31 March 2011 § Leave a comment
Life gets exciting. I’ve quit my job and I’m going to be working part time, which suddenly frees up lots of time for Dostoevsky and means that I can now take this whole book project seriously. I’ll have time to think properly, to read everything I want, and above all to sit quietly and write.
What has really grabbed me while I’ve been reading the Jospeh Frank biography is Dostoevsky’s relationship with the people of Russia. He started off with all sorts of romantic notions about the Russian people, and the reason he got involved in revolutionary politics was a passionate desire to work for the emancipation of the serfs. It was, ironically, this that got him arrested and sent to Siberia where he actually came into day-to-day contact with the peasantry and had rather a shock. He then had to struggle to reconcile his earlier romantic ideas of Russia with the brutal realities of real life. I’m interested in this because anyone like me who loves Russia has to face a similar conflict. So much awful stuff happens there, and always has done, at a national level and at the level of the ordinary people, but I’ll still cheer for their football and ice-hockey teams.
Dostoevsky’s obsession with the nature and causes of crime, and of suffering, also link into his prison experiences and I think there’s a connection there too with his need to examine and analyse Russia.
So my book plan is to group his major characters together by type – we see several distinct personalities and ideas gradually developing through the novels, and I think this will be a useful way to link everything together. I think it will also allow me to draw on my own experiences in Russia too, to see how Dostoevsky’s Russians are still alive today, because after all this isn’t going to be a serious academic study, and I have some good stories to tell.
15 March 2011 § Leave a comment
I’ve now finished re-reading what I think of as the Big Four novels – Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, The Devils and Brothers Karamazov and I’ve written about all of them – the most recent addition being a piece on The Devils. My essays aren’t particularly polished or structured; what seemed important was to get some of my initial thoughts written down while they were still fresh in my mind.
Now I’m onto new territory, reading some of the shorter novels that are new to me. House of the Dead is top priority because Opera North are performing it up here soon, so I must read the book before I see the opera! I’ve borrowed an old Constance Garnett translation from a friend, which will be interesting to compare with Magarshack. I’m also waiting for news on a new job, so am going to be relying on Dostoevsky to keep me distracted for the next few days.
1 March 2011 § Leave a comment
I’m still here, but haven’t posted recently, firstly because I’ve been ploughing through the Devils, and then got distracted by a trip to Rome and a job interview. I decided to have a break from Dostoevsky whilst on holiday and catch up on some background reading, so I read part one of Dead Souls – one of those gaps in my Russian reading that I’d long been meaning to fill. It was a great read; I’d forgotten just how insane Gogol is. I loved all the portrayals of the dreadful provincial landowners and the constant descriptions of food made my mouth water, even whilst in Italy. And of course there’s the famous troika passage at the end of part I, that Dostoevsky uses in Brothers Karamazov.
It was only after getting back from Rome that I discovered that that was actually where Gogol was living when he wrote Dead Souls (I must have known once, but long forgot), which was a nice coincidence. An American at the hotel where we stayed remarked on our family’s breakfast reading material – “couldn’t help noticing that you and your son have a similar taste in baddies – Horrid Henry and Chichikov”. If I’d known that Dead Souls had been written in Rome, I might not have read it in public for fear of looking pretentious. On the other hand, Husband and Son narrowly escaped a Russian lit pilgrimage.
Back to Dostoevsky now – I finally have a plan for structuring things and I’m finally working on something that could plausibly be a proper book chapter, not just a glorified book review. Watch this space.