Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time

By Joseph Frank; Mary Petrusewicz | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 49

A Raw Youth

The last chapters of A Raw Youth were published in Notes of the Fatherland in the winter of 1875. Written between Demons and The Brothers Karamazov, this curious hybrid of a novel is far from attaining the artistic stature of these two works, although its severest critics may have considerably exaggerated its defects. Why should A Raw Youth slump so markedly when compared with Dostoevsky's other major novels? Some answers may be located in the implicit self-censorship that he here exercised on his creative faculties.

Several extended notes show that Dostoevsky had a plan for a novel about three brothers, and that he was tempted by the possibility of writing what could have become The Brothers Karamazov. One note contains an outline that would require only a little reshuffling to fit the later work: “one brother is an atheist. Despair. The other is a thoroughgoing fanatic. The third represents the new generation, a living force, new people … and the children, as the youngest generation” (16: 16). Ivan Karamazov's outraged rejection of his ticket of admission to a world of eternal harmony based on injustice and suffering is foreshadowed in the defiance of the older brother: “If the way of the world is that something disgusting always has to turn up in place of something pure, then let it all come crashing down: 'I refuse to accept such a world.'” This declaration is followed by the authorial comment: “His whole misfortune lies in the fact that He is an atheist and does not believe in resurrection”—which will be the case with Ivan as well (16: 15).

Similarly, the issue of Ivan's “Euclidean understanding,” his refusal to accept the mysteries of faith, also appears in this context. “Existence must be unquestionably and in every instance superior to the mind of man. The doctrine that the mind of man is the final limit of the universe is as stupid as stupid can be, and even stupider, infinitely stupider, than a game of checkers between two shopkeepers.” The relation of Versilov, a main figure in the novel, to others, and his interpretation of the love ethic of Christ, also anticipates Ivan Karamazov's Grand Inquisitor. “It is impossible to love people the way they are,” he declares. “And yet one must love them, for this is what we are ordered to do (by Christ).” But “people are base, they like to love and to adore from fear,” and so he believes that “without any doubt, Christ could not have loved them; he suffered them,

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