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184Rocky Mountain Review ALBA AMOIA. Feodor Dostoevsky. New York: Continuum Books, 1993. 312 p. 1 his review of Alba Amoia's work Feodor Dostoevsky might be entitled "fools rush in where angels fear to tread." The book gives every impression that Frederick Ungar wanted an "introductory" book on Dostoevsky for their Literature and Life series. The result does neither the publisher nor the author proud. Knowing no Russian and thus placed at the mercy of translations of Dostoevsky's works and almost completely ignorant of the vast critical literature on Dostoevsky, Amoia makes a valiant but unsuccessful attempt to summarize, explicate, and interpret Dostoevsky's works. While touching on practically all of Dostoevsky's fiction in the space of 280 pages, Amoia's critical grounding is found in prefaces, translators' introductions, a few reputable critical items found in the Slavica catalogue (most notably Professor Gary Cox's works), and Joseph Frank's multi-volume but unfinished biography of Dostoevsky. Intended as "an introductory synopsis," a "preliminary acquaintance," and brief survey of the life and literature of this "complex genius" that is Dostoevsky, this study sadly consists of confused plot recapitulations , superficial commentary, and ungrounded, undemonstrated conclusions concerning concepts and characters (9). Amoia writes well, but her criticial methodololgy leaves much to be desired . She often falls into rather meaningless circularities as she attempts to explicate Dostoevsky the person through the qualities she finds in his characters, and then reversing the process, presents character explication through her interpretation of Dostoevsky's persona and opinion. While I could examine any of the chapters of this book to illustrate my points, I will limit my comments to Amoia's examination of one of Dostoevsky's most complicated novels, The Devils. First, Amoia's consistent reluctance to even mention the thorny problems of understanding the nature and reasons for personal narrators in Dostoevsky's fiction (and this includes her examination of other novels, as well as The Devils) leads to confused and contradictory interpretations. From the beginning she makes the inexperienced literary critic's mistake of identifying the novel's narrator with Dostoevsky himself: "Dostoevsky writes with tongue in cheek. . . . Dostoevsky is far from taking them [Varvara Petrovna and Stepan Trofimovich] seriously. . . . The long eared' Shigalov, whom Dostoevsky had earlier caricatured . . . Dostoevsky had described the pompous Karmazinov . . ." (112, 120, 121). Of course, the ironic depictions, humor, commentary, and, for that matter, chronological arrangement of the events belong not to Dostoevsky but to the novel's firstperson narrator/"chronicler," Anton Lavrent'evich G-v. Dostoevsky himself, who often castigated his contemporary critics for this mis-identification, vehemently protested that he never revealed his own face in the characters or the narrative. Second, Amoia often quotes passages and, clearly perplexed by them, leaves the quote to be interpreted by the reader (note the description of Stavrogin's appearance). Book Reviews185 Even more confusing, however, is Amoia's attempt to piece together the very complicated plot ?? The Devils. Amoia is not aware of the strict chronological ordering of the events of this work and mistakenly takes the narrator to be truthful at every given moment of expression. This narrator, however, often limits his point of view and relates events as though he were an eye-witness (which is closer to what I have called a "spy-witness") and tends to omit the fact that he has re-created the events and placed them in a chronology after they have already occurred. For example, Amoia, taking the narrator's voice at face value, asserts that Stavrogin and Liza "were much in love" in Switzerland (114), and that Liza, attempting to make Stavrogin jealous, turns her attentions on Peter Verkhovensky. Amoia seriously reports that "instead of becoming rivals, the two young men, Nikolay and Peter, had become fast friends" (114). However, unbeknownst to Liza, and Amoia, Peter was already a close acquaintance of Stavrogin, having met him during Stavrogin's debauched "Petersburg period" some four years earlier. In fact, Peter knew him well enough to have been an official witness at Stavrogin's marriage to Marya Timofeevna. Amoia makes other similar mistakes whenever she takes as narrative "truth" the narrator's innuendos and comments, which reflect, in fact, his...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-2833
Print ISSN
1948-2825
Pages
pp. 184-186
Launched on MUSE
2016-01-06
Open Access
No
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