‘A Novel In Nine Letters’ by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Dostoyevsky, Fyodor 1848b

A Novel In Nine Letters by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, 1847

The magic trick:

Telling a story in only letters – with no narration – and still managing to surprise both letterwriters with a plot twist at the end

So first of all, it’s a neat thing to tell a story with no narration. The entire thing is, as the title promises, told in nine letters between friends/enemies/business partners. We saw that in a previously featured epistolary work, “Marjorie Daw.”

In that story, one of the letterwriters was lying which resulted in a surprised character and reader. “A Novel In Nine Letters” takes that trick a step further – both letterwriters get a surprise by story’s end. Both are scam artists, so the reader is left to enjoy their war of words all the more when it ends with a satisfying comeuppance.

In truth, it’s kind of a cheat by Dostoyevsky. He inserts a letter from a third party at the end so that he can manage the plot twist. But it’s still a fun and satisfying conclusion. And that’s quite a trick on Dostoyevsky’s part.

The selection:


I got your letter yesterday, I read it and was perplexed. You looked for me, goodness knows where, and I was simply at home. Till ten o’clock I was expecting Ivan Ivanitch Tolokonov. At once on getting your letter I set out with my wife, I went to the expense of taking a cab, and reached your house about half-past six. You were not at home, but we were met by your wife. I waited to see you till half-past ten, I could not stay later. I set off with my wife, went to the expense of a cab again, saw her home, and went on myself to the Perepalkins’, thinking I might meet you there, but again I was out in my reckoning. When I get home I did not sleep all night, I felt uneasy; in the morning I drove round to you three times, at nine, at ten and at eleven; three times I went to the expense of a cab, and again you left me in the lurch.


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