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The Nihilist Imagination

Dmitrii Pisarev and the Cultural Origins of Russian Radicalism (1860-1868)


Peter C. Pozefsky

Dmitrii Pisarev (1840-1868) was the leader of a cohort of Russian radicals known as the Nihilists and was Russia’s most visible literary critic for most of the 1860s. During this pivotal decade in the history of Russian culture Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Turgenev published much of their most important fiction, and Russian radicalism itself evolved from a handful of isolated circles into a full-fledged revolutionary movement. The Nihilist Imagination, the first English-language book devoted to this influential nineteenth-century intellectual, explores the convergence between historic developments in literature and politics as well as the ways young contemporary readers approached novels such as Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons when they were first published, the evolution of Russian radicalism during one of its critical phases, and the perceptions of government officials and members of educated society of this emerging radical threat. Rather than a biography, this book is a series of essays on the theme of Russian literary and political Nihilism, structured around the analysis of Pisarev’s writings, their intellectual sources, and their influence.