr. Golyadkin salved his conscience completely, and justified himself in advance against the reprimand he might expect from Andrey Fillopovich for neglecting his work. In all such situations our hero was very fond of justifying himself in his own eyes by various irrefutable arguments, and so salving his conscience completely. And so, his conscience salved, he picked up his pipe, filled it, and had no sooner got it drawing nicely, than he sprang up from the sofa, tossed it away, quickly washed, shaved and combed his hair, dragged on his uniform jacket adn other things, and grabbing some papers, shot off to the office." (Ch. 6)

Maybe one could argue with the repetition of "salve" and "conscience", but I think that's half the joke.

Golyadkin has invited his double up to his room for supper, and they become the best of friends. Golyadkin becomes voluble:

"he told how Russia was hourly approaching perfection, and literature and learning were thriving; he told of an anecdote he had read lately in The Northern Bee; he told of an extraordinarily powerful boa constrictor in India; and lastly he spoke of Baron Brambeus. In brief, Mr. Golyadkin was perfectly happy."

Dostoevsky has other modes in The Double, some good dream sequences, for example, and some good uncanny stuff, his own mix of Gogol's The Nose and his various German sources. Because some of Dostoevsky's later subject matter is sort of a laugh killer - patricide, axe murders - his comic talents are overlooked. The Double is funny. Maybe not as funny as The Metamorphosis or As I Lay Dying, but pretty funny.


  1. One of the funniest lines I've come across in literature; as I remember it: 'He was as loyal as 700 poodles' courtesy of our Mr. Dostoevsky...

  2. Here's Constance Garnett's version, from The Brothers Karamazov: "The old man has been honest all his life and as faithful to my father as seven hundred poodles."

    The passage around this is pretty funny, too. Maybe not "seven hundred poodles" funny.