Dostoevsky in the 1840s, a caustic and iconoclastic rising star, was the subject of Joseph Frank's first volume of biography and critique, The Seeds of Revolt. This volume stood out from many rival studies for the thoroughness of its research, the generosity of its approach (to Dostoevsky and to other critics), its intelligent judgment of Dostoevsky's psychology and literary intentions, and, rarest quality of all in the Dostoevsky industry, for its sheer readability. This second volume takes us forward a mere decade: from Dostoevsky's arrest for revolutionary conspiracy in 1849, through his mock-execution, imprisonment and exile to Siberia, to his tacit rehabilitation in St Petersburg in 1859. In this period, the 1850s, however, Professor Frank's problems are very different. First of all, Dostoevsky's life and letters are so distant and fragmentary that there is little to discuss; secondly, the initial return to literature at the end of the 1850s is so disappointing that the critic is prompted to look elsewhere for the key to Dostoevsky's greatness. Hence Joseph Frank has the field virtually to himself, and he ploughs it very purposefully.
LRB 19 July 1984 | PDF Download