Friday, November 27, 2009

Prose Friday

(Prize for whoever picks the novel without Googling...)

Chapter One

I am a sick man.... I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I
believe my liver is diseased. However, I know nothing at all about my
disease, and do not know for certain what ails me. I don't consult a
doctor for it, and never have, though I have a respect for medicine and
doctors. Besides, I am extremely superstitious, sufficiently so to
respect medicine, anyway (I am well-educated enough not to be
superstitious, but I am superstitious). No, I refuse to consult a
doctor from spite. That you probably will not understand. Well, I
understand it, though. Of course, I can't explain who it is precisely
that I am mortifying in this case by my spite: I am perfectly well
aware that I cannot "pay out" the doctors by not consulting them; I
know better than anyone that by all this I am only injuring myself and
no one else. But still, if I don't consult a doctor it is from spite.
My liver is bad, well--let it get worse!

I have been going on like that for a long time--twenty years. Now I am
forty. I used to be in the government service, but am no longer. I
was a spiteful official. I was rude and took pleasure in being so. I
did not take bribes, you see, so I was bound to find a recompense in
that, at least. (A poor jest, but I will not scratch it out. I wrote
it thinking it would sound very witty; but now that I have seen myself
that I only wanted to show off in a despicable way, I will not scratch
it out on purpose!)

When petitioners used to come for information to the table at which I
sat, I used to grind my teeth at them, and felt intense enjoyment when
I succeeded in making anybody unhappy. I almost did succeed. For the
most part they were all timid people--of course, they were petitioners.
But of the uppish ones there was one officer in particular I could not
endure. He simply would not be humble, and clanked his sword in a
disgusting way. I carried on a feud with him for eighteen months over
that sword. At last I got the better of him. He left off clanking it.
That happened in my youth, though.

But do you know, gentlemen, what was the chief point about my spite?
Why, the whole point, the real sting of it lay in the fact that
continually, even in the moment of the acutest spleen, I was inwardly
conscious with shame that I was not only not a spiteful but not even an
embittered man, that I was simply scaring sparrows at random and
amusing myself by it. I might foam at the mouth, but bring me a doll
to play with, give me a cup of tea with sugar in it, and maybe I should
be appeased. I might even be genuinely touched, though probably I
should grind my teeth at myself afterwards and lie awake at night with
shame for months after. That was my way.

I was lying when I said just now that I was a spiteful official. I was
lying from spite. I was simply amusing myself with the petitioners and
with the officer, and in reality I never could become spiteful. I was
conscious every moment in myself of many, very many elements absolutely
opposite to that. I felt them positively swarming in me, these
opposite elements. I knew that they had been swarming in me all my life
and craving some outlet from me, but I would not let them, would not
let them, purposely would not let them come out. They tormented me
till I was ashamed: they drove me to convulsions and--sickened me, at
last, how they sickened me! Now, are not you fancying, gentlemen, that
I am expressing remorse for something now, that I am asking your
forgiveness for something? I am sure you are fancying that ...
However, I assure you I do not care if you are....

It was not only that I could not become spiteful, I did not know how to
become anything; neither spiteful nor kind, neither a rascal nor an
honest man, neither a hero nor an insect. Now, I am living out my life
in my corner, taunting myself with the spiteful and useless consolation
that an intelligent man cannot become anything seriously, and it is
only the fool who becomes anything. Yes, a man in the nineteenth
century must and morally ought to be pre-eminently a characterless
creature; a man of character, an active man is pre-eminently a limited
creature. That is my conviction of forty years. I am forty years old
now, and you know forty years is a whole lifetime; you know it is
extreme old age. To live longer than forty years is bad manners, is
vulgar, immoral. Who does live beyond forty? Answer that, sincerely
and honestly I will tell you who do: fools and worthless fellows. I
tell all old men that to their face, all these venerable old men, all
these silver-haired and reverend seniors! I tell the whole world that
to its face! I have a right to say so, for I shall go on living to
sixty myself. To seventy! To eighty! ... Stay, let me take breath


Ramon Insertnamehere said...

Nikolai Gogol?

Perseus said...

Warm, but no.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...


Perseus said...

Right country, wrong author.
To win the prize I need both author and novel.

Whoever picks it gets to snog an TSFKA contributor of their choice.

ToneMasterTone said...


Notes from Underground.

In one of the early chapters, mentions wanting to turn into an insect, and Kafka took that and wrote Metamorphosis.

Perseus said...

TmT gets to snog a TSFKA person of his choice!

Who do you choose?

(Note: If you pick Puss I'll ram a screwdriver through your eyeball).

squib said...

This is unrelated but I'm reading Don Quixote at the moment and I feel like I've been reading it FOREVER. I'm half way and I'm starting to get restless. Is it worth it? I mean it's good but half a million words is getting a bit ridiculous

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

Snog Melba!

Snog Melba!

Cath said...

Snog Perseus... you know that he puts out.

ToneMasterTone said...

I want to snog Lewd Bob -- his name makes me think of a floating penis, and I can't think of anything sexier than slopping my mouth around a floating penis.

Don Quixote is a Spanish joke on literate types the world over. I consider it a rite of passage that all literate types must go through where they come to realise that you can be utterly, irrevocably bored by a book from the literary canon that is unquestionably important for a number of reasons and it's OK.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

can be utterly, irrevocably bored by a book from the literary canon that is unquestionably important for a number of reasons

cf. Moby Dick

And speaking of dicks, you better pucker-up, Bob.

Perseus said...

I said snog, not fellate.

But if Bob's up for it...

squib said...


thanks Tone

Melba said...

I feel rejected now. Bob's penis over my lips.

Anonymous said...

can be utterly, irrevocably bored by a book from the literary canon that is unquestionably important for a number of reasons

cf. Moby Dick

I'm with you there, Ramon. I'm about 2/3 the way through, and I find meself becalmed on a windless ocean, unable to go further. The action scenes are great, and Captain Ahab's mental perambulations, but the lengthy dissertations on every facet of whaling send me into a slumber.

Bob's penis over my lips.

Well, isn't Bob popular among the readership? I assume you'll be filming your sick interwebs tryst for 'Bloggers gone wild'? said...

Oh thank god! It's so nice to admit I hate some classics. I'm frankly bored by 'On the Road' and can't finish 'Lolita' because I'm so repulsed by the child-molesting main character, whatever his foul name is. Yeah, I know neither of them are particularly lengthy... But I'm standing by (cringing, actually) in preparation for some flaming.

And Melba? Think I read 'Bob's penis over my lips' in a wholly different way than what you probably intended.

Lewd Bob said...

Well that'll learn me for tuning in on a Saturday night.

Although the Missus would probably like to see it, I hereby respectfully decline TMT.

And I knew it was Notes because I've tried three times to read it and it's Perseus' default classic.

Melba said...

Oh no, come to mumma. I meant it like that. Well, I wrote it, saw how it read, and couldn't be bothered changing it.

Just finished Lolita for the first time. I did skim in parts, and of course Humbert Humbert is reprehensible and there is no excuse. But it'is beautifully written.

I haven't really read any of the Russians (novels). And I'm going to. What suggestions for first, second, third?

Lewd Bob said...

1. Dead Souls
2. Anna Karenina
3. My Penis Over Your Lips, er, I mean, Crime and Punishment

Melba said...

Why thanks Penis. Er Bob.

Lips x

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

1. "Fathers and Sons"

2. The short stories of Anton Chekhov.

3. "War and Peace". Just make sure you do a family chart, as all the Ivan Ivanovichs can get confusing.

Melba said...

Thanks Ramon.

Have you seen this site?

ToneMasterTone said...

Lewd Bob, you do your eponym a disservice.

Notes from Underground is quite amusing. I'm a little surprised you find it unreadable considering you like Crime and Punishment.

And for the record, I'm a fan of Moby Dick and Lolita.

My list of most unreadable/hated canonical works include the following:
1. Don Quixote by Cervantes
2. On the Road by Kerouac
3. The Rainbow by DH Lawrence
4. White Noise by Delillo
5. Master and Margarita by Bulgakov
6. Brand New World by Huxley
7. Catch 22 by Heller (it's just one joke over and over again, goddamn it!)
8. Confederacy of Dunces by O' Toole
9. Gulliver's Travels by Swift

And have a look at this -- it's refreshing:

eat my shorts said...

I saw an episode of Father Ted yesterday where he was trying to impress a lady novelist visiting the island by lying about finishing Crime & Punishment.

Also, Father Hackett drank too much floor polish and died for a few days. He revived by the end of the episode, looked directly to camera & said "PISS OFF!"

"Drink! Girls! Feck! Arse!"

They don't make classics like that anymore. said...

I know, Melba. I read your blog post with interest after I posted here. I adore it when people show me the beauty I can't see... so thank you!

Lewd Bob said...

'Lewd' doesn't necessarily equate to being sucked off by a guy, but I'll certainly be vigilant in future about not living up to expectations.

I think Dostoyevsky can be difficult, but Crime and Punishment is perhaps his most readable.

Also for the record I like Moby Dick (although I tended to shout at Melville a lot - "It's a fucking mammal you twat!"), On the Road, Lolita, Master and Margarita, Catch 22, Gulliver's Travels.