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Raskolnikov and Pisarev

May 22, 2012

Pisarev’s article on Bazarov, the nihilist from Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons, famously takes Bazarov as an accurate and positive portrayal of Pisarev’s own generation, unlike Antonovich at The Contemporary, who had seen Bazarov as a caricature of young radicals (70). If Turgenev wanted his novel to show what the mysterious younger generation was like, Pisarev turns it around, using it to explain the puzzle of the older generation’s bewildered and critical attitude toward their “sons”:

Turgenev’s opinions and judgments cannot alter one whit our view of the young generation and the ideas of our time; we need not even take them into account, we shall not even argue with them; these opinions, judgments, and feelings, expressed in images that are inimitably alive, can do no more than provide material for a description of the older generation in the person of one of its best representatives. I shall try to organize this material, and if I am able, I shall explain why our old men do not join us, why they shake their heads and, according to their various personalities and their various moods, are either angry or uncertain or quietly sad at the thought of our deeds and reflections. (3)

According to Joseph Frank, Crime and Punishment is a reaction to this article by Pisarev, and to the new ideas that were coming out of this half of the “schism among the nihilists” (69-75). Raskolnikov’s article “On Crime” takes Pisarev’s ideas to their logical extreme (78, 108). In Dostoevskii’s view the idea that an elite could legitimately violate the moral code of right now in the name of a better future for the oppressed was dangerous, and could lead not just to crimes like Raskolnikov’s but inner confusion and torment like his, too (100-01). Chernyshevskii and others at The Contemporary, if disconnected from reality in their theories, were naively good-hearted compared to Pisarev and Zaitsev at The Russian Word. The strain of thought of The Contemporary is represented in the novel by the clueless and ultimately good Lebeziatnikov, and that of The Russian Word by Raskolnikov (56, 88, 128).

Here is the chapter of Crime and Punishment where Raskolnikov’s “On Crime” is mentioned in a conversation between Raskolnikov, Razumikhin, and Porfirii Petrovich.

See Joseph Frank, Dostoevsky: The Miraculous Years, 1865-1871 (Princeton, 1995), chapters 4-7.

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