Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky was born on 30 October 1821 in the Moscow Mariinskii Hospital, where his father, Mikhail Andreevich Dostoevsky, was a staff doctor. The second of seven children, he was closest to his older brother, Mikhail. Dostoevsky later wrote with warmth about his mother, Mariia Fedorovna, but wrote nearly nothing about his father and is reported to have said that his childhood was difficult and joyless. The correspondence between his parents, written in the effulgent, sentimental style of the time, reveals little. The Mariinskii Hospital served the indigent, and inasmuch as the Dostoevsky family was quartered on its premises, the young boy gained impressions of urban poverty that he later was able to use in his fiction and journalism. Walks in the hospital gardens and readings from the Bible, the Lives of the Saints, and Nikolai Mikhailovich Karamzin's Istoriia gosudarstva Rossiiskogo (History of the Russian State, 1818- 1829) were the main family activities of Dostoevsky's early childhood.
In 1828 Mikhail Andreevich Dostoevsky was granted a nobleman's rank, and shortly thereafter the family purchased an estate at Darovoe. Little is known about this period except for the fragmentary accounts the author himself provided in his journal Dnevnik pisatelia (Diary of a Writer, 1876-1877, 1880, 1881). Most of this material also served Dostoevsky's ideological projects of the 1870s--including, for example, his argument about the necessary link between the educated classes and the peasantry. In Dostoevsky's 1876 autobiographical fragment, "Muzhik Marei" (The Peasant Marei), the author describes himself as a child playing in the woods on his father's estate. He recounts how he was terrified by the cry "a wolf is coming" and was tenderly comforted by a peasant named Marei. Scholars have commented on the Mariological, feminine, and maternal motifs introduced in the portrait of the peasant. In Dnevnik pisatelia Dostoevsky also describes how in 1832 a large portion of the family estate went up in flames. His nanny offered the family her own money for rebuilding. According to Dostoevsky, the simple Russian woman, like the simple peasant Marei, exemplified the virtues of the Russian people as a whole.
In 1837 Dostoevsky's mother died, and in the same year Dostoevsky's father enrolled him in the Military Engineering Academy in St. Petersburg. Dostoevsky's formal education before this time was limited to a boarding school in Moscow. An episode from his journey to St. Petersburg made an overwhelming impression on Dostoevsky. He witnessed a system for making horses go faster. A courier beat the coachman on the back of his neck with his fist, and with every blow the coachman whipped the horses. Dostoevsky used this scene later in Zapiski iz podpol'ia (Notes from Underground, 1864) and indirectly in Prestuplenie i nakazanie (Crime and Punishment, 1866) in Raskol'nikov's dream of the peasant who beats his mare. He also referred to this scene in Dnevnik pisatelia as an "emblem" of human brutality. Not every representation of the uneducated classes was positive.
In addition to engineering, the training at the Military Engineering Academy focused on parade and drill. Dostoevsky was not a brilliant student. According to a story that may be apocryphal, Dostoevsky's version of a graduation project--a plan for the best fortress--had no entrance or exit, causing Czar Nicholas I to remark that the future author was a "fool." While still in school, Dostoevsky developed an intense friendship with another student at the academy, Ivan Shidlovsky. Dostoevsky's letters to his father from the Military Engineering Academy are mostly requests for money, but to his older brother, Mikhail, he wrote about his love for literature, especially the works of Friedrich Schiller and Homer. Dostoevsky compared Homer to Christ, arguing that in the Iliad Homer's vision with regard to the ancient world was similar to Christ's with regard to the new world. At the end of his life, in Dnevnik pisatelia, Brat'ia Karamazovy (The Brothers Karamazov, 1879-1880), and his speech on Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin, Dostoevsky returned to the idea of universal organization and harmony, carving out a special role both for himself and for Russia in achieving these ends.
In 1839 Dostoevsky's father died in mysterious circumstances, giving rise to a set of conflicting versions of his death. According to one account, Mikhail Andreevich was killed by his own peasants in revenge for his harsh treatment of them. The other, more likely version is that he died of a stroke. The death or absence of the father is a significant theme in Dostoevsky's work from his early fiction to his last novel. Ivan Karamazov's line "Who does not desire the death of his father?" has added fuel to psychoanalytic interpretations of Dostoevsky's epilepsy, which Freud famously diagnosed as "hystero-epilepsy," a form of neurosis. However, according to this theory, Dostoevsky felt so guilty about his own desire for his father's death that he had to inflict on himself a form of punishment, which took the form of epileptic attacks. According to the account left by Dr. Stepan Dmitrievich Ianovsky, who treated Dostoevsky in the first part of his life, Dostoevsky did not experience severe attacks of epilepsy in the late 1830s, when his father died, but in the late 1840s.
Upon completing his training and receiving his officer's rank, Dostoevsky served for one year in the draftsman's section of the engineering department in St. Petersburg before retiring in 1844 in order, as he said, to devote himself to literature. In the same year his anonymous translation of Honoré de Balzac's Eugénie Grandet appeared in print.
In 1844 Dostoevsky had begun work on his first work of fiction, Bednye liudi (Poor Folk, 1846). He was at that time sharing an apartment with the writer Dmitrii Vasil'evich Grigorovich. Dostoevsky later wrote to Mikhail that he had revised and refined the work and that he was pleased with its overall structure. It was published in 1846 to great critical acclaim. Grigorovich presented the manuscript to the writer and critic Nikolai Alekseevich Nekrasov, who spent all night reading it and the next morning told the critic Vissarion Grigor'evich Belinsky that a new Gogol had appeared. Belinsky said that Dostoevsky had produced the first "social novel" in Russia and had made the truth accessible even to the most unthinking reader. Dostoevsky later wrote a parody of his own critical reception in Unizhennye i oskorblennye (The Insulted and the Injured, 1861).
In Bednye liudi, an epistolary novel, Makar Devushkin, a timid and gentle clerk (his name suggests girlishness), cannot save Varvara from what he thinks is an unwanted marriage. According to critic Mikhail Bakhtin, the artistic highlight of the work, in distinction from Nikolai Vasil'evich Gogol's Petersburg stories, is that the portrait of the hero's consciousness of his inner self is drawn by showing the "hero's orientation toward another's word." According to Makar, the poor person is always eavesdropping to find out whether he is the object of another's speech. In a letter written to his brother after the publication of the novel, Dostoevsky complained that the public "was used to seeing the author's face in his characters and could not conceive that Devushkin and not Dostoevsky was speaking." This problem was not limited to Bednye liudi. Dostoevsky's readers continued to identify the author with the ideological positions taken by his characters, and sometimes with their criminal acts.
Near the end of Bednye liudi, Makar Devushkin remarks to himself that "everything has doubled" within him. Dostoevsky's next work, Dvoinik (The Double), later subtitled Peterburgskaia poema (A Petersburg Poem), was also published in 1846 but was not well received at the time. Belinsky wrote that insanity belonged in the lunatic asylum and not in literature. Dvoinik told the bizarre story of another Gogolian little clerk, Iakov Petrovich Goliadkin. The name, like so many names in Dostoevsky, is significant. The root suggests "nakedness." At several points in the novella he feels himself being stared at, blushes, and attempts to hide. Goliadkin repeatedly insists that he is his "own person" and wears masks only at masquerades but encounters his double in the form of Goliadkin Junior, an insolent and more daring version of himself. Goliadkin Junior insinuates himself into the hero's good graces, discovers his weaknesses, including his social ambition and resentment, and finally usurps his position entirely.
One of the important aspects of the Petersburg theme explored by Dostoevsky in this and other works is the overwhelming presence of the official bureaucracy and its negative effects on the individual. When he is discovered at a party without an invitation, Goliadkin's protest to his superiors that "this is my private life" suggests the opposite, the complete absence of a personal life or even an identity of his own. In Zapiski iz podpol'ia the hero remarks that he could not become anything, neither good nor bad, not "even an insect." The multiple dimensions of this general malaise of the nineteenth century is one of Dostoevsky's chief concerns. Later he wrote about the loss of a traditional religious framework and separation from people as two of the underlying causes for the dissolution of the personality, but in this earlier period he, like other authors of the time, emphasized the deleterious effect of the imperial city itself.
Dmitrii Chizhevsky, in an article first published in 1928, was among the first critics to expound on the significance of the double as a philosophical problem in Dostoevsky's works, including Besy (The Devils, 1871- 1872), Podrostok (The Adolescent, 1875), and Brat'ia Karamazovy. According to Chizhevsky, Dostoevsky's fiction, beginning with Dvoinik, revealed the instability of individual existence, not as a psychological or social problem, but as an ontological problem. The Russian Enlightenment focused single-mindedly on the efficacy of reason as a tool to remake reality. Chizhevsky writes that Dostoevsky's Goliadkin is hollowed out under the pressure of the rational principle embodied in the rule of Czar Nicholas I. Chizhevsky saw a link between the instability of Goliadkin's personality and a similar lack of fixed definition in Stavrogin and Ivan Karamazov. Deprived of any other opportunity for the expression of unique selfhood, these heroes use the only means available to them, which, according to Chizhevsky, was their sense of shame.
In "Khoziaika" (The Landlady), published in 1847, Dostoevsky attempts to unite the Petersburg theme with motifs from folklore and romantic literature. Most critics, from Dostoevsky's time to the present, have seen little merit in this work, which borrows its fundamental plot from E. T. A. Hoffman. Ordynov, a student of the natural sciences, falls under the spell of the mysterious Katerina and the equally mysterious Murin, an old man who is her lover and may also be her father. The near-incestuous relationship between a father figure and his daughter or adopted daughter becomes an arena in which to investigate the abuse of power. The heroine of "Khoziaika" confesses that her "disgrace and shame" are dear to her, "the same as joy and happiness." Dostoevsky significantly expands this personality trait (the derivation of pleasure from shame) in other works--for example, in the hero of Zapiski iz podpol'ia, in Nastas'ia Filippovna of Idiot (The Idiot, 1868), and in Fedor Pavlovich Karamazov.
In the years 1848-1849 Dostoevsky continued work on his Petersburg theme, combining social criticism with the development of the hero as "dreamer." The first-person narrator of "Belye nochi" (White Nights, 1848) reflects on the charming but sickly and deceptive beauty of St. Petersburg. He describes himself as a "dreamer" who has cut himself off from "real life" for the sake of his own inventions. He has no desires because he is "the artist of his own life." During his lonely walks, the hero meets Nasten'ka, whose isolated life is similar to his, except that she has already formed a romantic attachment to a young man. The budding love between the narrator and Nasten'ka forms the basis for the story, which ends with the hero's pathetic words to the effect that his "minute of bliss" with Nasten'ka is enough for his whole life. As Victor Terras has shown, the hero of Zapiski iz podpol'ia is an older, embittered version of the narrator of "Belye nochi." "Slaboe serdtse" (A Weak Heart, 1848) is another St. Petersburg tale of a "dreamer" with strong echoes of Pushkin's "Mednyi vsadnik" (Bronze Horseman, 1833). It tells the story of a young clerk, Vasia Shumkov, who is engaged to be married but ends up losing his sanity over work that he has not finished on time. The shock of his superior's leniency actually causes the breakdown. At the end of the story, Vasia's friend Arkadii has a vision of St. Petersburg as a fantastic dream that will fade into the fog of the evening.
Netochka Nezvanova (1849) is a first-person narrative of a young girl, a female "dreamer." Its three parts are only loosely strung together: first, Netochka's miserable childhood with her stepfather and mother; then the time she spends as the ward of a prince; and finally, her early adolescence in the home of the prince's grown daughter. Netochka's stepfather, the half-mad and drunken musician Efimov, convinces the child that her mother is responsible for his failure as an artist. When the mother dies, Netochka's fantasy of living happily ever after with her stepfather comes to no avail. Efimov dies, and the next phase of Netochka's life begins. Settled in the prince's household, Netochka receives an education in the style of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and falls in love with the prince's youngest daughter, Katia, one of Dostoevsky's many proud, beautiful, and willful Katerinas. When their passion for each other is discovered, Netochka is sent to live with the prince's stepdaughter, Aleksandra Mikhailovna, and her husband Petr Aleksandrovich. In their home, as in her earliest childhood, a mystery dominates the relations between the husband and his timid wife. Netochka's talent as a singer is discovered and she begins professional training. As in other works from this period, the turning point in Netochka's development and awareness comes with her secret discovery of a library. She discovers in the library "a threshold to a new life." In this novel, as in other works from the early period, Dostoevsky explores nonnormative sexual relationships, which include the quasi-incestuous relationship between Efimov and Netochka and the homoerotic relationship between Netochka and Katia. Terras and Joe Andrew discuss this aspect of the early work in their criticism.
Dostoevsky never finished Netochka Nezvanova. In April of 1849 he was arrested for his political activity, which included participation in the Petrashevsky reading and discussion circle. Mikhail Butashevich-Petrashevsky, a well-known St. Petersburg figure, worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and had a large collection of banned books. He was the author of Karmannyi slovar' inostrannykh slov (Pocket Dictionary of Foreign Words, 1845-1846), a radical political tract in the form of a dictionary. Members of the circle talked about such issues as socialism, freedom of the press, changes in the judicial system, and the emancipation of the serfs. Dostoevsky had taken part in a more radical group, the Pal'm-Durov circle, which had planned to acquire a printing press and distribute leaflets against the government. Aleksandr Pal'm and Sergei Durov were both writers; Pal'm's patriotic literary works were part of the reason his sentence was reduced. Dostoevsky also was involved in another faction, centered on Nikolai Aleksandrovich Speshnev, who believed in the need for rebellion. Dostoevsky had, in the presence of a government informer, read aloud Belinsky's letter to Gogol, which criticized the church and other Russian institutions, including the government. Dostoevsky later compared his political beliefs to an illness. He wrote that he had been "infected" by a "disease" in which he was convinced that the foundations of society--the family, religion, and the right to property-- were immoral. Dostoevsky and his older and younger brothers were arrested, although Andrei and Mikhail were released for lack of evidence. Lengthy isolation in the St. Peter and Paul Fortress during the investigation and secret trial did not prevent Dostoevsky from continuing his creative life: he completed the story "Malen'kii geroi" (A Little Hero) while in prison. It was published nearly a decade later in 1857.
A court appointed by Czar Nicholas I in November of 1849 condemned Dostoevsky and other members of the Petrashevsky circle to death. In early December the death sentence was commuted, and in Dostoevsky's case the punishment was reduced first to eight years and then to four years of hard labor, to be followed by service in the army with a restoration of civil rights. On 22 December 1849 Dostoevsky and his fellow-prisoners were told, however, that they would be executed by firing squad. The ceremonial breaking of the swords was carried out; the prisoners were divided into groups of three, and the first group was tied to stakes. At the last moment, the execution was stopped, and the prisoners were informed of their real sentences. According to Joseph Frank, mock executions were the norm when death sentences were commuted by the czar, but usually prisoners were informed in advance that the execution would be nothing more than a ceremony. What made this one unusual was that the prisoners did not know that their lives were to be spared. Czar Nicholas I wanted to make a great impression on the Petrashevsky circle.
He succeeded. The anticipation of death and the sudden reprieve left two prisoners in a state of insanity. Life imitated Dostoevsky's art: Vasia Shumkov, the hero of "Slaboe serdtse," goes mad from "gratitude," according to one of the other characters in the story. In a letter written afterward to his brother, Dostoevsky described himself as having undergone a spiritual beheading: "The head that created, lived the higher life of art . . . that head has already been cut from my shoulders." In subsequent works Dostoevsky wrote about the horror of certain death. In Idiot , for example, Prince Myshkin describes how the prisoner greedily takes in his last impressions as he is being driven to the execution and counts the seconds as the guillotine blade falls. In the same letter Dostoevsky wrote with great vividness about his fear that the images he had created, if not permitted to take form in writing, would poison his bloodstream. Bakhtin and other critics have described the living and embodied quality of the Dostoevskian hero's "idea." The idea is not an abstraction but a force compelling the hero to act in a particular way. Something of that quality is evident in the language of Dostoevsky's letter of 1849.
Dostoevsky served four years in a hard labor stockade in Omsk, followed by six years of army service in Semipalatinsk. He wrote two novellas in Siberia, neither of which has received much critical acclaim. Selo Stepanchikovo i ego obitateli (The Village of Stepanchikovo and Its Inhabitants, 1859) is notable for its portrait of the petty domestic tyrant Foma Fomich Opiskin, a former lackey, buffoon, and sponger, and first in the long list of extraordinary fools in Dostoevsky's works. Dostoevsky comments that perhaps the enormous ambition of such figures is nothing more than a distortion of their feeling of self-worth, which had been crushed early on. Foma Fomich had been a "literary man" but had not been recognized. Several critics have seen a parody of Gogol in Opiskin. Dostoevsky's letters show that he was worried about having been cut off from everything that was new in Russia, so perhaps he was thinking of himself as well.
In February of 1857 Dostoevsky married Mariia Dmitrievna Isaeva. Her husband, an alcoholic, had recently died, leaving her with a young son and without income. Traces of the Isaevas can be seen in Dostoevsky's portrait of the Marmeladovs in Prestuplenie i nakazanie. Dostoevsky had a rival for Isaeva's affections, Nikolai Vergunov, and according to rumor, Isaeva had an affair with Vergunov even after she and Dostoevsky were married. The marriage was, by all accounts, not congenial. One of the problems had to do with Dostoevsky's epilepsy. In prison his attacks had lessened (the story that he first began to experience severe epilepsy after a flogging he received in the stockade is a myth). The severity of his attacks increased after his release. During his honeymoon Dostoevsky suffered an epileptic seizure that shocked his wife. He later wrote that if he had known he had real epilepsy, he never would have married. Mariia Dmitrievna was also ill with tuberculosis.
Dostoevsky used his illness as grounds to petition the czar for a swifter return to St. Petersburg. Alexander II had ascended the throne in 1855, and the usual expectations about amnesty were heightened by his reputation for gentleness. As part of this effort to secure his freedom, Dostoevsky also wrote a few jingoistic odes in relation to the Crimean War, which were never published. Baron Aleksandr Egorovich Vrangel, the public prosecutor in Semipalatinsk with important family connections in St. Petersburg, made repeated efforts to help Dostoevsky. Nonetheless, the restoration of Dostoevsky's rights, the freedom to retire from army service, permission to publish, and permission to return to the capital progressed slowly. Even after Dostoevsky came back to European Russia, his final departure for St. Petersburg was delayed for a few more months, which he spent in Tver. He was allowed to return to St. Petersburg in December of 1859, under the watch of the secret police.
All the experiences that flowed from Dostoevsky's arrest--his imprisonment in St. Petersburg, the mock execution, life in the stockade in Omsk, and army service afterward in Semipalatinsk--had a profound impact on his writing. He wrote about his time in Siberia explicitly in letters to his brother and other correspondents, and in Zapiski iz mertvogo doma (Notes from the House of the Dead, 1861). Dostoevsky later drew upon his Siberian experiences in the creation of characters for his novels, including both criminals and saintly sufferers. In entries written for Dnevnik pisatelia in the 1870s, Dostoevsky also used his experiences in the stockade to reflect on questions of the national mission and character of Russia and to promote his own public image. In his essay "Odna iz sovremennykh fal'shei" (One of the Contemporary Falsehoods, 1873) written for his regular column in Grazhdanin (The Citizen), Dostoevsky aptly noted that "to tell the story of the rebirth of my convictions would be very difficult," suggesting presumably that his immediate contact with the people led to a resurgence of his religious and national-patriotic beliefs. He wrote that neither he nor the other members of the Petrashevsky circle felt regret for what they had done, that nothing "broke" them. The only circumstance that changed their views was their "contact with the people, solidarity with them in their common misfortune." Yet, Dostoevsky's letter to his brother Mikhail in 1854, written immediately upon release from the Omsk fortress, emphasizes the "hatred" the ordinary convicts--Dostoevsky calls them "150 enemies"--demonstrated toward noblemen such as Dostoevsky. From the 1860s to the 1870s Dostoevsky reworked and transformed his writings about his experience in prison and in Siberia, shifting the tenor of his remarks.
An often-quoted 1854 letter to Natal'ia D. Fonvizina offers a self-portrait of Dostoevsky's religious faith at the time. He wrote that he was and would always remain "a child of the century, a child of disbelief and doubt." If Dostoevsky may be credited with having some insight into his own state of mind, his letter suggests that the "rebirth" he later alluded to was an ongoing process. In the letter he added that in his best moments he had created his own credo, the belief that there was nothing more beautiful, profound, or perfect than Christ, and that even if Christ were shown to be outside the truth, he would "prefer to remain with Christ than with the truth." Dostoevsky emphasizes Christ's role as an ideal or model, downplaying more traditional aspects of Christology. Dostoevsky's religious beliefs did not remain static but evolved significantly over the course of his writing career. One factor remained constant throughout--his belief in the moral power of art. Aesthetics play a central role in the structure of his belief. In Idiot Prince Myshkin says that "beauty will save the world." In Besy Tikhon complains that Stavrogin's confession is "ugly." Robert Louis Jackson's explication of "form and formlessness" in Brat'ia Karamazovy demonstrates the connection Dostoevsky made between the moral and the aesthetic sense. Dostoevsky's 1880 address on the occasion of the Pushkin jubilee places the great Russian poet at the center of a messianic vision, once again revealing the link between spiritual renewal and art.
Zapiski iz mertvogo doma , Dostoevsky's thinly fictionalized account of his experience in the Omsk fortress, takes the form of loosely strung together impressions, vignettes, and scenes from prison life, beginning with first impressions and ending with release from the "house of the dead." The narrator is the nobleman Gorianchikov, imprisoned for the murder of his wife. Dostoevsky later wrote that some readers believed he had committed Gorianchikov's crime. One of the most powerful scenes concerns the prisoners' bathhouse. The filth and steam, the "roaring" of the prisoners, on whose heat-reddened bodies the scars of endured floggings stand out, and the sound of their chains make Gorianchikov think that he has entered hell. The portrait gallery includes the sadistic stockade commander, who enjoyed limitless power over the prisoners; the criminal Gazin, "a human-sized spider"; the mild Dagestan Tartar, Alei, "one of the best encounters I have ever had"; and the nobleman Il'insky, surprisingly nonchalant, who was imprisoned for the murder of his father but turned out not to have committed the crime. Dostoevsky later used Il'insky as a prototype for Dmitrii Karamazov in Brat'ia Karamazovy. Reflections on prison and society appear throughout Zapiski iz mertvogo doma. The narrator remarks on the incommensurability between crimes and punishments and the debilitating effect that corporal punishment has on the development of civil society. He also remarks on the morally uplifting qualities of the prisoners' theater--a living proof of what Schiller called the "aesthetic education of mankind."
A noticeable detachment and almost ethnographic stance in relation to the world of the stockade characterize the tone of the narration. Readers never come close to the narrator or author except to discover that one of the unanticipated hardships of prison life, aside from the leg irons prisoners wore, was the constant forced company of the other convicts. Gorianchikov discloses at the end that he finally understands he will never be accepted into this world, because he is a nobleman. Dostoevsky reestablished himself as a literary figure of importance with Zapiski iz mertvogo doma. Nikolai Gavrilovich Chernyshevsky took an active interest in republishing excerpts from Zapiski iz mertvogo doma; Leo Tolstoy and Ivan Sergeevich Turgenev praised it; and Dostoevsky was often asked to give public readings from it. It is one of the first in a long line of Russian and Soviet prison memoirs.
Unizhennye i oskorblennye is a Dickensian novella about "careers, connections, money, and marriage." The work includes elements of Netochka Nezvanova and Dostoevsky's later work Podrostok. It is narrated in the first person by a young man, Ivan Petrovich, a budding writer who is fatally ill. Dostoevsky uses the figure of Ivan Petrovich to connect his pre-Siberian and post-Siberian selves: the young man has won acclaim for his work about a little clerk. The allusion is to Dostoevsky's own Bednye liudi. The two plotlines in Unizhennye i oskorblennye feature conflicts between fathers and daughters. In the first plot, Natasha Ikhmenev is in love with Alesha, the son of her father's enemy, Prince Valkovsky. Earlier, Prince Valkovsky had accused Natasha and her parents of attempting to entrap Alesha in a marriage. Valkovsky is now engaged in litigation against Natasha's father, his former steward.
Natasha leaves her father's house in order to become Alesha's mistress. Alesha is a naive, gullible figure--a proto-Prince Myshkin in some respects--who cannot decide between two women and who persists in believing in his father's goodness, despite the senior Valkovsky's machinations against him. The father plans to have Alesha marry a rich heiress, Katia, and to declare the young couple legally incapable of managing their own money. Together with his new bride, Katia's stepmother, he plans to assume control of the young people's income. Prince Valkovsky's violence against his offspring is not only limited to his son, Alesha, but also manifests itself in his relation to his other child, his daughter, Nelly, whom he refuses to acknowledge. For the most part, the novel was not well received by the critics. The Russian writer Evgeniia Tur found it lacking in artistic merit. In contrast, the critic Nikolai Aleksandrovich Dobroliubov, writing in 1861, emphasized that social and political conditions created the "insulted and the injured" personalities of this work and of Dvoinik as well. Dobroliubov argued that the sense of injured pride signaled a potential for healthy social change.
In addition to works of fiction, Dostoevsky's other literary projects of the time were the journals Vremia (Time) and Epokha (Epoch), which he edited together with his brother Mikhail. The journals included most significantly Dostoevsky's own work and articles by the writers Nikolai Nikolaevich Strakhov and Apollon Aleksandrovich Grigor'ev. Unizhennye i oskorblennye was serialized in Vremia. In this period of his early journalism (as in the later writings of the 1870s) Dostoevsky promulgated a doctrine known as pochvennichestvo. The term, based on the word for soil or earth, suggests "rootedness." Dostoevsky advocated the necessity of a union between the Russian people and those responsible for enlightening them. An example of this doctrine appears in his Dnevnik pisatelia for 1876, in the essay "Neobkhodimyi kontrakt s narodom" (The Necessary Contract with the People). Dostoevsky's most important nonfiction work published in Vremia was based on his trip to Europe in 1862, which he undertook in part to consult specialists for his epilepsy. Zimnie zametki o letnikh vpechatleniiakh (Winter Notes on Summer Impressions, 1863) gives Dostoevsky a chance to reflect further on the relation between individuals and their native countries and on the separation between the Russian educated classes, whose sights were set on Europe, and the ordinary Russian people. Some of his comments reflect the genre of the travelogue, such as his characterizations of the highly efficient way the French collect data about visitors to their country. The work as a whole is more philosophical than journalistic, with a particular focus on the relations between the individual and society and the grounds for those relations. Dostoevsky writes about the difficulty of achieving brotherhood in Western society, in which the main emphasis is on the individual. He comes to the seemingly paradoxical conclusion that the highest form of individualism is voluntary self-sacrifice.
In Zimnie zametki o letnikh vpechatleniiakh Dostoevsky develops the ideological kernel of Zapiski iz podpol'ia. He writes that if people are offered food and work and asked in return only the slightest diminution of their personal freedom, the offer will be refused in favor of the opportunity to exercise one's own will without any restriction: "freedom is better." The 1864 work elaborates on this point. The "Crystal Palace"--the underground writer's shorthand for the rationally organized utopias of socialism--will not succeed, because people value their own individual irrational desires, their suffering, and their freedom more than anything else. The nameless "antihero" has no identity other than his argumentative and endlessly self-canceling writing. He is, to use the language of his text, not born from the bosom of nature but from a chemical process. The pathologically self-conscious, alienated, and isolated writer is ultimately dehumanized and without an identity. He could not become anything, he says, "neither evil, nor good, nor a scoundrel, nor honest, nor a hero, nor an insect." He is the antithesis of the "rootedness" Dostoevsky had written about in this period. The underground writer's sole occupation is deriving pleasure from his sense of humiliation. He compares himself to a mouse, which is always insulted but incapable of taking revenge, thus building around itself a "stinking mess" of doubt. He is proof that happiness and pleasure are not necessarily the product of the rational calculation of one's own advantage.
Zapiski iz podpol'ia is divided into two parts: "Podpol'e" (Underground) and "Po povodu mokrogo snega" (Apropos of the Wet Snow). In the first part, the narrator introduces himself and his philosophy, and in the second he narrates an episode from his younger years. There are several kinds of memories, he notes: some which one does not reveal to everyone, some which one reveals not even to friends, and some which one keeps secret even from oneself. "Po povodu mokrogo snega" belongs to this last category. The underground "antihero" discloses a shameful act and his despair at his bookishness and failure to enter "living life." Dostoevsky complained in a letter that the censors had eliminated the sections of the work in which the necessity of faith was introduced.
Zapiski iz podpol'ia occupies an important place in the history of modern thought beyond the polemics of Dostoevsky's own time and place. The work both looks back to the eighteenth century and looks forward to the twentieth century and beyond. The Russian émigré philosopher Lev Shestov argues that it is not in the work of Immanuel Kant but in Dostoevsky's Zapiski iz podpol'ia that the true "Critique of Pure Reason" can be found. (Dostoevsky had himself expressed interest in Kant's "Critique" upon his release from prison a decade earlier.) Dostoevsky rejects the mechanistic model of human behavior found in Denis Diderot's Le neveu de Rameau (Rameau's Nephew, 1761) and also rejects the prescription for the rational organization of human happiness found in Chernyshevsky's Chto delat'? (What Is to Be Done?, 1863). His portrait of narcissism and other forms of neurosis in Zapiski iz podpol'ia anticipates the development of psychoanalytic models in the twentieth century. In his philosophical rejection both of traditional values and of his critique of Enlightenment faith in human progress and reason, the underground writer refuses the comfort of any system of belief whatsoever, thus anticipating existentialism. The work radically questions the possibility of human fellowship or community. But it also suggests a somewhat less pessimistic view. Bakhtin claims that the underground writer's deliberate self-distortion is a way of asserting his freedom to define himself. There is something positive in his self-torment. Shestov noted that such extreme self-reproach was characteristic of the confessions of the saints. Both Bakhtin and Shestov hint at the possibility of moral renewal in the underground writer.
The tormented philosophy of the underground writer is the wellspring of Dostoevsky's great ideological heroes, from Raskol'nikov to Ivan Karamazov, who test the limits of rationalism and reject the notion that history shows evidence of rational progress. The representation of the modern antihero sets a new departure for European literature. Zapiski iz podpol'ia serves as a source for works by Albert Camus, André Gide, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Hermann Hesse, and was important to the American writers Saul Bellow and Isaac Rosenfeld. In Russian literature, the influence of Zapiski iz podpol'ia can be traced in such writers as Leonid Nikolaevich Andreev, Fedor Kuz'mich Sologub, Vsevolod Mikhailovich Garshin, and Mikhail Petrovich Artsybashev in the early part of the twentieth century, and in the period following the revolution, in such writers as Iurii Karlovich Olesha.
In 1863 Dostoevsky made a second trip to Europe, this time to pursue his love affair with Apollinariia Prokof'evna Suslova, a writer whose life fit the literary model of the emancipated woman of the times. Mariia Dmitrievna, Dostoevsky's wife, died in 1864, the same year that he lost his brother Mikhail. Dostoevsky later proposed marriage to another woman writer, Anna Vasil'evna Korvin-Krukhovskaia. He was unhappy with Suslova and unsuccessful with Krukhovskaia. An indirect hint of the relationship with Suslova can be seen in Zapiski iz podpol'ia. The hero says that his servant, Apollon, is his "executioner." Suslova served as the prototype for Polina in Igrok (The Gambler, 1866), the novel that Dostoevsky completed in breathtaking speed by dictating it in twenty-six days to the stenographer Anna Grigor'evna Snitkina, who became his second wife on 15 February 1867. The time pressure was the result of Dostoevsky's debts and those he had assumed when his brother died.
Igrok tells the story of a Russian family living abroad in a city called Ruletenburg. The family includes a widowed general; his stepdaughter Polina; his young children; their tutor, Aleksei Ivanovich; and various hangers-on--including the disreputable Frenchman de Grieux, to whom the general owes money, and the equally disreputable Mademoiselle Blanche, whom the general would like to marry but cannot because he has no money. The characters await the death of the general's mother, "la baboulinka." Instead of dying, however, she appears in Ruletenburg--fierce, eccentric, and apparently determined to gamble away everyone's inheritance. The spinning roulette wheel dominates the lives of the characters. The young hero, the tutor Aleksei Ivanovich, like the "antihero" of Zapiski iz podpol'ia, has lost his connection to reality, to his own interests, and to broader social interests, as one of the other characters remarks. He has even rejected his own memories. Gambling takes on a metaphysical dimension for him as a way of testing himself and his fate.
Dostoevsky uses a similar concept of the hero's test of himself as the basis for Prestuplenie i nakazanie. He attempted to sell the idea of the work to the editor of the Russkii vestnik (The Russian Herald), Mikhail Nikiforovich Katkov, by describing it as a "psychological account of a crime." The hero, Rodion Romanovich Raskol'nikov, a poor student, falls prey to "certain strange half-baked ideas" and decides to extricate himself from his position "all at once." He robs and murders an old pawnbroker, who is "not good for anything." In the completed version of the novel, Raskol'nikov attempts to justify his crime on the grounds that he wants to help his poor mother and his sister, Dunia. His sister has agreed to an unwanted marriage to the businessman Luzhin in order to keep Raskol'nikov at the university.
Dostoevsky emphasizes in the letter to Katkov that the "entire psychological process of the crime unfolds" only afterward. He explains how "unanswered questions arise before the murderer, unsuspected and unexpected feelings torment his soul." The murderer, according to Dostoevsky, is ultimately forced to confess because his own feelings demand it. Dostoevsky insisted to Katkov that his idea was "not eccentric" and had an immediate connection to contemporaneous events--he pointed to newspaper accounts of crimes committed by educated, "developed" individuals. What Dostoevsky referred to as the "half-baked ideas" of the time enter the ideological debates that the characters carry on in the novel. Utilitarianism plays a central role. Luzhin asserts that "science says: 'love yourself above all, because everything in the world is based on personal interest.'" Raskol'nikov argues that the crimes the other characters have been discussing, including his own crime, the murder of the pawnbroker and her sister, occurred in accordance with Luzhin's theory. Raskol'nikov thus directly reveals one crucial dimension of the ideological center of the novel and its chief rhetorical device, the undermining of an idea by carrying it to an absurd extreme. Dostoevsky embodies the economic model of rational self-interest in a character who is cut off from all of humanity.
Dostoevsky had experimented with this narrative kernel--the hero and his idea--in Zapiski iz podpol'ia, but he significantly expands on it in Prestuplenie i nakazanie. Originally, Raskol'nikov's story was to have taken the form of a first-person confession, like Zapiski iz podpol'ia, but Dostoevsky settled instead on an omniscient narrator, greatly enhancing the dramatic impact of the narrative. The "psychological account of the crime" unfolds in the series of meetings Raskol'nikov has with Porfirii Petrovich, the examining magistrate; Sonia Marmeladova, a saintly prostitute; and Svidrigailov, a villainous and depraved character. Dostoevsky creates in Porfirii Petrovich an extraordinarily skilled detective, who tells his chief suspect that he knows how to ensnare a criminal psychologically. Porfirii Petrovich has a sociological perspective on the crime; he tells Raskol'nikov that the crime is "a gloomy contemporary case, a case of our time, when the human heart has darkened; when the phrase is cited that 'blood refreshes.'" Svidrigailov, according to Konstantin Mochulsky, is Raskol'nikov's "double." His is the path of renunciation of the moral law. Dostoevsky repeats in Svidrigailov a negative feature he had used earlier in "Elka i svad'ba" (A Christmas Tree and a Wedding, 1848)--namely, a pathological attraction for young girls. Svidrigailov has absolutely no hope of redemption: his vision of eternity is a small bathhouse, with spiders in the corners.
The dramatic pattern of Raskol'nikov's meetings with the other characters reveals that his motivation and his potential for good and evil cannot be reduced to the economic calculus that he himself points to in discussion with his adversary Luzhin. In Balzac's Le Père Goriot (1835) Rastignac proposes that an individual may commit a crime in order to help humanity. For Raskol'nikov the noble ideal is insincere, one of his many masks. He murders not for the sake of an idea, but for his own sake, in order to test himself. Is he merely ordinary, or is he extraordinary, a Napoleonic figure who can transgress the boundaries of morality to achieve his goal? Raskol'nikov's three meetings with Sonia Marmeladova are particularly important in this regard. The confrontations with Sonia are three failed attempts at self-definition, three self-disclosures that do not add up to one coherent whole. As in Zapiski iz podpol'ia, the artistic representation of the fragmentation of the self, which Bakhtin calls the hero's "unfinalizability" and Philip Rahv calls "the principle of uncertainty or indeterminacy," is the main feature of Dostoevsky's experimentation with the construction of character.
The modern story of the dissolution of a personality is only one side of the novel, however. Through Sonia, whose face conveys "insatiable compassion," and her father, the drunkard Marmeladov, the perspective of the novel opens beyond the social reality of St. Petersburg in the 1860s and the ideological debates and new problems of the time. Sonia's father, a civil servant fallen on hard times, has close links to the downtrodden characters of Dostoevsky's early fiction. Raskol'nikov meets him in the opening part of the novel and learns from him that Sonia has taken up prostitution in order to help her family. Like Makar Devushkin in Bednye liudi, who declares passionately that the rich and the poor are brothers, Marmeladov, too, has a vision of reconciliation, but his introduces an eschatological dimension to the novel. He tells Raskol'nikov that at the Last Judgment, Jesus will forgive even the drunkards. The religious and folkloric themes Dostoevsky introduces through Marmeladov receive fuller development in Raskol'nikov's relationship with Sonia. In general, Dostoevsky's entire construction of the "folk" and folk culture shifts significantly toward a positive evaluation in the mature fiction in comparison to earlier treatments, such as Ordynov in "Khoziaika." In Prestuplenie i nakazanie Sonia reads Raskol'nikov the New Testament story of the resurrection of Lazarus, which has important implications for Raskol'nikov's own story. The funeral feast for Marmeladov, with its carnivalesque suspension of judgment and its mock trial, sustains the alternative narrative line, interrupting the detective story and the psychological account of Raskol'nikov's unraveling. Dostoevsky returned to a similarly double perspective in his last novel, Brat'ia Karamazovy, in which a murder, its detection, and the problems of resurrection and theodicy receive equal attention.
Upon publication in 1866, Prestuplenie i nakazanie was immediately praised for the depth of its psychological analysis. In contrast, the radical critic Dmitrii Ivanovich Pisarev emphasized the depth of Dostoevsky's social-economic analysis, arguing that Raskol'nikov was driven by the "struggle for existence." Turgenev and Anatolii Fedorovich Koni, a leading jurist, both praised the work. Some radical critics charged that Dostoevsky had misrepresented the younger generation and its ideas. The symbolist poet Viacheslav Ivanovich Ivanov read Prestuplenie i nakazanie in a mythic-religious framework, comparing this and Dostoevsky's other works to ancient tragedy. According to Ivanov, Raskol'nikov's guilt is the guilt of all humanity toward Mother Earth. In Ivanov's view, Raskol'nikov acts in the role of the scapegoat, the substitute sacrificial victim. Gide, whose own writing was influenced by Prestuplenie i nakazanie, argues that while Raskol'nikov fails in his attempt to be more than ordinary, Friedrich Nietzsche took his idea of the superman from Prestuplenie i nakazanie. Nietzsche likely formulated his idea before he encountered Dostoevsky in French translation. However, Prestuplenie i nakazanie is one of the works on the basis of which Nietzsche said that Dostoevsky was "the only psychologist from whom he had anything to learn." The Russian philosopher Nikolai Aleksandrovich Berdiaev saw in Raskol'nikov's crime the crisis of modern, rational humanism with its self-glorification of the individual. Thomas Mann called this work the greatest crime novel of all time.
One of most productive sources of Dostoevsky criticism in general and Prestuplenie i nakazanie in particular has been psychoanalysis and other forms of scientific psychology. R. D. Laing and Karen Horney are among the many professional psychologists who use Raskol'nikov and other Dostoevskian heroes as examples of psychological phenomena. Alfred Bem, a Russian émigré scholar, wrote a series of sophisticated literary studies published in the 1930s that traced the structure of the id and guilt in Prestuplenie i nakazanie and in Dostoevsky's early fiction in general. In addition to this type of interpretation, recent criticism of the novel has focused on such questions as Raskol'nikov's literary predecessors--Pushkin's Hermann from Pikovaia dama (The Queen of Spades, 1834) is an example--narrative structure and the function of time, and the significance of religious imagery and language in the work. In Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics, Bakhtin emphasizes the importance of Raskol'nikov's consciousness; everything in the novel is "projected against him and dialogically reflected in him." Bakhtin also discusses the significance of the threshold and public square in this work as particularly important forms of boundary space where carnivalization takes place.
The publication of Prestuplenie i nakazanie did not relieve the financial difficulties Dostoevsky faced. Pursuit by his creditors led him to return again to Europe. Dostoevsky and Anna Grigor'evna spent the years 1867-1871 abroad, where he wrote Idiot and most of Besy. In 1867 he gambled, begged his editor for money, pawned his wife's jewelry and clothing, and started writing his next novel. The Dostoevskys had their first child, a girl whom they named Sonia, in early 1868, but she died three months later. Another daughter, Liubov', was born in Dresden in 1869. Dostoevsky's feelings about his life in Europe may be deduced from a line at the end of Idiot: "All of your Europe is only a fantasy, and all of us abroad are only a fantasy."
Idiot was his portrait of a "wholly good man," Prince Myshkin, to whom he referred in his notebooks as "Prince Christ." Idiot offers a counterpoint to Prestuplenie i nakazanie, not only because of the opposed qualities of the heroes, Myshkin and Raskol'nikov, but also because of the narrative qualities of the two works. The earlier novel is generally praised for its tight narrative construction, unlike the later work, in which the action starts, stops, and meanders. However, the notebooks for the novel reveal extensive work on the development of the prince's character, who in earlier versions of the novel is "pathologically proud."
The novel begins with the meeting of Prince Myshkin and Parfen Rogozhin on a train arriving in St. Petersburg. The prince has been in Switzerland, where he received treatment for a mysterious nervous illness; he is on his way to see his distant relatives, the Epanchins. Gania Ivolgin, General Epanchin's secretary, an utterly ordinary young man, is in love with Aglaia Epanchina, but he is being offered money to marry off Nastas'ia Filippovna, the femme fatale of the novel. As a young girl, Nastas'ia Filippovna was seduced by her guardian, Afanasii Totsky. As a grown woman, she attempts to take revenge on her victimizer by socially shaming him. By the conclusion of his first day, the prince has become closely involved in the lives of the Epanchins and the less reputable Ivolgins. He has inherited a fortune and has become Rogozhin's rival for the hand of Nastas'ia Filippovna. In the second part of the novel, Rogozhin attempts to murder the prince. The action switches to Pavlovsk, where Dostoevsky introduces such characters as Lebedev, who interprets the development of railways in Russia as a fulfillment of the Apocalypse of John. The third part is occupied for the most part with Ippolit Terent'ev's lengthy "Necessary Confession," which anticipates Ivan Karamazov's "Rebellion." In the fourth and final part, Prince Myshkin is engaged to Aglaia Epanchina. The novel concludes with a stunningly written reunion of Rogozhin and Prince Myshkin.
This novel, like Brat'ia Karamazovy, includes debates about faith and its destruction. In answer to Rogozhin's question as to whether he believes in God, Prince Myshkin offers several parables. A peasant overcome with desire for his friend's silver watch slits his friend's throat while asking Christ for forgiveness. A mother sees her baby smile at her for the first time and crosses herself, explaining to the prince that God's joy at seeing a sinner pray is the same as her delight in her baby. The prince is struck by the simple Russian woman's ability to grasp a profound Christian truth. Dostoevsky introduces a national motif by having Prince Myshkin suggest that Russia will play a special role in the future resurrection of humanity--a belief that he expanded later in his journalism. At an evening party given in his honor, the prince tells the aristocratic guests that they will be servants in the future and urges them to find happiness in simple joys, in nature, and in children. The prince's ecstatic discourse culminates in an epileptic fit.
The detailed description of Prince Myshkin's epileptic attacks has drawn the attention of Dostoevsky's biographers and critics, some of whom attribute Myshkin's feelings to Dostoevsky himself. The novel presents multiple perspectives on the disorder and its meaning both for the sufferer and for those around him. Dostoevsky's first wife was apparently horrified by his epilepsy, but Anna Grigor'evna took Dostoevsky's illness more in stride, although she despaired at her own sense of helplessness--there was little she could do, she reports, but loosen the sick man's collar. She writes that Dostoevsky himself was afraid of dying during his epileptic attacks. In Idiot Prince Myshkin experiences the warning sign of an attack as a moment of intense but also "serene, harmonious joy." The prince feels united with all of existence and says later that he understands what is meant by the suspension of time. However, Myshkin himself questions the meaning of his experience by asking "what if all these moments and flashes of a higher self-awareness were nothing other than disease?" The inner experience and its interpretation contrast sharply with the impression the attack makes on those who witness it. The distortion of the facial features, convulsions in the entire body, an awful cry--all create an impression of intolerable horror in passersby.
In one of his works of art criticism, Dostoevsky had written that sacred art must convey not only the concrete historical reality of the figures described in the Gospels, but also the transcendent meaning of these figures. In providing conflicting perspectives on Myshkin's epileptic attacks and their meaning both for Myshkin and for those around him, Dostoevsky meets his own criterion for sacred art. The physical expression of a diseased body may be a part of a transcendent religious experience for the sufferer. The question about the artistic representation of transcendence is important to Idiot, which includes a treatise in miniature on the topic. In his "Confession" Ippolit Terent'ev, dying of tuberculosis, describes a picture by Hans Holbein the Younger of Christ just taken down from the cross. "Here there is only nature," says Ippolit. He asks how Jesus' disciples, upon seeing the "corpse," could believe that it could be resurrected and be a source of resurrection for others. This painting could lead its viewers to lose faith, as Prince Myshkin points out. Ippolit says that the painting makes him imagine nature as "an enormous, implacable deaf beast" and then corrects himself, saying that a more truthful image would be "an enormous machine of the latest manufacture" that destroyed a "great and invaluable Being." The problem of resurrection, both literal and figurative, which occupies Dostoevsky throughout the writing of the mature fiction paradoxically receives its bleakest treatment in this novel about a "wholly beautiful man."
Just as the characters in Idiot experience doubts about faith, similar doubts have occurred to readers of Idiot in both the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries-- not about faith, but about Dostoevsky's capacities as an artist to create a transcendent and realistic hero who suffers from epilepsy. Konstantin Mochulsky and Michael Holquist both find sanctity and salvation to be topics unsuitable for novels. The contingent linear temporal structure of ongoing social reality does not mesh easily with the eternal vertical structure of sacred time. Dostoevsky anticipated the problem by having the narrator remark in the notebooks to Idiot that his view of "reality" was unique but that he also could agree with those who said he was a "bad artist." Some critics argue that the apparent artistic failures of the work encourage the reader's active interpretation. Dostoevsky's "Prince Christ" is an astute judge of character, capable of profound analyses of both others and himself. He tells the boxer Keller that he, too, has "double thoughts." But he cannot choose between two women, Aglaia Epanchina and Nastas'ia Filippovna. Murray Krieger and Caryl Emerson, among others, argue that even though Myshkin can discern the other characters' better natures, he cannot prevent, and on the contrary, may even hasten, their and his own disastrous fates. Other readings of the novel examine its narrative voices in terms of Bakhtin's concept of polyphony (Robin Feuer Miller, for example) and offer an analysis of its narrative structure in light of the structure of the unconscious (Elizabeth Dalton). Diana Burgin and Olga Matich have written about sexuality and the subversion of gender roles in Idiot, focusing on Prince Myshkin and Nastas'ia Filippovna.
Vechnyi muzh (The Eternal Husband, 1870) is a reworking of the 1848 farce "Chuzhaia zhena i muzh pod krovat'iu" (Another Man's Wife and a Husband Under the Bed). The story examines the peculiar bond between the male victim and male perpetrators of adultery. Pavel Pavlovich Trusotsky, the so-called eternal husband, comes to St. Petersburg to find his late wife's lovers, including Aleksei Ivanovich Vel'chaninov. In the opening, Vel'chaninov notices that Trusotsky is following him, but it occurs to him that perhaps he himself is tailing Trusotsky. As the plot unfolds, Trusotsky uses the child of his wife and Vel'chaninov as a way of punishing his wife's lover. Like the hero of Zapiski iz podpol'ia, to which this work directly alludes, Trusotsky cultivates his anger and resentment, seeking opportunities for fresh humiliation and jealousy. As in so many other works of Dostoevsky, the story examines how the "insulted and injured" may become aggressors themselves. The relationship between the two men is paramount to the action of the story. Trusotsky insists on accompanying Vel'chaninov to his new fiancée's home. Trusotsky both nurses Vel'chaninov during an attack of illness and nearly kills him, leading Vel'chaninov to call Trusotsky a "Quasimodo" who fell in love with his wife's lover. The ending of the story recapitulates the fundamental plot. The two protagonists confront each other once again over the same object--a beautiful young woman. The theme of adultery, centrally important to the nineteenth-century European novel in general, receives a particular twist in Dostoevsky's story-- namely, the emphasis on the male victim's need for suffering and his relationship with the aggressor. Dostoevsky's story may have been influenced in part by Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary (1857), which he read. In the critical literature, Gide and René Girard in particular have found Vechnyi muzh to be one of Dostoevsky's masterpieces. For Girard it embodies the logic of "triangular desire," the mediation of a subject's desire for an object through a third party.
In the late 1860s, after completing work on Idiot and Vechnyi muzh, which he wrote rapidly and without his usual agony, Dostoevsky returned to a project he had begun previously, titled in his notebooks "Zhitie velikogo greshnika" (The Life of a Great Sinner). Elements of this sketch appear in Besy in the characters of Tikhon and Stavrogin and in Podrostok. Living in Europe, Dostoevsky followed events at home with intense interest, especially the notorious Nechaev affair of 1869. A student group, "The People's Justice," led by Sergei Gennadievich Nechaev, murdered one of their own members. Whether Nechaev ordered the murder as a means of cementing the group by a bond of blood was not established. Dostoevsky saw in the crime a confirmation of his own earlier novelistic projections in Prestuplenie i nakazanie about the pernicious influence of radical thought on the shaky moral groundwork of the younger generation of Russians. He described his wish to write a "novel-pamphlet" in which he would express his ideas without restraint, even if it meant that he would gain the reputation of a retrograde. His novel, which evolved into something far greater than a mere political pamphlet, directly attacked the revolutionary ideology formulated by Nechaev and Mikhail Aleksandrovich Bakunin in their Katekhizis revoliutsionera (Catechism of a Revolutionary, 1869).
In Idiot Dostoevsky inserts the story of Prince Myshkin's otherworldly rapture into the fabric of St. Petersburg society of the 1860s. The prince's message of joy goes largely unheard, and everyday life continues in its accustomed tracks. The vision of Besy is far darker: the continuity of everyday life comes under question. In the world of Besy, Russian reality is dominated by crime, scandal, suicide, moral depravity, self-delusion, and insanity. The Nechaev episode is one of many disasters depicted in this apocalyptic novel.
At the center of the novel is Nikolai Stavrogin, who fascinates and destroys nearly everyone who comes into contact with him. He tempts the other characters by serving as the screen on which they paint their own fantasies. His beautiful face is nothing more than a mask; in the words of his half-mad and prophetic wife, Mar'ia Lebiadkina, he is "a bad actor." Theatricality and imposture of various kinds function in Besy as a metaphor for the loss of order and authority, both political and moral. Stavrogin conceals his marriage and welcomes the attentions of a young aristocratic lady, Liza, who spends a night with him. Dasha Shatov plays the role of confidante and nurse to Stavrogin. Her brother Ivan Shatov, a former serf of Stavrogin's mother, has learned his fervent Slavophilism from Stavrogin. Shatov proclaims his belief in the Russian people and the Russian God, but when pressed by Stavrogin, admits that he himself does not yet believe in God. Stavrogin tells him: "You reduce God to a simple attribute of nationality." The Symbolist writer Dmitrii Sergeevich Merezhkovsky leveled this charge against Dostoevsky as well.
At the same time that Stavrogin tutored Shatov in Slavophilism, he imbued the engineer Aleksei Kirillov with an insane nihilism. In this novel, unlike Idiot, epilepsy comes without ecstatic aura: Kirillov also experiences an epileptic cessation of time, but in contrast to Prince Myshkin, his message is far from joyful. Kirillov believes that suicide will liberate humanity from the fear of death and the afterworld, and a new creature will be born, a man-god. Even this bleak vision of human freedom is compromised, as Kirillov becomes enmeshed in the political machinations of Petr Verkhovensky, the Nechaev figure.
Verkhovensky receives the epithet of a "clever serpent." His tongue is "unusually long and narrow," and his speech is rapid and insinuating. Petr is literally and figuratively the offspring of a "man of the forties." His father, Stepan Trofimovich Verkhovensky, is a mixture of such figures as Aleksandr Ivanovich Herzen, Nikolai Platonovich Ogarev, and Timofei Nikolaevich Granovsky. These writers were grounded in a philosophy of idealism and a literature of romanticism, sharply opposed by the "men of the sixties," politically radical writers such as Chernyshevsky and Dobroliubov, for whom, to use the language of the novel, "boots are more important than Pushkin." Dostoevsky lays the blame for the nihilism of the 1860s on the liberalism of the 1840s. Stepan Trofimovich Verkhovensky is not only Petr's father but also served as tutor and father figure to Nikolai Stavrogin.
Petr Verkhovensky infiltrates the highest levels of authority in the town, pitting the foolish and weak governor Von Lembke against his foolish and even more gullible wife, who feels herself to have been specially chosen for the role as guiding light before the younger generation. At the same time, Petr Verkhovensky convinces the local radicals that he is connected to revolutionary cells all over Russia. The local circle includes the theoretician Shigalev, who dismisses all previous socialists, from Plato to Charles Fourier, as dreamers. Shigalev explains his philosophy by stating that having started from the premise of "unlimited freedom," he concludes with the premise of "unlimited despotism." While Shigalev theorizes, Verkhovensky schemes and acts. He plans to foment rebellion and make Stavrogin agree to play the role of Ivan Czarevich, the pretender to the throne. Stavrogin has generated considerable critical controversy, adding to the mythology surrounding Dostoevsky himself. One of the controversies has to do with the sources for Stavrogin. Nikolai Speshnev, whom Dostoevsky knew from his time with the Petrashevsky circle, is certainly a key prototype. Dostoevsky is said to have referred to Speshnev as his "Mephistopheles." Another controversy arises out of the censorship and self-censorship of the ninth chapter of the second part of the novel. Immediately following Petr Verkhovensky's proposal that Stavrogin seek the throne, the would-be czar visits the monk Tikhon and confesses to him. Russkii vestnik, in which the novel first appeared in serial form during 1871-1872, refused the chapter, and in the subsequent publication of the novel in 1873 Dostoevsky did not include it. The Soviet Academy of Sciences edition of Dostoevsky's complete works similarly omitted the chapter. In 1996 Liudmila Saraskina published a new edition of Besy, which restores the suppressed chapter to its rightful place.
In the chapter, Tikhon reads Stavrogin's written account of what seems to be his rape of a young girl and her subsequent suicide. Leonid P. Grossman has described Dostoevsky's extraordinary artistry in Stavrogin's confession. According to Grossman, Dostoevsky produced a highly convincing representation of an ugly crime in an ugly, official style, breaking the norms of literary decorum. Bakhtin, in contrast, emphasizes the underlying dynamic of Dostoevsky's dialogic art in Stavrogin's confession. Stavrogin desperately needs another's ear but refuses the forgiveness that he seeks. Forgiveness from the confessor presupposes an understanding of the confessing speaker and possible domination over him. According to Bakhtin, Dostoevsky draws attention to the flow of power inherent in the speech situation of confession.
The confession was apparently so convincing that speculation as to Dostoevsky's own possible involvement in a similar crime arose in his lifetime. Nikolai Strakhov, a critic and one of Dostoevsky's first biographers, perpetrated the rumor that Dostoevsky had sexually assaulted a young girl. The origin of the rumor may be related to an incident Dostoevsky reported from the time of his childhood. While serving at the Mariinskii Hospital, Dostoevsky's father attended a girl who had been raped and died from her injuries. Dostoevsky subsequently said that he considered this crime the most terrible of all and that he used it to "punish" his hero Stavrogin in Besy.
The various scandals depicted within the world of Besy pursued not only its author but also those whom he portrayed in the novel. For example, Dostoevsky took the opportunity in a different part of his work to lampoon Turgenev, with whom he had previously quarreled. Dostoevsky owed Turgenev money and disagreed with him about the contribution of Russia to civilization. In Besy Turgenev appears as the "great writer" Karmazinov. He nervously demands to know from Petr Verkhovensky when the revolution will begin, and yet he entrusts Verkhovensky with his manuscript. Karmazinov declares his contempt for Russia and love of Europe. At the disastrous fête for the poor governesses, Karmazinov reads his work "Merci," a pastiche of Turgenev's writing. In fact Besy as a whole engaged seriously with the problems raised in Turgenev's Ottsy i deti (Fathers and Sons, 1862). Stepan Trofimovich Verkhovensky explicitly compares his own son to Bazarov. The chief difference between the two works is that in Dostoevsky's novel the intergenerational conflict seems incapable of resolution.
Besy was received critically by contemporary readers, as those in favor of the student movements of the time accused Dostoevsky of slandering an entire generation as insane fanatics. The radical critic Nikolai Konstantinovich Mikhailovsky (who, upon Dostoevsky's death, characterized him as having a "cruel talent") gave sarcastic praise to Dostoevsky's "brilliant psychiatric talent" in the novel; in so doing he implied that Dostoevsky's own psychological state was somehow peculiar and extreme. Dostoevsky planned to publish a direct response to his critics: notes for this piece begin by raising the question of "who is healthy and who is insane." Further, in a column he published in 1873, Dostoevsky asserted that he himself was an "old Nechaevite," in the sense that he had been a member of the Petrashevsky circle. In fact, to read Besy solely in the context of other antinihilist novels of its time and as nothing more than the political pamphlet its author said it would be reduces the complexity of its artistry and oversimplifies the conflicting ideologies of its author. Besy was not Dostoevsky's last word on such questions as the meaningfulness of history.
For many twentieth-century critics, Besy signals the end of the nineteenth-century realist tradition. As Edward Said remarks in Beginnings: Intention and Method (1975), text, time, and understanding fall out of sync in Besy. Normal genealogy is suspended; the family is shattered; and the events of the novel seem to overtake the control of their creator. The narrative structure of the novel contributes to this sense of disorder. The narrator also plays a role as a character in the novel, a fact that leads to inconsistencies in his narrative report. He emphasizes the gaps in his knowledge and his lack of skill as a narrator. In Dostoevsky and the Novel (1977), Holquist argues that the division of Stavrogin's persona among all the other characters--for example, Shatov and Kirillov--signals the disruption of the coherent individual self upon which the realist novel usually depends. Instead of the story of the formation of a personality and the development of character, Besy is a revelation of the disintegration of personality. Dostoevsky's incomplete narrative account, his destruction of the image of the family, and his deliberate deformation of the integral personality signal a break with the history of the nineteenth-century realist novel, the best examples of which in Russia are the work of Turgenev and Tolstoy. Besy provides a transition to new literary forms of the twentieth century. However modernist Dostoevsky's depiction of total breakdown may seem in terms of its narrative structure, it may not in fact signal the acceptance of a modernist sensibility. The novel also points the other way to reveal an anachronistic, premodern historical and religious sensibility in which a "time of troubles" heralds the restoration of a divinely willed order. One might thus draw a parallel between Besy and Andrei Donat'evich Siniavsky's autobiographical novel Spokoinoi nochi (Goodnight, 1984). The technique of fantastic realism and the supernatural and demonic motifs that dominate that novel are greatly beholden to Besy. J. M. Coetzee's 1994 novel The Master of Petersburg is loosely based on Besy and on episodes from Dostoevsky's life.
Dostoevsky, his wife, and their young daughter Liubov' returned from Europe to St. Petersburg in the summer of 1871. The writing of Besy was completed there. Shortly after their arrival, Anna Grigor'evna gave birth to a son, Fedor. The family rented a house in Staraia Russa, which they eventually were able to buy. The next year Dostoevsky became editor of a right-wing journal, Grazhdanin (The Citizen), owned by Prince Vladimir Petrovich Meshchersky. Dostoevsky soon came to view his editorial responsibilities as a heavy burden that took away too much time from his creative life. In 1873 he spent two days in jail for printing the words of the czar without prior permission. Dostoevsky's own column in the journal was titled "Dnevnik pisatelia." In it he published autobiographical and biographical sketches (including portraits of Belinsky and Herzen), literary and social criticism, and short fiction of his own. In a piece called "Sreda" (The Environment) he argued as he had done so many times before against the theory that socioeconomic conditions are responsible for crime. "Vlas" is an extended commentary on the Nekrasov poem of the same title, in which Dostoevsky notes two conflicting tendencies in the Russian people--an urge to "leap into the abyss" and the opposite pull toward salvation. He concludes that the most essential feature of all is the need for suffering. Among the works of fiction published in Grazhdanin is the extraordinary "Bobok," a dialogue of voices issuing from the still-living consciousnesses of rotting corpses in a graveyard. The corpses agree to play a game of confessions, similar to Ferdyshenko's parlor game in Idiot, and they proclaim their eagerness to lose their sense of shame and "bare themselves" before one another. The publication of Besy and the association with Meshchersky, and through him, Konstantin Petrovich Pobedonostsev, the future head of the Synod, led to vociferous criticism of Dostoevsky in the liberal press.
Dostoevsky resigned from his editorial post in 1874, citing poor health. In notebooks from February of the same year he mentions a "novel about children, exclusively about children, and about a child-hero." Children had appeared both in the prehistory of Idiot, in the circle of children Prince Myshkin gathers around himself, and in his relations with the youths Ippolit and Kolia Ivolgin. A new focus on children and groups of children emerges as a distinct layer of Dostoevsky's late writings, in the novel Podrostok (also translated as A Raw Youth ), in his 1876 and 1877 Dnevnik pisatelia (then published as an independent journal), and in his last novel, Brat'ia Karamazovy. In the notebooks, Dostoevsky describes plans for a novel along the lines of Turgenev's Ottsy i deti. The central theme of all this work is what Dostoevsky identified as the absence of a guiding principle and the loss of unity in all segments of Russian society--from the educated upper classes to the peasantry. This "decomposition" or "breakdown" could be found not only between social groups but also within members of the same group and within the Russian family. Dostoevsky remarked that children were at odds with their parents.
The problem of decomposition and disorder had also been central to Besy. In that work, however, Dostoevsky had emphasized the faults of the "sons" and their utter rejection of the "fathers." Like the earlier work, Podrostok reproduces events from Russian political life, specifically the political trial of the circle of Aleksandr Vasil'evich Dolgushin, charged with circulating proclamations to stir up rebellion. Dolgushin, tried in 1874, becomes "Dergachev" in the novel. The members of this political group are on the whole represented in a more positive light than the members of the political circle in Besy, with the possible exception of Kraft, who commits suicide because he believes Russia is a second-class country. Unlike in Besy, in Podrostok the "sons" yearn for renewal and turn toward the "fathers" for guidance. The young hero's search for a guiding principle and his need for a father overlap.
Podrostok is the diary of one year in the life of Arkadii Makarovich Dolgoruky, the illegitimate son of Andrei Petrovich Versilov, a member of the nobility, and Sof'ia Andreevna, married to one of Versilov's serfs, Makar Dolgoruky. The "Dolgoruky" name, which belonged to a noble family of great eminence in Russian history, was considerably tarnished in the 1870s. Russian readers of the time would have been alerted to the significance of the name and its ramifications for the exploration in the novel of the problems of the Russian nobility. When asked in school whether he is a "Prince Dolgoruky," Arkadii answers by saying that he is just "plain Dolgoruky." Dostoevsky in this way draws attention to the fallen nobility. Arkadii grew up neglected by Versilov but "fell in love" with him nonetheless; he was mocked and beaten at school because of his illegitimacy and was the particular victim of the bully Lambert, whom he meets again in the course of the novel as a blackmailer. As a way of overcoming his loneliness and social disgrace Arkadii decides to devote himself entirely to his "idea." Like Raskol'nikov he seeks "freedom and power"--not by means of murder, but by becoming a Rothschild. Dostoevsky had used a similar feature in the character of Gania Ivolgin in Idiot. Arkadii stints himself on food and clothing and gives up his education in order to accumulate money, but he is distracted from his single-minded pursuit by a good deed he performs and by his involvement with a dissolute young prince, from whom he takes money.
The entangled plot of the novel, as in works from the 1840s and Idiot, again concerns money, careers, and marriages. Versilov is involved in a court case against the family of Prince Sokolsky, including Prince Sokolsky's son, and the Prince's daughter, Katerina Nikolaevna Akhmakova. Arkadii comes into possession of a letter Katerina Akhmakova has written seeking legal help to have her father declared mentally incompetent. She fears that if her father discovers the letter, she will lose all chances for her inheritance, which depends on the outcome of the Sokolsky-Versilov court case. Arkadii has the opportunity to use the letter as a weapon against both Versilov and Katerina, with whom both Versilov and Arkadii are in love. As the novel progresses, Arkadii comes to a better understanding of both his legal father, Makar, who became a religious pilgrim, and his natural father, Versilov. Eventually Arkadii renounces his "idea."
Dostoevsky created the image of Versilov out of a composite of real and literary figures of the 1830s and 1840s, including Aleksandr Sergeevich Griboedov's character Chatsky from Gore ot uma (Woe from Wit, finished between 1823 and 1824); Petr Iakovlevich Chaadaev (1794-1856), declared insane by Czar Nicholas I for his criticisms of Russia; and in particular, the foremost liberal thinker of the nineteenth century, Aleksandr Ivanovich Herzen (1812-1870). Well-educated and with an air of superiority, Versilov has spent several fortunes. He defines the nobility as the aggregate of the best people--those who preserve knowledge, enlightenment, and the highest ideals. He left Russia for Europe, but says that he did so in service to Russia, which lives not for itself but for an idea. Europeans no longer value their own history and culture, but Versilov, a self-declared "Russian European," loves Europe more than any European national can. The love for Europe and Russia, like Versilov's love for the two women, Sof'ia and Katerina Akhmakova, does not resolve itself, and Versilov experiences firsthand the "decomposition" that dominates the novel as a whole. He has an episode of "doubling," and splits Sof'ia's icon in two.
Dostoevsky uses the epilogue to reflect on the literary status of the novel and his relation to other writers of the time, particularly Tolstoy. Responding to Arkadii's "notes," his former tutor comments on the nature of Russian life in general, observing that only in the family and in the hereditary nobility can some measure of order or structure be found in Russia, and that this structure could be the basis for a Russian literary aesthetic. What has happened recently, he says, is that the fathers are eroding the Russian family and its traditions to the point at which an author seeking to present beauty and finished aesthetic forms in the Russian family would be forced to write an historical novel. The beautiful forms found in other novels belong to Russian history, not to the Russian present. Dostoevsky alludes to Tolstoy's Voina i mir (War and Peace, 1863-1869), which had been serialized in the same journal and at the same time as Prestuplenie i nakazanie. Arkadii belongs to an "accidental family," a family that has merged with the general chaos and disorder of the times, and the incomplete nature of his diary--Podrostok--speaks for its link to the nature of ongoing social reality. Dostoevsky defends the seemingly random and incomplete qualities of his own narrative art and indirectly names himself as a poet of modernity.
In 1875 Dostoevsky announced that he would publish a separate one-man monthly journal, Dnevnik pisatelia , which would resemble a newspaper in format, but would constitute "something whole, a book, written by one pen." It was to be a diary "in the literal sense of the word," including an account of his impressions and experiences, but it would also include fiction, and for the most part, it would be about "real events." The major thematic layers of Dnevnik pisatelia are politics, both domestic and foreign, literature, and court cases, which, as several critics have noted, form the "creative laboratory" for Brat'ia Karamazovy. The journal ran from 1876 to 1877, with one issue published in 1880 and one in 1881. The critical literature typically insists on a separation between Dostoevsky the artist and Dostoevsky the journalist. According to this view, his genius was in the artistic depiction of the competing voices and consciousnesses of his characters in dramatic conflict with one another. His journalism, in contrast, falls flat because of the more limited opportunities for dramatic interaction. Dnevnik pisatelia has been attacked for its jingoistic and anti-Semitic politics, especially evident, for example, in his discussions of the Slavic cause in the Balkans and in the chapter of the March 1877 issue titled "Evreiskii vopros" (The Jewish Question). Dostoevsky attempts to resolve the "dissolution" he had described in Podrostok by resorting to the messianic idea of Russia as the sole Christ-bearing nation. Dnevnik pisatelia also includes important short fiction, including "Krotkaia: Fantasticheskii rasskaz" (A Meek One: A Fantastic Tale, 1876) and "Son smeshnogo cheloveka: Fantasticheskii rasskaz" (The Dream of a Ridiculous Man: A Fantastic Tale, 1877), both of which received extensive and favorable critical treatment. Dnevnik pisatelia reveals the manner in which Dostoevsky transformed items he found in the newspaper into works of art. For example, a real-life suicide on which he comments in an earlier issue of Dnevnik pisatelia becomes the central plot element of "Krotkaia." Dnevnik pisatelia, with its combination of newspaper events, sociological observation, politics, personal confession, and political commentary may be seen as a Dostoevsky novel without the veneer of a plot, an attempt to move beyond the conventions of the realist novel in an even more extreme fashion than his own previous works had done. Its hero is Dostoevsky himself, now able to communicate directly with the reading audience. Dnevnik pisatelia made Dostoevsky a well-known public figure with many correspondents, to whom he referred as his "collaborators."
In 1878 Dostoevsky informed readers of his Dnevnik pisatelia that he was suspending publication because of illness. The real reason was to work on his next novel. In the same year Dostoevsky and Anna Grigor'evna lost their three-year-old son Aleksei from what Dostoevsky believed was epilepsy. He had in this period developed a friendship with the philosopher Vladimir Sergeevich Solov'ev, with whom he visited the Optyna Pustin monastery after his son's death. Dostoevsky wrote in a letter that he and Solov'ev believed in a "real, literal, personal resurrection." This belief was the central theme of his last work, the sum total of all his writing, often compared to Dante's and Balzac's works in scope and stature. Brat'ia Karamazovy , serialized in Russkii vestnik in 1879-1880, uses a murder as the fulcrum of its plot. The motivation for the murder is not the trial of an ideology as in Prestuplenie i nakazanie or the furthering of revolutionary politics as in Besy, but the rivalry between a father, Fedor Pavlovich Karamazov, and his sons. The murder, its detection, and the trial of the defendant occupy what the narrator calls the external side of the novel. Fedor Pavlovich is a dissolute landowner, tavern-keeper, and buffoon. Dostoevsky wrote in a letter that "we are all nihilists; we are all Fedor Pavlovichs." Fedor Pavlovich's nihilism is not that of Turgenev's Bazarov, who rejects authority and old-fashioned principles, but a more thoroughgoing rejection of all ideals and beliefs. He "besmirches everything he touches," as one of the characters puts it. With his first wife he had a son, Dmitrii, whom he all but abandoned and who now returns to his father as a grown man, seeking to claim the inheritance that he mistakenly believes his fathers owes him. Dmitrii, who is fond of quoting Schiller, calls himself a noxious Karamazov insect. He proclaims his love for God even as he performs morally reprehensible acts. Dmitrii embodies the "breadth" of character that Dostoevsky, in "Vlas," had described as typically Russian: as Dmitrii himself says, he strives for the ideal of the Madonna but ends up with the "ideal of Sodom." Dmitrii and Fedor Pavlovich compete for the affections of Grushenka, a femme fatale who started out as one of the insulted and injured. At the same time, Dmitrii is engaged to Katerina Ivanovna, a society woman, whose love for him is intermixed with tyrannical impulses.
Fedor Pavlovich's second marriage produced two sons, Ivan and Alesha. Ivan grew up painfully aware of his dependence on the charity of others. A brilliant student, he makes a name for himself in his journalism and criticism, and inexplicably he comes to the provinces to live with his father. Alesha, the third son, has set his heart on becoming a monk and lives in the cell of the elder Zosima, his spiritual father. Remarkably healthy and rosy-cheeked, free of the disease and hesitancy of Prince Myshkin, Alesha believes in the holiness of his elder. Zosima, like Tikhon in Besy, is based in part on the figure of Tikhon of Zadonsk. Another son, Smerdiakov, was born after Fedor Pavlovich allegedly raped the holy fool of the town, Stinking Lizaveta. Smerdiakov hates Russia, loves death, rejects literary art, and strives to imitate Ivan and even anticipates his wishes. Fedor Pavlovich loves beauty, after his own fashion, but Smerdiakov does not. Dostoevsky develops the device of the "double" with extraordinary skill in his last work. Smerdiakov has the uncanny ability to be present even when he is not.
At the philosophical core of the novel is the fifth of its twelve books, "Pro and Contra," including Ivan's "Rebellion." This segment and Zapiski iz podpol'ia are probably the best known of all of Dostoevsky's writings. Ivan asks how the suffering of children can be part of God's plan for the redemption of the world. The court cases on which Dostoevsky had commented in his Dnevnik pisatelia, most of which concerned child abuse, such as the notorious Kronenberg case, became the central evidence in Ivan's indictment of God's world and ongoing historical reality. Ivan "returns his entrance ticket" because the price of universal harmony--the suffering of the innocent--is too high. Dostoevsky wrote in a letter to Konstantin Pobedonostsev that Ivan's arguments are the essence of the idea of destruction and anarchism of the time. Ivan was Dostoevsky's distillation of socialism. As in his earlier works-- especially Zapiski iz podpol'ia, Besy, and Podrostok--for Dostoevsky the chief flaw of socialism was that it offered humanity "bread" and other forms of material well-being in exchange for individual choice and indeed, individuality. In Brat'ia Karamazovy Dostoevsky presents his vision of socialism in the form of a "legend" that Ivan narrates to Alesha. It is set during the time of the Spanish Inquisition, in Seville. Christ reappears, and the Grand Inquisitor arrests him and then explains how the Inquisition has been "correcting" his work. Ivan's Grand Inquisitor views humanity as a herd, incapable of God's freedom and enslaved by "miracle, mystery, and authority." The weak and childlike human beings to whom the Grand Inquisitor ministers need to be fed, to be rewarded and punished, and above all, to have a common object of worship. The lofty example of Jesus is only for the few; the many, in contrast, depend on the constant and all-pervasive discipline of the Inquisitor. Dostoevsky was so effective in mounting the arguments of the Grand Inquisitor that several critics--including Vasilii Vasil'evich Rozanov, the Russian religious philosopher, and English novelist and critic D. H. Lawrence--believed that the author shared the Inquisitor's beliefs.
In Shigalev's system in Besy, the leveling of individual talent and accomplishment was to be accomplished by brute force, but in Ivan's "Legend," a more subtle calculus, based on human need, leads to the same end of total despotism. In both these works, Dostoevsky is said to have predicted the terror of Stalinism and other forms of totalitarianism in the twentieth century. Dostoevsky, who prided himself on the "realism" of his works and insisted that he predicted real events, might have derived some grim satisfaction from these acknowledgments of his prescience.
Dostoevsky wrote that the refutation of Ivan's arguments comes "indirectly" in book 6, which immediately follows Ivan's conversation with Alesha. "A Russian Monk" includes Alesha's transcription of the life and sayings of the elder Zosima in a highly stylized form. In the notebooks to the novel, Zosima says that the meaning of historical reality--"the essence of things"--cannot be grasped on earth. The ideal of Christ is not an impossibility for human beings, because Christ's image was a human one, and it is found among the Russian people. Dostoevsky has Zosima express the idea that the possibility of "paradise on earth" is within the grasp of human beings, as long as they orient themselves toward the image of Christ and take on the responsibility of active love and brotherhood: "each is responsible for all." Dostoevsky notes in a letter that he shares Zosima's "thoughts" but not the form or the language in which they were expressed. He also wrote that the refutation of Ivan comes in the novel as a whole. The possibility of meaning in historical reality is hinted at in the carefully rendered allusions of the novel to the Bible, and in its time frame, in which images from the past offer guidance and hope in the present. The subplots involving children are important in this regard. Dmitrii's impulse toward redemption centers on the image of a child. Alesha befriends the young Kolia Krasotkin, a budding Ivan, and nurtures relationships between the schoolchildren and the dying Iliusha Snegirov, whose father Dmitrii has insulted.
During its serial publication Brat'ia Karamazovy was reviewed extensively in the Russian press. Konstantin Nikolaevich Leont'ev protested the overly "rosy" Christianity of the elder Zosima, arguing that it distorted the principles of Russian Orthodoxy. In 1894 Rozanov published a study of Dostoevsky's works as a whole, focusing in particular on Brat'ia Karamazovy. Although Rozanov reserved special praise for Ivan's "Rebellion" and the "Legend of the Grand Inquisitor," he also saw great profundity in Zosima's belief that God had taken "seeds from the other world" and placed them on earth. The perhaps overly simplistic question as to whether Dostoevsky sided with Ivan or Zosima has concerned critics. Albert Camus's L'Homme révolté (The Rebel, 1951) argued that Ivan's rebellion, based on reason alone, leads to insanity. Other critics, notably Jackson, see in Ivan's suffering a form of imitation of Christ and thus an unwitting refutation of his rejection of Christ. Robert L. Belknap has also shown how Dostoevsky refutes Ivan's claims by a series of ad hominem arguments. Sven Linner and Jostein Børtnes examine the religious dimensions of the novel, and Valentina Evgen'eva Vetlovskaia has shown the significance of the "Life of Aleksei the Man of God" for the character of Alesha.
One of the open critical questions about Brat'ia Karamazovy has to do with the fate of Alesha and the possibility of a second installment of the novel. There is some evidence, in the narrator's reference to two novels, the main one being the second, and in the memoirs of the publisher A. S. Suvorin and others, who write that Dostoevsky planned to write a second volume in which Alesha would become a revolutionary and commit a political crime. Violent attacks against the authorities were on the increase in the late 1870s. One of the best-known incidents took place in 1878, when Vera Zasulich shot at the Governor-General of St. Petersburg. Viktor Shklovsky's Za i protiv: Zametki o Dostoevskom (For and Against: Remarks on Dostoevsky, 1957) supports Suvorin on this point. Igor' Volgin's Poslednii god Dostoevskogo (Dostoevsky's Last Year, 1986) explores the possibility in detail, arguing that Dostoevsky's closeness to court circles did not mean he had become an unabashed apologist for the czar and autocracy. Not all critics accept that Dostoevsky planned to write a second installment.
In June of 1880, Dostoevsky delivered a speech at the memorial ceremonies honoring the national poet of Russia, Pushkin. According to Dostoevsky, Pushkin had embodied the uniquely Russian characteristic of universal receptivity and humanism. Pushkin demonstrated the Russian genius for uniting what was best in all the European nations. Dostoevsky used an idea that he had previously put in the mouth of Versilov in Podrostok, that for the true Russian, the fate of Europe was as precious as the fate of Russia. The Slavophile Ivan Sergeevich Aksakov, according to Dostoevsky, characterized the speech as an "historical event." Turgenev, from whom Dostoevsky had been estranged for many years, embraced him with open arms. Dostoevsky had resolved the subject of their earlier quarrel by answering the question of what contribution Russia had made to Western civilization. Dostoevsky wrote to his wife that the hall was in "hysterics" when he spoke of the unity of humankind, and that people called him a "prophet" and swore to each other to "be better." The Pushkin address was published in the single issue of Dostoevsky's Dnevnik pisatelia for 1880. The epilogue of Brat'ia Karamazovy, including Alesha's speech at the stone, was written in the afterglow of the Pushkin speech. Alesha calls upon the schoolchildren to remember themselves united in harmony around their dead friend, Iliusha. Alesha transforms the funeral into a memorial not only to the dead but also to the living, gathered around Iliusha's stone, and, like Dostoevsky in the Pushkin speech, takes the opportunity to "utter the ultimate word of great, universal harmony."
Dostoevsky died on 28 January 1881 of complications from emphysema. The crowd at his funeral was estimated at fifty thousand people. The mood at the event was characterized by eyewitnesses as having the solemn yet joyful spirit of a national holiday. After Dostoevsky died, Vladimir Solov'ev praised him in the same terms that Dostoevsky had used to praise Pushkin--as the prophet of Russia.
The study of Dostoevsky, both inside and outside Russia, has been shaped in important ways by his status in that country. In 1972 the massive thirty-volume edition of the complete works of Dostoevsky was undertaken by the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg (Leningrad). This edition, with its extensive explanatory notes, bibliographical references, publication histories, draft editions, and variant versions, has been the crucial resource for generations of Dostoevsky scholars all over the world. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, aspects of Dostoevsky's work that were neglected have come to the foreground. These aspects include a closer examination of his politics, both his critique of socialism and his rapprochement with czarist circles, and the study of religious themes and motifs in his works, long the provenance of Vetlovskaia, among others. Scholars are taking advantage of a greater variety of critical approaches, including feminism, ethnic studies, and the work of Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, and Emmanuel Levinas. At the same time, a new tendency has emerged, which emphasizes Dostoevsky's Christianity above all else. In 1995 a new Russian edition of his complete works was begun under the supervision of V. N. Zakharov, which uses the orthography of the nineteenth-century original. Saraskina's 1996 edition of Besy includes an anthology of criticism not widely available to Russian readers previously. The publication of hard-to-find memoirs and new studies based on archival documents continues. An important source book that exemplifies this type of work is the three-volume chronicle of Dostoevsky's life based on his letters and other documents, edited by N. F. Budanova and G. M. Fridlender (1993-1995). In both Russia and the West, the work of Bakhtin has been established as a cornerstone of Dostoevsky criticism.
From: Murav, Harriet. "Fedor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky." Russian Novelists in the Age of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, edited by J. Alexander Ogden and Judith E. Kalb, Gale, 2001. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 238.