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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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1. The Brothers Karamazov


The novel The Brothers Karamazov is undoubtedly one of the masterpieces of not only Russian, but also of world literature. In his analysis of the novel, Joseph Frank (2003: 567) alludes to works such as Dante’s The Divine Comedy, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Shakespeare’s King Lear and Goethe’s Faust, in order to give an idea of the stature of The Brothers Karamazov. The novel was published in The Russian Messenger in 1879 and 1880 and was received by Russian readers with great enthusiasm. Dostoevsky planned to write two novels: the first was The Brothers Karamazov and the second was intended to be the main novel, dedicated to the activities of Aliosha,181 the youngest of the three Karamazov brothers. However, Dostoevsky died on 28 January 1881 and the second novel was never written.

1.1 The Plot

The Brothers Karamazov is a novel in four parts, which revolves around the three sons of Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov: the oldest, Dmitri, child of the first marriage, and Ivan and Aliosha, children of the second marriage. Fyodor Pavlovich, the father, is a libidinous and dissipated man who does not take any interest in his children. Dostoevsky presents this character as a buffoon. Nevertheless, he can also be sentimental and, even in his wickedness, naïve and kind-hearted. Dmitri, the firstborn child, shows the same amplitude of character: his nature is instinctive, passionate and often violent, but at the same time, his soul is capable of undergoing a deep moral...

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