Modern Despair with Dostoevsky

There is an article in the Daily Telegraph on 30 January this year by Craig Simpson with the title: “Prophet of Despair Dostoevsky hits a nerve with readers in ‘irrational, egoistic’ times”.

Craig Simpson reports on arts and entertainment for the Telegraph.

Fyodor Dostoevsky

“Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote of ‘the pleasure of despair’, and book sales reveal British readers are buying into his brand of agreeable anguish. The Russian existentialist oeuvre is the fastest growing market for Penguin Classics, ahead of more genteel favourites like Austen and Dickens, with sales of his novels doubling in five years.

“Sales of Crime and Punishment and Notes from the Underground have quadrupled, propelling Dostoevsky from close to 40th on the list of bestselling classics authors to number 4. While the clamour for the 19th-century author’s ‘gloom and nihilism’ is ‘mysterious’ to publishers, experts suggest that pessimistic modern readers have found a ‘prophet’ in him.

“Kevin Birmingham, author of literary biography The Sinner and the Saint, said: ‘The appeal is that Dostoevsky’s view of human nature seems more apparent now: we’re irrational, egotistic and self-destructive. We spite ourselves, we crave freedom even if it leads to our detriment, and our perverse impulses are at the heart of civilisation. Readers of Dostoevsky’s novels would not be surprised by global affairs over the last several years. These are all Dostoevskian. There is an abiding fear that there are no foundations. no ultimate sense of truth or justice, and this is something we’re grappling with these days. No doubt there’s another era of optimism and confidence on the horizon, and Dostoevsky won’t fit so well with that.’

“He is currently fitting very well with the mood of readers, according to the Penguin Classics team, and an increasing audience for angst which has seen sales for the author’s works increasing 177 percent since 2016. His life experiences, Russian Orthodox beliefs, and insights on irrational human behaviour fed into works from Poor Folk to The Brothers Karamazov before his death in 1881. The renewed appeal of his intense novels led to a 60 percent sales growth for Penguin Classics in 2021 alone.”

If Dostoevsky is up, dystopian novels should also be booming!

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