Many critics, Michael André Bernstein prominent among them, have noted similarities between the 19th-century Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky and the 20th-century French modernist Louis-Ferdinand Céline. These critics often compare the underground man and similar characters in Dostoevsky’s work to Céline’s singular, auto-fictional narrator. Two novels, Crime and Punishment and Death on Credit, grounded in a common literary-historical narrative—that of French Realism and Romantic Realism—show that Céline has a distinct philosophical vision, which is the opposite of Dostoevsky’s. At first glance, Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and Céline’s Death on Credit seem to be entirely different in terms of their aesthetics, engagement with national traditions, and thematic preoccupations. The former is a novel with a religious message and a traditionally teleological narrative, while the latter reflects a deeply nihilistic vision of human existence and deconstructs narrative structure and style. Examining the two novels in another light, however, draws attention to Dostoevsky’s treatment of squalid, modern situations and puts Céline into a different, nonnational lineage of authors, while also highlighting the unity of his philosophical vision. For both authors, desperately poor people and acts of extreme violence create the impression of a godless world. The two novels’ focus on poverty and crime seem to have their origin in the two epic cycles written by the most famous practitioners of French Realism and Romantic Realism, Balzac and Zola. In Balzac’s La Comédie humaine and Zola’s Les Rougon-Macquart, the two authors’ most consistent focus is the way systems of economic power force people to commit crimes and the consequences that ensue. This might be said to be so of Realism and Romantic Realism in general: all of the intensive worldbuilding it entails is performed to offer verisimilitude to the desperate crimes by impoverished people it dissects. At the very least, this is what Dostoevsky and Céline both took from the genre.
Forms of Realism in Dostoevsky and Céline
History and Culture of the Bulgarian Book
The concept of Bulgarian book (Balgarska Kniga) is inclusive of manuscripts and printed and digital books written and reproduced in Old Bulgarian, Middle Bulgarian, and Modern Bulgarian in the period from the 9th to the 21st centuries. Along with language, due to a number of historical circumstances related to political, cultural, and economic factors, categories of Bulgarian books also comprise literary products created in foreign languages by Bulgarians with a clear Bulgarian national consciousness. Because of the long period of existence of the Bulgarian state (681–2021) and its two periods of political dependence—the Byzantine rule (1018–1185) and the Ottoman rule (1396–1878)—historical boundaries regarding the creation, distribution, and influence of the Bulgarian book far exceed the political borders of the modern Bulgarian state. The cultural influence of the Bulgarian manuscript book can be attributed to Bulgarian rulers and high clergy who were the first to successfully apply, develop, and disseminate Glagolitic and Cyrillic written systems, thus helping to build an independent Slavic Christian culture in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. This influence accounts for the Bulgarian book’s wide distribution as early as the Middle Ages and explains its 21st-century presence in a number of foreign libraries and museums. As a material object and a cultural phenomenon, the Bulgarian book can be studied in five main periods: the manuscript book (9th–19th century); the printed book in the period of the Ottoman Empire (1508–1878); the printed book in the period from the Liberation of Bulgaria to the imposition of the socialist centralized planned model of book publishing (1878–1948); the printed book during the socialist period (1944–1989); and the book in the postsocialist period (1989–2021).
The Image of the Karaites in 19th- and 20th-Century Literature
The article analyzes the image of the Karaites in Karaite, Jewish, European, and Russian literatures in the 19th and the 20th centuries. The Karaites are Jews who do not accept the teaching of the Talmud and the Rabbinic concept of the “Oral Law.” Many well-known 19th- and 20th-century belletrists were attracted to the Karaites’ unusual Judeo-Turkic culture as well as their influential status in the Russian empire, their wealth, and their intellectual achievements. It appears that there was no unified image of the Karaites among the authors of this period: Men of letters of various countries, religions, and ethnicities presented the Karaites as marginal Jewish sectarians, a “nation of traders,” descendants of the Turkic Khazars and Cumans, true Israelites, and even as “sons of Japheth.” Why were these images so contradictory? There is no doubt that it was, at least in part, due to the Karaites themselves, who by altering their ethnic identity in the 19th and 20th centuries, transformed the perception of their community in the eyes of external observers—thus leading modern belletrists to portray them in such contradictory ways.
Male Noble Dress in 19th-Century Russian Literature
Dress was highly semiotically charged in 19th-century Russia. Clothing was a material representation of structures of power; this was a reality that writers were aware of and drew on in their work. What a person wore depended on their status, but also partly on their inclinations. Some clothes, such as uniforms, were legally prescribed, while others, such as fashionable dress, relied on generally understood codes. Noblemen used their clothing choices to negotiate their relationship with the state and to express their political leanings. At times they conformed with and at times they retreated from the norms of the public sphere. They also sometimes dressed in opposition to the status quo. Writers used the significances of different kinds of clothing to explore the nuances of social structures and how they affected individuals within society.
Moscow: The Third Rome
In the mid-19th century, three 16th-century Russian sources were published that alluded to Moscow as the “third Rome.” When 19th-century Russian historians discovered these texts, many interpreted them as evidence of an ancient imperial ideology of endless expansion, an ideology that would go on to define Russian foreign policy from the 16th century to the modern day. But what did these 16th-century depictions of Moscow as the third Rome actually have in mind? Did their meaning remain stable or did it change over the course of the early modern period? And how significant were they to early modern Russian imperial ideology more broadly? Scholars have pointed out that one cannot assume that depictions of Moscow as the third Rome were necessarily meant to be imperial celebrations per se. After all, the Muscovites considered that the first Rome fell for various heretical beliefs, in particular that Christ did not possess a human soul, and the second Rome, Constantinople, fell to the Turks in 1453 precisely because it had accepted some of these heretical “Latin” doctrines. As such, the image of Moscow as the third Rome might have marked a celebration of the city as a new imperial center, but it could also allude to Moscow’s duty to protect the “true” Orthodox faith after the fall—actual and theological—of Rome and Constantinople. As time progressed, however, the nuances of religious polemic once captured by the trope were lost. During the 17th and early 18th centuries, the image of Moscow as the third Rome took on a more unequivocally imperialist tone. Nonetheless, it would be easy to overstate the significance of allusions to Moscow as the third Rome to early modern Russian imperial ideology more broadly. Not only was the trope rare and by no means the only imperial comparison to be found in Muscovite literature, it was also ignored by secular authorities and banned by clerics.