Dostoevsky (Russ 314)


Spring 2009
Mon./Wed. 1:20-2:35
Lawrence 201


Prof. Ian Helfant (my homepage)

Office Hours (Lawrence 219c):  Mon/Wed. 9-10:30 am and by appt.


Link to Blackboard (password) web site


Course schedule
Required Texts
Christiian Stange's Dostoevsky Research Station Website


Course overview:

Reading Dostoevsky's novels is tiring, exhilarating, exasperating, and unsettling.  One of the greatest writers of the nineteenth century, Dostoevsky was obsessed both with the social injustice he saw in tsarist Russia and with humanity's eternal struggle  between good and evil, religious faith and atheism, rationality and irrationality, sexual lust and purity.  One of the characters in The Brothers Karamazov exclaims "God and Satan are at war and the battleground is the human soul," and Dostoevsky seems to have shared this conviction.  Intensity is the hallmark of Dostoyevsky as both a novelist and a person.  The word "suddenly" occurs 500 times in his novel Crime and Punishment, and his characters sometimes seem as if they are ricocheting both off the walls and each other.  Dostoevsky's own personality was equally extreme.  An epileptic who tended to vacillate between exaltation and despair, he dictated many of his novels late at night after drugging himself with many cups of strong tea.  His second wife, 25 years younger than he, was the stenographer to whom he dictated his novel The Gambler in 30 days, and he later abandoned her during their honeymoon to play roulette for weeks on end.  We will read her reminiscences about their travels during the course.  Dostoevsky was fundamentally conservative, but nevertheless was nearly executed by a reactionary regime and then spent most of a decade in prison and exile because he had read a "radical" document at a political meeting as a young man.  As this brief description indicates, he was enormously complex as both a man and a writer.  We will spend the semester unraveling this complexity.