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Inflamed

Joseph Frank, 2 December 1993

A Writer’s Diary. Vol. I: 1873-1876 
by Fyodor Dostoevsky, translated and annotated by Kenneth Lantz.
Northwestern, 805 pp., $49.95, July 1993, 0 8101 1094 6
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... 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 ...

Lunacharsky was impressed

Joseph Frank: Mikhail Bakhtin, 19 February 1998

The First Hundred Years of Mikhail Bakhtin 
by Caryl Emerson.
Princeton, 312 pp., £19.95, December 1997, 9780691069760
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... 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 ...

Why Sakhalin?

Joseph Frank: Charting Chekhov’s career, 17 February 2005

Chekhov: Scenes from a Life 
by Rosamund Bartlett.
Free Press, 395 pp., £20, July 2004, 0 7432 3074 4
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Anton Chekhov: A Life in Letters 
translated by Rosamund Bartlett and Anthony Phillips.
Penguin, 552 pp., £12.99, June 2004, 0 14 044922 1
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... 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 evidence of this shift in sentiment ...
Natasha’s Dance: A Cultural History of Russia 
by Orlando Figes.
Allen Lane, 729 pp., £25, October 2002, 0 7139 9517 3
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... 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, abandoned that superior attitude to the Russian ‘people’, the narod, that generally characterises his class ...

Rehabilitation

Donald Rayfield, 19 July 1984

Dostoevsky. Vol II: The Years of Ordeal 1850-1859 
by Joseph Frank.
Robson, 320 pp., £14.95, April 1984, 0 86051 242 8
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The Village of Stepanchikovo 
by Fyodor Dostoevsky and Ignat Avsey.
Angel, 255 pp., £8.95, November 1983, 0 946162 06 9
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... 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 ...

Tricky Minds

Michael Wood: Dostoevsky, 5 September 2002

Dostoevsky: The Mantle of the Prophet 1871-81 
by Joseph Frank.
Princeton, 784 pp., £24.95, May 2002, 0 691 08665 6
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... of a brush. The glance at Voltaire, the mention of Luther and the Enlightenment, all indicate, as Joseph Frank says, a crafty parody of advanced Russian thought. Fyodor Pavlovich is not an intellectual, but he knows how intellectuals talk. But of course he is up to other mischief as well. He is teasing his son, he is mocking both doubt and faith, both ...

The Rustling of Cockroaches

Gary Saul Morson, 22 June 1995

Dostoevsky: The Miraculous Years, 1865-1871 
by Joseph Frank.
Robson, 512 pp., £27.95, March 1995, 0 86051 953 8
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... some of his most profound statements on art, society, religion and the creative process. Joseph Frank’s biography calls these years ‘miraculous’ yet the conditions under which Dostoevsky was working were anything but splendid. In the novels, thrilling conversations about ultimate questions typically take place in the most sordid ...

Waiting for the next move

John Bayley, 23 July 1987

Dostoevsky. The Stir of Liberation: 1860-1865 
by Joseph Frank.
Robson, 395 pp., £17.95, April 1987, 0 86051 242 8
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Selected Letters of Dostoevsky 
edited by Joseph Frank and David Goldstein.
Rutgers, 543 pp., $29.95, May 1987, 0 8135 1185 2
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... more adept at creating works of art out of his response to them, and one of the best features of Joseph Frank’s five-volume study is the erudition with which the background of current affairs and polemic is filled in. This concentration on local detail has the welcome effect of diminishing the rather melodramatic image of Dostoevsky which previous ...

By the Width of a Street

Christopher Prendergast: Literary geography, 29 October 1998

An Atlas of the European Novel 1800-1900 
by Franco Moretti.
Verso, 206 pp., £16, August 1998, 1 85984 883 4
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... very different from what we customarily get under the heading of ‘spatial form’, a term that Joseph Frank coined many years ago in connection with the novel (Frank, incidentally, doesn’t appear in Moretti’s text or bibliography). Frank’s coining was essentially a Modernist ...

Was it a supernova?

Frank Kermode: The Nativity, 4 January 2007

The Nativity: History and Legend 
by Geza Vermes.
Penguin, 177 pp., £7.99, November 2006, 0 14 102446 1
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... it in mind to please potentially interested Gentiles. But there are many more fertile conjectures. Joseph is called ‘the husband of Mary’ in Matthew’s genealogy. In Luke, Jesus is called ‘the son (as was supposed) of Joseph’. Joseph, who figures in the Infancy stories and nowhere ...

Joseph Conrad’s Flight from Poland

Frank Kermode, 17 July 1980

Conrad in the 19th Century 
by Ian Watt.
Chatto, 375 pp., £10.50, April 1980, 0 7011 2431 8
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... Ian Watt began work on this book in 1955, and the intervening years have seen a boom in Conrad studies: but the thought that there might be nothing left for him to say quite rightly didn’t enter his head. What’s more, he has only just got under way: for all that it contains close on 200,000 words, this book is merely an antechapel to the main building ...

w00t

Christopher Tayler: The Fabulous Elif Batuman, 17 February 2011

The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them 
by Elif Batuman.
Granta, 296 pp., £16.99, April 2011, 978 1 84708 313 5
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... its keep. Batuman doesn’t avoid the comic spotlight, making a spectacle of herself in front of Joseph Frank by launching into a joke about Thor and a farmer’s daughter. (The punchline, which she decides against sharing with America’s greatest living Dostoevskian, is: ‘I’m thor, too, but I had tho much fun.’) But she’s less self-revealing ...

Conrad’s Complaint

Frank Kermode, 17 November 1983

The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad. Vol. I: 1861-1897 
edited by Frederick Karl and Laurence Davies.
Cambridge, 446 pp., £19.50, September 1983, 0 521 24216 9
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... failure of the Tories to achieve a majority at the General Election of 1885 was a consequence of Joseph Chamberlain’s Third Reform Bill. The newly enfranchised idiots have satisfied the yearnings of Mr Chamberlain’s herd [‘heart’, perhaps? Jean-Aubry again] by cooking the national goose according to his recipe. The new culinary operation will be a ...

Georgian eyes are smiling

Frank Kermode, 15 September 1988

Bernard Shaw. Vol. I: The Search for Love, 1856-1898 
by Michael Holroyd.
Chatto, 486 pp., £16, September 1988, 0 7011 3332 5
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Bernard Shaw: Collected Letters. Vol. IV 
edited by Dan Laurence.
Bodley Head, 946 pp., £30, June 1988, 0 370 31130 2
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Shaw: The Annual of Bernard Shaw Studies. Vol. VIII 
edited by Stanley Weintraub.
Pennsylvania State, 175 pp., $25, April 1988, 0 271 00613 7
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Shaw’s Sense of History 
by J.L. Wisenthal.
Oxford, 186 pp., £22.50, April 1988, 0 19 812892 4
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Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad. Vol. III: 1903-1907 
edited by Frederick Karl and Laurence Davies.
Cambridge, 532 pp., £35, April 1988, 0 521 32387 8
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Joseph Conrad: ‘Nostromo’ 
by Ian Watt.
Cambridge, 98 pp., £12.50, April 1988, 0 521 32821 7
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... There were already good biographies of Shaw, notably those of Frank Harris and Hesketh Pearson, both of whom knew Shaw and had the benefit of his energetic interventions. Pearson in particular will not be easily supplanted. Nevertheless the archives of the world are full of Shaviana inaccessible before his death, and because there had not been a serious attempt since 1956 – the centenary year – the Shaw Estate sensibly decided that the time had come for a new biography, and invited Mr Holroyd to write it ...

On the highway

Jonathan Coe, 24 March 1994

Desperadoes 
by Joseph O’Connor.
Flamingo, 426 pp., £14.99, March 1994, 0 00 224301 6
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Resurrection Man 
by Eoin McNamee.
Picador, 233 pp., £14.99, March 1994, 0 330 33274 0
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Stir-Fry 
by Emma Donoghue.
Hamish Hamilton, 232 pp., £9.99, January 1994, 0 241 13442 0
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... these novels burdened by exactly that fallacy, and had my expectations confounded in every case. Joseph O’Connor’s Desperadoes seesaws between Dublin and Nicaragua, and seems at first to be drawing political parallel between the two locations; but it turns out to be primarily a raw, highly emotional account of marital breakdown. Eoin McNamee’s ...

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