LIT427: Major Writers Before 1900: Dostoevsky
Dr. Harriet Hustis, Fall 2004; Office Hours: MR 3:30-4:00; 5:30-6:30 or by appointment
Office: Bliss 201; Phone: 771-2632; Email: hustis @

Please be sure to purchase or obtain the following editions of Dostoevsky’s novels: we will be using the secondary materials in the Norton Critical Editions of Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, so you will need to have access to those materials.  To keep the cost of books for the course down, the volumes by Joseph Frank will also be available on reserve at the library.

Joseph Frank, Dostoevsky: The Years of Ordeal, Princteon UP ISBN  
Joseph Frank, Dostoevsky: The Miraculous Years, Princeton UP ISBN 0691015872
Joseph Frank, Dostoevsky: The Mantle of the Prophet, Princeton UP ISBN 0691115699
Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment, Norton Critical Edition ISBN 0393956237
Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes from Underground, Signet Classic Edition ISBN 0451523768
Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, Norton Critical Edition ISBN 0393092143

Class Attendance and Participation (worth 30%): You will lose 10 points (out of a possible 100) for each class missed: no exceptions.  Class participation is an important part of your grade: if you have perfect attendance but never participate in class discussion, you will not receive higher than a C- for your participation grade.  Students will be expected to participate in the course discussions which will take place both in class and on the course discussion list, available through SOCS.  Frequently, I will post resources in SOCS: these may be critical articles or even websites designed to help familiarize you with the history, culture and/or politics of 19th century Russia. 

 “Discussion questions” are available on the syllabus (and will be posted in SOCS) to coincide with each week’s assigned readings. You should not feel compelled to post “answers” to all of them; however, if you find you are having difficulty thinking of ideas about a particular text, you might want to consult the discussion questions to help stimulate your own train of thought.  In addition, consulting the discussion questions prior to, during, and after reading the assigned materials can be useful: we are doing a lot of reading this semester, and we will not be attempting to “cover” everything.  The discussion questions can direct you to relevant points for consideration; they are designed to make the extensive amount of reading that you will do for this course both more manageable and more productive.

The Reading Journal (worth 40%): Everyone will keep a reading journal throughout the semester to record and detail their reactions to and engagement with (among other things!) the philosophy, problems, paradoxes, and symbolism of Dostoevsky's texts and their social, political, and literary context.  There is no page minimum (or maximum): your journal grade at the end of the semester will depend upon the quality and the thoughtfulness (not the quantity) of your engagement with Dostoevsky's writings during the course of the semester.  During the course of the semester, journals will be submitted via SOCS on the due dates indicated and according to the following groupings: Group I: last name begins with A-H; Group II: last name begins with I-P; Group III: last name begins with Q-Z.  Each time your journal is submitted, you will receive a maximum of 25 points; journals will be submitted to SOCS four times in the course of the semester.

The Research Critiques (worth 15% each, 30% total): Everyone will submit two 7-8 page research critiques.  These will involve choosing a selection from among the materials on reserve at the library (or in the Norton editions of Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov).  You will be expected to 1) summarize the author's critical argument; and 2) critique this argument based on your own understanding and interpretation of Dostoevsky's work.  A sign-up sheet will be available several weeks prior to the respective due dates for the critiques. It is in your best interests to begin familiarizing yourself with the selections on reserve at the library and in the Norton editions: if you do not select an article, one will be assigned to you.  Sign up will be on a first-come, first-served basis.  You might also want to consult my “Grading Guide for Written Assignments” available at grading_guide.html.


Week 1:  Introduction: Peter the Great and the "Westernization" of Russia; Russian society and literature in the mid-19th century

            Reading: White Nights

Week 2: Imprisonment and Return

Reading: The House of the Dead (selections); Frank, The Years of Ordeal, pp.  
Assignment: Group I journals due 

Week 3: Dostoevsky and the Russian Nihilists

Reading:  Notes from Underground
Assignment: Group II journals due

Week 4: The Beginning of "The Miraculous Years": Crime and Punishment

             Reading:  Crime and Punishment, Part I;  Frank, The Miraculous Years, pp. 3-41
             Assignment: Group III journals due

Discussion: The "Marmeladov" episode was originally conceived of as a separate short story: why might Dostoevsky have decided to include it in the opening chapters of Crime and Punishment?  How does Marmeladov's character offset compare and contrast to Raskolnikov's?

Why does Raskolnikov leave the kopecks on the windowsill? (Pay attention throughout the novel to what Raskolnikov does with money, when he does it, and why.) 

Compare and contrast the sacrifices of Dunya and Sonya: think about what it means for each of these women to "prostitute" themselves (literally or figuratively) for their families, and examine the significance of the episode involving the young girl and the policeman in light of their sacrifices: why does Raskolnikov react to this incident in the way that he does?

Raskolnikov "dreams a terrible dream" in Part I (he will have others throughout).  Why does he dream what he does at this point, and what does it suggest about his ability to carry out the crime that he has planned?

The murders: be prepared to discuss them in (gory) detail.  How are they committed?  Pay particular attention to the details of each killing, and to the psychological significance of those details.

Week 5: Crime and Punishment

                    Reading: Crime and Punishment, Parts II & III; The Miraculous Years, pp. 42-79
                    Assignment: Group I journals due

Discussion: Although he was not Catholic himself, Dostoevsky was fascinated with the concept of confession as a means of spiritual cleansing?  Why is confession appealing (in what way is it "good for the soul") in general, and why might it be particularly appealing to Raskolnikov?  Why does Raskolnikov resist the urge to confess--and why does he repeatedly succumb to it?

Why does Raskolnikov return to the pawnbroker's apartment?  Be prepared to analyze his second dream and its significance, and to compare and contrast it to his first.

Raskolnikov (like many Russian Socialists and nihilists of the time) will argue that "Crime is a protest against the unnatural structure of society...and nothing more."  Be prepared to explain how one might arrive at such a conclusion, and why such a conclusion might be particularly dangerous.  Do you think Raskolnikov still believes this claim himself?  Or do you think he now realizes that "You cannot divert the course of nature by logic alone"?  Be prepared to discuss Raskolnikov's article in detail.

Week 6: Crime and Punishment

                    Reading: Crime and Punishment, Part IV
                    Assignment: Group II journals due

Discussion: What is the function of secondary characters such as Luzhin, Razumikhin, and Svidrigaylov?  Why is Raskolnikov both attracted to and repulsed by Svidrigaylov?  What might he "represent," philosophically, that appeals to Raskolnikov?  What does Svidrigaylov mean when he suggests that eternity might be nothing more than a "bathhouse full of spiders," and why is that possibility to important to him?

Why is Raskolnikov drawn to Sonya?  What does she represent?  He repeatedly characterizes her as yurodivyi, or a "holy fool": why might he need to believe this?  Why does Sonya believe that she was once "cruel" to Katerina Ivanovna?  In what way might her action be construed as "cruel"?    Why does he ask her to read John 11 to him?  Why does he prostrate himself before Sonya?

Feminists have a hard time with Dostoevsky: on the one hand, characters such as Dunya possess a certain strength, but on the other hand, characters such as Sonya are child-like prostitutes.  Do you think it is possible to frame a feminist analysis of Dostoevsky?

Is every crime a "special case"?

Week 7: Crime and Punishment

                    Reading: Crime and Punishment, Parts V & VI
                    Assignment: Group III journals due

Discussion: What is the effect of the scene of the allegedly stolen money? Why does Dostoevsky parody Luzhin? 

Analyze Katerina Ivanovna's death-scene: does it remind you of any earlier scenes in the novel?  Why might Dostoevsky be paralleling these two scenes?

Why does Raskolnikov say, "I killed myself...".  Do you think that that is true?  Analyze Sonya's reaction to his confession: again, in what way does this scene parallel an earlier scene in the novel, and why might Dostoevsky be making this parallel?

Why does Raskolnikov think "he could not get past Svidrigaylov"?  In what way does Svidrigaylov represent a constellation of ideas that Raskolnikov must grapple with before he can confess?  Analyze the significance of Svidrigaylov's dreams: why are they included, and in what way do they compare and contrast to the dreams of Raskolnikov?

Why does Porfiry encourage Raskolnikov to confess?  Do you agree that "there is an idea in suffering"?  What might Dostoevsky mean by this, and why might it be an idea worth scrutinizing (both philosophically and religiously)?

Why must Raskolnikov kiss the earth before he can confess, according to Sonya?  Why does he do this, even though he doesn't seem to believe in it?

Week 8: Crime and Punishment

                    Reading: Crime and Punishment, Epilogues I and II; Miraculous Years, pp. 80-147
Assignment: Group I journals due

Discussion: Many critics have problems with the way in which Dostoevsky chooses to end this novel, and particularly with the sudden shift in narrative perspective.  Why might Dostoevsky have chosen to end the novel in this way: what problems might he have confronted when deciding how to conclude?  Do you get the sense that the epilogues are meant to be didactic, and do you think that this is a problem?  Why or why not?

Be prepared to analyze the significance of Raskolnikov's final dream of the plague and his ultimate conversion.

    Research Critique on Crime and Punishment due.

Week 9: The Brothers Karamazov

                    Reading: The Brothers Karamazov, Part I; Mantle of the Prophet, pp.
                    Assignment: Group II journals due

Discussion: Be prepared to discuss the section "from the author" and remember to pay attention to the ways in which the concept of "the whole vs. the particular" figures throughout the novel. 

You might include a brief, "thumbnail" sketch of each of the main characters in your journal: in particular, think about why each might want Fyodor Pavlovich dead.  What does each son "represent," philosophically?  How are they different, and why? 

Be prepared to discuss the relationship between Katerina Ivanovna and Dmitri: why does she gravitate toward him?  Why does Ivan gravitate toward her?

Father Zosima: why does he bow before Dmitri?  What does he represent?  In what way is he an "antidote" to the Karamazovs?  Why does Grigory get so angry at Smerdyakov?  Do you think Smerdyakov believes what he advocates?  Does Ivan believe it?

Week 10: The Brothers Karamazov

                    Reading: The Brothers Karamazov, Part II; Mantle of the Prophet, pp.
                    Assignment: Group III journals due

Discussion: Analyze the function and meaning of the concept of "nadryv" or "laceration" and of sacrifice in this novel.  Why is the episode involving Snegiryov and his son included?  What does it reveal about Dmitri and Alyosha?

Be prepared to spend a great deal of time discussing the chapter entitled "Rebellion" and the episode of "The Grand Inquisitor."  What does Ivan believe people really want from Christ?  Do you think that he is right?  If so, what does this suggest about human nature?

Why does Smerdyakov state that "It's always worthwhile speaking to a clever man"?  Why does Ivan conclude that he (Ivan) is a "scoundrel"?  Is he right?

Why does the episode describing the life and conversion follow the conversations between Alyosha and Ivan, and Smerdyakov & Ivan: in what way might this segment of the novel constitute a "response" to Ivan's poem of "The Grand Inquisitor"?

Week 11: The Brothers Karamazov

                    Reading: The Brothers Karamazov, Part III; Mantle of the Prophet, pp.
                    Assignment: Group I journals due

Discussion: Analyze the character of Grushenka: why is she so attractive to both father and son?  Why does she refuse to kiss Katerina Ivanovna's hand?  Why does she attempt to seduce Alyosha?  Why does she refrain?  What does she mean when she suggests that she "gave away an onion"?

Again, pay attention to the role that money plays for Dostoevsky's characters (and be prepared to compare and contrast its function in this novel with its role in Crime and Punishment).  Why are the 1500 roubles significant, what is the difference between "a scoundrel and a thief," and why is that distinction so important to Dmitri?

Week 12: The Brothers Karamazov

                    Reading: The Brothers Karamazov, Part IV, Books 10-11
                    Assignment: Group II journals due

Discussion: Why is the episode involving Kolya and the children included? What does Kolya Krasotkin represent?  In what way might Dostoevsky be commenting upon the future of Russian society via his depiction of these children?  In what way are the main characters' personalities (in particular, those of Dmitri, Alyosha, and Smerdyakov) revealed through their interactions with children?  Why are children so significant to Dostoevsky's artistic vision?  What do they represent (religiously, philosophically, morally, etc.)?

Be prepared to analyze each of Ivan's conversations with Smerdyakov: what is at stake (or under dispute between the two)?  Which of them do you regard as "more" culpable, and why?

Analyze Ivan's nightmare and the significance of "the devil" who appears to him: why does Alyosha tell him, "it was not you"?  Do you agree?

Week 13: The Brothers Karamazov

                    Reading: The Brothers Karamazov, Part IV, Book 12, Epilogue
                    Assignment: Group III journals due

Discussion: Analyze Dostoevsky's representation of the prosecution and defense: how is each able to make its case, and do you get the sense that Dostoevsky's "sympathies" lie with one form of argument or the other?  In particular, what role does "psychology" play, and why is Dostoevsky so interested in the claims of "psychology"?

Analyze the ending of the novel: why does it conclude on a note of memory and rebirth?  Do you find this ending "more satisfying" than that of Crime and Punishment?  Why or why not?  What problems might Dostoevsky have faced in trying to conclude this text?

Week 14: “The Meek One” (available in SOCS Resources); “The Dream of A Ridiculous Man” Research Critique on The Brothers Karamazov due.