In a message dated 14/12/2008 20:20:04 GMT Standard Time,
I have a very
simple question for the list. It is a well known fact that Nabokov didn't like
Dostoyevsky. My question is "why ?".
Nabokov explains in his Lectures on Russian Literature
(1981). The following extracts may go some way to answering your
1. Dostoevski's lack of taste, his monotonous dealings with persons
suffering with pre-Freudian complexes, the way he has of wallowing in the tragic
misadventures of human dignity -- all this is difficult to admire. (p.
2. The very best thing he ever wrote seems to me to be The
Double. ... It is a perfect work of art, that story... (p. 104)
3. I must have been twelve when forty-five years ago I read
Crime and Punishment for the first time and thought it a wonderfully
powerful and exciting book. I read it again at nineteen, during the awful years
of civil war in Russia, and thought it long-winded, terribly sentimental, and
badly written... And only quite recently did I realize what is so wrong
about the book.
The flaw, the crack in it, which in my
opinion causes the whole edifice to crumble ethically and esthetically may be
found in part ten, chapter 4. It is in the beginning of the redemption scene
when Raskolnikov, the killer, discovers through the girl Sonya the New
Testament. She has been reading to him about Jesus and the raising of Lazarus.
So far so good. But then comes this singular sentence that for sheer stupidity
has hardly the equal in world-famous literature: "The candle was flickering out,
dimly lighting up in the poverty-stricken room the murderer and the harlot who
had been reading together the eternal book." "The murderer and the harlot" and
"the eternal book" -- what a triangle. This is a crucial phrase, of a typically
Dostoevskian rhetorical twist. Now what is so dreadfully wrong about it?
Why is it so crude and so inartistic?
I suggest that neither a true artist nor a
true moralist -- neither a good Christian nor a good philosopher -- neither a
poet nor a sociologist -- should have placed side by side, in one breath, in one
gust of false eloquence, a killer together with whom? -- a poor streetwalker,
bending their completely different heads over that holy book. The Christian God,
as understood by those who believe in the Christian God, has pardoned the harlot
nineteen centuries ago. The killer, on the other hand, must be first of all
examined medically. The two are on completely different levels. The inhuman
and idiotic crime of Raskolnikov cannot be even remotely compared to the plight
of a girl who impairs human dignity by selling her body. The murderer and the
harlot reading the eternal book -- what nonsense. There is no rhetorical link
between a filthy murderer, and this unfortunate girl. There is only the
conventional link of the Gothic novel and the sentimental novel. It is a shoddy
literary trick, not a masterpiece of pathos and piety. Moroever, look at the
absence of artistic balance. We have been shown Raskolnikov's crime in all
sordid detail and we also have been given half a dozen different explanations
for his exploit. We have never been shown Sonya in the exerecise of her trade.
The situation is a glorified cliche. The harlot's sin is taken for granted.
Now I submit that the true artist is the person who never takes anything
for granted. (pp. 110-113)
Nabokov goes on to ask:
Why did Raskolnikov kill? The
motivation is extremely muddled... (p. 113)
Did Dostoevski succeed in making
it all plausible? I doubt it... (p. 114)
Nabokov says in Lectures on Literature (1980) that the scene in
Ulysses where Mr Bloom brings his wife her breakfast is "one of the
greatest passages in all literature". (p. 306)
I think that Nabokov's account of what is wrong with Crime and
Punishment is one of the greatest passages in all literary
criticism. The only flaw in it seems to me Nabokov's muddled
suggestion that Raskolnikov "must be first of all examined medically". What
has Raskolnikov's ethical squalor and depravity to do with
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