DOSTOYEVSKY: A Human Portrait by Robert Payne

DOSTOYEVSKY: A Human Portrait

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A very effective study of Dostoyevsky also affords a contemporary parallel- the gifted Russian writer's suffering, at the hands of Czarist authorities, will bring the Pasternak story to mind. Payne, long a Russian scholar (as well as Pasternak's translator), had access to the latest published letters of Dostoyevsky and new documents. But as he says, he has been ""more concerned to portray the living man than to use him as a peg for a variety of theories... He defies system. To the end he remains the most inconsistent of men, shifting direction and emphasis according to the deep-seated wealth of his soul"". Although there may have been more brilliant critiques of his novels, there has probably never been such a complete, consistent and dramatic story of Dostoyevsky's life. And on one point Payne is firm: Dostoyevsky's intense nationalism remained undiminished in spite of the ordeal to come. Payne oaints an unequalled picture of the Czarist brutalization of the spirit, and the coincidental mystical and religious fervor it engendered in the ambivalent Russian soul. This ambivalence is the mystery which all of the novels express and which defies statement in western terms. If Payne has failed to solve it, he is in good company.... All in all, this is a fine portrait, with some literary appraisal of the novels, and it should make a permanent place for itself (in contrast to Coulter's sensationalized The Devil Inside which appeared last fall).

Pub Date: March 27th, 1961
Publisher: Knopf