Well, this novel beauty remains identical in all Dostoievsky's works. Isn't the Dostoievsky woman (as distinctive as a Rembrandt woman) with her mysterious face, whose engaging beauty changes abruptly, as though her apparent good nature was only play-acting, into coarse ferocity (although at heart it seems that she is more good than bad), isn't she always the same, whether it's Nastasia Philipovna writing love letters to Aglaya and telling her that she hates her, or in a visit that's absolutely identical with this - as also the one where Nastasia Philipvna insults Gania's family - Grushenka, as charming in Katerina Ivanovna's house as the latter had supposed her to be terible, then suddenly revealing her malevolence by insulting Katerina Ivanovna (although Grushenka is good at heart)? Grushenka, Nastasia - figures as original, as mysterious, not merely as Carpaccio's courtesans but as Rembrandt's Bathsheba. Mind you, he certainly didn't only know how to depict that striking dual face, with its sudden explosions of furious pride, which makes the woman seem other than she is ("You are not like that," says Myshkin to Nastasia during the visit to Gania's family, and Alyosha might have said the same to Grushenka during the visit to Katerina Ivanovna). But on the other hand when he wants to try and 'pictorial ideas' they're always stupid and produce at best the pictures where Myshkin wants to see the representation of a condemned man at the moment when . . . etc., or the Virgin Mary at the moment when . . . etc. But to return to the new kind of beauty that Dostoievsky brought to the world, just as, in Vermeer, there's the creation of a certain soul, of a certain colour of fabrics and and places, so in Dostoievsky there's the creation not only of people but of their homes, and the house of the Murder in The Brothers Karamazov, with it dvornik, isn't it as marvous as the masterpiece of the house of Murder in The Idiot, that sombre house of Rogozhin's, so long, and so high, and so vast, in which he kills Nastasia Philipovna. That new and terrible beauty of a house, that new and two-sided beauty of a woman's face, that is the unique thing that Dostoievsky has given to the world, and the comparisons that literary critics may make, between him and Gogol, or between him and Paul de Kock, are of no interest, being external to this secret beauty.
Marcel Proust, The Captive, pp. 384-385
This is one of those posts that I'll definitely need to revisit. One of my goals is that, in addition to rereading Proust, I'd like to make a reconsideration of of my commentary, although, obviously, on a more casual level than the first time through. By that I mean that I want to reread Proust just for the joy of it, and not with the chore of taking extensive notes and writing daily commentary hanging over my head. That said, it would be impossible for me as part of that reread to not take a look at my initial reflections. I have more immediate plans for the commentary that I'm creating, clumsily, but more on that later, so the massive reread/reconsideration is a few years down the road.
In this particular instance the need for a reread relates to Proust's comments about Dostoevsky. I have to admit to my shame that I haven't read any Dostoevsky in thirty years, although I recently picked up copies of The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment, so this passage from Proust is well-timed. Proust writes: "Isn't the Dostoievsky woman (as distinctive as a Rembrandt woman) with her mysterious face, whose engaging beauty changes abruptly, as though her apparent good nature was only play-acting, into coarse ferocity (although at heart it seems that she is more good than bad) . . ." So, I need to reacquaint myself with the Dostoevsky woman. Certainly for centuries women were often not much more than props in literature; I loved Dickens, but, as we've discussed, never wrote particularly interesting female characters (especially Esther Summerson in the otherwise brilliant Bleak House). So, I'll have to check back and let you know if I agree with Proust's proposal: "That new and terrible beauty of a house, that new and two-sided beauty of a woman's face, that is the unique thing that Dostoievsky has given to the world . . ." This goes back to our discussion the other day about the role of the genius in changing the rules, and thus changing the world.
|My Year With Dostoevsky? Thanks, Barnes and Noble for the bargain classic table (now, hopefully they're good translations).|