Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time

By Joseph Frank; Mary Petrusewicz | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 27

Winter Notes on Summer Impressions

The last important work that Dostoevsky published in Time was Winter Notes on Summer Impressions (Zimnie zametki o letnikh vpechatleniyakh), a series of articles in which he launches a full-scale assault on the major pieties of the radical credo. Dostoevsky seizes the occasion of his first journey through Europe to explore the whole tangled history of the relationship between educated Russians and European culture. Within this framework he also discusses the larger issues then being posed by radical ideology: the basis of a new moral-social order; the question of Socialism; the future destiny of mankind. By the time he finishes he will have discovered both the literary and the ideological stance that will lead within two years to the composition of his first post-Siberian masterpiece, Notes from Underground.

Much like Americans such as Hawthorne, Emerson, and Henry James, cultivated Russians felt a need to define their own national individuality by comparing themselves with Europe, and Dostoevsky's Winter Notes takes its place in a long line of works through which Russians have examined the roots of their own culture as it had evolved, since Peter the Great, under the successive waves of European influence. Only by making the prescribed pilgrimage to the West, only by ceasing to regard Europe through the haze of distance as some enchanted land, could a Russian discover what aspects of European influence in his homeland he might wish to preserve and what discard. As a result, the travel diary has always been one of the chief means by which Russian self-consciousness has been sharpened and affirmed; and Dostoevsky's Winter Notes, true to type, thus gives us a fuller and franker expression of his convictions than any so far encountered in public print.

Like the vast majority of travelers to a foreign land, much of what Dostoevsky saw and felt corresponded gratifyingly to the expectations he had entertained before leaving. Roman Jakobson has amusingly pointed out the similarity in the reaction to Europe, and particularly to France, that can be observed over the time span of a century and a half in the writings of the most diverse variety of Russian visitors. Whether in 1800 or 1900, whether a Socialist radical, a patri

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