31.8.11

Dostoyevsky on Mr Know-alls

An extract from The Idiot
Detail from Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoy's 'Portrait of the Artist Konstantin Savitsky' (1871)
A brief excerpt from the first chapter of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Idiot, translated by David McDuff:
These Mr Know-alls are sometimes encountered, even rather frequently, at a certain level of society. They know everything; all the restless curiosity of their mind and faculties is irrepressibly aimed in one direction, because of the absence of any more important opinions or interests in life, as a contemporary thinker would say. However, this 'knowing everything' refers to a rather narrow area: where such-and-such a person works, who his friends are, how much he is worth, where he was governor, who he is married to, how much his wife's dowry was, who his cousin is, and his second cousin, etcetera, etcetera, and all that kind of thing. For the most part these know-alls have worn elbows and earn a salary of seventeen roubles a month. The people of whom they know all the details could never, of course, imagine the interests that guide them, and yet many of these know-alls derive positive consolation from this knowledge, which is equivalent to a whole science, finding self-respect and even the loftiest spiritual fulfilment in it. And it is a seductive science, too. I have seen scholars, men of letters, poets, political activists, seeking and achieving their highest ambitions and goals in this science, even making it the sole foundation of their careers.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Idiot
Translated by David McDuff
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