Notes from the House of the Dead
Dostoevsky's Ridiculous Jew and the Critics
Many commentators have argued that in Notes from the House of the Dead Dostoevsky seemed content merely to replicate a commonplace Jewish stereo type so that at best Isay Fomich is a comic caricature.1 Others, while conceding the derogatory aspects of Dostoevsky's portrait, have seen the portrait of Isay Fomich as relatively good-humored or at least lacking in hostility.2 Robert Louis Jackson concedes that Isay Fomich at prayer is intended by the author to be a demeaning and comic portrait. “Dostoevskij … did not lift even a corner of the comic curtain that concealed the tragic life of the Jew Isaj Fomič Bumstein.”3 But he also views Isay Fomich as a lost literary opportunity given that in The Village of Stepanchikovo Dostoevsky treated Foma Opiskin, in many ways similar to Isay Fomich, seriously and problematically. Since The Village of Stepanchikovo was written approximately at the same time as Notes from the House of the Dead, Dostoevsky was, so to speak, not only not taking advantage of the work that he himself had done two decades earlier in Poor Folk and The Double but also not exploiting the potential of a character that he had just recently created. Fillipp Ingold, who has written the longest analysis of Isay Fomich, concedes in the end that Isay Fomich is a ridiculous character (eine lächerliche Figur), lacking stature and voice,4 but not before attempting to find at least some redeeming traits in Isay Fomich's literary function, if not his portrait, suggesting similarities
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Book title: The Ridiculous Jew: The Exploitation and Transformation of a Stereotype in Gogol, Turgenev, and Dostoevsky. Contributors: Gary Rosenshield - Author. Publisher: Stanford University Press. Place of publication: Stanford, CA. Publication year: 2008. Page number: 163.
This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means.