Ourselves as adolescents
Dostoevsky has touched the lives of many people of whom some are adolescents who have just started tackling existential subjects and some are more mature and want to connect with religion.
What, in my opininon, makes him so important, is that after a difficult and confusing preface (so tiresome to certain people, that makes them abandon in haste the effort to read his books; bad translations are a second reason for that) he manages in an almost magical way to unlock the readers’ souls and make them ponder on things that up to that moment had never crossed their minds. Like an analyst, like a spiritual guide, Fyodor Dostoevsky brings each one of us opposite ourselves, initially opposite our bad and mean side and later in contact with everything divine or truly christian there is inside us.
Dostoevsky presents to us the society of Russia at his time but he doesn’t stay at that like Tolstoy who is also an excellent writer and painter of souls and has, at least in his “Resurrection”, dealt with many matters of existence and morality. Dostoevsky gives one the impression that commenting society and writing of good literature are not so important to him, never mind the fact that he does both perfectly. What is important to him is to awaken our souls, to open our eyes in order to see outside and beyond our prosaic everyday life of survival. The man who escaped execution at the last moment, who stayed for years in Siberia, who suffered from epilepsy, who abandoned himself to gambling and lost everything, this man opened his own soul widely and exposed it, with his deepest thoughts for everyone to see, so that he could understand better his own self. This gambler had nothing to lose. Not so lucky in games, he was saved from certain death when he was granted grace by the Czar on the spur of the moment. Who could be luckier than him? But he was lucky for one more reason: he bequeathed the world some of the best works ever written and for this reason millions bless his name. Even if he had written only the Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment, it would have been enough.
Even today Dostoevsky still manages to put us in front of the firing squad of our moral choices. He’s trying to show us the way to love and heavenly salvation. The relations among humans are sometimes Hell, our relation to God is Heaven. Dostoevsky seems to have been to both places because he can show us around them, better than anyone. When he shows us Hell, we roll down an endless despair, like for example in Notes of the underground. When he opens us the gate to Heaven, we feel that we can fly, that we are bound towards a healing, outwordly light, as it happens in the Brothers Karamazov. No matter which is our state of mind, Dostoevsky explains that we are all capable of overcoming our pettiness and rise onto another level.
And as soon as Dostoevsky makes you swim in deep waters, as soon as you start to get an idea of what is Hell, or how beautiful and shiny is Heaven, when he makes you feel like you’re flying and your soul is flooded with love and light, then you don’t want to leave the work of Dostoevsky anymore, because everything else seems unworthy and small. It’s not that you won’t stoop to anything else, it’s only that everything else seems tasteless and graceless. Now you know how to pray, now you’re a believer. You are like some men who don’t have much to do with religion and are convinced by their friends to visit the Holy Mountain and then return from there as if in an ecstasy. Later of course their job, their car that needs to be taken for service, an appointment at the dentist’s, take them away from what they have felt and make them forget it.
But not for long. Soon we’ll want to return, to find again that spiritual path that Fyodor showed us first. It’s still there, we haven’t lost it. His next book will bring us there again and we’ll feel again the same ecstasy.
Money, this so important factor of our lives, makes its appearance not only in The Gambler, as it might be expected, but also in Poor Folk and in his other books. The author warns us against the dangers of it in regard to our dignity.
It’s always worth the while to read Dostoevsky even if it is for the second or the third time. It is worth the while to meet again, even for a short while, ourselves as adolescents, to find again that honest and original self that is inside everyone and Fyodor knows how to awaken.
First published on 09.06.11