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Confronting Dostoevsky’s «Demons»

Anarchism and the Specter of Bakunin in Twentieth-Century Russia


James Goodwin

Although criticized at one time for its highly tendentious spirit, Dostoevsky’s Demons (1871-1872) has proven to be a novel of great polemical vitality. Originally inspired by a minor conspiratorial episode of the late 1860s, well after Dostoevsky’s death (1881) the work continued to earn both acclaim and contempt for its scathing caricature of revolutionists driven by destructive, anarchic aims. The text of Demons assumed new meaning in Russian literary culture following the Bolshevik triumph of 1917, when the reestablishment and expansion of centralized state power inevitably revived interest in the radical populist tendencies of Russia’s past, in particular the anarchist thought of Dostoevsky’s legendary contemporary, Mikhail Bakunin (1814-1876).
Confronting Dostoevsky’s ‘Demons’ is the first book to explore the life of Dostoevsky’s novel in light of disputes and controversies over Bakunin’s troubling legacy in Russia. Contrary to the traditional view, which assumes the obsolescence of Demons throughout much of the Communist period (1917-1991), this book demonstrates that the potential resurgence of Bakuninist thought actually encouraged reassessments of Dostoevsky’s novel. By exploring the different ideas and critical strategies that motivated opposing interpretations of the novel in post-revolutionary Russia, Confronting Dostoevsky’s ‘Demons’ reveals how the potential resurrection of Bakunin’s anti-authoritarian ethos fostered the return of a politically reactionary novel to the canon of Russian classics.


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Acknowledgments vii


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS This project would not have been possible without the support of many individuals and institutions, all of whom deserve my sincere gratitude and appreciation. The University of Florida College of Arts and Sciences granted me a semester of research leave in 2006 and funded two summers of research in Russia with Scholarship Enhancement awards (2004, 2007). In Russian archives and libraries I was given access to rare material that proved essential to this book. In Moscow, time spent at the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art (RGALI), the Russian State Archive and Social and Political History (RGASPI), the State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF), the Russian State Library, and the State Public Historical Library was especially fruitful and rewarding. For assistance with accommodations in Moscow I thank the International Program at the Russian State University of the Humanities (RGGU). In St. Petersburg, the Russian National Library, the Institute of Rus- sian Literature at the “Pushkin House,” and the Book Fund of the All-Russian Museum of A. S. Pushkin all granted access to valuable material for the found- ation of this study. Among some of the individuals who helped facilitate my work in those places, Tat’iana Chernikovskaia, Head of the Reading Room at the Pushkin House, deserves special thanks for her generous assistance, particularly in locating post-Soviet editions of Dostoevsky’s Demons. I am es- pecially indebted to Marina Bokarius, Head of the Book Funds of the Pushkin Museum, for kindly granting permission to view some of its holdings....

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