The Insulted and Injured by Fyodor Dostoevsky—Goodreads Book Review

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Dostoevsky’s first full novel after his release from the Siberian labor camp and his subsequent attempts to reenter the Russian literary scene, The Insulted and Injured incorporates many of the motifs and tropes popular in the roman-feuilltons of the time. Think Dickens at his most heartstrings-pullingly sympathetic, pathetic, and bathetic; often I found myself remembering Nicholas Nickelby, among others, though often without Dickens’s ironic humor.

A romantic narrator willing to sacrifice himself and his love for a young woman (Natasha), who, herself, is in love with another man (see Dostoevksy’s pre-Siberian “White Nights,” among others, for a similar love triangle plot), a poor gentry father who has cut off his daughter for indecently eloping with a neighboring aristocrat, that aristocrat’s princely father cravenly aiming, from his position of power and wealth, to ruin the honest and innocent around him, and a little girl of unknown heritage brought up in penury—Dostoevsky incorporates all these elements into the novel. With all this, the novel distills the popular trends of the time into a set of dual plotlines—the marriage quadrangle between the narrator, Natasha, the aristocrat Alyosha, and his intended Katerina, and the parentage plot of thirteen-year-old Nellie Smith—that, it is discovered by the end of the novel, are connected in more ways than merely through the narrator.

Rather than being a mere pastiche of the literary trends of the 1860s (which, certainly, it is, though it nonetheless held the attention of its dismissive public to the last installment), The Insulted and Injured shows Dostoevsky growing and experimenting with novelistic elements in ways that presage his later works. One can find in the book embryonic versions of later characters and situations, as well as maturation of previous ones. While it lacks the prescience and depth of Dostoevsky’s later works (he himself said there were only 50 pages in the novel of which he was proud), the novel nonetheless serves as an informative example of the author’s transition into those works. It also serves to show his tackling of the contemporary issue of women’s liberation, especially through the character of Natasha, who is disowned by her father for exercising what relationship autonomy she can; that issue, of course, would be further explored and addressed by Dostoevsky in his later works, form Notes from Underground to The Brothers Karamazov.

While The Insulted and Injured may serve as a good introduction for those coming to him from Dickens, etc, it is not Dostoevsky’s most Dostoevskian work, and one should not approach it expecting similar exploration of psychology, philosophy (there’s a bit of both, but not much), crime, politics, or other major elements that characterize the author’s most-known masterpieces.