Tag Archives: Dostoevsky

Victor Hugo, “Le Dernier Jour d’un Condamné”


Hugo, Dernier Jour

the last day of a condemned man – english (2)



J’ouvris les yeux, je me dressai effaré sur mon séant. En ce moment, par l’étroite et haute fenêtre de ma cellule, je vis au plafond du corridor voisin, seul ciel qu’il me fût donné d’entrevoir ce reflet jaune où des yeux habitués aux ténèbres d’une prison savent si bien reconnaître le soleil. J’aime le soleil. …

I opened my eyes, and sat up startle. At this moment, through the high and narrow window of my cell, I saw on the ceiling of the next corridor (the only firmament I was allowed to see) that yellow reflection by which eyes accustomed to the darkness of a prison recognize sunshine. And oh, how I love sunshine! …


“On voit le soleil!”

Fyodor Dostoevsky, letter to his brother Mikhail, December 23,1849 (quoting Hugo; the letter was written on the day of Dostoevsky’s mock execution)


See complete French text and English translation as Word documents (posted above).

Plus, the complete audiobook of the original.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

    March 2022




Я прошу извинения у моих читателей, что на сей раз вместо «Дневника» в обычной его форме даю лишь повесть. Но я действительно занят был этой повестью большую часть месяца. Во всяком случае прошу снисхождения читателей. Теперь о самом рассказе. Я озаглавил его «фантастическим», тогда как считаю его сам в высшей степени реальным. Но фантастическое тут есть действительно …

Дело в том, что это не рассказ и не записки. Представьте себе мужа, у которого лежит на столе жена, самоубийца, несколько часов перед тем выбросившаяся из окошка. Он в смятении и еще не успел собрать своих мыслей. Он ходит по своим комнатам и старается осмыслить случившееся, «собрать свои мысли в точку». Притом это закоренелый ипохондрик, из тех, что говорят сами с собою. Вот он и говорит сам с собой, рассказывает дело, уясняет себе его. Несмотря на кажущуюся последовательность речи, он несколько раз противуречит себе, и в логике и в чувствах.

Он и оправдывает себя, и обвиняет ее, и пускается в посторонние разъяснения: …. Ряд вызванных им воспоминаний неотразимо приводит его наконец к правде … процесс рассказа продолжается несколько часов, с урывками и перемежками и в форме сбивчивой: то он говорит сам себе, то обращается как бы к невидимому слушателю, к какому-то судье.

… Если б мог подслушать его и всё записать за ним стенограф, то вышло бы несколько шершавее, необделаннее, чем представлено у меня, но, сколько мне кажется, психологический порядок, может быть, и остался бы тот же самый. Вот это предположение о записавшем всё стенографе … и есть то, что я называю в этом рассказе фантастическим. Но отчасти подобное уже на раз допускалось в искусстве: Виктор Гюго, например, в своем шедевре «Последний день приговоренного к смертной казни» употребил почти такой же прием и хоть и не вывел стенографа, но допустил еще большую неправдоподобность, предположив, что приговоренный к казни может (и имеет время) вести записки не только в последний день свой, но даже в последний час и буквально в последнюю минуту. Но не допусти он этой фантазии, не существовало бы и самого произведения — самого реальнейшего и самого правдивейшего произведения из всех им написанных.


I apologize to my readers that this time instead of the “Diary” in its usual form I give only a story. But I’ve been really busy with this story for almost a month. In any case, I ask for the indulgence of my readers. Now about the story itself. I have titled it “fantastic” when I myself consider it eminently real. But there really is something fantastic here. …

The fact is that this is not a story and not a note. Imagine a husband whose wife is lying on a table, a suicide who jumped out of a window a few hours earlier. He is confused and has not yet had time to collect his thoughts. He paces in his rooms and tries to comprehend what happened, “to collect his thoughts to a point.” Moreover, he is an inveterate hypochondriac, one of those who talk to themselves. So he talks to himself, tells the story, clarifies it to himself. Despite the apparent consistency of speech, he contradicts himself several times, both in logic and in feelings.

He justifies himself and accuses her, and indulges in extraneous explanations … A series of memories evoked by him irresistibly leads him finally to the truth. … the process of storytelling continues for several hours, with fits and starts, and in a confused form: now he speaks to himself, then he addresses himself, as it were, to an invisible listener, to some kind of judge.

… . If a stenographer could overhear him and write everything down afterwards, it would come out a little more unfinished, less polished than what I have presented, but, as far as it seems to me, the psychological order, perhaps, would remain the same. This assumption about the stenographer who wrote everything down … is what I call fantastic in this story. But in part, something like this has already been seen in art: Victor Hugo, for example, in his masterpiece “The Last Day of a Condemned Man,” used almost the same technique and, although he did not introduce a stenographer, he concocted an even greater improbability, suggesting that the man sentenced to death can (and has time) to keep notes not only on his last day, but even at the last hour and literally at the last minute. But if he did not allow for this fantasy, the work itself would not exist –the most real and most truthful work of all he wrote.

— Dostoevsky, Preface, Кроткий (Krotkiy, “The Meek One”; a short story)



Acknowledgment: I wish to thank Jean-Baptiste Pétillot for assisting me in preparing a transcript of the original.





a colloquy regarding Vladimir Nabokov


At Elisabeth van der Meer’s awesome site on Russian literature

A Russian Affair

there was a post the other day about Dostoevsky.

Typically Dostoevsky


The following is an exchange between myself and another respondent to the pot, based on an observation I made about Vladimir Nabokov.


— Roger W. Smith

  December 2016



Roger W. Smith:

This is a typical post for this site. Which is to say that it is extremely well — I should say, beautifully — written and very informative. And, it makes one want to go back and read an author one hasn’t read for a long while. It seems that everything essential has been said about Dostoevsky, with nothing superfluous. Critics write whole books and never get as close as this to the heart of the matter.

A couple of thoughts re Dostoevsky. I am wondering, is he not — as regards style — somewhat like a writer such as Balzac, in that he didn’t give a hoot about style, basically. it was the story and the characters that mattered?

An opinion that I have formed, not based on an extensive acquaintance with his works, is that Nabokov is overrated. Brilliant, but nonetheless, overrated. I recall reading critical writings of Nabokov in which he refers slightingly to Dostoevsky and seems to rank him much lower than contemporaries such as Tolstoy.

A final comment. The illustrations on this site are always chosen, one can see, with great care, and they enhance appreciation and understanding.


Benn Bell:

I would like to say that I agree with him that your article is an excellent piece. You already know that I love Dostoevsky and have read him extensively. But I must disagree with Roger’s comment on Nabokov and cannot let it go unchallenged. I have also read Nabokov extensively and I find the notion that he is over rated as a writer quite absurd. Between the two of them I would rather read Nabokov any day.


Roger W. Smith:

I have taken note of your comment and see why you might differ with me.

In response, I would be inclined to say the following.

I don’t know Nabokov that well, having read some of his stuff, e.g., “Speak, Memory,” “Despair,” “Pnin,” and “Lolita” (in part).

“Lolita,” frankly, left me feeling wanting, impoverished. I could not get into it.

I have also read, in whole or part, the following critical works of Nabokov: “Nikolai Gogol” and “Lectures on Russian Literature” (parts)

Does this make me an authority? No.

But, I got the feeling that Nabokov is:

— undoubtedly brilliant;

— somewhat superficial or arid in terms of the emotional depth of his works.

Regarding the second comment – so called superficiality – I feel that Nabokov does not have or achieve in his writings the emotional depth of a Tolstoy or Dostoevsky, that his works do not strike the same deep chords. It seems to me, from my personal experience as a reader, that often one, while being impressed if not amazed by the pyrotechnics of Nabokov auteur and his ingenuity and linguistic ability, finds oneself left wanting more emotional nourishment from his works.