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The Possessed: A Novel By Fyodor Dostoyevsky
« on: October 14, 2008, 05:52:19 PM »
Dostoyevsky's next novel, Besy (1872; The Possessed), earned him the permanent hatred of the radicals. Often regarded as the most brilliant political novel ever written, it interweaves two plots. One concerns Nikolay Stavrogin, a man with a void at the centre of his being. In his younger years Stavrogin, in a futile quest for meaning, had embraced and cast off a string of ideologies, each of which has been adopted by different intellectuals mesmerized by Stavrogin's personality. Shatov has become a Slavophile who, like Dostoyevsky himself, believes in the “God-bearing” Russian people. Existentialist critics (especially Albert Camus) became fascinated with Kirillov, who adopts a series of contradictory philosophical justifications for suicide. Most famously, Kirillov argues that only an utterly gratuitous act of self-destruction can prove that a person is free because such an act cannot be explained by any kind of self-interest and therefore violates all psychological laws. By killing himself without reason, Kirillov hopes to become the “man-god” and so provide an example for human freedom in a world that has denied Christ (the God-man).

It is the novel's other plot that has earned Dostoyevsky the reputation of a political prophet. It describes a cell of revolutionary conspirators led by Pyotr Stepanovich Verkhovensky, who binds the group together by involving them in murdering Shatov. (This incident was based on the scheme of a real revolutionary of the time, Sergey Nechayev.) One of the revolutionaries, Shigalyov, offers his thoughts on the emergence of the perfect society: “Starting with unlimited freedom, I arrive at unlimited despotism.” Enforced equality and guaranteed utopia demand the suppression of all individuality and independent thought. In lines that anticipate Soviet and Maoist cultural policy, Pyotr Stepanovich predicts that, when the revolution comes, “Cicero will have his tongue cut out, Copernicus will have his eyes put out, Shakespeare will be stoned,” all in the name of “equality.”

Pyotr is the son and Stavrogin the former student of the novel's weak but endearing liberal, Stepan Trofimovich Verkhovensky. Dostoyevsky suggests that the madness of the radical sons derives from their fathers' liberal skepticism, mockery of traditional morals, and, above all, neglect of the family. The Possessed is a profoundly conservative and Christian work. In contrast to its savage portraits of intellectuals, the novel expresses great sympathy for workers and other ordinary people ill-served by the radicals who presume to speak in their name. - source: Britannica Encyclopedia

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The Idiot: A Novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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