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Redemption and the Merchant God

Dostoevsky’s Economy of Salvation and Antisemitism

McReynolds, Susan

Publication Year: 2008

Dostoevsky’s Russian chauvinism and anti Semitism have long posed problems for his readers and critics. How could the author of The Brothers Karamazov also be the source of the slurs against Jews in Diary of a Writer? And where is the celebrated Christian humanist in the nationalist outbursts of The Idiot? These enigmas—the coexistence of humanism and hatred, faith and doubt—are linked, Susan McReynolds tells us in Redemption and the Merchant God. Her book analyzes Dostoevsky’s novels and Diary to show how the author’s anxieties about Christianity can help solve the riddle of his anti Semitism as well as that of his Russian messianism.

Published by: Northwestern University Press

Series: Studies in Russian Literature and Theory


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

The research and writing of this book were partly funded by a generous grant from the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities at Northwestern University and by an individual research grant from the University Research Grants Committee. I am deeply grateful for the support and inspiration many people have provided over the years. The roots of this project go back to my first encoun-...

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Note on the Text

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pp. xi-xii

We are following a modified Library of Congress transliteration system in this volume. To make the text more readable to a general audience, first and last names ending in –ii have been changed to –y, such as Dostoevsky or Merezhkovsky rather than Dostoevskii or Merezhkovskii. We have also, for the sake of readability, collapsed –iia endings to –ia. Names are given in their ...

List of Abbreviations of Works by Fyodor Dostoevsky

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pp. xiii-2

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Introduction: Speaking with the Devil

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pp. 3-20

DOSTOEVSKY CONTINUES to pose riddles. The antisemitism that casts a shadow over his later years, for example, still requires elucidation.1 How could the author of The Brothers Karamazov also be the source of the slurs against the Jews contained in the Diary of a Writer, or indeed allow belief in the possibility of ritual...

Part I

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“I Am Not an Expert at Lulling to Sleep”: The Struggle Between Faith and Doubt in Dostoevsky’s Writings

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pp. 23-30

DOSTOEVSKY’S AMBIVALENCE about salvation through the Crucifixion had several consequences. It decreed that his spiritual life would be one of constant oscillation between doubt and affirmation; it affected his reception by his contemporaries; and it shaped the plots of his writings, both his novels and his journalism. Preoccupation...

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“He Gave His Son”: The Problem of the Crucifixion as Child Sacrifice in Dostoevsky

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pp. 31-45

ONE HERETICAL PERSPECTIVE on Christianity that can be discerned running throughout Dostoevsky’s works is given concise expression by the Grand Inquisitor, that complex figure who stands in such enigmatic relationship to the author. The Grand Inquisitor’s characterization of God as a merchant and the Crucifixion as a “terrible argument” summarizes a view of Christianity...

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Disraeli and the Merchant God: Victims and Villains, Jews and Europe

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pp. 46-57

THE BIOGRAPHICAL BASES of Dostoevsky’s concern with the problems of suffering children, bad fathers, and ultimately the Crucifixion reward investigation. The West became equivalent to the “Jewish idea,” the epitome of everything Dostoevsky could not tolerate within...

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A Synagogue Mistaken for a Church: Dostoevsky’s Demon and the Jews

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pp. 58-66

THE WEST IS A PLACE where Dostoevsky experiences the contrast between two kinds of spiritual economies, an experience that reflects his anxieties about Christianity and contributes to his eventual articulation of the “Russian” and “Jewish” ideas. Throughout his life, Dostoevsky was intensely aware of the difference between a type...

Part II

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“I Have the Heart of a Lamb”: Roots of the Russian and Jewish Ideas and the Problem of the Crucifixion in Poor Folk

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pp. 69-77

THE CONCEPTS of Jewishness and Russianness that organize Dostoevsky’s moral and historical consciousness in the late 1870s begin evolving in Poor Folk. This brief (barely 142 pages in English translation) epistolary novel brought Dostoevsky overnight acclaim when it appeared in Nekrasov’s Petersburg Anthology in 1846.1 Poor Folk disappoints...

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“God Sent Her to Us as a Reward for Our Sufferings”: The Origins of Dostoevsky’s Preoccupation with Child Sacrifice in the Dialogue Between Time and The Insulted and Injured

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pp. 78-89

THE PROBLEM of redemption preoccupied Dostoevsky in the early 1860s, after his return to St. Petersburg from Siberian exile. There were good reasons why this should be so. The sensation of awaiting what he thought would be his execution by firing squad, only to receive a...

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Sources of Dostoevsky’s Antisemitism in Notes from the House of the Dead: The Problem of Redemption and the Resemblance of Christians and Jews

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pp. 90-116

“NOW, IT SEEMS, we are entering a new life,” Dostoevsky proclaims in Time (Pss, 18:37), but Notes from the House of the Dead disappoints this hope for resurrection. Notes from the House of the Dead (alternately translated as Memoirs from the House of the Dead) began appearing in serial installments in the journal Russian World in...

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“I Don’t Want Your Sacrifice”: The Morality of the Son in Crime and Punishment

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pp. 117-132

THE MENTALITIES Dostoevsky eventually labels “Russian” and “Jewish” and his problematic characterization of redemption through the Crucifixion continue to evolve in Crime and Punishment. The attitude that accepts the suffering of others as the price of one’s own well being was first expressed by Varvara Alekseevna...

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From Prince Christ to the Russian Christ: Problems of Resurrection in The Idiot and the Development of Dostoevsky’s National Messianism

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pp. 133-143

THE PROBLEM of resurrection that preoccupies Dostoevsky in his earlier works commands attention in The Idiot as well, but the focus shifts slightly. In this novel, the seemingly overwhelming evidence of physical obstacles to resurrection preoccupies central characters; the contest between physics and mortality, on the one hand, and spiritual...

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“This Is What I Cannot Bear”: The Obliteration of Moral Distinctions Through the Crucifixion in Demons

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pp. 144-156

LIKE RASKOLNIKOV, Nikolai Stavrogin is trying to understand the nature of Christian redemption and is particularly concerned with his relationship to Christ and the Crucifixion. Raskolnikov is troubled by the suspicion that the Crucifixion is based on the kind...

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“You Can Buy the Whole World”: Zosima’s Christian Faith and the Jewish Idea in the Diary of a Writer

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pp. 157-198

BY THE TIME DOSTOEVSKY composes The Brothers Karamazov, the conception of God as a merchant and of redemption as something purchased with innocent suffering has become so well established in his fictional universe that it is simply assumed by figures as different as Ivan Karamazov and Father Zosima. Ivan...


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pp. 199-230


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pp. 231-243

E-ISBN-13: 9780810163010
Print-ISBN-13: 9780810124394

Page Count: 258
Publication Year: 2008

Edition: 1
Series Title: Studies in Russian Literature and Theory