Anger makes boring art
The intrigues, disguises, and trap-door disappearances, the forgeries, blackmail, and extortion, the adulterous and nonadulterous promiscuity, the fake marriages in Moldavia and the true marriages never consummated, the duels, poisonings, knifings, and suicides—all lose meaning and relevance. (219)
This “long, immensely complicated plot crumbles to nothing” because we can’t believe Leskov’s diabolical nihilist characters, according to Hugh McLean. Thus he dismisses the 800-plus-page novel At Daggers Drawn (На ножах, 1870-71), which appeared in Russian Messenger (Русский вестник) immediately before Dostoevskii’s Бесы, a more successful treatment of a similar theme (217-19).
Leskov, in McLean’s telling, was so furious with the nihilists at this stage of his career that his antinihilist novels and stories were boring and awful, not just At Daggers Drawn but also No Way Out and Bypassed and part of Cathedral Folk, where a nihilist character is “a comic-strip villain who nearly wrecks the novel by his presence” (202).
After At Daggers Drawn he settled down and moved on to other themes, and the result was a series of masterpieces in the early 1870s.