Sometimes translated as "Letters From the Underworld," this short, two-part novella sprang the first existential modernist on the world in 1864. Addressing the reader directly, the "Underground Man," a rude and spiteful government official of about 40, has quit his job and ruminates in his poor apartment, remembering past foolishness and humiliations, and going out only to embarrass friends and abuse a prostitute. He talks much sense about the illusions of perfection and scientific determinism -- of how perversely humans will express their need for freedom no matter how hard society tries either to satisfy or control them -- but he is incapable of love, and so provides a stinging portrait of what many could and have become in the nearly 150 years since. There is a sour, depressing humor, and a crabbed grandeur to this transitional work between Dostoevsky's early romanticism and his masterful long novels.
This report prepared by David Loftus