The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.
Nabokov on Dostoevsky:
Vladimir Nabokov, from Lectures on Russian Literature:
"My position in regard to Dostoevski is a curious and difficult one. In all my courses I approach literature from the only point of view that literature interests me--namely the point of view of enduring art and individual genius. From this point of view Dostoevski is not a great writer, but a rather mediocre one--with flashes of excellent humor, but, alas, with wastelands of literary platitudes in between. In Crime and Punishment Raskolnikov for some reason or other kills an old female pawnbroker and her sister. Justice in the shape of an inexorable police officer closes slowly in on him until in the end he is driven to a public confession, and through the love of a noble prostitute he is brought to a spiritual regeneration that did not seem as incredibly banal in 1866 when the book was written as it does now when noble prostitutes are apt to be received a little cynically by experienced readers. . . .. . .All the humiliation and hardships he endured [in prison] are described in detail [in Memoirs from the House of Death], as also the criminals among whom he lived. Not to go completely mad in those surroundings, Dostoevski had to find some sort of escape. This he found in a neurotic Christianism which he developed during these years. It is only natural that some of the convicts among whom he lived showed, besides dreadful bestiality, an occasional human trait. Dostoevski gathered these manifestations and built upon them a kind of very artificial and completely pathological idealization of the simple Russian folk. This was the initial step on his consecutive spiritual road. . . .. . .His attitude toward the Government had completely changed since the days of his youthful radicalism. "Greek-Catholic Church, absolute monarchy, and the cult of Russian nationalism," these three props on which stood the reactionary political slavophilism were his political faith. The theories of socialism and Western liberalism became for him the embodiments of Western contamination and of satanic sin bent upon the destruction of a Slavic and Greek-Catholic world. It is the same attitude that ones sees in Fascism or in Communism--universal salvation. . . .. . .Dostoevski never really got over the influence which the mystery novel and the sentimental novel made upon him. The sentimental influence supplied that kind of conflict he liked--placing virtuous people in pathetic situations and then extracting from these situations the last ounce of pathos. When after his return from Siberia his essential ideas began to ripen--the idea of salvation to be found through transgression, the ethical supremacy of suffering and submission over struggle and resistance, the defence of free will not as a metaphysical but as a moral proposition, and the ultimate formula of egoism-antichrist Europe on one side and brotherhood-Christ-Russia on the other--when these ideas. . .suffused his novels, much of the Western influence still remained, and one is tempted to say that in a way Dostoevski, who so hated the West, was the most European of the Russian writers. . . .. . .Dostoevski's lack of taste, his monotonous dealings with persons suffering with pre-Freudian complexes, the way he has of wallowing in the tragic misadventures of human dignity--all this is difficult to admire. I do not like this trick his characters have of "sinning their way to Jesus" or, as a Russian author Ivan Bunin put it more bluntly, "spilling Jesus all over the place." Just as I have no ear for music, I have to my regret no ear for Dostoevski the Prophet. . . .. . .It is, as in all Dostoevski's novels, a rush and tumble of words with endless repetitions, mutterings aside, a verbal overflow which shocks the reader after, say, Lermontov's transparent and beautifully poised prose. Dostoevski as we know is a great seeker after truth, a genius of spiritual morbidity, but as we also know he is not a great writer in the sense Tolstoy, Pushkin, and Chekhov are. And, I repeat, not because the world he creates is unreal--all the worlds of writers are unreal--but because it is created too hastily without any sense of that harmony and economy which the most irrational masterpiece is bound to comply with (in order to be a masterpiece). Indeed, in a sense Dostoevski is much too rational in his crude methods, and though his facts are but spiritual facts and his characters mere ideas in the likeness of people, their interplay and development are actuated by the mechanical methods of the earthbound and conventional novels of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. . . ."
Dostoevsky is a polarizing figure in Russian literature. He was definitely a great storyteller, had a keen sense of dark comedy, and managed to create convoluted intense literary worlds full of maniac youngsters in search for the ultimate truths, neurotic women, psychotic villains and twisted plots. He seemed to recreate especially well the world of a repressed humiliated suffering psyche of a "small man", infused with peculiar messianic moralism of his own personal type of Orthodox Christianity. Readers seem to either love him and fully accept his salvationist pathos of universal ambitions, or feel repelled by the oppressive psychotic suffocating atmosphere of his books. Perhaps, the strongest accusation leveled against him is his tendency to idealize the "mysterious Russian soul" as a spiritual antipode to the rotten materialistic rational and dead world of the Western bourgeois modernity. But what I find most amusing is that many of his vociferous critics, like Nabokov, tended to confess great affection for Tolstoy, who, it seems to me, wasn't so much different from Dostoevsky in what concerns spiritual moralizing. It's curious how Nabokov picks on Dostoevky's "slavophilic" sentimentality while neglecting to spot the similar sort of messianic zeal (many would say hypocritical) in Tolstoy's wordy novels full of pages and pages of direct essay-like rant on the role of an individual in history, the holistic world of a Russian peasant and other attempts at a universal moral high ground.
What I personally dislike in Dostoevsky is his writing style, which after Pushkin, Lermontov and Turgenev appears lacking in finesse. He wrote badly, hardly any paragraph of his long novels could stand out as a piece of stylistic beauty, but he managed to capture a reader, to suck the reader into his books, shake him and transform. He had this genius ability to convince readers, to deeply impress with the depth of his characters, none of which is anywhere close to the real people we might observe around, but which seem to symbolize some universal human patterns magnified on a mythic scale. His novels reed like a mixture of a macabre comedy, a psychological investigation into possessed troubled mind, a Greek like tragedy of destructive passions, and a dull insipid theosophic rant loosely based on Orthodox values.
You wrote an interesting piece, thanks.
His writitng style maybe is considered weak, but as you strongly mention his stories suck you in. Some of his novels are better than others. And,any writer who can write stories such as, Notes From the Underground, is tops in my mind.
This leads me to another question which I would like to ask and hear peoples ideas, in relation to style.
I have never been a huge fan of English speaking literature, and sometimes i wonder if it is a question of style over story. I find European and Japanese literature strong in substance, with English literature, however, I find little substance but more emphasis on style, there is a huge play on words, which maybe due to commercial considerations and cultural ones , takes precedence, over the story. There are many theories I could put forward, however, what is a theory, but just another formation of thoughts , clumsely articulated in language. I much rather hear other peoples views.
Funny enough I have read Beowulf!
And maybe I should try to read more, at the moment I'm reading a Jack London novel, so I do try!
I think one of the reasons I wrote my piece, was to question the reasons why, I don't enjoy Anglophone literature, and not a personal attack on such literature.
of course such a personal question is difficult for outsiders to answer. But and maybe I should have worded the question better now that I think about it, and, that question is! Do other people find any 'differences' in English-speaking literature and other literature.
Now, rationally this could be deemed to be a strange question at first, why would nationality and cultural differences make any difference, be it in style or substance and tone for that matter, of a piece of literature? Maybe this phenomenon is peculiar to me! However , I do find differences, enough to make me only read Non-English literature.
I am not asking for lines to be drawn and for people to take sides, but for ideas.
It's a fascinating question! I'm an English-speaking American who has known enough of only two other languages (Italian and Spanish) to read them, but I've enjoyed literature from all over the world mainly in translation. Everything I've read of Japanese or Russian or German or French literature has all been in the English language. How can I know to distinguish what is "native" to those books and what is a product of those translations?
Here in this very thread are people saying what a 'terrible' writer Dostoevsky was - I presume these people are speaking of his original writing in Russian and that they know that language (like Nabokov). I always heard what a great writer Kafka was in the original German but I have no idea of that. I've always loved him, but only know him in English!
Quite a large percentage of my favorite writers have been from Argentina, but I've never been there. I can't say I know the culture. I can't even begin to guess what possible affinity I might have with that place that would lead me to admire its writers so much.
Who can say what draws us to one region or language or another? Why do I like Flannery O'Connor so much while generally not a big fan of the American South? What does it say that the writer who has most impressed me, in terms of sheer writing, is Guy de Maupassant? I wish I could say what it is that all these strands in my personal taste have in common with one another, besides the generally human.
It's fair enough to say you don't really like various aspects of the way, for instance, Dostoevsky writes, though it is always handy to say what specifically it is you don't like. But if any one of us Brits and Yanks were to make the sweeping statement that "I don't like Russian literature", all the Russophiles here would be down on that someone like a ton of bricks.
Yet we have people here who generalise incredibly about everything written in the English language, as if it's all much of a muchness. If you compare Anthony Powell with Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson with Carol Ann Duffy, Patrick White with Charles Bukowski and then claim that you didn't like them because they are all part of some mythical "English-language-literature", I would think that you were adopting the method of Procrustes to make your case.
Which writers, what were they writing about.... ?
European literature, for example, shares a common heritage with English Literature, we have the Greeks, Homers Iliad/Odyssey, and much of this influenced the Renaissance, where in England we find the dominating figure of Shakespeeare, who has travelled well over time and throughout the world.
If you consider French classicism and the English approach, in short, we muddled through and are more experimental, it's the Shakespeare vs Ben Jonson debates over the purpose/place of drama but since then the novel, play, poem has taken many and multiple forms and offshoots, how can you compare Walt Whitman in poetry, Don DeLillo in fiction, or Harold Pinter in drama, the diversity is just too great....
Literatures around the world, at similar periods bare a lot of similarities, but authors are individuals, you seem to have missed out on much reading, if you add Horror, SF and Detective fiction to this, and if you are in Japan, the influences of the Western, or English novels etc on Japanese contemporary fiction, it's difficult to pull a grand theory out of the bag that says... what's up with the substance of English lit... it's all style... ??
To add, Nick Hornby, the popular English novelist said something about schools, and traditions, he mentioned that his Cambridge University education had held him back as a novelist, he didn't qualify these remarks unfortunately, but clearly he disagreed with much of what he was taught, via influence, or possibly the approach of New Historicism, or Determinism, or whatever theory held sway at Cambridge at the time he was there. So there's not always agreement on English vs European or whatever camp, to begin with in terms of content.
Ok, after 7 off topic posts I wanna hear anything interesting on Dostoevsky, please.
Did Dostoevsky ever visit Helsinki, Altai? That too would be interesting as you live there.
But I agree that these threads can quickly deteriorate into idiotic slanging matches and luv-ins, neither of which have anything to do with the subject of the thread.
So Altai, which of the several Dostoevsky novels you've read stood out for you? Do the Finns still read Doestoevsky avidly?
I don't know about Dostoevsky in Helsinki, other Russian writers visited here and couldn't find any connection with the locals. What I know is that Dostoevsky spent a lot of time in Germany playing in casinos wasting his and his wife's money, getting into debts.
Actually, his life was quite interesting and can serve as a key to his literary worlds.
His father was a surgeon, an impoverished member of a gentry land owner class, he abused his serfs and ultimately was murdered by them. I've read somewhere that he served as a source for Fedor KAramazov's character. Young Dostoevsky had a close relationship with his mother and a distant one with his father whom he feared. When he was 16 his mother died. This was a shock for a young boy, who was sent to study to Saint Petersburg. Two years later his father was murdered. As a young man, Dostoevsky was not very sociable. He was a gloomy loner, always thinking, analyzing things, very sensitive, suspicious of others' motives and easily offended. He also suffered from epilepsy.
In Saint-Petersburg he participated in the popular literary-political progressive groups. He wasn't an active revolutionary, but he participated in the Petrashevsky secret circle and helped spreading the forbidden by censorship letter of Belinsky to Gogol. When the circle was discovered Dostoevky was one of those found guilty of subversive activity and sentenced to death by firing squad. Already at the gallows awaiting the final moment he learned that the sentence was reduced to 8 years of conviction in Siberian camps. This was arguably one of life defining moment for the writer, who was completely shaken by the brutality of experience as he stood there many minutes preparing for death only to be granted life.
Dostoevsky got back from Siberia when Alexandre II got to power. I've read somewhere that he wrote a flattering poem commemorating the ascend of Alexandre to the throne and was allowed to move back to Saint-Petersburg.
Death of loved ones followed Dostoevsky through all his life. His first wife died from tuberculosis. Almost at the same time his brother died. His little daughter also died, and later a little son, events which probably traumatized him most.
Later in life, already acknowledged as a brilliant writer, he was known for addictive gambling. He could lose all his money and all the money of his family playing in casinos, thus forcing himself into debts and having to write novels in a constant hurry to pay off the creditors.
His relations with women also stand out for their supposed sado-masochistic aspects. His second wife was more than twenty years younger than him and he suffered from acute bouts of jealousy and wallowed in it giving himself fully to the masochistic paroxysms. He spent a lot of time in Germany where he wrote many of his novels. But typically for Russian writers he disliked German culture considering it too materialistic and lacking spiritual spontaneity. This trait is curious as it largely follows many other Russian writers, like Nabokov, who openly disliked all things German while spending a lot of time in Germany. Many Russian writers also juxtapose German character to Russian as two opposite archetypes on the spirit-body axis.
There is a new Russian series on Dostoevsky's life. Can be seen here (in Russian):
"Brothers Karamazov" I've read a year ago and was somewhat disappointed. I've heard too much about the novel and was expecting a masterpiece, but I found many flaws in it. But still the novel reads very easily and the plot is twisted like a Brazilian soap-opera.
Finns do read Dostoevsky. I actually know some fans of him here. I think Finns like depressive literature with humanistic values based on a 'little man'. I mean, most of Finnish literature is quite Dostoevskian, if I dare say so.
Okay Altai from Helsinki, will this do?
He suffered from epileptic fits, very vioent and disabling, after the Petrashevsky circle was disbanded, apparently he wasn't even a card-carrying member, but dabbling, and sent to Siberia, he was submitted to heavy physical labour, and was mercilessly goaded for his class roots, but the labour, backbraking though it was, improved his health and strength and reduced the fits.
I once read most of his novels and short stories over a year or two. House of the Dead has a preface/scene where he reported how fearsome some of the murderers and rapists and child killers he was housed with really were; one prisoner was so dangerous that the only way to suppress him was by seven or so of the others charging him at once, and kicking and pounding him until he became unconscious, they would then proceed to carefully, and even gently and consolingly wrap him up in a blanket and put him back into his bunk, until the next time, this was after a great quantity of drink. He was a drunk and appears to have been a real prisoner rather than just a character in the book, and physically tough in the extreme. The fights abated post- 15 good kickings, after his body broke. Dostoyevsky was so traumatised by his Sib experiences he could only write them down by projecting through a narrator who is clearly him.
Dostoyevsky kept a prison diary, full of criminal slang so that he was able to transcribe/use the dialogue in his novels.
The psychological and the morbid runs through his works, but he is an astute observer of peculiar mental states, in one novel he speaks comically about 'administrative enthusiasm' -- as a strange disorder where -- for example-- a lowly clerk who keeps records, and who has we assume a fairly straightforward day and duties will suddenly go out and order a thousand pencil sharpeners, or exceed his duties in some excessive and deranged way. You can see what he is doing here, it's a rebellion perhaps without any succes, the human spirit asserting itself perhaps, something along those lines. Dostoyevsky doesn't place human beings, thank goodness, into neat little categories. He once said -
'my aim is to find the human in a human being' -- that about sums it up to me.
Bobok and A Nasty Story are interesting. As a short story "A Nasty Story" has a nobleman enter a churchyard and sit on the tombstones and listen in on the conversations of the long dead and the very recently dead, the device is a way of grouping people from classes who would never meet all together in one plot, like a cyber cafe gathering, underground, the newly dead take a few weeks to realize the game, wake, hear chatterings, you can be heard and speak below ground, those who have been buried for many years are fading away, they seem to wake up only once in a while, and are faint, not quite with it --they are dead afterall-- and are on the far reaches of some divide, drifting towards what feels like oblivion.
This is a device to get the classes bitching and bickering. And it's very effective. With insults and comments about each other which include such niceties as 'you stink' or you rotten putrid corpse, or similar-- the upper classes are fair game, if I recall.
It's part of his wit and humour, not for everybody, but very funny and grotesque, and satirical and sharp.
Demons is worth a read, essential, the book is comprised of three types of novel, three novels in one, I'm not going to elaborate, but it appears to be a favourite of those who ordinarily don't warm to Dostoyevsky, I have a friend in NYC, a writer, who prefers Tolstoy, but Demons is his favourite Dostoyevskian novel.
As you read him, progressing from the pre-Siberian literature, to his post-Sib state you see the great novels take shape, he has undergone a transformation in Siberia, a few critics have said that Dosto' went insane in Siberia, I think he's very sane and with the gambling addiction and epilepsy, perhaps it's part of a fevered mind. How would we all be post-Siberia?
Education, he was educated in military engineering if I recall, later married his stenographer, she assisted him with writing and overcoming the oppressvie legal contract by composing The Gambler in only 28 days, (?? - on exact time frame) if I remember the time period; whatever, it matters not, but he was given to feeling very proud of his scrbbling achievements, remarking in letters, 'let's see Turgenev achieve that, he'd have fainted', or similar, he was given to great feelings of pride, ego, call it what-you-will on such occasions, and Belinsky, who wrote 'congratulations to the young poet, and so forth' boosted his confidence early, he was a genius and Russia's foremost critic acknowledged him early on in his career.
A visit to the scientific fare, The Great Exhibition, in England left him reeling, if you look up "The Crystal Palce and Dostoyevsky" you'll see his violent reaction, disapproval where many from Russia as eslewhere were impressed, the fare showcased the latest gadgets, machinery, it was like a current IPad event hosted by Microsoft; he fled back to Russian alarmed and filled with disquiet by the progressive aspects of the Industrial Revolution in full bloom. This ties in with certain Christian viewpoints, but it's too complex to say much about.... I've read a few books on Dosto', and returned to some of the novels over the years, but as with any author of note, all you can do is extrapolate a few soundbites from his life and works.
This has been rushed, I may be wrong about a few of the details here, but is this closer to what you wanted Altai.
I'd say, read all of his books, everything, he's incredible, Crime and Punishment is not only a great 'psychological novel', whatever that means, it's a rollicking detective story, LOL- funny, one critic once called it the "King of Detective stories and thrillers, and when you read it the first time it is fevered and exciting, has great pacing, and oh, when you read it for the second time...!"
There's a huge philosophical and Christian base to his works, but I don't believe it is easily explained or explained away. When I first read his novels, I largely ignored this aspect, it seemed to be only one part of it, and since, hearing this person, or that critic, I wondered if I'd understood him at all. But then I realized, it's part of the fabric, along with the politics, the nihilists, the political character types or nutballs, the entire gallery.
At the same time I was reading most of Conrad's novels, and The Secret Agent reminded me of the same obsessives and dysfunctional types, like Shakespeare, he seems to think on the man, he studies human beings in all their weird and wonderful states and representations, and if they are say political radicals, you feel as though he is stripping them away, down to their core motives, he doesn't believe them, showing you what they really are, but again, oversimplified.
Take one character, I've read C &P 4 times, and I still don't recall much of what's in the novel, but look at Raskolnikov, on the good side ofour two columns, he's this young intellectual, a law student, a friend, he listens to helpless drunks whom everybody else ignores, leaves his last coins to assist their starving family, even though said drunk has and does drink all the family income until he goes home and gets beaten by his wife, which is LOL-funny, but tragic. He's aslo very good to hisfamily, protects his sister, but volatile,and malicious and unpredictable at times. he then slumps after such moods as his moods return.
There's that brillant quote at the beginning of C & P, he lives in his little room, a whole, it's under the roof, like a closet, and his maid enters and asks 'what is it he's doing, why doesn't he work? And he say, 'oh, but I do work!' and she replies... 'what work is it that you do?' Rask' looks at her and says "thinking!"
Rask' also follows a dandy along the canal side, he knows he's following a drunk girl and is going to try and rape her, but he intervenes, and alerts a policeman, Rask' is good down to his core, he's the full ticket, a human being, if he could do what he does, so could you. That is what disturbs you as a reader, but look closely at the crime he commits, the fever seems to give him something of an excuse but we're never sure. John Jones the critic once said, 'I'm going to tell you about conspiracies between the characters and the author behind the back of the narrator' - well, there you have it.
I don't see this as Nabokov or others see it, as some kind of new slant on redemption, mechanical-process, we'll get back to being good Christians in the end after the wheel has turned. I see it as real.
A young man, a 'moral' young man becomes preoccupied with a philosophy, the "Napoleonic Complex" which is a form of inflated ego and intellectual distortion, the one weighed against the many, it's Hamlet's ..... vicious mole of nature' ; men just seem to have flaws and sometimes they grow into a full---well, neurosis, is one modern take but that seems to underserve the Dosto portraiture and observation, somehow. Demeans it.
Dosto' seems to blame society for this or if not 'blame' see it as a function of society in making characters/personality; shortly after a real life crime almost identical to the one in CP cropped up in the press --and boosted sales of C&P -- Dosto' rejoiced in this life imitates art episode, confirmation of all that he sensed, saw or interpreted as going on around him in the streets, his judgement, psychic- sensing, what-have-you... he was a voracioius reader of newspapers, seeking out patterns, societal forces. We do it now, '...crime as barometer of society', as one newscaster put it last week.
Prior to my current career, I spent some time in law enforcement, and met real life characters of every description, Dostoyevsky for me, captures the baffling array of personality traits, I've met murderers and many other types of criminals, and some of them were very nice, others were unexplicably dangerous, the personality traits you see in House of the Dead. I knew a guy who'd stick a knife in you if he felt like it that day, it was a game to him, a mere glance or mood. The next moment he was bragging about stealing cars and laughing.
So, for me at least, outside of Shakespeare, our friend Dosto' probes into the dark and malignant aspects of human psyches, souls, whatever you wish to call them, and shows us the reality, I think Nabokov in some article I read earlier here said [he] described 'such people as never existed' ... really Nab?
Another thing Dosto' mentioned in House of the Dead is that he was impressed by the criminals he met, that doesn't mean 'good chap, sit down and have some tea old bean....', it meant, if I understood him, that the force of personality and strength of character had to be admired, despite the fact that they had done the most vicious and unwholesome and nasty crimes.
This is what I think divides readers on him, these are not always worlds and experiences to be drawn to and spend time around; people now seem to thrive on CSI bodyparts approach, or Scandinavian crme thrillers, bizarrely, but they are not so dissimilar, I've personally seen enough dead people in my prior work to have stemmed my appetite, so the grahical sid is probably not somethign that would shock or interest me, but sometimes I think the shock and unreality of crime, or low and rubbernecking style drive past of car wrecks watchers is in many of us. Dostoyevsky doesn't show us that specifically, although the murder in C&P is brutal, he seems to show us the deeper motivations or the actions that flow up to the surface out of warped and unhealthy human beings.
He also shows us the distortions, blown up or writ large, like a Dickensian caricature, but defined through/by personality rather than in comic grotesques, or comic book style physical features; he enjoyed Dickens, I understand, and Shakespeare whom he was reading prior to the great novels and delighted in, he wasn't too keen on the English, Germans, French, or West in general I gather, saw mother Russia as having a soul that was being corrupted by such influences.
Will that do, anything else we can add? Would you like your slippers fetching, or tea and biscuits after our literary deliberations perhaps?
I'm not going to chase out the hundred typos, I've typed this as fast or faster than Dostoyevsky wrote the fvcking Gambler, so there you go, read, disagree, ignore, do as you please.
Last edited by Hamlet; 11-May-2012 at 20:15. Reason: not-chasing out typos
sorry altai, i didn't mean to take train of thought off topic,
the question I asked should have been in a different section.
Dostoyevsky's life was an amazing one and his books mirror his experiences
in the sense of the individual over the mass, or the individual in society
in this respect his philosophical and especially his psychological insights are above the norm
Many of his books have been covered here.
One of his short stories I mentioned earlier 'Notes from the underground' came to my attention from a philosopher i was reading at the time, he regarded it as one of the gems of literature, mostly for its psychological insights.
The hero of the story is a complicated personality, and Dostoyevsky potrails him exceptionatly well. Dostoyevsky understood the character well, possibly!
his 'passion' regarding the individual in his stories is equal to Hesse's 'calmness' in regard to the individual.
This passion could be mirrored in the extraordinary life he lead.
Very nice post, Hamlet from medieval Denmark.
What I find interesting and debatable, you say that Dostoevsky's characters can be very much real and you draw on your experience in law enforcement. I guess in life real people can be more bizarre, complex and interesting than any fictional character, but what Nabokov meant, and the way I also understand it, it's more about whether or not you believe in the character. Of course, any soap opera twist can be redeemed by finding real life counterpart to the event. And I'm sure there is plenty of it in real life, of "I am your son!" kinda moments. And there might be real types like Raskolnikov, passionate revolutionaries killing people for a grand idea (here, icons like Che Guevara come to my mind). And I haven't read (yet) the Gambler and the Idiot, but still based on Crime and Punishment and Brothers Karamazov I can spot the melodramatic sopa-opera like twists and characters. And there is definitely a lot of Christianity here. A saint like hooker saving the soul of our fallen hero, crime-fall-redemption story of Raskolnikov, or the story of Mitya in Brothers K and the woman who saves (or wants to save) him. There is a lot of schematization in his novels. You have typically very lively, flawed, passionate, soulful characters, who are ultimately redeemed by their humane qualities, there are soulless Europeans (like the Poles in Brothers K), there are neurotic high class women, a lot of tears and melodrama, misunderstandings and noble pride, women who want to save our heroes, go with them to Siberia, a lot of sacrifice, and the whole ever-present pathos of atonement.
Another interesting side of Dostoevsky's work I've noticed, is that his worst and most tedious (for me personally) characters are the most positive ones for the author. Brothers Karamazov starts with an introduction that makes clear that this is the novel about Alyosha, but Alyosha hardly does anything in the novel. We follow author's attempts to portray a perfect, positive character but what comes out is just an idealized cardboard figure which has no inner life of his own. I remember reading about Gogol's attempt to write a second part to his Dead Souls where he wanted to depict all the positive sides of Russian people, but he failed in the attempt and burnt the manuscript. In his Idiot Dostoevsky also tried to depict a pure soul. I haven't read it yet, so I wonder how his project materialized.
PS. toshiro, don't worry, it just happens often on the forum, where one thing leads to another and then it's just endless picking on each other's statements.
Last edited by altai; 08-May-2012 at 15:45.
Yeah, it's a shame that we get sidetracked, I tend to be a little tongue-in-cheek at times, the web does that to you, jumping on that boat ride as we go off topic...
BUT .... yes, what I think I was trying to suggest was that when I was reading Dostoyevsky's works (and bizarrely, I've just taken out 'The Village of Stepanchikovo' btw, from my local library, it's one of his works which came late in translation, unless you really searched) was at the same time as I was pursuing the criminal elements down dark and misty alleyways, and as you say, seeing some strange and dramatic things, and yet I found his works still believable, but not perhaps in the way we think of 'realism' but because of certain aspects of human nature.
I can see what you are referring to when you set out some of Nabakov's concerns, and I know he's been criticised for writing in a.... what is it called... "less-than-literary style' ... is the closest I can get, whatever that means, so for example .... using some of the effects of the detective genre, pivotal scenes, cliffhangers... and these are undoubtedly tricky topics to deal with and defend or otherwise. Taste applies...
Nabakov seems to suggest a type, with Dosto's characters, as though they are confined by this type, the pure prostitute, or certain characters who crop up, but he describes a less genteel type of person, and examines complex psychology, at a certain period in Russian history, and the malignancy perhaps of those types he saw around him in the streets and exaggerated this... or perhaps he even composed characters to convey ideas in part, they are believable but they operate on some other level.
What I like about his work is the instability and feverish vibe, things are overcranked, and distorted and I admit it takes a certain state of mind to buy into that, but I think it's there if you roll with it. And there's this big human thing in there, ikt's not miserable or impoverished characters, there's a concern for the human condition, and maybe that's where if you don't feel that, you tend to see these wretched souls as just that, wretched and squalid types and the feeling is then, 'get me out of here!'.
Strangely, I just finished a factual book where a guy and his girlfriend when they got together and exchanged novels and opined on literary standpoints, agreed that they just don't get C & P and were in a minority for having this opinion, until they met and 'clicked' over this outlook ... all Raskolnikov's pacing up and down in his room and so on annoyed them..... so you're not alone by any means.
Last edited by Hamlet; 11-May-2012 at 20:56. Reason: trying to correct a few typos
There is a new mini series on Dostoevsky in Russian: