Dostoevsky Studies     Volume 3, 1982


Charles A. Moser, George Washington University

In his article "A propos of 'Fathers and Sons' ," written at the end of the turbulent decade of the 1860's which he had defined and analysed better than any other writer through that very novel, Ivan Turgenev remarked that he himself shared all Bazarov's views "with the exception of his opinions on the arts. " (1) Probably most of us who read that passage understand Turgenev to mean by this that his points of intellectual divergence with his fictional hero were minor, i. e. that Turgenev's aesthetic views did not constitute a particularly important facet of his total philosophy of life.

In fact, however, that single exception of Turgenev's - whether he himself realised it fully or not - was quite significant. For the question of aesthetics defined a savage battleground in the literary and intellectual controversies of Russia in the 1860's, one which encompassed much more than art and literature in the strict sense of the word. Rather the term "aesthetics" was a shorthand for much larger problems of philosophy, including specifically the opposition of philosophical idealism, or dualism, to philosophical realism, or monism; in other words, the dispute over whether "metaphysics" had any legitimate place in contemporary thought. Turgenev wrote that Dostoevsky was one of but two individuals who thoroughly understood "Fathers and Sons" at the time of its publication. (2)

This is no doubt true, and it is in any case certain that Dostoevsky grasped both the significance of the contemporary debate over aesthetics and its linkage to the question of philosophical dualism. Indeed, as Richard Peace points out in his discussion of "Crime and Punishment" in his book on Dostoevsky, Dostoevsky "strikes at the very heart of the theories of the radicals" by placing "ambivalence" - one could also say "duality" - at the heart of his first great novel. (3) It is precisely this connection between aesthetics and larger philosophical problems which made disputes over art in the 1860's so peculiarly heated.

Dostoevsky remained acutely aware of the importance of aesthetics all through that decade. He devoted one major article, of 1861 - "Mr. —bov and the Question of Art" - directly to the subject and returned to it in many direct and indirect variations in his fiction of the next few years. Consequently, in his recent study of Dostoevsky W. J. Leatherbarrow could use aesthetics as a major key to the interpretation of Dostoevsky's writings. (4) It is not my intention here to elaborate upon Dostoevsky's


aesthetics in general, for that has been ably and exhaustively done long ago by Robert L. Jackson in his "Dostoevsky's Quest for Form. " (5) Instead, I propose to examine in some detail the significance for Dostoevsky's art and thought of the intersection between aesthetics and another area of human intellectual endeavour to which he was strongly committed: journalism.

Dostoevsky's extensive links with the journalistic world continued, with interruptions, across the span of his entire adult life. Shortly after his literary debut he tried his hand at a series of feuilletons for a St. Petersburg newspaper in 1847 which are now seen as an important part of his early literary production. After his return to St. Petersburg from arrest and exile he threw himself into the journalistic fray with enthusiasm, just at the time when Russian journalism was approaching its ideological zenith. He was one of the guiding spirits of "Vremja" from its founding in 1861 until its untimely suppression in 1863, serving not only as its literary editor but also as a principal feuilletonist for it. In fact he was so prolific then that his journalistic writings from 1861 through 1864 occupy several hundred pages in the thirteenth volume of his "Polnoe sobranie sochinenij, " published in 1930. When "Epokha" succeeded "Vremja" in early 1864, Dostoevsky again assumed a heavy journalistic burden, especially after his brother's death in the middle of the year, and "Epokha's" failure had much to do with the financial difficulties he faced from 1865 on. In addition, a work such as "Winter Notes on Summer Impressions" (1863) - reportage on a journey to Western Europe in 1862 - amounted to journalism in book form. After 1865 Dostoevsky left the field of journalism for a time, but by 1873 he was once again an editor - of the conservative weekly "Grazhdanin" - and soon began writing the short pieces which would be collected under the title "Diary of a Writer, " a book of a very special literary artistic genre to which Gary Morson has recently devoted a stimulating study. (6)

In his long-term commitment to journalism, Dostoevsky was rather unique among the great nineteenth-century Russian prose writers with whom we usually associate him in our minds. Journalism of the 1860s was generally the preserve of the radical intellectuals, who felt they could best accomplish their objectives of social reform through it. In their minds literature and journalism were closely allied, perhaps even virtually identical. One of their favoured literary forms was the brief sketch, which is closely bound up with the feuilleton. In short, the great names of Russian radicalism - from Chernyshevskij, Nekrasov and Dobroljubov to Pisarev, Saltykov-Shchedrin and the Kurochkin brothers - devoted much time and energy to journalism, as editors, reporters and contributors.

Those writers who, like Dostoevsky, opposed radical literary hegemony at the time did not care especially for journalism, although they all published their fiction in periodicals. Alexej Pisemskij, for example, assumed the editorship of "Biblioteka dlja chtenija" from the failing Druzhinin in 1860, but soon found the tensions of journalistic polemics too much to bear and withdrew entirely from journalism, never to return. Goncharov also served


as editor of an obscure paper in the early 1860s, but not for long, and was more than pleased to leave that post. Turgenev and Tolstoj enjoyed independent sources of income and therefore had no need to work in journalism. Moreover, Pisemskij, Tolstoj, even Goncharov reacted to the turmoil of the 1860's eventually by retreating from it into the writing of fiction on essentially historical topics, a strategy which did not fit Dostoevsky's contemporary and polemical temperament at all. Most of Dostoevsky's literary allies wanted leisure and reflection for their writing, not the pressures of journalism. In this important regard, then, Dostoevsky shared the predilections of his radical antagonists.

In another respect, too, Dostoevsky sympathised with his radical opponents more nearly than he did with his literary allies: he believed in the social significance of literature. Dostoevsky realised that facts in and of themselves are powerless to alter society without being articulated, and that is why he exclaimed in 1861: "The word, the word is a great deed!" (7) a sentiment Chernyshevskij and Dobroljubov would surely have shared. Just before he wrote this, Dostoevsky had formulated what amounts to his credo on the subject of literature and social improvement:

We are so divided; we thirst for moral conviction and direction. . . We can even see that we still need to do a great deal along these lines and that much in this sense is still to be done. That is why I think that the present time is the most literary time possible. (190)

Very likely in using the word "literary" in this context Dostoevsky had in mind not just belles-lettres alone, but belles-lettres along with journalism. After all, he had emerged from the intellectual environment of the 1840s, with its interest in such hybrid genres as urban physiologies and the roman-feuilleton. In the first volume of his study of Dostoevsky, Joseph Frank reminds us that Dostoevsky read the roman-feuilleton, that "staple of French journalism, " assiduously, recognising it as "one of the most effective means by which humanitarian and Socialist ideas were being propagated. " (8) Dostoevsky's first published work was partly in that tradition, and it is not astonishing that his first large work to appear after his exile of the 1850s - "The Insulted and Injured" of 1861 - should have been very much in that tradition, or that the radical critics of that time should have found it to their taste: in September of 1861 Dobroljubov unhesitatingly declared it the best book of the year. (9)

When he wrote that assessment Dobroljubov knew that Dostoevsky rejected most of his theoretical views on art, since in February of 1861 Dostoevsky had published his extensive "Mr. -bov and the Question of Art. " In this essay Dostoevsky distinguished two "camps" among Russian disputants on the subject of art. One was the "party of the defenders of freedom and complete independence of art" ; the other group consisted of those who believed art should serve mankind with "direct, straightforward, practical benefit, and even benefit determined by current circumstances, " a party which Dostoevsky termed the "utilitarians. " (66)


Dostoevsky himself claimed he belonged to neither of these parties, but instead occupied a middle ground. Dobroljubov and his allies probably felt that a Dostoevsky not with them was against them, and indeed his position as defined in "Mr. -bov and the Question of Art" is probably closer to that of the "aesthetic" camp than that of the "utilitarian" camp. Still, Dostoevsky did genuinely adopt a "middle way, " so much so that he at one point justified the existence of "literature of exposure" (fiction which set out to expose social shortcomings and abuses) using "aesthetic" arguments. By denying the validity of "literature of exposure, " he said, the devotees of "art for art's sake" are violating their own principle of "freedom in one's choice of inspiration" (71): if one truly believes in artistic freedom, one must defend the rights of the socially engaged writer. And here Dostoevsky establishes in his own mind the theoretical link between a commitment to the aesthetic ideal (with beauty at its core) on the one hand, and journalism on the other. Genuine art and good journalism could intermingle and prove mutually sustaining - or so Dostoevsky believed.

This is not to say, however, that Dostoevsky took an unjaundiced view of journalism. He perceived a number of its shortcomings which he entirely rejected, both in theory and practice. One of his characters in "The Insulted and Injured" - a publisher who regards literature merely as a means of money-making - comments that "in our literature (read: journalism), and in any literature at any time, no one displays any honesty or modesty, and you could discover only 'a mutual thrashing of snouts' . " (III, 424) Two years later, in 1863, Dostoevsky spoke disparagingly of the contemporary "newspaper mania" (gazetomanija) afflicting Russian society, (286) and his choice of the word was not entirely dictated by the contempt of the publisher of a serious monthly for the hurried work of a newspaper reporter.

One of the chief, though mechanical, characteristics of journalism which Dostoevsky disliked in theory but accepted in practice was the haste and pressure of deadlines especially characteristic of newspaper journalism. Because of his constant need for money, Dostoevsky usually wrote under the pain of deadlines, lacking the time to revise and polish his work as he would have wished. He envied Turgenev the leisure he had for revisions and complained frequently that he had no time to express himself properly. Indeed in his comments on "The Insulted and Injured" Dobroljubov was unkind enough to pierce precisely through this chink in Dostoevsky's intellectual armour. Dobroljubov began his review with a sarcastic discussion of the inappropriateness of applying aesthetic criteria to contemporary literature in general and to Dostoevsky's novel in particular, which he declared to be "beneath artistic criticism. " Obviously, Dobroljubov then continued, Dostoevsky regarded his writing as "journalistic work, "(zhurnal'naja rabota) which meant that he had no time for "polishing, or for details, or for strictness with himself in developing his thought. " (10) Consequently, Dobroljubov had to judge "The Insulted and Injured" as journalism; and since he accepted the validity of the social and political ideas it contained, it followed that the book was entirely praiseworthy - as journalism.


Later on, in 1864, Dostoevsky himself called "The Insulted and Injured" a "fel'etonnyj roman" (not, let us note, a roman-fel'eton) and commented that it had been in great part a failure. He attributed that failure, however, mostly to mechanical difficulties: he had had to write under the pressure of deadlines, he said, and to publish the work serially in short segments. (350)

This remained a characteristic of Dostoevsky's work: his novels were printed serially, and the first part of a novel might be published before the work was entirely completed, so that he sometimes could not revise his longer works as a whole. That meant the later course of a novel could be in large measure determined by parts which had already appeared.

Other difficulties of journalism, though, were less mechanical. One of them is encapsulated in a phrase occurring at the very beginning of the newspaper article on Pavlishchev's son, quoted at length in "The Idiot": we learn that the article is based upon a "strange anecdote. " (VIII, 127) Just like journalists today, journalists of the 1860s sought out "stories, " that is, narratives with a definite philosophical, ideological, and one may even say aesthetic unity; moreover, they looked for stories which were "strange, " unusual, and therefore interesting.

The trouble with the anecdote or story - especially the more intriguing ones - is that it may be factually distorted or falsified to begin with - usually for the sake of a better plot - or that, if it is narrated accurately, the journalist may utterly fail to comprehend its significance if he lacks the proper background.

Dostoevsky clearly thought that journalists were often enough not so dedicated to the cause of factual truth as to verify their stories carefully. A well-known example of this may be supplied by precisely the long article in "The Idiot" just mentioned. The article rests upon the proposition that Burdovskij is in fact Pavlishchev's illegitimate son and that he has been cheated of his inheritance by Prince Myshkin. Ganja Ivolgin, however, proves to the author by documentation and the laws of human gestation that Burdovskij could not possibly be Pavlishchev's son, so that the article's thesis collapses. Furthermore, many other "facts" cited in the article are so distorted as to make it a sheer travesty as a description of reality - although of course it did make an excellent "story. "

Dostoevsky provides further humorous examples of the journalistic distortion of reality in his short story "The Crocodile. " This story is narrated in the first person by a character who takes great pains to provide quite precise information about a fantastic event which occurred on "the thirteenth of January of this present year 1865, at half past twelve in the afternoon. " The narrator accompanies his friend Ivan Matveich and the latter's wife to view a crocodile exhibited by a visiting German entrepreneur in St. Petersburg's Passage building. Apparently Ivan Matveich approaches the crocodile too closely, for the narrator looks around to discover it in the process of swallowing Ivan Matveich. Once inside, Ivan


Matveich finds out that the crocodile is hollow with a rubbery lining, and that it is quite feasible for him to remain inside it indefinitely, for he has recognised that his apparent misfortune can provide him the public notoriety he needs to draw attention to the social theories he has hitherto expounded rather fruitlessly.

The question of Dostoevsky's intent in satirising Chernyshevskij, by then exiled, through the physical description of Ivan Matveich and the mocking of his social theories, though interesting in itself, need not detain us here. What is of importance for our present purposes are the texts of two newspaper articles reporting on Ivan Matveich's strange mishap quoted at length in the story's fourth and last chapter. One article is from "Listok, " (the moderately liberal newspaper "Peterburgskij listok") and the other from "Volos, " a pun on the name of a more left-wing paper, "Golos. " In both newspaper accounts the actual facts of the occurrence - which, incidentally, occupy relatively little space - are totally distorted. The "Listok" article reports that a certain Mr. N had visited the crocodile on display, demanded that h e be allowed to eat i t , and then consumed the entire animal bit by bit "with remarkable haste. " The author of the "Volos" article reports indignantly that a gentleman of "extraordinary girth and in a state of inebriation" had appeared at the Passage building, inserted himself into the creature's maw, and compelled the crocodile to swallow him. Once inside, he had absolutely refused to come out. (V, 204-206) "Volos" also twists some other details: for example, after Ivan Matveich's mishap his distraught wife demands that the German cut the crocodile open (vsporot') to get her husband out. But in the newspaper the word comes across as p o r o t ' , or a demand that the animal be flogged - a retrograde desire which "Volos" hastens to condemn. (V, 206)

But the principal criticism which Dostoevsky makes of journalists is not that they write hastily and therefore badly, or even that they distort reality in the pursuit of a good story, as important as both these things are. It is rather that they are egregious intellectual conformists. It is precisely in the realm of ideas that journalists are most deficient, he believed, and it is precisely the realm of ideas which was most significant for Dostoevsky the journalist and novelist.

Thus it is that the journalists for "Listok" and "Volos" use their twisted stories of Ivan Matveich and the crocodile as pegs upon which to hang lengthy essays. The "Listok" article launches into an irrelevant disquisition on the eating habits of various European nations, and thereafter turns to a consideration of means by which crocodiles could be put to economic use in Russia. All this is very much in keeping with the newspaper's moderate editorial philosophy. "Volos" employs its version of the episode to attack the cruelty and general stupidity of the Russians, who, it says, continue to lag far behind the Europeans, and to criticise the incompetence of the established authorities. In both instances the journalists utilise the story simply for the purpose of expounding their favourite social and political subjects. The language of both articles is comprised of


current journalistic cliches and is therefore rather homogeneous; in at least one case it is identical, when both writers refer to "our powerful and variegated Fatherland. " (V, 205) Dostoevsky considers these journalistic viewpoints quite fatuous, and hopes, among other things, to drive them from the field through ridicule.

Dostoevsky was, in fact, one of Russia's most accomplished satirists, and he directed his pen on more than one occasion against the intellectual bankruptcy of contemporary journalists. He made one major satirical critique of St. Petersburg feuilletonists in a feuilleton of his own dating from 1861: "St. Petersburg Dreams in Verse and Prose, " although here his satire is gentler than in "The Crocodile. " The St. Petersburg feuilletonist he depicts lacks any ideological animus. He is simply not very bright, and Dostoevsky the journalist sympathises with his problems in devising topics for his columns on a prearranged schedule. (154-155) The run-of-the-mill journalist, understandably, simply goes along with his brethren. If the renowned Italian tragic actress Adelaide Ristori is in town, then the feuilletonist for every newspaper writes about her and the plays in which she is appearing, to the point that "when you pick up the paper you don't even want to read it: everywhere it's the same thing. " That is what happens when journalists are guided by a jaded criterion of "newsworthiness. " St. Petersburg feuilletonists, in short, suffer from the tyranny of contemporaneity, what other journalists consider "news," when in fact there may be much more important things to write about which are just as contemporary:

How many dramas may perhaps be occurring, perhaps something tragic may be happening in a damp corner somewhere on the fifth floor, where an entire family, suffering from cold and hunger, has to live in one room while the feuilletonist is sitting in another, shivering in his ragged bathrobe and writing a feuilleton ŕ la New Poet about camelias, oysters, and friends. . . (155)

Alas, the sort of people who go into journalism are frequently so lacking in intellect they do not even realise they are sunk in "repetition and routine. " In fact, they may enter journalism as a profession precisely because it makes so few intellectual demands upon them. "A young fellow, " Dostoevsky says,

thinks that it's so easy to write feuilletons: 'You don't have to have an outline, ' he thinks to himself. 'It isn't the same thing as a novel, ( p o v e s t ' ) write whatever you want, sneer a bit here, express a certain type of respect there, here write about Ristori, there throw something in about virtue and morality and also about immorality, about bribe-taking, for example, definitely something about bribe-taking, and there your feuilleton's done. Why, nowadays thoughts are sold quite ready-made. . . ' (155)

Even in the case of the apolitical feuilletonist whom Dostoevsky describes here, however, as we can see, the ready-made cliches at hand tend to


display an anti-establishment slant, and that political tendency intensified in subsequent years. Two years later, Dostoevsky's relatively gentle satire yielded to biting attacks against journalism and journalists in his articles of 1863 entitled "A Young Pen, " part of his intellectual duel with "Sovremennik" which continued in 1864 with his major piece "Mr. Shchedrin, or the Schism Among the Nihilists, " incorporating excerpts from the non-existent novel "Shchedrodarov. "

In the first excerpt from "Shchedrodarov" the hero, a newcomer to the editorial staff of "Sovremennyj, " is receiving instruction on becoming an approved radical journalist. He learns that he will advance most quickly in the journalistic world if he harbours "few ideas" while compensating for that deficiency with "unparalleled vanity, " buttressed by a certain intellectual "innocence" useful as a defence against criticism, and - most important - "malice. " ( z 1 o s t ' ) By analogy with the doctrine of "art for art's sake, " Shchedrodarov's mentor even talks of "malice for malice's sake": "Malice which (the journalist) himself does not fully comprehend. That's the most valuable thing of all, " he advises the hero. (325)

The second excerpt from "Shchedrodarov" is directed very precisely against the aesthetic doctrines of such radical critics as Chernyshevskij and Pisarev. Shchedrodarov is taught that his most important practical task as a journalist is to "emit sounds, " even as he engages in "the popularisation of the natural sciences, putting them forward in the guise of short novels and tales. " Furthermore, he must believe that a "natural apple is superior to the depiction of an apple, " as Chernyshevskij had held long before; he must understand that "boots are in every case superior to Pushkin" ; he must comprehend that "the enlightened Kurochkin, who eradicates prejudices, is incomparably and in every instance superior to the unenlightened Homer" ; and then, finally, he will achieve the ultimate wisdom of radical journalism:

If anyone should say to you: I want to think, I am tormented by the eternal questions; I want to love, and to have something to believe in; I am searching for an ethical ideal, I love art, or something of that sort - why tell him immediately, decisively, and boldly that all this is nonsense. . . ; that what he needs first of all is his belly. (330)

Politics, art, science, all the achievements of humanity are of no account if the belly is empty, and therefore the final source of radical ideals is the belly, and not any transcendental order.

In general terms, Dostoevsky rejected the particular theories advanced by the radicals, the specific intellectual framework within which they interpreted reality, but not the advisability of elaborating a theory in itself: Dostoevsky was far too ideological a writer for that. But theory had to be linked with life. The radicals, he thought, erred either by rejecting theory altogether, or else by engaging in wrong-headed ideological speculation. Nikolaj Uspenskij provided an example of the first shortcoming: in a review article usually attributed to him, Dostoevsky


complained that writers like Uspenskij sought to join their fiction to journalism and to reproduce reality too closely, "without any tendency at all, " and including unnecessary and bothersome detail. (552) Dostoevsky discerned the second shortcoming in Dobroljubov. He considered Dobroljubov's basic philosophical grounding to be sound, he claimed, but when Dobroljubov set forth his ideas in detail they suffered from kabinetnost' , ' or a divorce from real life. As Dostoevsky put it , Dobroljubov was "a theoretician, sometimes even a dreamer, and in many cases he is poorly acquainted with reality; ... he twists (reality) this way and that, as he wishes, for the purpose of arranging it in such a fashion as to support his idea. " (73-74)

The solution to this problem, Dostoevsky thought, was to steer between the Scylla of excessive theoretical abstraction represented by Dobroljubov and the Charybdis of a photographic reproduction of unordered reality as practised by Uspenskij, to develop a theory based upon the facts and closely tied to reality:

But a writer's views and ideas derived on the basis of an analysis of the material he has accumulated are quite another matter; this is not at all a preconceived and idealistic view, but a realistic (real' n y j ) view, expressing - depending on the writer's ability - sometimes a complete contemporary social conception of the life of the people at a particular moment.

This notion of theory legitimately derived from the observation of accurate factual material was the one Dostoevsky adopted for the purposes of his literary art, while simultaneously rejecting the shallow and preconceived notions which were the hallmark of journalism in his time.

On the other hand, Dostoevsky also fashioned two major aspects of journalism into principal building blocks of his literary art. One was a commitment to contemporaneity; the other was close attention to the genuine and "ordinary" facts of life, (although the adjective "ordinary" must be understood with some qualification)

Dostoevsky's commitment to contemporaneity need not detain us long. Just as journalism was up to the minute and contemporary, so too is literature: "Art is always contemporary and actual, it never has existed in any other manner, and - the main thing - it cannot exist in any other manner, " he wrote in 1861. (90) His first great novel, "Crime and Punishment, " was one of the most contemporary works in world literature, for he began to write it in the very year in which it was set. "The Possessed" and "The Raw Youth" are also very immediate works. Thus this journalistic legacy was incorporated into Dostoevsky's art: we can scarcely imagine his writing a historical novel even of the order of Turgenev's "A Nest of Gentlefolk, " for example.

The fact that Dostoevsky based his art on actual facts of everyday life also needs little proof. We may recall his advice, mentioned above, to the


St. Petersburg feuilletonist to attend to common tragedies near at hand. In his review of Nikolaj Uspenskij's stories Dostoevsky comments toward the end:

Finally, we are pleased precisely because Mr. Uspenskij has chosen such an ordinary incident for criticism through depiction. There are more ordinary incidents than extraordinary ones: the entire existence of the common people is made up of them.

Last, we may mention Liza Tushina's suggestion to Shatov in "The Possessed" that they undertake a "literary enterprise" consisting of gathering accounts of events published in Russian newspapers and journals for a given year into a convenient volume or volumes. Such a collection would "outline the entire character of Russian life for the entire year, " she maintains enthusiastically; it would provide a "picture of the spiritual, moral, interior Russian life for the entire year. " (X, 103-104) Shatov finds the project appealing, but comments that a compiler would have to apply some principles to the selection of materials which would be the equivalent of a "tendency, "(napravlenie) Liza protests that this is not so, that she hopes only for "objectivity, " though in fact her initial scheme incorporates just such principles (most decrees of local or national governments would be excluded, for example). Still, Liza's project is an illustration of what was by and large Dostoevsky's view: that analysis of seemingly disconnected factual events could tell the discerning eye much about the national life.

* * * * *

Having examined those attributes of journalism which Dostoevsky chose to incorporate in his literary art as well as those he consciously rejected, we may consider his application of these aesthetic principles to his fiction. "The Insulted and Injured" (1861) and "Crime and Punishment" (1866) provide instructive case studies, the first of the failure of that aesthetic, and the second of its success.

We have already remarked that Dostoevsky thought "The Insulted and Injured" a failure, and that he recognised its kinship with the journalistic feuilleton. In his book "Dostoevsky: A Biography" Leonid Grossman, whose views derive from Formalist doctrines of the 1920's has defined certain formal characteristics of this novel as roman-feuilleton which stem from its pattern of publication in a large number of installments over a considerable time. "A very special pattern was required, " he writes,

with each piece concluding on a note of rising interest, with theatrical effects, interrupted climaxes and symbolic, simplified, one-dimensional characters. The splintered novel resembled a current newspaper feuilleton, easily comprehensible by the readers.


. . . Following the rules of adventure stories, Dostoevsky wrapped the principal events in mystery and grouped his protagonists at opposite poles of spiritual enlightenment and moral degradation. . . . The narrative style. . . is nervous and spasmodic, with the unexpected turns of plot and shock endings of sections and chapters that characterise the feuilleton-novel.(11)

Also, as Grossman points out, several of these characteristics of the roman-feuilleton migrated in more subtle forms to Dostoevsky's mature novels: for example, individual parts of those novels often end on mysterious notes or at very tense moments.

One journalistic element which Grossman does not mention but which was a prominent feature of the journalistically-oriented fiction of the early 1860s produced by such writers as Nikolaj Uspenskij and Vasilij Slepcov, was the extensive use of dialogue and monologue. After all, when the spoken word is recorded as the written word, we obtain the closest possible translation of a portion of "reality" to the printed page. Dostoevsky resorted to dialogue and monologue in "The Insulted and Injured" to an extraordinary degree; and in his later novels he continued to employ dialogue and monologue heavily as he developed his own peculiar dramatic style.

Still, "The Insulted and Injured" was an aesthetic failure. Edward Wasiolek has, I think, divined one of the major reasons - if not the major one - for Dostoevsky's shifting away from this variant of the roman-feuilleton as he began to write "Crime and Punishment, " a novel which dealt so directly with good and evil in human affairs. "The form of the roman feuilleton, " Wasiolek argues, "mitigates the reality of Valkovsky's evil. His evil too belongs to the machinery. . . . From the very beginning convention sets reality at a distance. " (12) In other words, the use of the more explicitly journalistic form of the roman-feuilleton screened the reader from fictional reality just when Dostoevsky wished instead to bring him as close as possible to reality, and especially the reality of evil.

And that is one reason, no doubt, why - in writing "Crime and Punishment" - Dostoevsky inverted the approach he had used in "The Insulted and Injured. " In the latter novel the crime has occurred some time ago, and its ramifications are concealed until the end, as in a traditional mystery novel. But in "Crime and Punishment" the reader knows precisely how the crime occurred: he almost seems to participate in it along with the criminal, perceiving a great deal directly, through the mind of Raskolnikov, without even the intermediation of that recorded speech so prominent in "The Insulted and Injured. " What remains unknown to the end is whether the fact of Raskolnikov's guilt will be discovered by the other characters in the novel, and whether he will be able to cleanse himself from that guilt.

Thanks to that radical structural revision, Dostoevsky brings the spiritual immediacy of his novel home to the reader with terrific force, in one of


the great achievements of world literature. He achieved that effect by either discarding or drastically modifying many of the devices of the roman-feuilleton which he had used in "The Insulted and Injured. " But he still remained faithful to the journalistic tradition of the 1840s, as the Soviet scholar V. V. Danilov has shown painstakingly, by reproducing carefully the physical and cultural milieu within which Raskolnikov moved. "Any detail of an everyday sort to be found in 'Crime and Punishment' , " Danilov writes, "may be confirmed by quotations from the papers of 1865. " (13) That journalistic reality coalesces with journalism itself in the scene in which Raskolnikov looks through the newspapers to find the accounts of his own crime and reads through a number of names which were actually in the papers of July 1865 before he comes to the account of his own (fictional) crime. And later he describes to Zametov what he would have done with the proceeds from the murder, describing an actual physical situation in a hypothetical manner. Certainly the texture of "Crime and Punishment" is journalistic: it is a new "Physiology of St. Petersburg, " but now a physiology of the morally rather than materially deprived of the capital.

At bottom, the problem of Dostoevsky and the aesthetics of journalism is subsumed under the question of the aesthetic relation of art to reality, to borrow a phrase from Chernyshevskij. In Dostoevsky's world reality and ideas existed in constant interaction: reality could only be grasped intellectually, through ideas expressed verbally, but ideas also moulded social reality. In an article of 1861 Dostoevsky commented that human beings comprehended reality through art and also through criticism: criticism, he said, "consciously analyses that which art presents to us only through images. " (551) We may surmise that by the word "criticism" in this essay Dostoevsky means something in between academic literary criticism and journalism, for in another place he argued that "any critic must be a journalist" (publicist) (353). However that may be, art - like criticism and like science -must be rooted in reality, and remain true to it. As he wrote in 1861:

Art is always faithful to reality in the highest degree; ... it is not only always faithful to reality, it cannot even be unfaithful to contemporary reality. Otherwise it is not genuine art. (93)

Art is faithful to reality, however, on a more exalted plane than journalism. "First one must surmount the difficulties of transmitting actual truth, " he wrote in 1861, "in order thereafter to reach the heights of artistic truth. " (535) Most probably the phrase "actual truth" in this passage is the equivalent of truth as presented by good journalism, or perceived through scientific observation: a grasp of actual truth is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the attainment of artistic truth, which however - though it exists in the realm of ideas and images - still must be constantly checked against reality.

It is no doubt in this sense that we should interpret a comment which Dostoevsky threw out in a note to an article of 1861 on Marko Vovchok:


"Reality is frequently idealised, represented improbably ( nepravdopodobno). " (77n) To be sure, it may be a little puzzling to see such words issuing from the pen of a man who considered himself a "fantastic realist. " One of the central texts we must consider in interpreting Dostoevsky's view of art and reality occurs in a letter to Strakhov of 1869, written while he was completing "The Idiot":

I have my own special view of reality; what most people term almost fantastic and exceptional for me comprises the very essence of the actual. The ordinariness of an event and a standard view of it is not realism, in my opinion, and even quite the opposite. In every issue of the papers you will find accounts of the most actual facts and the most puzzling ones. Our writers consider them fantastic, and pay no attention to them; but indeed they are reality because they are facts. Who will note them, elucidate them arid write them down? They happen every minute of every day, they are not exceptional.

Here Dostoevsky says that reality is not the ordinary, but rather what the unperceptive might consider fantastic. And is this not for all practical purposes the same criterion the journalist applies to reality? But a genuine artist is one who perceives the fantastic element in the reported reality, the "news" of journalism, and can formulate, if only implicitly, the laws governing that fantastic reality.

Among the characters in Dostoevsky's major novels, the narrator-chronicler of "The Possessed" displays something very close to the mentality of an objective reporter, and it is precisely here that we obtain the strongest sense that "life" - as Malcolm Jones writes, although I should prefer the word "reality" - "is an extremely elusive and complex thing. " (15) To put it another way, the reader feels that it is nearly impossible to grasp reality intellectually, and therefore that reality itself is shifting and uncertain. The testing of the modern sense of reality against Dostoevsky's theoretical judgement tends to persuade us that he was right, and far ahead of his time, in his interpretation of reality.

Dostoevsky constantly checked his artistic theories based upon reality against future reality as it developed: if theories are correct, they must display some predictive power (the two authors of the articles in "The Crocodile" boast they had foreseen the strange events recounted there, and journalists at all times have been inclined to speculate at length about the future.) He was a trifle uncertain about his interpretation of contemporary society in "The Idiot, " but he was sure that if his interpretation were correct, then men like Prince Myshkin would have to exist. "Do you mean to say, " he wrote in the letter to Strakhov just quoted,

that my fantastic Idiot isn't reality, and the most everyday reality at that! It is precisely now that there must exist such characters among the levels of society which have been torn away from the earth - levels of society which are in reality becoming fantastic. (16)


So far as I know, Dostoevsky never found any journalistic confirmation of the accuracy of his reading of social reality in the case of "The Idiot, " but he felt he did in the instances of "Crime and Punishment" and "The Possessed. "

In an often-quoted letter to Katkov of October 1870 on "The Possessed, " Dostoevsky reported that he was basing his plot on the murder of the student Ivanov in Moscow by the terrorist Sergej Nechaev and his associates in November 1869, which he knew of only from the newspapers. He started from the fact of the murder, he said, and could not promise that his hero would resemble the actual Nechaev, but be believed he had succeeded "in creating in my imagination the person, the type, who corresponds to this evil deed. " (17) Approximately half the novel had been published serially when the Nechaev trial began in July 1871, and detailed accounts of Nechaev's activities began to appear in the press, (although more general reports had come out earlier) As the trial progressed, Dostoevsky was satisfied that reality had confirmed his artistic assessment of the fantastic type who was Sergej Nechaev.

Earlier on Dostoevsky thought he had received even more striking confirmation than this of his artistic intuition in "Crime and Punishment. " Danilov comments that, as his novel neared completion, Dostoevsky worried that his readers might think his subject eccentric, and therefore he was in a sense pleased when, according to Strakhov's memoirs, he learned a few days before the book began publication that a Moscow student had in fact killed a moneylender: "F. M. made quite a note of this, often spoke of it and was proud that he had accomplished such a feat of artistic perception, " Strakhov recalled nearly 20 years later. (19) It is quite possible that Strakhov's memory may have betrayed him here and that he was thinking of an incident of a similar sort reported in August of 1865, when Dostoevsky was only starting to write "Crime and Punishment, " but the important thing - as the young radicals tell Myshkin when discussing their article with him - is not the facts but the interpretation of them.

And so Dostoevsky developed an approach to literature which not only took some of its most salient features - its commitment to contemporaneity and to everyday reality, usually of the exceptional, journalistic sort - from journalism, but which launched itself from journalistic reality, ascended into the higher realms of aesthetics, and then sought again to confirm its intuitions through journalistic reality. Of all the great nineteenth century Russian novelists, Dostoevsky was the most closely bound to the world of journalism even as he transcended it to attain regions of the spirit where no one else was capable of following him.


  1. I. S. Turgenev, Polnoe sobranie sochinenij i pisem, Moscow - Leningrad, 1967; Sochinenija, XIV, p. 100-102.
  2. 41

  3. Ibid. , Pis'ma, IV, p. 385.
  4. Richard Peace, Dostoyevsky: An Examination of the Major Novels, Cambridge, 1971, p. 33.
  5. W. J. Leatherbarrow, Fedor Dostoevsky, Boston, 1981.
  6. New Haven and London, 1966.
  7. Gary Morson, The Boundaries of Genre: Dostoevsky's "Diary of a Writer" and the Traditions of Literary Utopia, Austin, Texas, 1981.
  8. F. M. Dostoevski], Polnoe sobranie khudozhestvennykh proizvedenij, Moscow - Leningrad, 1930, vol. 13 (Stat'i), p. 191. Page numbers given in parentheses alone in the text refer to this volume. Parentheses with both a volume number and a page number refer to the currently appearing, Polnoe sobranie sochinenij v tridtsati tomakh, Leningrad, 1972-.
  9. J. Frank, Dostoevsky: The Seeds of Revolt 1821-1849, Princeton, 1976, p. 128.
  10. See his article "Zabitye ljudi. "
  11. N. A. Dobroljubov, Sobranie sochinenij v trekh tomakh, Moscow, 1952, III, p. 469-470.
  12. Leonid Grossman, Dostoevsky: A Biography, London 1974, pp. 249- 250.
  13. Edward Wasiolek, Dostoevsky: The Major Fiction, Cambridge, Mass. , 1964, p. 33.
  14. V. V. Danilov, "K voprosu o kompozitsionnykh priemakh v 'Prestuplenii i nakazanii' Dostoevskogo, " in: Izvestija Akademii nauk SSSR. Otdelenie obshchestvennykh nauk, 3 (1933): 253.
  15. Letter to N. Strakhov of February 26/March 10, 1869, from Florence, in: F. M. Dostoevski], Pis'ma, Moscow - Leningrad, 1930, II, p. 169- 170.
  16. Malcolm V. Jones, Dostoevsky: The Novel of Discord, New York, 1976, p. 46.
  17. Op. cit.
  18. Letter to Katkov from Dresden of October 8/20, 1870; ibid. , p. 288. .
  19. Danilov: op. cit. , p. 263.
  20. See Strakhov's memoirs in F. M. Dostoevskij, Polnoe sobranie sochinenij, St. Petersburg, 1883, I, p. 290.
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