God and the Devil in the Human Heart: The Dialogic Vision of Abramovitch and Dostoevsky
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CitationOrr, Meital. 2012. God and the Devil in the Human Heart: The Dialogic Vision of Abramovitch and Dostoevsky. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
AbstractScholarship on the founder of modern Jewish literature, Sholem Abramovitch (1836-1917), is a rich field of study, yet it has been largely abandoned today, and the author has hardly been studied at all in nineteenth-century comparative European context. This study uses an unprecedented comparison between Abramovitch and his contemporary, Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881), to reveal the complexity with which Abramovitch pioneered the integration of European and Russian literary trends into Jewish literature. These writers came from very different cultures and literary situations; however, they also shared many of the same influences due to their shared location in Tsarist Russia in the mid nineteenth century. During this time, the cultural sources and social preoccupations of their intelligentsias increasingly converged, producing a shared zeitgeist which – in combination with their similar early experiences and tendencies for dialogism (contradictory duality) – led to their many literary intersections. A comparison of their oeuvres reveals similar replacements of Gogol’s condescension toward poor protagonists with compassion, subversions of the feuilleton in the service of social critique, unprecedented uses of the “dialogic word,” new variations on the European theme of the “fantastic city,” applications of contemporary concepts such as “necessary egoism” and “free will” to the psyche of the downtrodden, enlistments of the Devil to warn against the dangers of Utilitarianism, and literary efforts to bridge the gap between the classes which include a convergence between romanticism and religion. Though Abramovitch has been designated as a satirist and realist, this study shows how he also pioneered the integration of romanticism into Jewish literature through, psychological penetration of the poor, and themes such as: the truth inherent in emotion, the subconscious and folklore, the transcendent wisdom of the people, and the divine meaning of nature. Abramovitch has been compared on isolated themes with other Russian writers, such as Turgenev, Shchedrin and Gogol; however, only a comparison with Dostoevsky can reveal the nuance and complexity of his many formal and thematic achievements.
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