NABOKV-L post 0006136, Tue, 28 Aug 2001 07:52:51 -0700

VN vs. Dostoevsky: What's Envy Got to Do With It? (fwd)
From: "[iso-8859-1] Tuomas Työrinoja" <>

In my opinion, Nabokov's loathing of Dostoyevski is nothing less than a
perfectly logical conclusion of his literary esthetics. Nabokov despised
books written for a social cause, or that dwelled on 'large ideas'. He
insisted that books should be written for their own sake, for the noble
pleasure of the writer and the creative reader alike; that literature
should be Literature, not social or political commentary disguised as
fiction (which I strongly agree with) and Dostoyevski, undoubtely, is a
writer with a strong social inclination. Whether or not his artistic
merits compensate or even exceed this "journalism", of which Nabokov
accused Dostoyevski, is, I quess, a matter of debate.

(BTW. This is my first posting here. Hello to everyone!)

- Tuomas Työrinoja
Helsinki, Finland

> There are quite a few people on the list -- like Sasha Dolinin and Julian
> Connolly, for example -- who have written extensively on Dostoevsky and
> Nabokov, and I hope they respond as well but since Rodney refers to me in
> this message,I just want to add a couple of thoughts of my own.
> There are so many things that are wrong with the statement Richard Pevear
> and Larissa Volokhonsky allegedly made that, like Rodney, I am not even
> sure where to start. "Aristocratic snobbery" is, of course, totally inept
> as an explanation for Nabokov's feelings about Dostoevsky since one of
> Nabokov's favorite Russian writers was Chekhov, a grandson of a serf. In
> his origins (impoverished nobility on one side, merchants on the other)
> Dostoevsky is also not all that different from Gogol who was, of course,
> someone whose literary gift Nabokov greatly admired. Likewise, neither
> Gogol's fervent religiosity nor Tolstoy's ever kept Nabokov from
> appreciating them as great writers and brilliant craftsmen.
> That VN did not consider Dostoevsky to be a great master of Russian
> language should not be all that surprising. Even people who admire
> Dostoevsky much more than Nabokov ever did are often ready to admit that
> as a stylist he is no match to the likes of Gogol or Tolstoy. It is
> also important to remember that Nabokov was not totally indiscriminate in
> his criticism of Dostoevsky -- he did like "The Double," for example, and
> did note in his lectures quite a few other things that he thought
> Dostoevsky did well. In addition to what he perceived as Dostoevsky's
> deficiency in verbal/stylistic skills, what rubbed VN the wrong way was
> what he considered to be Dostoevsky's excessive "emoting," sentimentality
> and, perhaps, certain humorlessness in his longer novels. I suspect,
> however, that if Dostoevsky had not been such an absolute icon in the West
> and Nabokov's own favorite Russian writers (like Pushkin and Gogol) had
> been better known and appreciated here, he would have not felt quite as
> compelled to attack Dostoevsky (and even go as far as to call him, very
> unfairly, a "third-rate" writer) in order to deflate his established image
> and standing.
> As to "Dostoevsky envy," it's of course total hogwash. Not that I
> believe Nabokov never envied anyone -- he probably did envy Joyce some,
> especially the writer's total and native mastery of English -- but
> that is beyond the point. While it is true that in terms of their
> so-called "themes" D. and N. could be quite similar -- to name but a few
> and in a very simplified manner, insanity ("The Double" and _Despair_),
> "father-daughter" incest ("The Landlady" and _Lolita_), imprisonment
> (_Notes from the House of the Dead_ and _Invitation_,) the nature and
> "curse" of obsession (_The Gambler_ and _Luzhin's Defense_) -- they
> approach these themes so differently that their affinity, it seems to
> me, pretty much stops as soon as their respective texts begin. But this
> is, of course, something on which different critics and readers may, and
> perhaps should, disagree since the network of links is quite extensive,
> including, as many noted, even some rather uncommon names -- like Luzhin
> (Crime and Punishment), Ganin (Ganya in Idiot), etc. And yet, even if the
> affinity and indebtedness go deeper than I suggest, from this to "envy" as
> a reason for N's dislike of Dostoevsky is, it seems to me, still a huge
> and unwarranted step.
> Finally, regarding VN's re-readings of Dostoevsky, here Pevear and
> Volokhonsky should have just kept their mouths shut since, as Rodney
> points out, in this they are wrong on plain and indisputable facts...
> Galya Diment