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Dostoevsky's Gothic Blueprint: the Notebooks to The Idiot

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Many scholars have commented on the influence of English gothic fiction on Dostoevsky’s writing. And, indeed, Dostoevsky himself recalls his early love of gothic novels, especially those of English gothic novelist par excellence, Ann Radcliffe, in Winter Notes on Summer Impressions (1863): “I used to spend the long winter hours before bed listening (for I could not yet read), agape with ecstasy and terror, as my parents read aloud to me from the novels of Ann Radcliffe. Then I would rave deliriously about them in my sleep.” This talk examines the specific impact of Radcliffe’s novels, especially The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), on Dostoevsky’s The Idiot (1868). Looking, in particular, at the trajectory of Nastas’ia Filippovna’s development as a character, as well as Dostoevsky’s working notebooks for the novel, the paper shows the extent to which the Russian writer used Radcliffe’s text in the formulation and structure of his novel. Dostoevsky’s early reading of English gothic novels clearly proved significant in the development of his narrative craft, as seen when we examine The Idiot and its working notebooks with Radcliffe’s works in mind.

This talk is part of the Darwin College Humanities and Social Sciences Group series.

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