Publisher: Penguin Classics
Publication Date: 1985 (1849)
Netochka Nezvanova - a 'Nameless Nobody' - tells the story of a childhood dominated by her stepfather, Efimov, a failed musician who believes he is a neglected genius. The young girl is strangely drawn to this drunken ruin of a man, who exploits her and drives the family to poverty. But when she is rescued by an aristocratic family, the abuse against Netochka's delicate psyche continues in a more subtle way, condemning her to remain an outsider - a solitary spectator of a glittering society. Conceived as part of a novel on a grand scale, Netochka Nezvanova remained incomplete after Dostoyevsky was exiled to Siberia for 'revolutionary activities' in 1849. With its depiction of the suffering, loneliness, madness and sin that affect both rich and poor in St Petersburg, it contains the great themes that were to dominate his later novels.
Netochka Nezvanova is an example of Dostoevsky's early writing and is, thus, lacking some of the assurance of his more mature works, with a certain penchant for repetition, especially of imagery. The piece started well, with the descriptions of the young girl's early life, but then lost a little of its sparkle once she was adopted and the repetition I mentioned began to seep in. That said, we can see here many of the themes that would later come to characterise Dostoevsky's works, and that alone made it interesting, as if offered an opportunity to see where he started from. By the time the book ended, I was left wondering how it would have progressed had he ever returned to it and completed the story. If you've never read Dostoevsky, Netochka Nezvanova is not the place to start, but it will be of interest to those who are already fans of his stories. It gets 4 stars from me - three for the story itself, but an extra one for the insight it offers into the development of Dostoevsky's style.