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I N T R O D U C T I O N THE IMAGE OF CHRIST AND RUSSIAN LITERATURE Let us preserve the image of Christ, that it may shine forth like a precious diamond to the whole world . . . So be it, so be it! Fyodor Dostoevsky, Brothers Karamazov (Pevear and Volokhonsky translation) If you were to read only the works of Fyodor Dostoevsky after his ­ Siberian exile or Leo Tolstoy in his final thirty years, you might easily believe that Jesus Christ and Russian literature are two subjects that cannot be separated from each other, so central does Christ or his teachings seem to be in their lives and creativity. The reality, of course, is quite different. Russian literature of the past two hundred plus years is as secular as any of the literatures of its European neighbors.And yet, at the same time, like European literature, Russian literature was nurtured and developed in a culture whose art, spirituality, and thought were dominated for centuries by the image of Jesus and the beliefs and practices of the Christian faith. Indeed, as far as Russian literature is concerned, we may even argue that in its earliest forms—numerous sermons and saints’lives—there was no literature without Jesus, for these works dealt with little else than living in accordance with the words and deeds of Christ. Certainly, we can say that Russia has a Christian literature in the same way that we can say England does, whose novels assume a single national faith, shared values, and common religious heritage reflected in the daily lives and I N T R O D U C T I O N 4 assumptions of its heroes and heroines. This shared spiritual heritage and national religion, and the mores they gave rise to, however, figure chiefly as a common cultural background in novels whose concerns are largely elsewhere . One thinks of the novels of Jane Austen, George Eliot, the Brontë sisters, and most of Charles Dickens in nineteenth-century British fiction, for instance, in which England’s Anglican faith is but part of the wallpaper of the world inhabited by the characters these authors created. The same is true in Russian literature, as we shall see in chapter 1. That being said, classics of a more overt Christian literature also occupy a significant place in both cultures. In Britain, works like John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667), John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678), Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol (1843), or C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters (1942) come to mind. In Russia, The Life of the Archpriest Avvakum, Written by Himself (written 1672–1675, first published in Russia in 1861), Nikolai Gogol’s Selected Passages from Correspondence with Friends (1847), Nikolai Leskov’s The Cathedral Clergy (1872), or Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov (1880) are prominent examples. My concern in this book, however, is not Russia’s Christian literature but rather its anxiety over its Christian heritage, specifically, its anxiety over the meaning and significance of Jesus Christ. Beginning in the nineteenth century and corresponding with the rise of the historical school of biblical criticism in Europe, Russian intellectuals became increasingly skeptical of the traditional claims made by the Orthodox Church about the order of the cosmos and Christ’s role therein. Partly a consequence of the Russian response to the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century, partly a reaction to the religious revival of Alexander I’s reign in the beginning of the nineteenth century, a rising secularism dominated Russian intellectual life throughout the 1800s, gaining momentum just as realism replaced Romanticism in Russian letters and David Friedrich Strauss published his Life of Jesus Critically Examined (1835), the first of two immensely influential works in Russia that redefined the meaning of Christ in a non-mystical light.The other work, Ernest Renan’s Life of Jesus, appeared in 1863 and was translated into Russian a year later, precisely when radical materialism was gaining inroads among Russian intellectuals. Thus, the question of faith, the role of the Church in Russian society, and the identity of Jesus Christ and his significance in history became part of the war waged between progressives, who put their faith in reason, science, and governmental reform, and their opponents, who largely maintained traditional religious values and views. 5 The Image of Christ and Russian Literature For his part, Dostoevsky opposed the secularists not only for reasons of faith but also because he could not agree with them that a perfect...


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