“And though I suffer for you, yet it eases my heart to suffer for you.”
— Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Poor Folk
Crime and Punishment was an absolutely mesmerizing first experience of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s writing. Being able to read his very first novel, the one that brought him great fame, is an opportunity that I just couldn’t skip over. At 24 years old, he writes Poor Folk—tell me that’s not something to applaud about. This is an epistolary novel that portrays all the faces of human condition. Considered to be one of the most important pieces of literature set in the early beginnings of the Russian realism movement, this novel captures the emotional struggle of individuals who are confronted to poverty. From a desire for respect to a fight to live with dignity, Poor Folk is truly a unique work that is certain to impress readers. The influence of great authors also exude through Dostoyevsky’s writing; writers such as Gogol or Pushkin and many more. Poor Folk is the beginning of a young legend’s legacy.
The story is written in the form of letters between two characters who are in love, yet fight poverty with every inch of their breath. Second cousins living in horrible situations and only a street away from each other, Makar Devushkin and Varvara Dobroselova both express a desire to escape their miserable situations. While Makar would gladly give everything he gains to embellish the life of the only person he truly cares about, Varvara struggles to accept all that is passed onto her. The relationships between the poor and the one between the poor and the rich are those that enlighten us the most on the morality of individuals. Bound to never be able to be together because of their gruesome conditions, these letters show us the extremes they are willing to go, even when the means aren’t there.
What’s really beautiful about this book is how love is showcased through a singular perspective. A perspective that is tainted by poverty. This gives readers the convenience to see everything in a different angle. In fact, this brings a whole new level of relativity when it comes down to human condition. There’s a bunch of backstories that are intertwined with the main plot to explore even further the decrepit situation in which the characters have lived or still live in. Through these moments, we’re able to grasp the struggle of many characters that have indulged a life of hardship. Living in these conditions, you can observe that some values are dropped for others, that dignity scrambles its way to the top. It’s definitely not an easy task to deliver these tales with such a realistic touch, but Dostoyevsky achieves this with a masterstroke.
Poor Folk is a brilliant novel that succeeds in telling the story of the poor within 100 pages. While the structure can be quite staggering and the plot can sometimes drift into a whole new narrative, the core remains pure as crystal. This novel has shown me that it isn’t what you have that defines you, but what you do with what you have that matters. Poverty strips us of the unnecessary and puts emphasis on the littlest gestures. Even if the condition itself is devastating on life, it does amplify the ability of a person to appreciate the immaterial, the intangible. They say there’s nothing worth holding onto because most things are not permanent, except death. But what’s permanent or not will always be dependent on a person’s perspective and decisions. Poor Folk isn’t known as one of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s most renown pieces, but I’m definitely glad to had read it. I’m now quite convinced of having become a full-blown Dostoyevskian fanboy.