The Brothers Karamazov and the Poetics of Serial Publication
William Mills Todd III, Stanford University
Sixty years ago Viktor Shklovsky challenged literary scholarship to provide new perceptions of the text by impeding accepted ones.(1) This project of scholarly defamiliarization echoed, of course, his famous conception of the effect of art
ostranenie. Although it was criticized already in the 1920's for alleged ahistoricity and psychologism, the project which Shklovsky proposed can, in fact, involve not only a revision of the text in modern terms, but also a rediscovery of structural aspects which were conditioned by its initial production and reception. Such would be the case, to give one example, with histories of a text's publication, which can indicate the ways in which the changing shape of the text has refracted and influenced its changing interpretations.(2) These histories can show us, among other things, how radically different is our habitual awareness of the text and its contexts from the awareness of the writer and of the first readers who encountered text and contexts.
In this paper, which will be programmatic and somewhat hortatory, I would like to address certain issues involved in the publication and reception of
The Brothers Karamazov, which appeared in sixteen installments in The Russian Herald over a period of almost two years, January 1879 to November 1880. This makes
The Brothers Karamazov Dostoevsky's longest serialized novel (and thus his most demanding for his readers). Since, as he admitted, it was also the novel that he had least drafted as he began serialization, it was in many ways the most demanding for him, and his need for ongoing research into such topics as the investigative process as well as his personal problems forced him no less than eleven times to miss the month's installment of a "book" (kniga) and several times to change his plans for the novel as it unfolded.(3)
Many fine studies of the novel have already examined its beginnings in Dostoevsky's plans from the late 1860's, in Dostoevsky's creative interaction with works (such as Schiller's) which he had read and reread since childhood, or in Dostoevsky's life history. Other important studies, for the most part more recent ones, have read the novel as an integral text, an artistic whole comprised of various structures. The questions of part and whole, text and context, which these two types of research have raised make it all the more interesting to return to a consideration of the novel's serial publication, in connection with which these questions arose. Compelling invitations to such a study may be found in Dostoevsky's "tactical" correspondence with his editor (the word
taktika is Dostoevsky's),(4) in the reactions of his contemporaries to the parts as they appeared, and in the opening lines of the novel, which thematize the relationship of indi-
vidual elements (such as Alesha) to the whole and which promise the reader that the project underway is itself only part of a larger one.(5)
Even scholars who devote their energies to intrinsic analyses of the separate, one-volume edition of the text might find reason to examine the serial publication of
The Brothers Karamazov. First, the separate edition, which appeared immediately after the serialization was completed and which serves as the basis for modern editions, preserves many aspects of the novel's serial form: titles, subtitles, segmentation, and format, even when the format was a typesetter's mistake, as was the case with the single uninterrupted paragraph of "The Grand Inquisitor." (6) In preserving his serial form, Dostoevsky differed from such Western writers as Dickens, Thackeray, or Trollope, who would dissolve and regroup the parts of their serials into new wholes as they prepared separate editions.(7) Second, the separate edition of
The Brothers Karamazov preserves the mnemonic strategies (summaries, repeated phrases, recurring imagery) which Dostoevsky used to enable his initial readers to bridge the gaps between installments.(8) The devices which made it possible for readers to control nearly two years of reading prove not unhelpful for readers encountering the 700-page assembled text. Third, the initial critical response to the novel, which has set important issues for modern scholarship, frequently addressed the uncompleted novel.(9) Dostoevsky himself, who had only written several books of the novel when he began serialization, could react to this criticism as he continued to write and, in fact, entertained the possibility of responding to his critics in a letter to the editor of
The Russian Herald which appeared at the end of the first year of serialization.(10) Finally, the demands of serial publication increased the myriad tensions that were involved in nineteenth-century fiction-writing, tensions between the parties in the literary process (such as writers and editors and censors), between the novel's status as both a material object and an intellectual-artistic phenomenon, between the economic needs and interests of writers and publishers and their ideological concerns, between the need to seize the public's attention and to create art of the highest level, between ongoing engagement with the issues of the day and attempts to realize artistic insights of enduring value, between the integrity of the novel's parts and their place in the larger whole, or, to put it somewhat differently, between the part's place in an issue of a periodical and its place in the novel. Close attention to these aspects and tensions of serial publication can, in the case of
The Brothers Karamazov, help to illuminate the decisions that writer, editor, critics and readers made and, possibly, to occasion for us some of the new perceptions about which Shklovsky wrote.
A large issue in the poetics of serialization is the generic one, for while novels and periodicals had intertwined as publishing enterprises in Western Europe since at least the early eighteenth century, many different forms of serialization had evolved, each placing different special demands upon writers, readers, and publishers.(11) The crudest of these distinctions in serialized form involved the length of the part,
and these ranged from the several-hundred-page parts of the "triple-decker" novels that were the staple of the English lending libraries between the 1830's and 1880's, to the 32-page monthly parts popularized by Dickens, to the 5-page installment in such weekly magazines as
All the Year Round, to the quarter-page feuilletons which graced the so-called
rez-de-chaussée of the French daily newspapers or the podval of the Russian ones. In mid-century Russia, the favored form had become the monthly installment in the "thick journal," such as
The Russian Herald, an installment ranging in length from thirty to a hundred or so pages, permitting the novel to be serialized during the course of a subscription year.
As could well be imagined, these differing lengths proved compatible in varying degrees with the talents of individual writers. A master of surprise or suspense, such as Dickens or Wilkie Collins, could work very well within the limits of a five-page installment. A more discursive writer - a George Eliot - could find such shorter boundaries impossibly constricting and a threat to artistic dignity.(12) It was significant for the development of Russian fiction that the predominant mode of serialization between the 1840's and 1880's, the monthly "thick journals" allowed their novelists considerably more latitude - in length of the part, in frequency of their appearance, and in duration of the novel. Even here, however, there were norms, and Dostoevsky could boast with near accuracy that he had, up until
The Brothers Karamazov, completed his novels during one subscription year.(13) When
The Brothers Karamazov and Anna Karenina spilled over into two and three subscription years, the publisher of
The Russian Herald, not beloved by the Russian intelligentsia in the best of times, was accused of defrauding his subscribers, and Dostoevsky felt obliged to print a letter of apology in the December 1879 issue.(14) Yet two contemporary novels appeared at a much more dilatory pace: Mel'nikov's anthropological novel
In The Hills was supported by The Russian Herald during seven years (1875-1881) and Saltykov-Shchedrin's loosely constructed
Golovlevs continued for six years (1876-1881) in The National Annals (Otochestvennye zapiski).
X X X
Differences of length and frequency of installments as well as differences between the types of periodical or part publication in which the nineteenth-century novels appeared called for different types of plotting. Because some of the most striking serials of the century were those, such as the
romans-feuilletons, which featured swift action, sensational criminality, and intricate intrigue, scholarly attention has been drawn to the impact of this form of writing upon the novels of such writers as Dostoevsky, who worked in longer and more flexible serial forms, and in forms in which the problem of selling the individual parts or renewing subscriptions quarterly did not play a role, as it did with French and Russian daily newspapers or with the part publications of such English novelists as Dickens and Thackeray.(15)
The monthly installments of The Brothers Karamazov feature different principles of organization and, in particular, of concluding from those of the
romans-feuilletons or weekly parts. The Dostoevskian installment was, he intended, a "book", although four books (V, VIII, XI, XII) were, with the author's permission, divided into two installments. Each installment, he promised Liubimov, his long-suffering editor, would have "a finished character. That is, no matter how large or small the fragment, it would include something whole and finished,"(16) This phrase "whole and finished" echoes throughout Dostoevsky's correspondence, as does the phrase "I write in books."(17) And while one may see such insistence on artistic integrity as a tactical gambit for preventing Liubimov from making the kind of editorial decisions that had disfigured
Crime and Punishment, The Possessed, and the works of other writers, it does point toward a principle of organization that can be discovered in the parts, namely the attempt to give a thematic or conceptual unity to each installment .(18)
One can see this striving for unity in the rigor with which the individual books realize the thematics of their titles, which in all but three cases suggest not concrete individuals, but categories of public event ("a judicial error"), of character ("the sensualists"), or of psychology ("lacerations"). Dostoevsky positively revelled in the finished quality of Book X ("Boys"): "I am very satisfied that the book... is so separate and episodic: the reader will not have such pretentions (to criticism?) as if in the most unfinished place one had suddenly broken off and placed the words "to be continued.'"(19) Recent scholarship has shown how, in fact, a variety of structural principles (repeated images and situations, parallels in characterization, and fragments of quotations) tie Book X to the rest of the novel. (20) My point here is that Dostoevsky's strategies of serialization impelled the reader to perform this integration at the level of thematic inference and not at the level of story or "who done it." The reactions of his readers that have been collected in volume 86 of
Literaturnoe nasledstvo show his success in provoking such thematic interpretation of the individual parts and of the novel as an unfolding whole.(21)
Dostoevsky's reluctance to employ the serial writer's tricks is particularly evident in the conclusions to his installments, where, relatively speaking, he avoids the heavy-handed building of suspense that figured so prominently in the shorter serial forms. There are, to be sure, exceptions to this. Book VI ("The Russian Monk") does end with the narrator's attempts to arouse suspense by forewarning the reader about the "something unexpected, strange, alarming, and contradictory" which would soon occur (14: 294), but this is so trite by comparison with the general solemnity of Book VI that it as much calls attention to the gossipy, misguided townsfolk (including here the narrator) as it produces serious suspense. It is, in any case, more restrained than the typical installment ending of Dostoevsky's contemporaries, of which a convenient example may be provided by another fiction serialized in
The Russian Herald, K. Orlovsky's novella Redemption (Iskuplenie): "'Poor
Girl!' thought Vologdin, 'She pities me, but if she only knew to whom she has given her first love, and how dearly I would give to deliver her from what awaits her!'"(22)
Likewise, Dostoevsky avoids the serial writer's surprise endings. The only
exception comes at the end of Book VIII ("Mitia"), but here the sudden arrest of Dmitri provides a thematically appropriate ending for a book which has been shaped by extravagant plans, depths of despair, murder, assault, drunkenness, and Dmitri's mad chase after a parodistic resurrection (14: 336). It could be argued, since these decisions are a matter of interpretation, that Book IV ends with a surprise, namely Captain Snegyrev rejecting Alesha's offer of money (14: 193). To be surprised by this conclusion, however, would be to have missed the psychological patterns which had been so rigorously developed during this book, entitled "Lacerations." And Dostoevsky, as we see from a testy letter to a reader who failed to understand such patterns, insisted that his readers master his psychology: "Not only the plot of a novel is important for a reader, but also a certain knowledge of the human soul (psychology), which each author has a right to expect from the reader."(23)
More typical of Dostoevsky's methods of concluding an installment, be it a book or part of a book, are endings on moments of relaxation or endings which return to a theme of the book. Several parts end on moments of joy or reconciliation for Alesha (III, VII, X, Epilogue). Book XI ("Brother Ivan Fedorovich") ends on an uncertain note, Alesha's
recognition that Ivan could follow two paths - live in reconciliation or perish
in hatred - but this uncertainty concludes a book devoted to Ivan's alternating
rejection of and turning toward a number of characters, and it, therefore,
rounds off Book IX thematically.(24)
X X X
So far I have been discussing the installments as parts of the novel The Brothers Karamazov. But one of the "defamiliarizing" benefits of studying the serialization of the novel would be the opportunity that it affords to see the novel as contemporaries saw it during its first two years in the public sphere, as a contribution to a "thick journal",
The Russian Herald. (25) The editors of the journal made sure that the novel would be framed by never placing Dostoevsky's installment at either the front or the back, but always toward the middle of the monthly issue, thereby forcing readers to at least notice the other contributions as they made their way to the novel.
For modern readers, whose sense of the differences between imaginative literature and journalism may be strong and whose only encounter with novels has been through the medium of the book, the reading of a serialized novel within its environment can be a powerful experience of heteroglossia. Beside the installments of
The Brothers Karamazov, for example, appeared essays on biological science, ecology, technology, pedagogy, jurisprudence, prison organization, politics, philosophy, his-
tory, literature, and music. Memoirs, especially ones concerning Russia's wars in the Balkans and in the Caucasus, played a prominent part, as one would expect from the political orientation of the journal's editors. How, and, indeed, whether, these essays and the chapters of the novel came into contact for Dostoevsky, his editors, and his readers, remains a critical problem, and one which I can only touch upon briefly here.
The range of possibilities for such contact between fiction and essay or memoir is very great, and it would by no means necessarily have been uniform for all of the participants in the literary process. Assuming that the journal was publishing a novel of great appeal, as was the case with
The Brothers Karamazov, one could imagine a situation of minimal contact, or virtual disjuncture, in which the editors would take the fiction for its public appeal, the author would accept their offer for the honorarium involved, and the readers would turn directly to the serialized novel, ignoring the journal's other pieces. The other extreme, one of maximal contact, or coincidence, might involve the editors publishing an ideologically acceptable text for an author who would share that ideology, following the journal's other pieces and referring to them in a variety of ways and taking part in the journal's polemics with other journals for readers who would be interested in all of the journal's pieces and in its struggles with competing periodicals and ideologies.
Predictably enough, a hundred years of Dostoevsky scholarship and further research have demonstrated, not without controversy, that the case with
The Russian Herald, The Brothers Karamazov, and its many readers rests somewhere between the extremes of disjuncture and coincidence. Although Dostoevsky's attitude toward Katkov and
The Russian Herald was not uniformly positive during the years in which the novel was written and published and although there would have been purely financial reasons for giving
The Russian Herald his new novel, he also wrote of his relations to the journal in terms of values, describing himself as a contributor (sotrudnik) to the journal, praising some of Liubimov's political contributions to it, and yet mentioning that his own views did not totally coincide with Katkov's.(26) Beyond this, Leonid Grossman has shown that the novel incorporated many of the themes, characters, and incidents that characterized works by other members of Katkov's stable. (27) Other studies have shown how Dostoevsky waged polemical warfare with the chief ideological rival of
The Russian Herald, The National Annals, and with its editor, Saltykov-Shchedrin.(28)
For the purposes of a poetics of journal serialization, one would have to move beyond these valuable influence or author studies, however, to study the interplay between the installments of
The Brothers Karamazov and other contributions to The Russian Herald not as isolated elements in a thematic repertoire, but as statements belonging to institutionalized discourses. In this way one would study not only the relationship of particular parts of the lawyers' speeches to particu-
lar courtroom speeches that Dostoevsky had covered as a reporter, not only the relationship of particular parts of Zosima's life (Book VI) to particular moments in the lives of other elders that Dostoevsky had studied. Nor could one be satisfied with indicating the mere presence of parallels between sections of the novel and other types of contribution to the thick journal. One would also want to show how
The Brothers Karamazov had articulated (often parodistically), approached, and otherwise played with the strategies of judicial, hagiographical, theological, medical, psychological, or sociological discourse, discourses which were embodied in the other contributions to the journal. The lawyers' speeches, the doctors' analyses, the narrator's characterological generalizations, Ivan's article and "poem", the courtroom testimony and articles of Rakitin, and the biographies by Alesha and Rakitin are but several of the places where the novel makes contact with other types of writing in the journal. The provisional thematic closure of Dostoevsky's installments - provisional because later installments can reopen the topics - allows the novel to approach these other discourses and to risk absorption into them, yet (ultimately) to separate itself from them, because, among other reasons, the novelistic representations inevitably present human life as "open" or "unfinished" in contradistinction to the institutionalized discourses which present it as closed and determinate.(29) In this investigation of the interplay between novel and journal, Ivan and Rakitin serve as important figures of border-transgression because of the articles within the novel within the journal that they write.
A second aspect of this interplay of discourses would involve the extent to which other contributions to
The Russian Herald themselves reacted to aspects of the novel. This is too large a topic to be more than adumbrated here, but a representative place for the investigation to touch upon would concern the presentation of other monks in
The Russian Herald, of which two followed Dostoevsky's treatment of Zosima in Book VI (August 1879): Konstantin Leont'ev's biography of Father Kliment (November and December 1879), whose asceticism and stern rejection of comfort stand in opposition to Zosima's all-embracing love, and "D.B.'s" biography of Archimandrite Pimen' (December 1880), a rather dry account of a monk who strove for erudition and who fulfilled administrative roles in the monastery, unlike, again, Zosima. Such examples of implicit dialogue within the journal would make it possible to present the novel's position as one of neither ideological coincidence nor disjuncture with its medium, but rather of dynamic interaction.
It must be said at the conclusion of this very brief survey that while I have listed features of serial publication as a phenomenon of nineteenth-century literature, it has become considerably more possible to study these problems in the wake of recent methodological developments, such as reception theory, discourse analysis, and dialogic linguistics, all of which have called critical attention to the centrifugal, fragmentary, or unfinished moments in the literary process. Serialized fiction, including
The Brothers Karamazov, presents particular challenges to such modern methods, especially in terms
of a reader's ability to respond to an integral text, or in terms of the dialogue between novelistic discourse and other forms of discourse that may
have been published alongside the novel's installments. Yet, as I have tried to intimate here, these methods can, with due attention to their historical limitations and to the historical contexts of the nineteenth-century novel, help to illuminate aspects of the novel's poetics and pragmatics which have been neglected.
For a reader's complaint about Katkov's practices, see the letter of F. M. Tolstoi to O. F. Miller of 17 July 1879, in L. R. Lanskoi, "Pis'ma o Dostoevskom",
Literaturnoe nasledstvo, 86 (1973): 488.
Serialization of The Brothers Karamazov
"From the Author", Books I, II
April 1879 Book IV
May 1879 Book V, 1-4
Book V, 5-7
October 1879 Book VIII, 1-4
Book VIII, 5-8
(apology for delay)
April 1880 Book X
Book XI, 1-5
Book XI, 6-10
September 1880 Book XII, 1-5
Book XII, 6-14