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Feldman, B. (1958-1959). Dostoevsky and Father-Love. Psychoanal. Rev., 45D(4):84-98.

(1958-1959). Psychoanalytic Review, 45D(4):84-98

Dostoevsky and Father-Love

Bronson Feldman, Ph.D.

Exemplified by “Crime and Punishment”

“The question is, am I a monster, or am I myself a victim?”

The character of Arkady Ivanovich Svidrigailov challenges the analyst of human nature like no other in Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. His traits, his actions, his ideas interest us with a magnetic uncanny quality which can be found in only a few places in the world's large literary gallery of scoundrels. An unforgettable personage, Svidrigailov, this villain of Russia's chief novelist, impresses all who meet him with his radiation of energy suggesting a giant, his frame tall and sturdy, his face not unhandsome, uniting in its Tartar cheekbones and Viking complexion two features of the races that lifted Russia up from nondescript barbarism to the level we call civilization. His indefatigable muscles have a worthy supervisor in his brain. The force, the speed, the wide scope, and the agility of his intellect place his two conversations with the hero Raskolnikov among the highlights of their novel-and that means at the peak of all fiction.

Dostoevsky endowed the old scoundrel with a rare cosmopolitan wit and insight as well as powerful native peasant shrewdness, an essentially Oriental mind cultivated by Western education and GreatRussian experience. These attributes work their spell on most of us imperceptibly while we are being agitated by his cynical showing off, his craftiness in sensual pursuits, and his peculiar brutality. It cannot be denied that old Svidrigailov charms at the same time that he frightens and perhaps overawes. After their first talk Raskolnikov asserts, “He is the most depraved and abjectly vicious specimen of that class of men.” This verdict is delivered with more smoke than illumination and serves only to prepare us for the revelation that “The man he [Raskolnikov] really dreaded in earnest was Svidrigailov.”

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