Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time

By Joseph Frank; Mary Petrusewicz | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 23

The Insulted and Injured

Dostoevsky's novel The Insulted and Injured (Unizhennye i oskorblennye), began to appear as a serial in the first issue of Time and ran through seven numbers of the journal. The work encountered a mixed critical reception, but it was read with avid attention and achieved its purpose of making readers impatient for the next installment. Dobrolyubov devoted his very last essay, “Downtrodden People” (Zabitye lyudi), a classic of Russian criticism, to a penetrating survey of the entire corpus of Dostoevsky's writings up to and including this latest product of his pen. In an obvious reply to Dostoevsky's attack some months earlier, he remarked that the book was “beneath aesthetic criticism,” but, he acknowledged, everyone had been reading what stood out as the most interesting Russian novel published in 1861.1

Our contemporary view of Dostoevsky can hardly be that of Dobrolyubov, but there is no reason to disagree with his verdict: The Insulted and Injured is by far the weakest of Dostoevsky's six major post-Siberian novels. Nor did Dostoevsky himself have any illusions about the quality of his own creation. “I recognize fully,” he publicly admitted several years later, “that in my novel there are many characters who are puppets and not human beings, perambulating books and not characters who have taken on artistic form (this really requires time and a gestation of ideas in the mind and the soul)” (20: 134). Whatever its manifest flaws, however, The Insulted and Injured allows us to catch the author in a stage of transition, trying his hand for the first time at mastering the technique of the roman-feuilleton and also giving new character-types, themes, and motifs their initial, inchoate expression.

The Insulted and Injured is composed of two interweaving plot lines, which at first seem to have little to do with each other but then gradually draw together as the story unfolds. The first, typical of the sentimental Romantic novel, concerns an impoverished gentry family, the Ikhmenyevs. Their daughter, Natasha, falls in love with Alyosha, the son of a wealthy neighbor, Prince Valkovsky; and

1 A. A. Belkin, ed., F. M. Dostoevsky v Russkoi kritike (Moscow, 1956), 42.

-317-

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