Dostoevsky and the Novel

Dostoevsky and the Novel

Michael Holquist
Copyright Date: 1977
Pages: 216
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    Dostoevsky and the Novel
    Book Description:

    What place do Dostoevsky's works occupy in the history of the novel? To answer this question, Michael Holquist focuses on the formal aspects of Dostoevskian narrative.

    The author argues that the novel is a genre that constantly seeks its own identity: we still do not know what it is, since the uniqueness of its members defines the class to which it belongs. This anomaly explains the central role of the novel for Russians, perplexed as they were in the nineteenth century by idiosyncrasies that hindered development of a coherent national identity.

    Michael Holquist shows that the generic impulse of the novel to explore the mysteries of individual biography met and fused in Dostoevsky's works with the national quest of the Russians for an identity of their own. The paradox of the writer's achievement consists in the degree to which his meditations on the significance of being without a past are grounded in history.

    Originally published in 1977.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6951-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Table of Contents
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. Chapter 1 The Problem: Orphans of Time
    (pp. 3-34)

    Russia is always being discovered, or at least since the sixteenth century, when disputes arose in Europe as to whether von Herberstein or Sir Richard Chancellor could claim the honor of what Hakluyt was to call “the strange and wonderful discovery of Russia.” For Milton in the seventeenth century and Voltaire in the eighteenth, Russia was still resistant to symmetrical English or French models of time and space, linear history, and binary (occident/orient) geography. One of the reasons Westerners still find it difficult to classify Russia is that the Russians themselves have never been quite sure where and when they...

  6. Chapter 2 The Search for a Story: White Nights, Winter Notes on Summer Impressions, and Notes from the Underground
    (pp. 35-74)

    It is customary to regardNotes from the Undergroundas a key to understanding the thematic concerns of the novels Dostoevsky wrote in his subsequent career, as a kind of Rosetta stone for such heiroglyphs of the major phase ofCrime and PunishmentorBrothers Karamazov.While there is much to recommend such an approach, it is perhaps no less interesting if we try to focus on the work from the other end of the telescope: that is, if we regard it in the light of worksprecedingit in the Dostoevskian canon. One of the preconceptions of what follows...

  7. Chapter 3 Puzzle and Mystery, the Narrative Poles of Knowing: Crime and Punishment
    (pp. 75-101)

    The best way to see the biographical dilemma inCrime and Punishmentis to focus on the distinctive plot of that novel. At first glance it would seem to be the least complex of all Dostoevskian narratives (which is no doubt whyCrime and Punishmentis so frequently called Dostoevsky’s “best-made” novel). It is divided into six parts (or books) and an epilogue. In the first part Raskolnikov murders two women; then, in the next five parts, everyone (including Raskolnikov) tries to figure out the crime; in the sixth part Raskolnikov confesses, is tried, and sent to Siberia. In the...

  8. Chapter 4 The Gaps in Christology: The Idiot
    (pp. 102-123)

    Crime and Punishmentends with the words: “But that is the beginning of a new story, the story of the gradual renewal of a man . . . of his slow progress from one world to another, of how he learned to know hitherto undreamt of reality. All that might be the subject of a new story, but our present story has come to an end.” Now it is well known that Dostoevsky’s next novel,The Idiot,was to revolve around a “genuinely good,” a “truly beautiful” man. The main character was to be an exemplary Christian: indeed, something like...

  9. Chapter 5 The Biography of Legion: The Possessed
    (pp. 124-147)

    The Idiotends in a Swiss asylum;The Possessed,Dostoevsky’s next novel, concludes with two notes from that already dead citizen of the canton of Uri, Nicholas Stavrogin. Silence of madness, silence of suicide—so end novels that take their shape from characters unable to find coherent stories for themselves. The discontinuity of identity is in both cases dramatized as a temporal rupture, but a different kind of cutoff in time defines the conditions of each dilemma.

    The Idiotis a catalogue of lapsed conversions, the constant devolution of inspired moments into meaningless sequences: Myshkin experiences ecstatic illumination and then...

  10. Chapter 6 The Either/Or of Duels and Dreams: A Gentle Creature and Dream of a Ridiculous Man
    (pp. 148-164)

    A Gentle Creaturewould at first glance appear to be stitched together from all the most frequently recurring Dostoevskian clichés. It is told in the first person by a man keeping vigil beside the body of his dead wife. She is to be buried in the morning, but in the meantime the narrator meditates on the meaning of her death. He is a former officer, who, having refused to fight a duel, leaves the army in disgrace, vowing revenge on society. A self-confessed dreamer, he becomes a pawnbroker sustained by the vision of acquiring thirty thousand rubles so that he...

  11. Chapter 7 How Sons Become Fathers: The Brothers Karamazov
    (pp. 165-192)

    Novels continue to be new because no one yet knows what they are. The novel has not died but many conceptions of it have. Its birth was marked by painful attempts at self-definition, a struggle that continues to define the genre’s vitality. Of the many critics who have come forward to say what the novel is, few have had their prescriptions pass into use. Two formulations, however, have recently been particularly influential: Georg Lukacs’Theory of the Novel(originally published in German in 1920) and Rene Girard’sDeceit, Desire and the Novel(originally published in French in 1961). While each...

  12. Afterword
    (pp. 193-198)

    Dostoevsky’s role in the history of the novel is determined by his use of the novel to interrogate history. The growing privilege that attached to history from the Renaissance through the Enlightenment peaked in the nineteenth century, an age in which the modern conception of its study was born. It is, of course, a gross oversimplification, if perhaps a necessary one, to say that before Niebuhr and Von Ranke each nation or each religion compiled a past that took into account “what had really happened” only insofar as the facts provided a sanction for the present. History, on the other...

  13. Index of Names
    (pp. 199-202)