It will be! It will be!

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.

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The details in the Devils

6 February 2011 § 1 Comment

I’m reading the Devils, and, as usual wondering how long to go before the story gets going. The first time I read it, I didn’t finish it, which is unusual for me; it was probably becuase life got in the way.  I did finish it eventually, although my memory of it is that it was mostly hard slog, before suddenly ending in a blaze of action.

What I’m already noticing this time is how much I’m benefitting from reading Joseph Frank’s biography of Dostoevsky, and I’m not even close to the time when he’s writing The Devils yet. Frank’s book is brilliant on 19th century politics and philosophy, and is filling in all sorts of gaps, especially on socialism. So I’m reading some of the political caricatures and discussions with a bit more awareness of what’s going on, I can put labels on people. I expect that as I go on with the biography more details will become clearer.

Another thing that passed me by last time was the absolutely vicious attack on Turgenev in the character of Karmazinov. You can read the first description of Karmazinov and think, “oh Dostoevksy has gone to town creating an affected, pompous old wind-bag” but then when you realise it’s based on a real person, it suddenly looks shockingly cruel, and makes for rather uncomfortable reading.

I think, of all the Big Novels, the Devils is more firmly rooted in the ideas of its time than the others, and as such, it’s worth knowing more about Dostoevksy and the lines of thought being explored in his time. This is its weakness, and probably why it’s harder work than the others. It’ll be interesting to see what I make of it all on this reading.

And, by the way, I’d love to know who is reading this blog. The stats counter tells me I’m getting several visits every day – they can’t all be from my mother! Do say hello and tell me what you think, especially if you don’t agree with me.  janeshuttleworth (at) gmail

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