9. Again, Like Before (Again)
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202 9 Again, Like Before (Again) Quite possibly the two most important speeches of Dostoevsky’s career were delivered in 1880: Alyosha’s momentous “speech at the stone,” which concludes The Brothers Karamazov, and Dostoevsky’s own remarkable speech at the Pushkin Days on June 8, 1880. Unsurprisingly, much has been written about both, since Dostoevsky’s often vague and seemingly contradictory pronouncements have necessarily given rise to conflicting interpretations. These speeches, however, are less important for what they say than for what they do. As many commentators have noted, Dostoevsky’s Pushkin speech was inseparable from the reaction to it; in fact, it seemed to be not at all the same speech when removed from the rarefied atmosphere of its delivery. Dostoevsky’s description of his own performance in his letter to his wife, Anna, bears faint yet distinct echoes of Stepan Trofimovich’s self-aggrandizement, but Dostoevsky’s “complete, absolutely complete victory” (as he put it) was undeniable. “The hall was packed. No Ania, no you will never be able to imagine and envision the effect it produced. What are my Petersburg successes! Nothing, zero compared to this! When I went to read the hall began to thunder with applause, which kept me from starting for a long, a very long time. I took a bow, made gestures asking that they let me read—nothing helped: rapture, enthusiasm (all because of Karamazov).”1 Again, Like Before (Again) 203 As of June 1880, the novel was suspended just prior to Dmitry’s dramatic trial for the murder of his father, the trial that, according to Dostoevsky scholars, was based on Dostoevsky’s experience at Zasulich ’s trial. At this point, the Elder Zosima had left his mystical utopian prescriptions as his legacy, and it was in the context of Zosima’s homilies—and the charismatic vacancy left by his death—that Dostoev­ sky’s words had their effect. In Dostoevsky’s account, his speech, in an atmosphere of intense, unbounded emotion, achieved instantaneous social transformation: “When I proclaimed about universal unity at the end the hall was in hysterics, and when I finished, I can’t describe the roar, the wail of rapture . People, strangers to each other in the audience, cried, wept, hugged one another, and vowed to each other to be better, not to hate but to love one another from now on.”2 As Dostoevsky describes it, the scene recalls that of two years previously, when the St. Petersburg Municipal Court erupted upon hearing the verdict in the Zasulich case. What stands out is not only public expressions of excessive emotion, but the fact that only in the crucible of such feverish emotion is the desired transformation possible. The violent effect of the emotions is captured most evocatively in the reporter Vasilevsky’s account, which recalls nothing so much as G v’s description of the chaos and hysteria at the end of Yulia von Lembke’s fête, in that it “exceeded all usual limits. It was a fever, an intoxication, an explosion. . . . The exalted gathering did not have the means to express its ecstasy, and people simply flung themselves over the hall. [Dostoevsky’s] fanatical, bottomless faith in the truth, beauty, and grandeur of his ideals reigned supreme. . . . Its gleam and glitter burned and blinded.”3 Together, the reception of the Pushkin speech and Dostoevsky’s patent jubilation make clear that the “new word” Dostoevsky had been seeking was the word that transcended words. (Aksakov, who spoke next, declared, “I consider Fyodor Mikhail­ ovich’s speech an event in our literature,” while Vasilevsky averred, “Human words cannot aspire to greater effect.”)4 Written only a few months after Dostoevsky’s Pushkin speech to conclude his last novel, Alyosha’s speech at the stone reprises Dostoev­ sky’s coup de grâce on a smaller, less hysterical scale. Alyosha is breathlessly awaited by his twelve preteen apostles, and his speech ends with the youngest brother of a convict (Dmitry), a madman (Ivan), and a murderer (Smerdyakov) celebrated amidst mutual embraces and cries of “Hurrah for Karamazov!” Whoever expected that Karamazov, 204 Part Three: “The Little Devil Sitting in Your Heart” forming a near rhyme with that name of infamy, Karakozov, would be hurrahed? In Alyosha’s speech and by the very fact of the speech, the two tendencies that have contended for Dostoevsky’s soul have one final showdown. For the duration of the novel, Alyosha, whom Dostoev­ sky characterizes in his author’s mock...


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Subject Headings

  • Russian literature -- Political aspects.
  • Terrorism -- Russia -- History -- 19th century.
  • Terrorism in literature.
  • Alexander II, Emperor of Russia, 1818-1881 -- Assassination.
  • Dostoyevsky, Fyodor, 1821-1881 -- Political and social views.
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