Posts Tagged ‘crime and punishment’

The Eternal Husband and Dostoevskian Simplicity

The Eternal Husband is the kind of novel I imagine Fyodor Dostoevsky came up with in a weekend. It could even work as a one-act play with its three basic steps: Take a wife who cheats on her husband, kill her off (before the start of the novel of course), and put the husband in the same room with the adulterer. And oh, nobody’s sure how much the husband knows.

This is the simple plot in Dostoevsky’s short novel(la).* Of course, many of Dostoevsky’s short novels have plots built on simple premises. The Double is about a guy who sees his double, The Gambler is about a guy who gambles, etc. These shorter works also tend to start from the same set-up, focusing on a mentally unstable protagonist who lives in a confined residence in St. Petersburg. Yakov Petrovich Goliadkin of The Double and, more famously, the Underground Man from Notes from Underground come to mind here.**

*I don’t know exactly where the cut-off between short novel and novella is.

**As, of course, does Raskolnikov, but I can’t really call Crime and Punishment a “short work,” can I?

The Eternal Husband is different from its predecessors—it was written in 1870, before only Demons, The Adolescent, and The Brothers Karamazov, none of which really fit the above pattern—in two key ways. First, it is perhaps Dostoevsky’s most economical novel. The secondary characters—you know, the kind that get entire books dedicated to them in The Brothers Karamazov—are, for the most part, negligible. The tertiary and quaternary characters are non-existent. I suppose there are a maid and a little girl who doesn’t talk much, but it isn’t really a Dostoevsky novel without a maid and a little girl who doesn’t talk much.

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