F.M. Dostoevsky: Life, Work, and Criticism


41 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-919966-35-7





Reviewed by Roman S. Struc

Roman S. Struc is a professor in the Department of Germanic and Slavic
Studies at the University of Calgary.


This work by Victor Terras, Professor of Russian at Brown University, is a convenient first primer on the Russian author. In a little more than thirty pages, the book deals with Dostoevsky’s life, offers a list of principal works, a survey of his major fiction, and an overview of his politics, philosophy, psychology, and aesthetics. A selective annotated bibliography concludes the brochure.

The author deserves all the credit for having managed to include as much in his study as he has. At the same time, omissions were inevitable — understandably so, but also regrettable. In the account of Dostoevsky’s life, the author fails to emphasize the impact of the mock execution, which both existentially and artistically determined what became of him as a man and activist. That incident and Dostoevsky’s years in prison were strangely enough responsible for both the spiritual and the political shift to the right.

While the critical discussions of the Russian’s major fiction are succinct and insightful, one of the major problems of his poetics is not accounted for: the inability to create “good” characters. The most notable failure is, of course, The Idiot. The reader would have benefited from a few words on the concept of the Russian Christ, Dostoevsky’s peculiar Messianism (and that of Russians in general), and other matters well known to a vintage Dostoevsky reader though not to a neophyte.

In describing The Possessed, Professor Terras does not note the political implications of the novel. The novel was the most thorough condemnation of left-wing terrorism, an exposé of the corrupt ideology which amounted to a prophetic anticipation of the terror of the twentieth century and the regime in Russia now. Therefore, it would have been necessary to indicate the ambivalent attitude of the rulers of present-day Russia toward one of her most celebrated writers.

The information in this booklet is readily available elsewhere. One wonders at what reading public Professor Terras’s compendium is directed and whether it is worth its listed price of $6.95.


Terras, Victor, “F.M. Dostoevsky: Life, Work, and Criticism,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 25, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/37449.