Centre for Psychoanalytic Studies
University of Essex
Wednesday 2nd June 2010
5.00pm – 6:30pm
Dr Leon Burnett
‘The Construction of a Fantasia: Dostoevsky’s Meek Girl and Two Russian Suicides’
Dr Leon Burnett is a Reader in Literature and Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Comparative Studies at the University of Essex. His publications are mainly in Comparative Literature. Research areas of particular interest include modern European poetry, literary translation, myth in modern culture, and Russian literature. He has edited F. M. Dostoevsky (1821-1881): A Centenary Collection (1981) and Word in Time: Poetry, Narrative, Translation (1997), and is currently co-editing The Art of Accommodation: Literary Translation in Russia (publication expected later this year). From 1992 to 2000 he was the main editor of New Comparison: a Journal of Comparative and General Literary Studies.
Abstract: In A Writer’s Diary (October, 1876), Dostoevsky juxtaposed two reports of recent and contrasting female suicides, concluding with the question “which of these two souls bore more torment on earth”? The next instalment of the journal (November, 1876) contained a single piece of writing, “The Meek Girl: A Fantastic Story”, clearly based on the second of the two contemporary cases. The suicides served to bring together in Dostoevsky’s mind concepts that he had previously treated separately and, in his view, unsuccessfully: effacement (in The Double) and enigma (in The Idiot). Stimulated by a desire to comprehend the “psychological sequence” of events leading up to the act of suicide, Dostoevsky returned in “The Meek Girl” to these concepts, transferring the focus from male protagonists to an unnamed female character. I shall be looking at how, in this late work, he took up the challenge of finding an appropriate form to express an impenetrable theme.
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