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Dostoevsky as a Romantic Novelist

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Abstract

Dostoevsky is often regarded as the ultimate heir to both European and Russian Romanticisms, and the genre of the polyphonic novel that he created—as a quintessential expression of literary and philosophical modernism. This chapter argues that in order to fully understand Dostoevsky’s breakthrough one ought to examine his work in the context of both German and Russian aesthetic debates in the 1800s–60s. The crucial role in all these discussions belonged to Friedrich Schiller, whom Dostoevsky on one occasion called “a Russian poet,” whose works “have become flesh and blood of Russian culture.” Schiller’s poetry and dramas offered a lifelong source of poetic inspiration to Dostoevsky. He also knew Schiller’s Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man (1795) and On Naïve and Sentimental Poetry (1795–96), and tried to apply them in his novelistic experimentations. Focusing in particular on The Brothers Karamazov, this chapter argues that Dostoevsky’s attempt to cast Alyosha as an embodiment of the Schillerian “beautiful soul” capable of reconciling his brothers remains unconvincing. Although in the epilogue Alyosha acts like a teacher in front of a crowd of schoolboys, his Bildung remains incomplete. The denouement of Dmitry’s and Ivan’s stories is likewise deferred. But while this work, which lacks unity of action, resists canonical aesthetic interpretations, it invites Friedrich Schlegel’s approach to the novel as a pluralistic, essentially open genre system, which integrates ancient and modern, “naïve” and “sentimental” literary forms.

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Bonn UniversityBonnGermany

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