Authors We Love: Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky

Fyodor Dostoevsky - Wikipedia

In the middle of the 19th century, Russian society was full of contradictions and crises. The tyrannical rule of the tsar and capitalism weighed heavily on the psyche of the people. Dostoyevsky’s novels mainly depict the misery, contradiction, hardship and desperation of people living at the bottom of the society, reveal the depravity and destruction of human nature and the split of human spirit in this pathological society, and show the darkness and filth of the Russian society under the shadow of the autocratic rule and the capitalist system. His novels depict the bullied and insulted, and try to show the misery of the characters hidden in the dark corners of the slums. Dostoyevsky describes people who are divided by themselves, reveals multiple personalities and shows the return of human nature. Dostoyevsky is an expert in psychological description. He is obsessed with pathological psychological description. He not only writes about the results of behaviors, but also focuses on describing the psychological process of behaviors, especially those abnormal behaviors, near coma and madness.

The characters’ abnormal thinking and behavior are exactly the characteristics of his works. The intensity of Dostoyevsky’s psychological description is in proportion to the bewilderment of his thoughts. Dostoyevsky mainly adopts a non – temporal narration in dealing with the timing of the novel. Because he preferred to choose the most intense, terrible and extreme events as the subject matter of the novel, and was keen to show people’s psychology in the crisis, the overall rhythm of the work was extremely unstable. In the description of characters, Dostoevsky broke the tradition of describing characters in Russian literature since Pushkin. He not only described their impoverished situation, but also revealed the soul of the characters, not only sympathizing with them, but also associating with them. The strong is a story element opposed to the weak, mainly referring to those who have money and power but disregard any moral principles. Their most important characteristic is to get their own way. The rescuer and the rescued are another pair of story elements in Dostoyevsky’s novels.

If the antagonism between the strong and the weak constitutes the first clue of the narrative of the novel and highlights the author’s humanitarian feelings, then the second narrative clue composed of the rescuer and the rescued reflects the author’s thoughts full of religious meaning, which is of more metaphysical significance in thinking about the way out of the society. The latter two narrative elements are gradually developed in his novels. The story element of the savior is the perfect Image of Christ in Dostoevsky’s novels, the embodiment of the supreme good. At the beginning of creation, the image of the savior appeared in the form of a kind of good behavior, namely self-sacrificing love. After his return from exile in Siberia, Dostoyevsky shifted his focus to religious exploration, and the rescuer began to appear in his novels as a concrete and sensible figure. His character gradually became full and distinct, and he was no longer confined to the scope of love, but had a broader social content. In the novel, this element is the external manifestation of the author’s thoughts, and the author mainly reflects his own religious ideal of salvation through it.

Therefore, such characters are flat and are the “mouthpiece” of the author’s thoughts, often giving people a sense of paleness. The rescued person is the most important story element in his novels. Compared with the rescued person, this kind of character image is more abundant. The image of the rescued first appeared as the image of the visionary in Dostoevsky’s novels. This image inherits the tradition of superfluity in 19th century Russian literature and has the characteristics of superfluity: dissociating from the society, holding a critical attitude towards the society and possessing the characteristics of thinker. So his novels end with the triumph of the savior’s mind. But as an artist, Dostoyevsky always triumphs over himself as a moralist. He was deeply aware of the social reality at that time when people still had no way out depending on religion. The contradiction of his thoughts makes the main part of the novel present an open structure, and the ending presents an open state in a closed form.

The foundation of Dostoevsky’s novels is binary opposition, mainly composed of four story elements: the strong, the weak, the rescuer and the rescued, among which a theme of “salvation” runs through. Secondly, the structure of Dostoevsky’s novels is inconsistent. The construction of elements in his novels mainly consists of three parts: the antagonism between strong and weak — the conflict between good and evil in the heart of the saved, and the conversion of the save and the saved. However, due to the mutual influence, interweaving and inhomogeneity of various contradictions, the novel is open and incomplete in content. The reason why Dostoevsky adopted such a structure pattern in constructing novels is closely related to his religious thoughts and perplexities. Dostoyevsky’s novels mainly adopt two perspectives: inner perspective and omniscient perspective. First of all, his novels mainly show people’s self-consciousness. All kinds of consciousness have a relationship of equal dialogue, so the first-person inner perspective and the third-person indefinite inner perspective are the perspectives often adopted in his novels.

This perspective reflects Dostoevsky’s religious confusion and exploration. Secondly, the omniscient perspective of Dostoevsky’s novels is mainly reflected in the beginning and the end of the novels, which has two functions: one is to serve the characteristics of the perspective inside the main body of the novels, and the other is to serve the religious thoughts of Dostoevsky, thus forming the characteristics of the closed form of the novels. In addition, there are some “meta-novel” narrative modes in Dostoevsky’s novels, which also convey the confusion in his religious thoughts, no matter for the narrator, the hero or the reader. Thus, we can conclude the perspective mode of Dostoevsky’s novels: the main body of the novels mainly narrates from the inner perspective, and the beginning and end of the novels often adopt the omniscient perspective. Dostoyevsky’s construction of the time mode in his novels is mainly reflected in the following aspects: first, he no longer places events in the process of time like traditional novels, and is keen to describe the process in detail; instead, he cuts time, adopts a non-temporal narration, and pays attention to the synchro meaning of time. Secondly, it is also reflected in the psychological time intervention in the novel. He always likes to put the characters in the two poles of contradiction and in the atmosphere of tension, so as to describe all the secrets of the human heart. Hence, the psychological time is much longer than the story time.

-Coreen C.

Authors We Love: Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy (Novelist) - On This Day

Tolstoy has done a lot of thinking on human nature in his novels. From these thinking, we can see the most real aspect of Tolstoy’s spiritual world. Tolstoy’s reflections on human nature were inspired mainly by the history and reality of Russia at the time. On the one hand, traditional Russia was a patriarchal society, and the Orthodox Church determined the way people thought and felt. Tolstoy was also deeply influenced by the Orthodox Church, whether his attitude was one of acceptance or reservation. On the other hand, the European spirit of enlightenment also exerted a deep influence on Russia, which shook the foundation of traditional Russian belief to a great extent.

The influence of the spirit of enlightenment on Tolstoy was also significant, which made Tolstoy suspect the basic doctrinarian system of Orthodox Church, and he would not think about the issue of faith like ordinary believers. However, Tolstoy did not fully move towards the Enlightenment position of individualism in Europe, so his thinking on human nature often drifted between the two, sometimes like a believer, sometimes like a humanist. The utopian thoughts in Tolstoy’s works are mainly reflected in the resistance against violence and slavery, the opposition to private land system, and the opposition to the promotion of capitalist material civilization and evolution.

He demanded the return to a healthy farming life through the work and moral practice of everyone to establish brotherhood, equality, harmony and fraternity of all human beings. Tolstoy created epic novels. The historical facts are blended with artistic fiction, and the bold and unrestrained brushwork is mixed with delicate description. Tolstoy shows his personal face in a large group portrait. The epic’s solemnity is interspersed with lyrical monologues, which are varied and magnificent. He is good at handling the structure of many clues and the threads are all joined together seamlessly. He can break through the closed form of the novel as magnificent as life has no beginning and no end.

Tolstoy’s artistic charm lies not only in reproducing the macro world, but also in portraying the micro world. Tolstoy has mastered the dialectical development of the mind unprecedentedly in the world literature and described the evolution process of the mind under the influence of the outside world in detail. He dives deep into the subconscious and show it in a harmonious connection with the conscious mind. Tolstoy’s artistic power is real, and it is evident in the shaping of character. He faithfully describes the multifaceted, rich, and complex nature of his characters, not just their dominant side or a dominant state of mind.

He does not conceal the faults of his beloved, nor does he stifle the glimmer of light that flashes in the heart of the character he reveals. He does not sugar-paint, exaggerate, idealize or caricature, but always shows his true nature by the help of real and objective description, thus seeing greatness in the ordinary or, conversely, showing its horror in the ordinary phenomena. Tolstoy’s style is chiefly characterized by its simplicity. He strives for the fullest and most accurate reflection of the truth of life or expression of his own thoughts. Therefore, although he is strict in art, he does not seek to win by skill alone, nor does he seek formal delicacy and avoid long compound sentences, but only seeks the maximum expression. In order to show the disillusionment of the characters in structure, he often adopts the method of flashback. In language, the novel strives to be simple and concise and easy to understand, close to folktales.

-Coreen C.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

“They took me in my nightgown.”

Like Moby Dick’s “Call me Ishmael,” a book’s opening line sets more than just the tone of the story. It humanizes a character, as it is the first introduction of the reader into a new world. And Sepetys demonstrates the striking quality of a few words in the first line of Between Shades of Gray. She narrates the fragile account of a persecuted 15-year-old Lithuanian girl and the story of an unmendable world falling apart.

Lina Vilkas was preparing to attend art school. In an already dark world, Lina looked up to the iconic Edvard Munch for inspiration in her sketches. She, alongside her mother and younger brother, was taken by the Soviet secret police and is introduced to the never-ending gruesome reality of a world ruled by the Stalinist administration. As Lina, her mother, and her brother struggle to survive in the cold labor camp, the syntax of writing seemingly wavers as well. Slowly, pictures of their previous lives in Lithuania appear across the pages, in italicized flashbacks.

Sepetys’ writing intertwines the feeling of a coming-of-age story, though constantly in juxtaposition to perpetual starvation, sickness, and loss. Well deserving of recognition as a #1 New York Times Bestselling author, Sepetys artistically crafts each anecdote, putting indescribable meaning to trivial occurrences, like the gaze from a loved one. It was reminiscent of the timeless Don McLean song, “Vincent” (“Starry Starry Night”). Between Sepetys’ use of language and Lina’s connection to Edward Munch, I found myself constantly paralleling the song to the story. As Vincent Van Gogh painted from his cell in a mental hospital in his final days, he tried to see the beauty in the bitter world. Similarly, I feel as though Lina would also find solace in this song, as the only way she can express herself is through her sketches in the snow, on the tree bark, or on the final pages in her notebook.

Ruta Sepetys composes a devastatingly realistic through the pages of “Between Shades of Gray.” I highly recommend the read, and I look forward to exploring more of her works, especially in the era of the Second World War.

-Maya S.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded from Overdrive.

The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky

The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky: 9780451531520 | PenguinRandomHouse.com:  Books

Like most of Dostoyevsky’s novels, “The Idiot” has a tragic ending, but that doesn’t make “The Idiot” a work of pessimism. The tragic ending of the protagonists reflects the author’s pain caused by the yearning for a better future. The positive ideal put forward by Dostoevsky has been bankrupted, but the ardent yearning for the good ideal is forever shining with the radiance of humanism. The novel gives a broad description of the Russian upper class after the reform of serfdom, involving complex psychological and moral issues. The good, tolerant Prince Myshkin is powerless to influence or benefit those around him, a Quixotic figure whose futile efforts show the disillusionment of the author’s attempt to save the world through faith and love.

“The Idiot” develops themes of indignity and victimization. The strong rebelliousness of the heroine Nastasya Filippovna and the kindness and purity of the positive character Prince Myshkin give the novel a bright tone. But some nihilistic images used to attack revolutionaries have weakened the novel’s revealing power. The development of bourgeois social relations and the disintegration of old social relations are observed and expressed from the perspective of moral psychology. The plot of the novel takes the emotional entanglement of the hero Prince Myshkin, Nastasya Filippovna and Aglaya Yepanchina as the second main line of humanitarianism about kindness and love.

Although he was clearly called an idiot by many people around him at that time, people close to him showed to him that in the social environment at that time, people were ashamed to show their love and supreme trust and their sincere yearning for truth, goodness and beauty under the cover of false and vain appearance. The main idea of a novel is to portray an absolutely beautiful character, and there is nothing more difficult than that, especially now. All writers, not only In Russia, but all over Europe, feel powerless if they wish to depict absolute beauty. Because it’s an incredibly difficult task. Beauty is the ideal, and the ideal, whether for us or for civilized Europe, is far from being formed. There is only one absolutely wonderful person in the world – Christ. Therefore, the appearance of this incomparable and infinitely beautiful figure is certainly a permanent miracle. That’s what the Gospel of John means. He sees miracles as mere manifestations of beauty. The author modeled Prince Myshkin according to the image of Christ in his mind. He was the spokesman of Christ and the embodiment of moral beauty. As an image of pure moral beauty, Prince Myshkin embodies all the virtues of Christ — love, humility, obedience, patience, open-mindedness, selflessness, repaying good for evil, faith, keeping the suffering of mankind in one’s own heart, always ready to sacrifice for others. In Prince Myshkin, morality is religiously incarnated, that is to say, morality finds its home in faith in Christ.

The implementation of morality is guaranteed by religious belief and its system. The life brought about by the moral efforts of the inner self is also the sublimation of the soul brought about by salvation. Only the moral binding force of religion can bring people from vulgarity to sanctity, from humble to sublime. Therefore, “The Idiot” reveals that moral belief and sanctification are the only way to play the role and function of society, and the moral destination is religious faith, the Russian Orthodox Christ. The so-called “beauty” refers to the personality and moral beauty embodied in Christ, and the spirit of Christ’s beauty is the only power to save the world from suffering. Christ is the ideal entity of moral perfection, and man’s redemption in this world is Christ who is the symbol of moral perfection after the baptism of suffering, the purification of love, the removal of evil from good. In fact, the religious belief in “The Idiot” is rooted in moral necessity. Thus, on the surface, the work is a loud call for the return of religious belief and a repeated argument for the existence of God, while the real concern is that without the shadow of religious belief, morality will become homeless. If there is no God, everyone can do as he pleases. Therefore, God is needed to restrain people to realize the perfection of people and the ideal harmony of society.

At the same time, for individuals in the real society, the practice of morality should be reflected as a kind of behavior of consciously obeying the teachings and strictly complying with the moral laws of religion in the world. The core of Christ’s beauty is love, and love is the eternal content of moral law. A man should be an enhancement of Christ’s virtue. The moral concept of “The Idiot” reflects a moral ideal, which in real life is more reflected as a man-made act of peace, and becomes the state of personal cultivation and pursuit to achieve. In this state, it is assumed that being is realized in love and that the development of being is accomplished in love. Love first, regardless of logic, only then can you grasp the meaning of life. If you love life, half the battle is yours. In a society where everyone loves each other, the world is becoming more and more beautiful, and all human beings are marching towards messiah and universal harmony. This is the beauty of Prince Myshkin to save the world, and this is the heaven on earth that Prince Myshkin wants to create. “The Idiot” ends with Parfyon Semyonovich Rogozhin killing Nastasya Filippovna, thus pushing human sin to an extreme. This destructive act means salvation for both Parfyon Semyonovich Rogozhin and Nastasya Filippovna. The scene of Nastasya Filippovna’s death was somewhat similar to the crucifixion of Christ in Golgotha; her body bore a striking resemblance to the image of the dead Christ hanging in Luo’s room. Nastasya Filippovna takes her name from the Greek word Anastasius, meaning resurrection, and receives death with equanimity, exactly like Christ. To her soul, death meant resurrection. She sacrificed her life to atone for her sins and overcome her spiritual death. In addition, Parfyon Semyonovich Rogozhin’s name is most likely borrowed from Moscow Rogozhkoe cemetery where he is on the verge of death, signifying the possibility of a new life.

-Coreen C.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Amazon.com: War and Peace (Vintage Classics) (9781400079988 ...

This book centers on the Great Patriotic War of 1812 and reflects major historical events from 1805 to 1820. Taking the experience of Bezuhov, Rostov, and Kuragin as the mainline, it connects many events and characters in the alternating description of war and peace. The author cross-described the two lives and two threads of “war” and “peace”, forming an encyclopedic magnificent epic. The basic theme of “War and Peace” is to recognize the just resistance actions of the Russian people during the war, and to praise the patriotic enthusiasm and heroism of the Russian people during the war. But the tone of his work is one of religious benevolence and humanitarianism. He opposes war and sympathizes deeply with the suffering of all sides.

Andrei, Pierre, and others have experienced a tortuous and dialectical development process in their pursuit of ideals and truth. The different mental manifestations of the Russian troops in different battles, such as panic, calmness, and passion, combined with the distinctive individual psychological motivations of each bearing in the specific war, melted and formed the spiritual atmosphere in every corner of the battlefield. Morale is the key to win or lose in a war. The novel War and Peace has both the magnificent color of epic novels and the depth of expression in its insight into the psychology of characters and even the entire nation. The work focuses on a panoramic overview of social life, realizing the epic aesthetic ideal of the creative subject and transcending the work itself. War and Peace powerfully exposes and criticizes the decadence of the upper-class society. In the critical autumn of their motherland, they are still fighting for power and wealth, leading a life of luxury and dissipation and shamelessness.

-Coreen C.

Book Review: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Amazon.com: Anna Karenina (Barnes & Noble Classics) (9781593080273): Leo  Tolstoy, George Stade, Constance Garnett, Amy Mandelker: Books

An excellent psychological description is the essence of the artistic charm of Anna Karenina. The psychological description of the characters is an important part of the whole work. Anna’s choice shows human error. In order to realize the narrow personal love, she did not mind leaving her family as a slave to her own lust. Leo Tolstoy profoundly reveals the origin of Anna’s tragic fate through this magnificent work, that is, the incomplete emotional personality determines Anna’s tragic fate. Although her life exploration is aimed at realizing the spiritual self-pursuit, her life force lacks rational coordination, support and control, resulting in a tragic ending of drifting with passion.

Anna vigorously pursues the extension of perceptual life, strives to explore the original existence mode of life, and earnestly calls for the return of human nature. This behavior mode and understanding of life are understandable, but it does not mean that we should completely abandon even a little bit of rational constraints. Anna in the pursuit of spiritual freedom and practice of the liberation of human nature at the same time fell into the sensual error of indulgence. The freedom she sought to cast off the shackles of society was a selfish freedom, a freedom without scruples, a satisfaction of emotional and possessive desires.

Freedom is not a simple sense of doing whatever you want to do, but a rational sense of active life stretch. If we abandon the principle of reason and only recognize the freedom of the individual, then the freedom of the individual can easily constitute a violation of the freedom of another person, harm the interests of the surrounding groups, lead to contradictions and conflicts, and ultimately make the freedom of the individual insecure and unstable. Just as the pareto principle in economics requires, the realization of individual freedom must be restrained by rationality to ensure the freedom of the whole society is not reduced, that is, the increase of individual freedom must be presupposed by respecting the freedom of other relevant individuals.

It is only under the guidance of reason that each individual seeks his or her own freedom that he or she will be recognized by the social subject. Freedom must be combined with reason to manifest and realize, so as to form a complete concept of moral self-discipline. On the contrary, freedom without reason is at best an empirical self, not a positive extension of life. Only by constraining oneself with the power of reason, realizing the unity of sensibility and rationality, and establishing a sound ideal personality, can we achieve the true state of freedom, which is the highest state that human beings should pursue.

Moreover, Tolstoy saw that in Russia, with the development of urban civilization and material civilization, people’s natural emotions were suppressed, subjectivity gradually lost, and they became the slaves of selfish desires. In the novel, Levin is a man who loses himself in the bureaucratic strife. Through this character, the author shows his reflection on rationality and his deep worry about the alienation of human nature. In the novel, Tolstoy also created two environments, two kinds of aristocrats, through the lives of Levin and Anna. One was the city, where the Karenin, the Oblonsky, and the Vronsky aristocracy lived.

The other was the countryside, where the Levin aristocracy lived. The former is far from nature, for selfish desire to slowly lose the natural emotion of people. In the competition between human beastliness and human nature, they gradually abandon the good self for their own selfish desires. And the latter is in the natural environment, in the real work to exercise the body, purify the mind, get real happiness. Tolstoy shows his opposition to urban civilization through different aristocratic attitudes towards nature. From the cultural point of view, Anna’s tragedy should be the manifestation of Russian cultural tragedy.

Anna struggled between emotional satisfaction and religious repression, lacking a rational regulatory link, a mental defect that showed the fragmentation of Russian culture. Russia is a latecomer to capitalism. It is a millennia-long religious and authoritarian system that keeps the state running. The scientific Enlightenment, which rose slowly in Russia from the end of the 18th century to the beginning of the 19th century, was often led by the ruling class to serve the autocratic system, which resulted in a lack of real rational spirit and legal consciousness, let alone a sense of democracy.

In Russia, only a small number of intellectuals (such as Pushkin, Belinsky, Turgenev) were affected by western science, democracy and rational spirit. However, most intellectuals have a strong religious consciousness inherent in their minds (such as Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, etc., who best represent the characteristics of Russian culture). For the Russian people as a whole, their way of looking at problems and dealing with things is either instinctive desires or moral beliefs, and their instincts and beliefs are in a state of confrontation and division. Hence, Anna embodies the fractured nature of instinct and belief in Russian culture.

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky: 9780553211757 |  PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books

Raskolnikov, a poor university student, lived in a small five-story apartment in a poor Petersburg slum. He had been forced to drop out of law school because he could not afford his tuition, and now lived off the money his mother and sister had saved from a tight budget. He hasn’t paid his rent for a long time. Of late the landlady had not only stopped feeding him, but was pressing him very hard for rent. Then he met Marmeladov, a junior civil servant. Marmeladov was driven to despair by unemployment, and his eldest daughter Sofia was forced to become a street prostitute. Raskolnikov did not want to be like Marmeladov, but he wanted to do something to prove that he was a very extraordinary man. The proprietress of the pawnshop, not far from where he lived, was a usurer, merciless. One night, while she was alone, Raskolnikov broke into the house and killed her. Raskolnikov, in a panic, killed the landlady’s half-sister, who was returning.

The next morning he received a summons from the police. He was horrified, but was relieved to learn later that he was chasing after the money he owed. As he was leaving, he overheard the officer talking about last night’s murder and passed out to get the officer’s attention. When he regained consciousness, he went home and was bedridden for several days, before recovering. After the murder, Raskolnikov, unable to get rid of his fear because of the painful conflicts in his heart, felt that he had lost all his original good feelings. This was a punishment of conscience more severe than the punishment of law. He was conscious that he had failed. So he came to Sofia in anguish of heart, and, inspired by Sofia’s religious ideas, told her the truth and the motive of the crime. Persuaded by Sonia, he turned himself in to the police. Sentenced to eight years of hard labor, Raskolnikov traveled to Siberia. Sofia was soon there too. The two met early one morning by the river. They are determined to have faith in God, to suffer all kinds of sufferings in a penitent mood and to gain spiritual rebirth.

Suspect Red by L.M. Elliot

Suspect Red, by L.M. Elliot, was one of the most historically accurate books I’ve ever read. It takes place in the 1950’s, which was the time of the Cold War. This book has everything, from psychotic secret agents, to power-hungry communists. I used this book for an English report, and it gave me an abundance of powerful characters and vivid scenery to write about. Another factor that I really enjoyed was the length of the book. It wasn’t too long, nor too short. The book, in my opinion, is a great read for all ages.

The storyline follows the point of view of Richard, a teenage boy who loves reading. However, the nation is thrown into distrust, with communist propaganda around every corner. Hundreds of classic books are being thrown out, their authors accused of being pro-communist. His father, who Richard idolizes, happens to be working under the people responsible for this overexaggeration of fear, the FBI directors.

Overall, this is a great book for anyone looking for a good, well-rounded historical fiction read. If you’re interested in the Cold War, or just think the cover art looked cool, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. Thank you for reading my review on Suspect Red, by L.M. Elliot. Definitely take this book into consideration!

-Luke D.

Suspect Red by L. M. Elliot is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library