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November 12, 2021 / Irene2468

Newberry Seminar for Winter/Spring 2022 – Polemics on Nihilism: Dostoevsky’s The Devils and J. M. Coetzee’s The Master of Petersburg

Fall 2021 illustration

Victor Pivovarov, 1969

For our first seminar of 2022, we will read and discuss The Devils (1872) in conjunction with J. M. Coetzee’s novel The Master of Petersburg (1994), which is strongly based on “At Tikhon’s,” a chapter written by Dostoevsky for The Devils but suppressed by his editor Katkov.

The Devils is one of Dostoevsky’s four major novels and the most openly political of his works. Although it is often regarded as Dostoevsky’s ill-tempered departure into political satire, we will discover that in fact it was a natural and significant stage in the organic process of his spiritual, ideological, and artistic evolution. Dostoevsky combined the real-life Nechaev case of 1869-1870, student uprisings, terrorist attacks, and his own beliefs in order to create the central plot of The Devils. As we learn about the revolutionary movement in Russia from the 1840s to 1870s, we will discuss Dostoevsky’s biting indictment of socialism and the revolutionary movement as a manifestation of the moral cynicism of secular culture.

Dostoevsky and Nechaev are the main characters in J. M. Coetzee’s novel of ideas The Master of Petersburg. J. M. Coetzee is not only a Nobel Prize winner in literature, but a literary scholar who wrote extensively on Dostoevsky. In this complex fiction, he draws on the life of Dostoevsky, the history of Russia, and the death of his own son at 23. Exploring Dostoevsky’s identity as a writer and the sinister atmosphere in Petersburg in 1870s, J. M. Coetzee links language and power, producing a dense and courageous meditation on authority and rebellion, art and imagination.

Please click here for the full course description, required texts, and reading assignments.

Nine weekly, two-hour sessions are planned, starting on Saturday, February 26, 2022 and ending on Saturday, May 7, 2022. All sessions will take place on Zoom. I will provide details on registration when the Newberry publishes them. The Newberry offers a 10% discount to members, seniors, and students. Learn more about membership benefits and becoming a Newberry Associate here.