Books by Joseph Frank

Released: Feb. 1, 1995

The fourth volume in the authoritative series launched with Dostoevsky: The Seeds of Revolt (1976), encompassing the six incredible years during which Dostoevsky wrote Crime and Punishment, The Gambler, The Idiot, and The Devils. This volume opens after the death of his brother, Mikhail, with Dostoevsky futilely attempting to singlehandedly edit and publish the journal they had founded, while also assuming Mikhail's debts and responsibility for his family. In a state of fiscal panic that would underlie his compositions for the rest of his career, Dostoevsky hurriedly wrote Crime and Punishment as a polemic against the radical younger generation's materialistic Nihilism (ably glossed by Frank), and The Gambler as a critique of his own mania for roulette. To keep up this pace he hired a stenographer, Anna Snitkin, who quickly became his second wife; the couple fled Russia to evade the financial demands of Dostoevsky's creditors and his brother's family. In exile in Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, the homesick writer continued his compulsive gambling and his debate with Westerners and Nihilists. He had a famous row with the anti-Slavophile Turgenev, and he got his political point of view across in The Idiot's idealized portrait of a Russian Christian and in The Devils's depiction of fiendish Nihilist conspiracies. Frank approaches Dostoevsky's tormented character with admirable restraint and perceptiveness, although he sidesteps the writer's cultish Russian nationalism. As in the previous volumes, Frank's outstanding strengths lie in his masterly grasp of Russian intellectual history and his literary detective work on Dostoevsky's sources, inspirations, and creative process, the two superbly combined in his chapters on the background and writing of The Devils. Covering the crest of Dostoevsky's creative output and one of his life's many troughs, Frank maintains his unbroken streak of biographic and literary excellence. (15 b&w illustrations, not seen) Read full book review >