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Joseph Frank

Joseph Frank is Professor Emeritus of Slavic and Comparative Literature at Stanford. The fifth and final volume of his Life of Dostoevsky was published in 2002.

Charting Chekhov’s career

Joseph Frank, 17 February 2005

Chekhov biographers are lucky: they don’t have to face the problem of spending a good deal of time studying the life of someone they are liable to end up disliking intensely. Lawrence Thompson was selected by Robert Frost to be his official biographer: after literally living with his subject, the biographer found the poet to be very far from admirable; and the work he produced bore clear...

Great Russians

Joseph Frank, 28 November 2002

The title of Orlando Figes’s impressively wide-ranging book refers to a scene in War and Peace in which Natasha Rostov, the finest product of the European education favoured by the Russian aristocracy for more than a century, visits the far from luxurious home of a distant relative. He is a nobleman living in the country with his serf ‘wife’, Anisya; he has, it seems,...

Mikhail Bakhtin

Joseph Frank, 19 February 1998

Up until the late Fifties, Mikhail Bakhtin was completely unknown in his own country. Then a group of graduate students at the Gorky Institute of World Literature, who had come across the first version of his book on Dostoevsky (1929) and wondered about his fate, discovered to their astonishment that he was still alive and teaching at an obscure institute in the Russian provinces. They went on a pilgrimage (the word is apt) to pay him a visit, urged him to reissue his Dostoevsky study, and rescued from oblivion a thesis he had written on Rabelais that was mouldering in the files of the Gorky Institute. It was the translation of these two books into Western languages (the Dostoevsky in a very much expanded version) that launched Bakhtin’s astonishing career on the world cultural scene. Very soon his work introduced a new vocabulary into the study of literature, especially of the novel, and resulted in a much more positive evaluation of the importance of popular culture, particularly in its orgiastic and carnivalesque manifestations.

Inflamed

Joseph Frank, 2 December 1993

Dostoevsky’s A Writer’s Diary is a huge grab-bag of a book, probably the least known of all his important works outside Russia – though in this regard his marvellous, semi-autobiographical prison-camp memoir, House of the Dead, runs it a close second. Read in the West only by professional Slavists and students of Dostoevsky, A Writer’s Diary allows us to see him at both his best and his worst. It contains some of his most moving autobiographical pages, and records his contacts with, and reactions to, other Russian writers such as Nekrasov, Leskov, Belinsky and Tolstoy (not to mention a grateful obituary of George Sand, whose novels infiltrated subversive Utopian Socialist ideas into Russian culture during Dostoevsky’s youth and exercised an enormous influence). Dostoevsky’s Diary thus illuminates an entire stretch of Russian cultural history, and is indispensable on this score alone. Its pages include in addition some of his shorter literary masterpieces such as ‘A Gentle Creature’ (‘Krotkaya’) and the ‘Dream of a Ridiculous Man’ (‘Son Smeshnogo Cheloveka’), which have often been reprinted independently.’

Dostoevsky

Michael Wood, 5 September 2002

‘The mind is a scoundrel,’ Dostoevsky wrote in his notes for The Brothers Karamazov, ‘but stupidity is straight and honest.’ This wasn’t what he himself thought, or...

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The Rustling of Cockroaches

Gary Saul Morson, 22 June 1995

Between 1865 and 1871 Dostoevsky wrote three of the world’s greatest novels, Crime and Punishment, The Idiot and The Possessed – and two remarkable novellas, The Gambler and The...

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Waiting for the next move

John Bayley, 23 July 1987

Almost every Russian classic which has stood the test of time turns out to have been written in response to some wholly ephemeral fashion of thinking and feeling in the society which produced it....

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Rehabilitation

Donald Rayfield, 19 July 1984

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...

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