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Nabokov’s discussion of sentimentalism in his lecture on Dostoevski

 

Belinski from “Letter to Gogol” (1847): “… you have not observed that Russia sees its salvation not in mysticism, not in asceticism, not in pietism, but in the successes of civilization, of enlightenment, of humanitarianism. It is not preachments that Russia needs (she has heard them), nor prayers (she has said them over and over), but an awakening among her common folk of a sense of human dignity, for so many centuries lost amid the mire and manure, and rights and laws, conforming not with the teachings of the Church but with common sense and justice, and as strict fulfillment of them as is possible. But instead of that Russia presents the horrible spectacle of a land where men traffic in men, not having therefor even that justification which the American plantation owners craftily avail themselves of, affirming that the Negro is not a man; the spectacle of a land where people do not call themselves by names but by ignoble nicknames Jack and Tom (Vankas, Vaskas, Steshkas, Palashkas); the spectacle of a country, finally, where there are not only no guarantees whatsoever for one’s person, honor, property, but where there is even no order maintained by the police, instead of which there are only enormous corporations of various administrative thieves and robbers. The most pressing contemporary national problems in Russia now are: the abolition of the right to own serfs, the abrogation of corporal punishment, the introduction as far as possible of a strict fulfillment of at least those laws which already exist. This is felt even by the government itself (which is well aware of what the landowners do with their peasants and how many throats of the former are cut every year by the latter), which is proved by its timid and fruitless half-measures for the benefit of our white Negroes. . . .”

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. My difficulty, however, is that not all the readers to whom I talk in this or other classes are experienced. A good third, I should say, do not know the difference between real literature and pseudoliterature, and to such readers Dostoevski may seem more important and more artistic than such trash as our American historical novels or things called From Here to Eternity and such like balderdash.

However, I shall speak at length about a number of really great artists—and it is on this high level that Dostoevski is to be criticized. I am too little of an academic professor to teach subjects that I dislike. I am very eager to debunk Dostoevski. But I realize that readers who have not read much may be puzzled by the set of values implied.

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevski was born in 1821 in the family of a rather poor man. His father was a doctor in one of the public hospitals in Moscow, but the position of a doctor of a public hospital in contemporaneous Russia was a modest one and the Dostoevski family lived in cramped quarters and in conditions anything but luxurious.

His father was a petty tyrant who was murdered under obscure circumstances. Freudian-minded explorers of Dostoevski’s literary work are inclined to see an autobiographic feature in the attitude of Ivan Karamazov toward the murder of his father: though Ivan was not the actual murderer, yet through his lax attitude, and through his not having prevented a murder he could have prevented, he was in a way guilty of patricide. It seems, according to those critics, that Dostoevski all his life labored under a similar consciousness of indirect guilt after his own father had been assassinated by his coachman.

Be it as it may, there is no doubt that Dostoevski was a neurotic, that from his early years he had been subject to that mysterious sickness, the epilepsy. The epileptic fits and his general neurotic condition worsened considerably under the influence of the misfortunes which befell him later.

Dostoevski received his education first at a boarding school in Moscow, then at the Military Engineers’ School in Petersburg. He was not particularly interested in military engineering, but his father had desired him to enter that school. Even there he devoted most of his time to the study of literature. After graduation he served at the engineering department just as long as was obligatory in return for the education he had received. In 1844 he resigned his commission and entered upon his literary career. His first book Poor Folk (1846) was a hit both with the literary critics and the reading public. There are all sorts of anecdotes concerning its early history. Dostoevski’s friend and a writer in his own right, Dmitri Grigorovich, had persuaded Dostoevski to let him show the manuscript to Nikolay Nekrasov, who was at that time publisher of the most influential literary review Sovremennik (The Contemporary). Nekrasov and his lady friend Mrs. Panaiev entertained at the office of the review a literary salon which was frequented by all the worthies of contemporaneous Russian literature. Turgenev, and later Tolstoy, were among its constant members. So were the famous left-wing critics Nikolay Cherny-shevski and Nikolay Dobrolyubov. Being published in Nekrasov’s review was enough to make a man’s literary reputation. After leaving his manuscript with Nekrasov, Dostoevski went to bed full of misgivings: “They will poke fun at my Poor Folk,” he kept telling himself. At four in the morning he was awakened by Nekrasov and Grigorovich, who made an irruption into his apartment and smothered him with smacking Russian kisses: they had begun to read the manuscript in the evening and could not stop until they had read it to the end. Their admiration had been so great that they decided to wake up the author and tell him what they thought of him at once. “What matter that he sleeps: this is more important than sleep,” they said.

Nekrasov took the manuscript to Belinski and declared that a new Gogol had been born. “Gogols seem to grow like toadstools with you,” remarked Belinski dryly. But his admiration after reading Poor Folk was unbounded too and he asked immediately to be introduced to the new author and showered upon him enthusiastic praise. Dostoevski was transported with joy; Poor Folk was published in Nekrasov’s review. Its success was enormous. Unfortunately it did not last. His second novel, or long short story, The Double (1846), which is the best thing he ever wrote and certainly far above Poor Folk, met with an indifferent reception. In the meantime Dostoevski had developed a tremendous literary vanity, and being very naive, unpolished, and but poorly equipped where manners were concerned, contrived to make a fool of himself in his dealings with his newly acquired friends and admirers and eventually to spoil completely his relations with them. Turgenev dubbed him a new pimple on the nose of Russian literature.

His early inclinations were to the side of the radicals; he leaned more or less toward the Westernizers. He also consorted with a secret society (though apparently did not actually become its member) of young men who had adopted the socialistic theories of Saint-Simon and Fourier. These young men gathered at the house of an official of the State Department, Mikhail Petra-shevski, and read aloud and discussed the books of Fourier, talked socialism, and criticized the government. After the upheavals of 1848 in several European countries, there was a wave of reaction in Russia; the government was alarmed and cracked down upon all dissenters. The Petrashevskians were arrested, among them Dostoevski. He was found guilty of “having taken part in criminal plans, having circulated the letter of Belinski [to Gogol] full of insolent expressions against the Orthodox Church and the Supreme Power, and of having attempted, together with others, to circulate anti-Government writings with the aid of a private printing press.” He awaited his trial in the Fortress of St. Paul and Peter, of which the commander was a General Nabokov, an ancestor of mine. (The correspondence which passed between this General Nabokov and Tsar Nicholas in regard to their prisoner makes rather amusing reading.) The sentence was severe—eight years of hard labor in Siberia (this was later commuted to four by the Tsar)—but a monstrously cruel procedure was followed before the actual sentence was read to the condemned men: They were told they were to be shot; they were taken to the place assigned for the execution, stripped to their shirts, and the first batch of prisoners were tied to the posts. Only then the actual sentence was read to them. One of the men went mad. A deep scar was left in Dostoevski’s soul by the experience of that day. He never quite got over it.

The four years of penal servitude Dostoevski spent in Siberia in the company of murderers and thieves, no segregation having been yet introduced between ordinary and political criminals. He described them in his Memoirs from the House of Death (1862). They do not make a pleasant reading. All the humiliations and hardships he endured are described in detail, 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. In 1854 when Dostoevski finished his term he was made a soldier in a battalion garrisoned in a Siberian town. In 1855 Nicholas I died and his son Alexander became Emperor under the name of Alexander II. He was by far the best of the nineteenth-century Russian rulers. (Ironically he was the one to die at the hands of the revolutionaries, torn literally in two by a bomb thrown at his feet. ) The beginning of his reign brought a pardon to many prisoners. Dostoevski was given back his officer’s commission. Four years later he was allowed to return to Petersburg.

During the last years of exile, he had resumed literary work with The Manor of Stepanchikovo (1859) and the Memoirs from the House of Death. After his return to Petersburg, he plunged into literary activity. He began at once publishing, together with his brother Mikhail, a literary magazine Vremia (Time). His Memoirs from the House of Death and yet another work, a novel, The Humiliated and the Insulted (1861), appeared in this magazine. 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 one sees in Fascism or in Communism — universal salvation.

His emotional life up to that time had been unhappy. In Siberia he had married, but this first marriage proved unsatisfactory. In 1862-1863 he had an affair with a woman writer and in her company visited England, France, and Germany. This woman whom he later characterized as “infernal” seems to have been an evil character. Later she married Rozanov, an extraordinary writer combining moments of exceptional genius with manifestations of astounding naivete. (I knew Rozanov, but he had married another woman by that time.) This woman seems to have had a rather unfortunate influence on Dostoevski, further upsetting his unstable spirit. It was during this first trip abroad to Germany that the first manifestation of his passion for gambling appeared which during the rest of his life was the plague of his family and an insurmountable obstacle to any kind of material ease or peace to himself.

After his brother’s death, the closing of the review which he had been editing left Dostoevski a bankrupt, and burdened by the care of his brother’s family, a duty which he immediately and voluntarily assumed. To cope with these overwhelming burdens Dostoevski applied himself feverishly to work. All his most celebrated writings, Crime and Punishment (1866), The Gambler (1867), The Idiot (1868), The Possessed (1872), The Brothers Karamazov (1880), etc., were written under constant stress: he had to work in a hurry, to meet deadlines with hardly any time left to re-read what he had written, or rather what he had dictated to a stenographer he had been obliged to hire. In his stenographer he at last found a woman full of devotion and with such practical sense that by her help he met his deadlines and gradually began to extricate himself from his financial mess. In 1867 he married her. This marriage was on the whole a happy one. For four years, from 1867 to 1871, they had achieved some financial security and were able to return to Russia. From then on to the end of his days Dostoevski enjoyed comparative peace. The Possessed was a great success. Soon after its publication he was offered the editorship of Prince Meshcherski’s very reactionary weekly, the Citizen. His last work, The Brothers Karamazov, of which he wrote only the first volume and was working on the second when he died, brought him the greatest fame of all his novels.

But even more publicity fell to the lot of his address at the unveiling of the Pushkin memorial in Moscow in 1880. It was a very great event, the manifestation of the passionate love Russia bore Pushkin. The foremost writers of the time took part in it. But of all the speeches the most popular success fell to Dostoevski. The gist of his speech was Pushkin as the embodiment of the national spirit of Russia, which subtly understands the ideals of other nations but assimilates and digests them in accordance with its own spiritual setup. In this capacity Dostoevski saw the proof of the all-embracing mission of the Russian people, etc. When read, this speech does not explain the great success it enjoyed. But if we consider the fact that it was a time when all Europe was allying itself against Russia’s rise in power and influence, we can better understand the enthusiasm Dostoevski’s speech provoked in his patriotic listeners.

A year later, in 1881, and but a short time before the assassination of Alexander II, Dostoevski died, enjoying general recognition and esteem.

Through French and Russian translations, Western influence, sentimental and gothic-Samuel Richardson (1689-1761), Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823), Dickens (1812-1870), Rousseau (1712-1778), Eugene Sue (1804-1857)-combines in Dostoevski’s works with a religion of compassion merging on melodramatic sentimentality.

We must distinguish between “sentimental” and “sensitive.” A sentimentalist may be a perfect brute in his free time. A sensitive person is never a cruel person. Sentimental Rousseau, who could weep over a progressive idea, distributed his many natural children through various poorhouses and workhouses and never gave a hoot for them. A sentimental old maid may pamper her parrot and poison her niece. The sentimental politician may remember Mother’s Day and ruthlessly destroy a rival. Stalin loved babies. Lenin sobbed at the opera, especially at the Traviata. A whole century of authors praised the simple life of the poor, and so on. Remember that when we speak of sentimentalists, among them Richardson, Rousseau, Dostoevski, we mean the non-artistic exaggeration of familiar emotions meant to provoke automatically traditional compassion in the reader.

Dostoevski never really got over the influence which the European mystery novel and the sentimental novel made upon him. The sentimental influence implied 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 (which are all thoroughly examined in countless textbooks) 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.

Another interesting line of inquiry lies in the examination of his characters in their historical development. Thus the favorite hero of the old Russian folklore, John the Simpleton, who is considered a weak-minded muddler by his brothers but is really as cunning as a skunk and perfectly immoral in his activities, an unpoetical and unpleasant figure, the personification of secret slyness triumphing over the big and the strong, Johnny the Simpleton, that product of a nation which has had more than one nation’s share of misery, is a curious prototype of Dostoevski’s Prince Myshkin, hero of his novel The Idiot, the positively good man, the pure innocent fool, the cream of humility, renunciation, and spiritual peace. And Prince Myshkin, in turn, had for his grandson the character recently created by the contemporary Soviet writer Mikhail Zoshchenko, the type of cheerful imbecile, muddling through a police-state totalitarian world, imbecility being the last refuge in that kind of world.

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. The very best thing he ever wrote seems to me to be The Double. It is the story—told very elaborately, in great, almost Joycean detail (as the critic Mirsky notes), and in a style intensely saturated with phonetic and rhythmical expressiveness—of a government clerk who goes mad, obsessed by the idea that a fellow clerk has usurped his identity. It is a perfect work of art, that story, but it hardly exists for the followers of Dostoevski the Prophet, because it was written in the 1840s, long before his so-called great novels; and moreover its imitation of Gogol is so striking as to seem at times almost a parody.

In the light of the historical development of artistic vision, Dostoevski is a very fascinating phenomenon. If you examine closely any of his works, say The Brothers Karamazov, you will note that the natural background and all things relevant to the perception of the senses hardly exist. What landscape there is is a landscape of ideas, a moral landscape. The weather does not exist in his world, so it does not much matter how people dress. Dostoevski characterizes his people through situation, through ethical matters, their psychological reactions, their inside ripples. After describing the looks of a character, he uses the old-fashioned device of not referring to his specific physical appearance any more in the scenes with him. This is not the way of an artist, say Tolstoy, who sees his character in his mind all the time and knows exactly the specific gesture he will employ at this or that moment. But there is something more striking still about Dostoevski. He seems to have been chosen by the destiny of Russian letters to become Russia’s greatest playwright, but he took the wrong turning and wrote novels. The novel The Brothers Karamazov has always seemed to me a straggling play, with just that amount of furniture and other implements needed for the various actors: a round table with the wet, round trace of a glass, a window painted yellow to make it look as if there were sunlight outside, or a shrub hastily brought in and plumped down by a stagehand.

Let me refer to one more method of dealing with literature—and this is the simplest and perhaps most important one. If you hate a book, you still may derive artistic delight from imagining other and better ways of looking at things, or, what is the same, expressing things, than the author you hate does. The mediocre, the false, the poshlust—remember that word*—can at least afford a mischievous but very healthy pleasure, as you stamp and groan through a second-rate book which has been awarded a prize. But the books you like must also be read with shudders and gasps. Let me submit the following practical suggestion. Literature, real literature, must not be gulped down like some potion which may be good for the heart or good for the brain—the brain, that stomach of the soul. Literature must be taken and broken to bits, pulled apart, squashed—then its lovely reek will be smelt in the hollow of the palm, it will be munched and rolled upon the tongue with relish; then, and only then, its rare flavor will be appreciated at its true worth and the broken and crushed parts will again come together in your mind and disclose the beauty of a unity to which you have contributed something of your own blood.

When an artist starts out on a work of art, he has set himself some definite artistic problem that he is out to solve. He selects his characters, his time and his place, and then finds the particular and special circumstances which can allow the developments he desires to occur naturally, developing, so to say, without any violence on the artist’s part in order to compel the desired issue, developing logically and naturally from the combination and interaction of the forces the artist has set into play.

The world the artist creates for this purpose may be entirely unreal—as for instance the world of Kafka, or that of Gogol— but there is one absolute demand we are entitled to make: this world in itself and as long as it lasts, must be plausible to the reader or to the spectator. It is quite inessential, for instance, that Shakespeare introduces m Hamlet the ghost of Hamlet’s father. Whether we agree with those critics who say that Shakespeare’s contemporaries believed in the reality of phantoms, and therefore Shakespeare was justified to introduce these phantoms into his plays as realities, or whether we assume that these ghosts are something in the nature of stage properties, it does not matter: from the moment the murdered king’s ghost enters the play, we accept him and do not doubt that Shakespeare was within his right in introducing him into his play. In fact, the true measure of genius is in what measure the world he has created is his own, one that has not been here before him (at least, here, in literature) and, even more important, how plausible he has succeeded in making it. I would like you to consider Dostoevski’s world from this point of view.

Secondly, when dealing with a work of art we must always bear in mind that art is a divine game. These two elements — the elements of the divine and that of the game—are equally important. It is divine because this is the element in which man comes nearest to God through becoming a true creator in his own right. And it is a game, because it remains art only as long as we are allowed to remember that, after all, it is all make-believe, that the people on the stage, for instance, are not actually murdered, in other words, only as long as our feelings of horror or of disgust do not obscure our realization that we are, as readers or as spectators, participating in an elaborate and enchanting game: the moment this balance is upset we get, on the stage, ridiculous melodrama, and in a book just a lurid description of, say, a case of murder which should belong in a newspaper instead. And we cease to derive that feeling of pleasure and satisfaction and spiritual vibration, that combined feeling which is our reaction to true art. For example, we are not disgusted or horrified by the bloody ending of the three greatest plays ever written: the hanging of Cordelia, the death of Hamlet, the suicide of Othello give us a shudder, but a shudder with a strong element of delight in it. This delight does not derive from the fact that we are glad to see those people perish, but merely our enjoyment of Shakespeare’s overwhelming genius. I would like you further to ponder Crime and Punishment and Memoirs from a Mousehole also known as the Notes from Underground (1864) from this point of view: is the artistic pleasure you derive from accompanying Dostoevski on his excursions into the sick souls of his characters, is it consistently greater than any other emotions, thrills of disgust, morbid interest in a crime thriller? There is even less balance between the esthetic achievement and the element of criminal reportage in Dostoevski’s other novels. *

“English words expressing several although by no means all aspects of poshlust are, for instance: ‘cheap, sham, smutty, pink-and-blue, high-falutin’, in bad taste.’ ” See Nabokov’s lecture on “Philistines and Philistinism.”

Thirdly, when an artist sets out to explore the motions and reactions of a human soul under the unendurable stresses of life, our interest is more readily aroused and we can more readily follow the artist as our guide through the dark corridors of that human soul if that soul’s reactions are of a more or less all-human variety. By this I certainly do not wish to say that we are, or should be, interested solely in the spiritual life of the so-called average man. Certainly not. What I wish to convey is that though man and his reactions are infinitely varied, we can hardly accept as human reactions those of a raving lunatic or a character just come out of a madhouse and just about to return there. The reactions of such poor, deformed, warped souls are often no longer human, in the accepted sense of the word, or they are so freakish that the problem the author set himself remains unsolved regardless of how it is supposed to be solved by the reactions of such unusual individuals.

I have consulted doctors’ case studies* and here is their list classifying Dostoevski’s characters by the categories of mental illnesses by which they are affected:

I. EPILEPSY

The four well-marked cases of epilepsy among Dostoevski’s characters are: Prince Myshkin in The Idiot; Smerdyakov in The Brothers Karamazov; Kirillov in The Possessed; and Nellie in The Humiliated and Insulted.

1) Myshkin’s is the classic case. He has frequent moods of ecstasy … a tendency to emotional mysticism, an extraordinary power of empathy which permits him to divine the feelings of others. He shows meticulous attention to detail, particularly in penmanship. In childhood he had had frequent paroxysms, and had been given up by the physicians as a hopeless “idiot”. . . .

2) Smerdyakov, the bastard son of old Karamazov by an imbecile woman. As a child Smerdyakov showed great cruelty. He was fond of hanging cats, then burying them with much blasphemous ceremony. As a young man he developed an exaggerated sense of self-esteem, verging at times on megalomania . . . had frequent paroxysms . . . etc.

3) Kirillov, the scapegoat character in The Possessed, is an incipient epileptic; though he is noble, gentle, and high-minded, he has a markedly epileptoid personality. He describes clearly the premonitory symptoms which he had often experienced. His case is complicated by suicidal mania.

4) The case of Nellie is unimportant . . . adds nothing of consequence to what the first three cases have revealed of the inward consciousness of the epileptic.

II. SENILE DEMENTIA

The case of General Ivolgin in The Idiot is one of incipient senile dementia, complicated with alcoholism … he is irresponsible . . . borrows money on worthless IOUs to procure drinks. When accused of lying, he is nonplussed for a moment, but soon regains his assurance and continues in the same vein. It is the peculiar character of this pathological lying which best reveals the state of mind which goes with this senile decay . . . accelerated by alcoholism.

III. HYSTERIA

1) Liza Khokhlakov in The Brothers Karamazov, a girl of fourteen, partially paralyzed, the paralysis presumably hysterical and curable by miracles. . . . She is extremely precocious, impressionable, coquettish, and perverse; is subject to nocturnal fevers—all symptoms in precise accord with classic cases of hysteria. Her dreams are of devils. … In her day-dreams she is preoccupied with ideas of evil and destruction. She loves to dwell in her thoughts on the recent patricide with which Dmitri

* Nabokov’s discussion of the categories of mental illness is interpolated from S. Stephenson Smith and Andrei Isotoff, “The Abnormal From Within: Dostoevsky,” The Psychoanalytic Review, XXII (October 1939), 361-391.

Karamazov is charged; and thinks that everyone “loves him for his having killed his father,” etc.

2) Liza Tushin in The Possessed is a borderline case of hysteria. She is exceedingly nervous and restless, arrogant, yet capable of unusual efforts to be kind. . . . She is given to fits of hysterical laughter, ending in weeping, and to strange whims, etc.

In addition to these definitely clinical cases of hysteria, Dostoevski’s characters include many instances of hysterical tendencies: Nastasya … in The Idiot, Katerina … in Crime and Punishment, who is afflicted with “nerves”; most of the women characters, in fact, show more or less marked hysterical tendencies.

IV. PSYCHOPATHS

Among the principal characters in the novels are found many psychopaths: Stavrogin, a case of “moral insanity”; Rogozhin, a victim of erotomania; Raskolnikov, a case … of “lucid madness”; Ivan Karamazov, another half lunatic. All these show certain symptoms of dissociation of personality. And there are many other examples, including some characters completely mad.

Incidentally, scientists completely refute the notion advanced by some critics that Dostoevski anticipated Freud and Jung. It can be proved convincingly that Dostoevski used extensively in building his abnormal characters a book by a German, C. G. Carus, Psyche, published in 1846. The assumption that Dostoevski anticipated Freud arose from the fact that the terms and hypotheses in Carus’ book resemble those of Freud, but actually the parallels between Carus and Freud are not those of central doctrine at all, but merely of linguistic terminology, which in the two authors has a different ideological content.

It is questionable whether one can really discuss the aspects of “realism” or of “human experience” when considering an author whose gallery of characters consists almost exclusively of neurotics and lunatics. Besides all this, Dostoevski’s characters have yet another remarkable feature: throughout the book they do not develop as personalities. We get them all complete at the beginning of the tale, and so they remain without any considerable changes although their surroundings may alter and the most extraordinary things may happen to them. In the case of Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, for instance, we see a man go from premeditated murder to the promise of an achievement of some kind of harmony with the outer world, but all this happens somehow from without: innerly even Raskolnikov does not go through any true development of personality, and the other heroes of Dostoevski do even less so. The only thing that develops, vacillates, takes unexpected sharp turns, deviates completely to include new people and circumstances, is the plot. Let us always remember that basically Dostoevski is a writer of mystery stories where every character, once introduced to us, remains the same to the bitter end, complete with his special features and personal habits, and that they all are treated throughout the book they happen to be in like chessmen in a complicated chess problem. Being an intricate plotter, Dostoevski succeeds in holding the reader’s attention; he builds up his climaxes and keeps up his suspenses with consummate mastery. But if you re-read a book of his you have already read once so that you are familiar with the surprises and complications of the plot, you will at once realize that the suspense you experienced during the first reading is simply not there any more.

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