University of Cambridge > > CamCREES seminars (Cambridge Committee for Russian and East European Studies) > Of Men and their Demons: Masculinity in Dostoevskii's Besy

Of Men and their Demons: Masculinity in Dostoevskii's Besy

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Tea and coffee from 4.45

Critics have long considered Besy to be Dostoevskii’s most political novel, a judgement that has distracted attention from the sexual deviance and gender reversals also present in the work. My talk argues that Dostoevskii’s Besy presents a genealogy of shifting masculinities in nineteenth-century Russia. The novel critiques both the sentimental men of the 1840s generation­—presented as effete performers who have voluntarily renounced their manliness—and the radical men of the 1860s—presented as hypermasculine in their taste for violence. More intriguingly, Dostoevskii struggles to provide an alternative, positive vision of masculinity. Even Ivan Shatov is a cuckold with a naïve faith in humanity, and the converted Stepan Verkhovenskii retains his effeminacy and emotionalism in the closing chapters. My study places Dostoevskii in the context of broader European anxieties about masculinity in the second half of the nineteenth century, and argues that his work resists the essentialism seen in thinkers such as Max Nordau, Cesare Lombroso and Richard von Krafft-Ebing, who share his anxieties about gender and sexual deviance, but who propose different solutions.

This talk is part of the CamCREES seminars (Cambridge Committee for Russian and East European Studies) series.

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