Mark Danner

Dostoevsky: The Novelist as Journalist

Mark Danner and Robert Hass 
Course Number J251
North Gate Hall B-1
Tuesdays 6-9 p.m.
“In Dostoevsky,” Ernest Hemingway wrote, “there are things believable and not to be believed, but some so true that they changed you as you read them.” For generations of writers he has been the towering novelist, the writer able to reach such psychological and philosophical depths that he transformed the medium of fiction. And yet it was common knowledge among contemporary critics that Dostoyevsky’s metier, the urban novel of atmospheres and ideas, was born out of the feuillton, the nineteenth’s century’s newspaper genre of the urban sketch, and nourished on the headlines: the sensational crime stories and ideological warfare that gave life to the emerging medium of the daily newspaper. This course offers a chance to read some of Dostoevsky’s journalism, early and late; his most important work of non-fiction, Notes from the House of the Dead, an account of his imprisonment for participation in a terrorist plot; and several of the major novels, including Crime and Punishment, The Demons and The Brothers Karamazov, with an eye to the interplay between fiction and journalism. The co-instructors are a journalist who writes about terrorism and political violence and a poet who once, years ago, write a Ph.D. dissertation on Dostoevsky and the themes of fiction.


Course Requirements: The essential requirements for the class, which will be based on weekly discussion, is that you show up and have done the reading and participate. So we expect of you no unexcused absences.The reading will be considerable. We suggest that you pace yourself. Look at your semester schedule and make a plan for staying on top of it. Try to get ahead of schedule in the first few weeks and plan to get caught up, if you fall behind, during spring break. We are not making specific assignments from the Frank biography, but you will be expected to have read— skimmed at least— his discussion of the current issues underlying Dostoevsky”s themes in each of the books for the sessions in which we talk about them.

Written work: The written work for the course will consist of one long essay and it will be due on May 9, the last day of class. For the writing you will have several options: to write an analytic essay on the themes, formal structures, philosophical issues in Dostoevsky”s fiction; to write a research essay on any one of a number of social and political themes that underlie Dostoevky”s fiction; to respond with some piece of imaginative journalism about Dostoevsky, his novels, his readers, the social. Moral and political issues he adderesses, the relevance of his art, etc, designed to be immediately publishable in a magazine for a general audience. We will be discussing possibilities for your writing as the course proceeds. But we will expect you to submit a tentative proposal by March 14. The literature on Dostoevsky is immense. We suggest that, early on, whether you go an online search or not, you spend some time browsing the Dostoevsky shelves in the library stacks to get a sense of the range of the English language criticism. 
Schedule: Note that the class will take place Tuesdays, 6-9 p.m., and will be divided at 7:30 p.m. by a ten-minute break. They will be held in North Gate Hall, room B-1.  
Supplemental Texts: Aside from the primary texts listed below, which are required, we strongly recommend Joseph Frank’s biography of Dostoevsky, composed of the following five volumes: The Seeds of Revolt:1821-1849, The Years of Ordeal: 1850-1859, The Stir of Liberation: 1860-1865, The Miraculous Years: 1865-1871, and The Mantle of the Prophet: 1871-1881.

January 17:

Introductory: The Novelist as Journalist

January 24:


“White Nights,” (1847) in The Best Short Stories of Fyodor Dostoevsky, translated by David Magarshack (Modern Library Classics);


“Four Essays from The Petersburg News” in Dostoyevsky”s Occasional Writings, translated by David Magarshack (Random House);


“The Double” in The Double and The Gambler translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Everyman”s Library);


“Realism, Pure and Romantic,” by Donald Fanger, in Dostoevsky and Romantic Realism (Northwestern University Press);   
January 31:  
Notes from the House of the Dead (1862), Introduction and Part One. translated by David McDuff (Penguin Classics)


“The Translation Wars,” by David Remnick, The New Yorker, November 7, 2005   
February 7:  
Notes from the House of the Dead, Part Two



February 14:
Winter Notes on Summer Impressions (1863), translated by David Patterson (Northwestern University Press)
February 21:
Notes from Underground (1864) translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Vintage)
February 28:
Crime and Punishment (1866), Parts One and Two translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Vintage)
March 7:
Crime and Punishment, Parts Three and Four
March 14:
The Idiot (1868), Parts One and Two translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Vintage)
March 21:
The Idiot, Parts Three and Four [March 28: Spring Break]
April 4:
Demons (1871-72), Part One translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux)
April 11:
Demons, Part Two A Writer”s Diary (Vol. 1 – 1873-1876), selections translated by Kenneth Lantz (Northwestern University Press)


“Dostoevsky and the Western Intellectuals,” by Czeslaw Milosz, in Crime and Punishment (The Norton Critical Edition)
Why Lenin? Why Stalin?: A Reappraisal of the Russian Revolution, 1900-1930 by Theodore H. Von Laue [Chapters I-V] (Lippincott)
April 18:
The Demons, Part Three “At Tikhon”s” in Demons (appendix)
April 25:
The Brothers Karamazov (1880), Books 1-4 translated by Pevear and Volokhonsky (Vintage)


May 2:
The Brothers Karamazov, Books 5-8
May 9:
The Brothers Karamazov, Books 9-12 and “Epilogue”


“The Jewish Question” (1877) in A Writer”s Diary (Vol. 2 1877-1881) translated by Kenneth Lantz (Northwestern University Press)


“The Pushkin Speech” (1880) in A Writer”s Diary (Vol.2 1877-1881)


Class held at Brennan”s restaurant, Berkeley. Vodka and Caviar.