N. K. Mikhailovsky’s Criticism of Dostoevsky

Author: Kanevskaya, Marina
This study analyzes why Mikhailovsky, a leading Russian socialist philosopher and literary critic of the mid-19th century, expressed the most insightful, proto-Bakhtinian views on Dostoevsky’s writings. It examines the social and cultural context, specifically in the political climate of Mikhailovsky’s journal Otechestvennye Zapiski, the most popular magazine of its time. Russian socialist and populist literary criticism remains terra incognita outside Russia, and stereotypical perception of it as obtuse, boring, and appropriated by socialist realism has prevented scholars from focusing on the literary and ideological values of it. However, the roots of modern Russian thought and self identity took their shape under the direct influence of such social thinkers as Mikhailovsky. Examining the proto-Bakhtinian traits of Mikhailovsky’s criticism of Dostoevsky shows the cultural and historical pretext of Backhtin’s discoveries.


“The title of Professor Kanevskaya’s book does not adequately convey its scope. Although it culminates in an analysis of the several critical articles written against Dostoevsky by N. K. Mikhailovsky, by the time this point is reached the book has also surveyed a considerable stretch of late nineteenth century Russian cultural history…. contains some extremely interesting views well worth discussion and displays a thorough knowledge of the literary, social, and cultural context of the period.” – The Russian Review

“This book deals with much more than the title implies. One might almost read it as a survey of the politics of literary criticism during the ‘70s and ‘80s in Russia. Marina Kanevskaya’s knowledge of this material is voluminous, and her analyses are insightful and richly informative….. Her analysis of the essay ‘Zhestokii talant’ is objective and illuminating. Readers should not skip Kanevskaya’s footnotes – they continue the thread into all sorts of interesting byways (as all good footnotes should) and thus render the book downright encyclopedic…. Readers…will be richly rewarded by kanevskaya’s knowledge and insight.” – Slavic Review

“A strong contribution to contemporary scholarship’s understanding of Russian journalism and literary criticism at the turn of the century, Kanevskaya’s monograph on N. K. Mikhailovsky is notable for its original contribution to the study of F. M. Dostoevsky and certain aspects of modern literary criticism…. eschews many of the traditional pitfalls of the [intellectual biography] genre and offers much about the critic’s milieu as well. Of particular note is Kanevskaya’s thoughtful treatment of the political dynamics of the Russian publishing world during the second half of the nineteenth century, especially in relation to the prominent journal ‘Notes of the Fatherland.’ This is a book with inherently broad appeal…. straddles traditional disciplinary boundaries separating Russian literary criticism from intellectual, literary and social history. As such, its account will appeal to a diverse array of scholars concerned with Bakhtin and Dostoevsky, as well as those interested in journalism, literary criticism, publishing, populism, and the role of the written word in Russian society during the second half of the nineteenth century.” – Vladimir Tumanov

“Marina Kanevskaya’s book on Dostoevsky provides original and very convincing evidence for the importance of literary analysis for understanding Russia’s cultural makeup and even its political debates, battles, and ultimately, its political history…. Kanevskaya claims and wittily demonstrates that, when Mikhailovsky’s political fulminations against Dostoevsky are translated from the ideological language of the 19th century polemical criticism in to the poetically and philosophically oriented language typical of the 20th century, the end result is something very similar to Bakhtin’s Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics. What used to be a curse in the mouth of an ideological polemist becomes a very flattering, profoundly positive insight from the point of view of a 20th century reader, critic, philosopher, and literary scholar.” – Olga Meerson “…fresh and innovative approach. Kanevskaya’s book obviously includes conceptually rich and informative material, covering a broad, even ostentatious array of Russian intellectual, literary, political, and social life. It is a solid and original contribution to Dostoevskian and Bakhtinian scholarship. The wealth and diversity of factual information renders certain broad appeal to the contemporary scholarly and intellectual community….a first-rate scholarly monograph.” – Slavic and East European Journal

Table of Contents

Table of contents (main headings):
Foreword; Introduction
1. Historical and Literary Context: Mikhailovsky and the Sovremennik-OZ Circle; Nicolai Nekrasov; Dostoevsky and the Belinsky-Sovremennik Group; Michail Satykov-Shchedrin; Grigorii Eliseev; Gleb Uspensky
2. Pushkin Days in Moscow: Russian Harmony as Myth & Reality; Position of OZ; Program of Moscow’s ‘Red Days’ ; Strategy of Persuasion; Conclusions
3. Pushkin Speech: Dostoevsky’s Monologue on Russia
4. OZ Against the Pushkin Speech: Uspensky’s ‘Letter from Moscow’; Mikhailovsky vs. the Pushkin Celebration
5. From Pushkin Speech Toward The Cruel Talent
6. The Cruel Talent
7. After OZ: Conclusions
Bibliography; Index