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Old 05-01-2012, 09:37 AM   #1
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The Eternal Husband by Fyodor Dostoevsky

What are your thoughts on it?

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Old 05-01-2012, 03:53 PM   #2
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I did not like it - I read it in Italian, and it is possible that the translation bears part of the fault, but I found the prose somewhat abrupt, and the developmnet of the plot stuttering - it all felt very theatrical (excessively so for my taste) with the characters reacting in either excessively subdued or excessively emotional manner. I could not empathise with any of the characters, and if the objective was to convey something deeper via this charicatures, it was lost on me.

So, I am looking forward to your comments hoping they'll change my mind!
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Old 05-01-2012, 06:31 PM   #3
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I thought that the novel was definitely recognizable as Dostoevsky's work, but also definitely one of his weaker efforts. Perhaps that explains its obscurity?

In line with Paola's comments I found that the character development was weak, not normal for a novel by Dostoevsky who usually creates a large cast of complex and well developed characters. Here only the characters of Alexei Velchaninov and Pavel Trusotsky were fully developed. Almost all the other characters seemed little more than scenery. That and Pavel Trusotsky was indeed almost a caricature of the cuckold husband. Part of this is of course that two other important characters in the whole drama, Natalia Trusotsky and Bagautov, are dead at the start of the novel. Even Liza, Natalia's and (as it is revealed) Velchaninov's daughter is never really developed as a character.

There are some great moments of humor. The scene of party where Trusotsky is attempting to woo Nadia Zakhlyobinin, but only finds himself the butt of mockery, well it is impossible not to laugh at the misguided man. Still it is impossible to also not feel pity for the man who seems to be fated to be forever “the eternal husband.” Even though he is partly responsible for bringing this on himself, by first marrying Natalia because of her beauty, even though she never loved him, nor even respected him. No lesson learned he tries to repeat that error with Nadia Zakhlyobinin, and does repeat it with new wife we encounter in the final chapter. Dostoevsky makes clear that Trusotsky will soon once again be wearing horns; marriage without love leads to love without marriage.

I suppose that a story about little more than a case of the “eternal husband” is not unworthy of a novel, but it does produce a weak work relative to what an author like Dostoevsky was capable of.

Sun Surfer, that is a great cover picture by the way. The paperback copy I obtained through my local library had a very ordinary looking cover.
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Old 05-01-2012, 06:57 PM   #4
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I liked it, albeit with reservations. In retrospect, I wish I had read a more modern translation than Garnett. Coyness about a chamber pot!

I was put off by all the shouting, especially by Velchaninov. Did that man ever speak in a normal tone of voice? But I also was sucked in; originally I had planned to have a stint of so many pages per day, then I ended up reading it in one sitting. The central mystery: did Trusotsky know? I found very compelling. Each situation could be read differently, depending on whether or not he knew of Liza's parentage. Poor Liza! Was it being emotionally abandoned by her putative father or an infection (that black finger) that killed her?

Can people change? Despite experience and epiphanies, in this case, clearly not. Both Velchaninov and Trusotsky keep returning to form. The last sentence had me laughing.

I don't think there was more meat here than for a novella, but as it was, the tragi-comedy engaged me and I'm still thinking about the characters. Question: Am I the only one who kept seeing "Trotsky" for "Trusotsky?"
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Old 05-02-2012, 09:47 AM   #5
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I haven't started it yet. It's on the list for me this month though.
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Old 05-03-2012, 06:24 AM   #6
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I suppose that The Eternal Husband is obscure for a reason--specifically because it is such a minor work in the context of a writer as great as Dostoevsky. I didn't particularly like this short novel and overall I would tend to agree with Paola's assessment.

As Issybird said, two of the important characters are dead when the novel begins. As to the other two significant figures, I found that Velchaninov swung between extreme moods all the time and some of his actions really seemed to be entirely lacking in sufficient motivation. Trusotsky was memorable all right--memorably unpleasant and unsympathetic.

The book is still worth reading, though. There is the interesting--if limited--way that Dostoevsky reveals the inner workings of the mind of Velchaninov. Some of the minor characters stand out with some vividness--especially Nadia, the 16 year old being courted by Trusotsky. Her young boy friend makes an impression too in the one scene where he gets a chance to level with the older men. The household of the lawyer with all the daughters is a great snapshot of the kind of activities by which they entertained themselves and their guests.

Poor little Liza dies so soon. I found her a very vivid character who created an impact in her brief life. Somehow, I feel that if she had lived the novel would have gained in emotional substance and Velchaninov's character could have been developed in a more balanced way. But that's only my emotional reaction to the character and clearly Dostoevsky wasn't interested in writing the longer and very different novel this approach would entail. But it is a tribute to the author's skill that in such a short space he was so skillfully and powerfully able to delineate the tragic circumstances of the child.

So----a minor work it may be and it does contain flaws, but even a flawed work by Dostoevsky is worth exploring.

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Old 05-06-2012, 10:49 PM   #7
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I read the book primarily in one sitting. I liked the book mostly for the "does he or doesn't he know" back-and-forth. One of my favorite quotes was:
Quote:
He knows all about Baganoff; but how about myself? You know how such wives can deceive their husbands. If an angel from Heaven were to come down and convict a woman, her husband will still trust her, and give the angel the lie.
It was a bit bizarre in some of the dream and night sequences. One summary of the book that I read described the plot as a "psychological duel", and I suppose the problem that I had was that I didn't particularly like either character. They were both a bit mad, and the book was a roller coaster of emotions. I didn't have a problem with the translation, although I was annoyed with the name Velchaninoff because the word just doesn't roll smoothly off your tongue and disrupted my reading. I agree with fantasyfan that one simply likes the minor characters better than the main ones. Poor Liza! Velchaninoff barely has time to know her as his true daughter before she dies.

It's interesting that Velchaninoff describes Natalia as hating corruption but unable to recognize her own depravations. Then, Trusotsky says that it is Nadia's innocence which he finds much more attractive than beauty. Of course we know that she is not so innocent and quite shrewd at not accepting the bracelet and trying to find a way out of the marriage arrangement.

I liked the ending too, especially the last scene. I thought it was a funny way to end the book with Trusotsky on the train traveling with his new wife and a young officer to his country home for a party. So he is an eternal husband after all, and history is soon to repeat itself. You can just see him squirming at the thought that Velchaninoff might join them.

I have never read anything by Dostoyevsky so I can't compare to other works. I did find an analysis about The Eternal Husband that said:
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The novella is a rare work of precision and is typical of Dostoyevsky in its concern with the mysteries of the human psyche, its potential for equally noble and vile acts, and the need, as well as reluctance, to accept responsibility for either.
Another review said the story is loosely related to his first marriage. Although all I could find on that was he married his first wife after they had an affair and then she died and he remarried.

I suspect that this is one of those books that improves on a second reading.
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Old 06-04-2012, 10:38 AM   #8
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I've finally started this one. Unfortunately the Delphi Classics version isn't up to scratch and I just got strange feedback from that company that makes me wonder how they put together their collections - eg doesn't necessarily look like they proof-read.

I think I'll go back to the Gutenberg text.

Love the cover in the first post by the way. I think I'll use that as my cover for the Gutenberg version.
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Old 06-09-2012, 03:44 AM   #9
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Immediately upon finishing this book I wasn't quite sure what I thought about The Eternal Husband. However, I've had a couple of days to contemplate and I think I've got a better grasp on how I feel towards it.

I read an article somewhere that called this story a psychological duel. Although that is, I guess, what was eventuating on the surface, I think I prefer thinking of this story as a study of the male psyche - or at least of a couple of specific types of male psyche.

Velchaninoff is a representation of the alpha male. Although he is, at the time of this story, somewhat down on his luck, he has enjoyed a privileged position amongst other men (and women) in that he was very handsome, well-off and completely charming. What's more - he had the attitude of the alpha male: domination is a natural state and he seldom feels true guilt in that domination.

At the commencement of the story, Velchaninoff is probably at his lowest ebb. His looks have faded with age somewhat and a shift in financial position has left him poorly although not destitute. I propose that despite this, Velchaninoff is still very much an alpha male from the inside out and that this is made evident as the story progresses.

When Velchaninoff first runs into Trusotsky he doesn't recognise him. Given that he had spent a year in an adulterous relationship with Trusotsky's wife in Trusotsky's home, I think this says alot about Velchaninoff's attitude as an alpha male.

Trusotsky is a classic submissive male. He will not only be dominated by an alpha male, I believe he longs to be dominated this way. However when we are introduced to him in this book, there are a few question marks. His visit to St Petersberg seems to be one of revenge. We see an interplay between the two characters much like a game of cat and mouse and it seems like Velchaninoff is the hunted and Trusotsky is the hunter. But neither character is in his true position in the relationship and the roles are played very uncomfortably by both parties.

The fact is that Trusotsky adores Velchaninoff much like a submissive would adore the dominant alpha male. He is completely uncomfortable being the aggressor and there are signs that he wants to resume his classic submissive role.

Just some observations about Trusotsky. He married an attractive woman using his status as the attractor. His wife used him for position in society but sought out dominant males for the purpose of conducting a sexual relationship. It's uncertain whether Trusotsky enjoyed any type of sexual relationship with his wife, but their inability to conceive could either point to a sexual disfunction in Trusotsky or is an indicator that the relationship itself had no sexual basis.

When Trusotsky chose to marry again, it was to a beautiful young girl who very obviously spurned his attentions. Given that there were many girls in this family including a mild and more submissive option in Katia, this tells me that Trusotsky yearns to resume his role as a cuckold. The marriage itself is important to him, but not the relationship and I believe this is because of his own feelings of inadequacy. The fact that he introduces Velchaninoff to see how she behaves in the society of men, tells me that he's making sure he's picking the correct woman to resume his place as the eternal husband (or cuckold), a position that he has a deep-seated desire to resume. I believe the only reason this marriage did not eventuate was due to the insistence of another future alpha male who succeeded in dominating Trusotsky sufficiently to warn him off.

His final choice of a wife was the same as all other choices, with the wife immediately attempting to secure Velchaninoff's attentions. So he had indeed picked well.

That's enough for this post. I may continue with further observations I made throughout the book. Anyone have any comments on this view?
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Old 06-09-2012, 04:46 AM   #10
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I think Hamlet touched on this, but you put it in quite a stark perspective, and from reading your post this seems now so obvious: thanks!

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Old 06-10-2012, 07:00 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by caleb72 View Post
Immediately upon finishing this book I wasn't quite sure what I thought about The Eternal Husband. However, I've had a couple of days to contemplate and I think I've got a better grasp on how I feel towards it.

I read an article somewhere that called this story a psychological duel. Although that is, I guess, what was eventuating on the surface, I think I prefer thinking of this story as a study of the male psyche - or at least of a couple of specific types of male psyche.

Velchaninoff is a representation of the alpha male. Although he is, at the time of this story, somewhat down on his luck, he has enjoyed a privileged position amongst other men (and women) in that he was very handsome, well-off and completely charming. What's more - he had the attitude of the alpha male: domination is a natural state and he seldom feels true guilt in that domination.

At the commencement of the story, Velchaninoff is probably at his lowest ebb. His looks have faded with age somewhat and a shift in financial position has left him poorly although not destitute. I propose that despite this, Velchaninoff is still very much an alpha male from the inside out and that this is made evident as the story progresses.

When Velchaninoff first runs into Trusotsky he doesn't recognise him. Given that he had spent a year in an adulterous relationship with Trusotsky's wife in Trusotsky's home, I think this says alot about Velchaninoff's attitude as an alpha male.

Trusotsky is a classic submissive male. He will not only be dominated by an alpha male, I believe he longs to be dominated this way. However when we are introduced to him in this book, there are a few question marks. His visit to St Petersberg seems to be one of revenge. We see an interplay between the two characters much like a game of cat and mouse and it seems like Velchaninoff is the hunted and Trusotsky is the hunter. But neither character is in his true position in the relationship and the roles are played very uncomfortably by both parties.

The fact is that Trusotsky adores Velchaninoff much like a submissive would adore the dominant alpha male. He is completely uncomfortable being the aggressor and there are signs that he wants to resume his classic submissive role.

Just some observations about Trusotsky. He married an attractive woman using his status as the attractor. His wife used him for position in society but sought out dominant males for the purpose of conducting a sexual relationship. It's uncertain whether Trusotsky enjoyed any type of sexual relationship with his wife, but their inability to conceive could either point to a sexual disfunction in Trusotsky or is an indicator that the relationship itself had no sexual basis.

When Trusotsky chose to marry again, it was to a beautiful young girl who very obviously spurned his attentions. Given that there were many girls in this family including a mild and more submissive option in Katia, this tells me that Trusotsky yearns to resume his role as a cuckold. The marriage itself is important to him, but not the relationship and I believe this is because of his own feelings of inadequacy. The fact that he introduces Velchaninoff to see how she behaves in the society of men, tells me that he's making sure he's picking the correct woman to resume his place as the eternal husband (or cuckold), a position that he has a deep-seated desire to resume. I believe the only reason this marriage did not eventuate was due to the insistence of another future alpha male who succeeded in dominating Trusotsky sufficiently to warn him off.

His final choice of a wife was the same as all other choices, with the wife immediately attempting to secure Velchaninoff's attentions. So he had indeed picked well.

That's enough for this post. I may continue with further observations I made throughout the book. Anyone have any comments on this view?
Yes, nice analysis. If the alpha male terminology had been current in Dostoevsky's time he might have even applied that terminology to Velchaninov and Trusotsky. Trusotsky seemed to alternate between sycophantic desire to win Velchaninov's respect and approval and murderous rage against Velchaninov for his natural superiority.

I am not sure about your speculation about Trusotsky having not sexual relationship with his first wife. It is not until Trusotsky reads his wife's collection of letters that he realizes that she has cheated on him with Velchaninov and Bagautov. So unless Trusotsky was totally misinformed about the birds & bees . . .

Something that your analysis made me think of is this. When the novel begins Velchaninov is a hypochondriac who seems to have lost any direction in life. Does his encounter with Trusotsky remind him of his superiority and give him the push he needs to resume life?
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Old 06-10-2012, 10:51 PM   #12
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I am not sure about your speculation about Trusotsky having not sexual relationship with his first wife. It is not until Trusotsky reads his wife's collection of letters that he realizes that she has cheated on him with Velchaninov and Bagautov. So unless Trusotsky was totally misinformed about the birds & bees . . .
I don't think he ever did not know about his wife cheating on him, and I think it was part of his own psychological make-up that he was able to convince himself that his daughter was actually his. He just wasn't able to support the delusion when he discovered the letter that spelled it out. I think it's at this point that he snapped and became so uncomfortably out-of-type for a period of time.

Quote:
Something that your analysis made me think of is this. When the novel begins Velchaninov is a hypochondriac who seems to have lost any direction in life. Does his encounter with Trusotsky remind him of his superiority and give him the push he needs to resume life?
Not sure on this one. I was thinking about the conditions under which an alpha male becomes temporarily less so. I do think the financial problems he experienced may have unseated him somewhat. Also, this could have been a facet of his aging process. He wasn't all that he once was.

I think the transformation made have germinated with Trusotsky, but I wouldn't be surprised if it really bloomed when he was dragged to that house and it was made clear that he still enjoyed a dominance over men like Trusotsky.

Once of the things I think is telling is that Velchaninov never really appears terribly guilty over what he has done to Trusotsky. Instead there is almost an embarrassment - and I think this is an embarrassment for Trusotsky as now Velchaninov can't maintain his own delusion that Trusotsky was none the wiser.

Anyway - that's just an opinion. I'm not sure how well I would be able to support the argument that Trusotsky did not have a sexual relationship with his wife. But I am fairly certain that he would have known on some level about his wife and Velchaninov and I believe he would have at least suspected about the daughter.
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