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Dostoevsky's Unfinished Journey

Dostoevsky's Unfinished Journey

Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Dostoevsky's Unfinished Journey
    Book Description:

    How does Dostoevsky's fiction illuminate questions that are important to us today? What does the author have to say about memory and invention, the nature of evidence, and why we read? How did his readings of such writers as Rousseau, Maturin, and Dickens filter into his own novelistic consciousness? And what happens to a novel likeCrime and Punishmentwhen it is the subject of a classroom discussion or a conversation? In this original and wide-ranging book, Dostoevsky scholar Robin Feuer Miller approaches the author's major works from a variety of angles and offers a new set of keys to understanding Dostoevsky's world.

    Taking Dostoevsky's own conversion as her point of departure, Miller explores themes of conversion and healing in his fiction, where spiritual and artistic transfigurations abound. She also addresses questions of literary influence, intertextuality, and the potency of what the author termed "ideas in the air." For readers new to Dostoevsky's writings as well as those deeply familiar with them, Miller offers lucid insights into his works and into their continuing power to engage readers in our own times.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15015-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xviii)

    Dostoevsky’s Unfinished Journeyexplores questions of literary influence and intertextuality in Dostoevsky’s work while at the same time investigating his representations in fiction of the dynamic of conversion and healing or, frequently, the failure of this process. Five of the eight chapters offer close readings, and the other three approach problems with a more thematic bent; all the chapters reverberate around questions of intertextuality—literary transformations—and possible paradigms of conversion, both textual and spiritual. Each chapter poses and attempts to answer a different set of interrelated questions.

    The first chapter, “Conversion, Message, Medium, Transformation: Dostoevsky and the Peasants,” speculates...

  5. 1 Conversion, Message, Medium, Transformation: Dostoevsky and the Peasants
    (pp. 1-21)

    This first chapter, unlike the rest of this book, does not examine Dostoevsky’s fiction. Readers, I hope, will cast an occasional backward glance at the aspects of Dostoevsky’s biography and journalism brought up here. This chapter forms a kind of background or underpinning. Dostoevsky’s response to the conditions and the very existence of the vast number of Russian peasants (thenarod) pervades his biography, his journalism, his writings about literature and art, and his creative work. How much can we know about Dostoevsky’s personal experience of a conversion? What was the nature of that conversion, and what role did his...

  6. 2 Guilt, Repentance, and the Pursuit of Art in The House of the Dead
    (pp. 22-43)

    Dostoevsky’sNotes from the House of the Deadhovers at the boundaries of several genres. To the degree that it constitutes a memoir of his life in a prison camp,The House of the Deadis an autobiographical work. But it may also be read as a documentary novel—one that conforms to the broad traditions of realism. Seeking to achieve a kind of photographic accuracy, it avoids being overtly didactic, and the first-person narrator, Alexander Petrovich Goryanchikov, unlike virtually all of Dostoevsky’s other first-person narrators, endeavors to minimize his prejudices and suppress the oddities of his personality in favor...

  7. 3 Crime and Punishment in the Classroom: The Elephant in the Garden
    (pp. 44-67)

    Dostoevsky’sCrime and Punishment(1865) lies at the center of his career and at the heart of this book. In this chapter, I have taken a different approach than the series of close readings, critical appraisals, and speculations that inform the other chapters. While the underlining focus remains that of the transformations and conversions so vital to Dostoevsky and his work, I endeavor here to offer an approach to this novel that is embedded in the present time, and, more particularly, in the actual space and air of the classroom. This chapter is, therefore, both mundane and practical, but it...

  8. 4 The Gospel According to Dostoevsky: Paradox, Plot, and Parable
    (pp. 68-85)

    Many complain that the words of the wise are always merely parables and of no use in daily life, which is the only life we have. When the sage says: “Go over,” he does not mean that we should cross over to some actual place, which we could do anyhow if the labor were worth it; he means some fabulous yonder, something unknown to us, something too that he cannot designate more precisely, and therefore cannot help us here in the very least. All these parables really set out to say merely that the incomprehensible is incomprehensible, and we know...

  9. 5 Transformations, Exposures, and Intimations of Rousseau in The Possessed
    (pp. 86-104)

    She: Why do I never see you, my dear friend? I am worried about you … a whole week has gone by. If I had not been told that you are in good health I should suppose that you are ill … Oh dear, what can be the matter with you? You have no business in hand, and you can have no troubles. For if you had, I flatter myself that you would have come straight away to confide in me. Can it be that you are ill? Adieu, my good friend; and may my adieu bring me a good-morning...

  10. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  11. 6 Unsealing the Generic Envelope and Deciphering “The Dream of a Ridiculous Man”
    (pp. 105-127)

    I turn now from Dostoevsky’s long and tangled novel,The Possessed, to one of his shortest stories, “The Dream of a Ridiculous Man” (1877), which first appeared inThe Diary of a Writer. This story was the final piece of fiction to appear inThe Diary. It represents both a philosophical and a narrative culmination in the short form of much of Dostoevsky’s thinking about conversion. At the same time, this brief text literally bristles with Dostoevsky’s re-workings and transformations of other literary works, including some of his own. Thus this story becomes a repository in miniature of the central...

  12. 7 Evocations and Revocations of Anxiety in the Metaphysical Novel: Reading The Brothers Karamazov through the Lens of Melmoth the Wanderer
    (pp. 128-147)

    The nature of literary genre, like that of beauty, will always be problematic, for genre, like beauty, exists both in the perception of the beholder and in the inherent properties of the text itself.¹ Or, as Tzvetan Todorov has put it, “when we examine works of literature from the perspective of genre, we engage in a very particular enterprise; we discover a principle operative in a number of texts, rather than what is specific about each of them”² By extension, the discovery of yet another operative principle within that same text would serve to realign the generic classification of the...

  13. 8 Perilous Journeys to Conversion: Adventures in Time and Space
    (pp. 148-172)

    Throughout Dostoevsky’s fiction the experience of conversion is a frighteningly perilous one in which the movement toward God threatens, at virtually every moment, to collapse into its opposite, to change direction. Conversion hovers at the edge of perversion; perversion may, by an infinitesimal shift of the kaleidoscope, by a minute rearrangement of identical elements, become conversion. It is a commonplace to discern in Dostoevsky’s work frequent moments of the fantastic—the fantastic as defined Todorov—that the reader (and the character) experiences temporally as a period of hesitation before exiting into an interpretation of the text as realistic or marvelous....

  14. Concluding Fragments: Some Last Words
    (pp. 173-188)

    Dostoevsky hesitated in his fiction to say his last word or to state, directly, any final conviction. Most often when he did try to do so, he failed. For that his readers can be glad. His journeys remain unfinished. There are fully realized moments, complete unto themselves, but these moments always give way to something else. That is why, with the possible exception ofThe Brothers Karamazov, there is no closure at the end of any of his literary works. They all remain open, unfinished, ready to be reread and reimagined anew, even when some larger message within them has...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 189-230)
  16. Index
    (pp. 231-242)