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Nietzsche and Dostoevsky

On the Verge of Nihilism


Paolo Stellino

The first time that Nietzsche crossed the path of Dostoevsky was in the winter of 1886–87. While in Nice, Nietzsche discovered in a bookshop the volume L’esprit souterrain. Two years later, he defined Dostoevsky as the only psychologist from whom he had anything to learn. The second, metaphorical encounter between Nietzsche and Dostoevsky happened on the verge of nihilism. Nietzsche announced the death of God, whereas Dostoevsky warned against the danger of atheism.
This book describes the double encounter between Nietzsche and Dostoevsky. Following the chronological thread offered by Nietzsche’s correspondence, the author provides a detailed analysis of Nietzsche’s engagement with Dostoevsky from the very beginning of his discovery to the last days before his mental breakdown. The second part of this book aims to dismiss the wide-spread and stereotypical reading according to which Dostoevsky foretold and criticized in his major novels some of Nietzsche’s most dangerous and nihilistic theories. In order to reject such reading, the author focuses on the following moral dilemma: If God does not exist, is everything permitted?
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10. Further Readings


After the analysis of Nietzsche’s first readings and the investigation of the heated debate about the chronology of his discovery of Dostoevsky, let us follow again the central thread offered by the correspondence, and explore in which direction Nietzsche’s dialogue with Dostoevsky continued. As already mentioned, in the letter of 18 March, 1887 (#444) Gast told Nietzsche that he had ordered a little book of Dostoevsky’s short stories. Apparently, Gast sent the book to Nietzsche, who thanked his friend with a postcard on 27 March, 1887:

“Forgive me for simply using a postcard to thank you for the letter and the received translation of Dostoevsky. I am glad that you seem to have first read the same work of his that I did – ‘The Landlady’ (in French as the first part of the novel L’esprit souterrain). In return, I send you Humiliés et offensés: the French translate more delicately than the awful Jew Goldschmidt (with his synagogue-like rhythm).” (#822)

The Goldschmidt, to whom Nietzsche refers, was the translator of Erzählungen von F. M. Dostojewskij, a volume published in 1886 by Reclam, which contained the following Dostoevsky short stories: Die Wirtin (The Landlady), Christbaum und Hochzeit (A Christmas Tree and a Wedding), Helle Nächte (White Nights), Weihnacht (A Little Boy at Christ’s Christmas Party) and finally Der ehrliche Dieb (An Honest Thief). A brief two-page introduction on Dostoevsky’s biography and bibliography preceded the stories. In the last lines of this introduction,...

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