Mirroring the World of the : in Humiliated and Insulted

Eric de Haard

Like most other Russian , Dostoevskii sometimes employed an ancient device, the insertion of poetry into stories and . Often these writers were also , who could and did insert their own poems (or in the wider, less elevated, sense), but in many cases the poetry was borrowed from Russian and foreign predecessors and recontextualized in a new .1 We do not immediately think of Dostoevskii as a and certainly his own poetic output is limited (unlike Turgenev and like Tolstoi), but he did write some verse a number of occasions, most notably for insertion into some of his novels. The verse Dostoevskii wrote is located at two extremes. On the one hand there are the nationalistic he composed when in exile in 1854 and 1855,2 in the eighteenth-century tradition and also following Pushkin’s indignant To the Slanderers of Russia. Dostoevskii composed them, without doubt, for political reasons, in order to prove himself a loyal subject; however, they can also be regarded both as a sincere expression of patriotic and as a successful stylistic exercise in a that was not really his own. At the other extreme, Dostoevskii proved his skill in the field of a lighter kind of poetry. He worked on a humorous sketch in rhymed four- iambs, The Officer and the Nihilist Girl (Îôèöåð è íèãèëèñòêà ([XVII, 16-23] written in 1864-73 and published posthumously), actually the longest piece in verse that Dostoevskii has written. To another category belong the poems specially composed for Demons. Showing Dostoevskii’s talents in the light genre, Captain Lebiadkin’s verses emulate and even surpass the masters of and absurd verse united in the figure of Kozma Prutkov, and anticipate later verse and absurd poetry.3 In the same novel the large insertion titled A Radiant Personality (Ñâåòëàÿ ëè÷íîñòü) is a hilarious parodic masterpiece. It is a of Ogarev’s poem The Student (Ñòóäåíò) 64 Eric de Haard of Dostoevskii’s own making, and here used as a weapon in his polemics with the radicals. However, in the vast majority of insertions of verse in his prose works, Dostoevskii borrowed from others. As is generally the case, rarely is a whole poem quoted, often just a few lines or only one, which are meant to represent and recall the poem by means of synecdoche. This implies that these verses are put into a new, ‘strange’ context, sometimes with quite negative consequences for the borrowed poem and its creator, as, more often than not, at least a slightly ironical note, or straightforward derision, are manifest. The most prominent example of such detrimental recontextualization is the occurrence in several works by Dostoevskii of lines from Nekrasov’s well-known poem ‘When from the darkness of delusion ...’ (‘Êîãäà èç ìðàêà çàáëóæäåíèÿ ...’), a work that had become emblematic of the progressive ‘Natural School’. Îbviously this poem was a favourite of Dostoevskii’s, but not in a purely positive sense. He inserted the first in the Epilogue (part two, six) of The Village of Stepanchikovo. Here Nekrasov’s poem is already referred to in a rather ambiguous way, as the naive Seriozha quotes it to support his view on ‘fallen women’, in this case rather inappropriately, but also quite comically, with respect to Tatiana Ivanovna, one of Dostoevskii’s more intriguing minor characters. We may assume that here Dostoevskii had not yet fully rejected Nekrasov and his poem. However, by 1864 he put it in a prominent position as the to part two of Notes from Underground. By then the ‘honour’ of being quoted had become even more dubious. Dostoevskii reproduces only the first 14 lines and then cuts it short by the slightly disdainful ‘è ò.ä., è ò.ä., è ò.ä.’ (‘etc., etc., etc.’), though it is followed by the decorous reference ‘Èç ïîýçèè Í.À. Íåêðàñîâà’ (‘From N.A. Nekrasov’s poetry’). Later on (part two, chapter eight) the two final lines of the poem are inserted in the Underground Man’s and repeated as the epigraph to chapter nine. By this time, if not earlier, it has become a rather sarcastic comment on the Underground Man’s efforts to save a fallen soul and, for Dostoevskii, a means of conducting his polemics with Nekrasov. The poem makes its final appearance in ( three, chapter three), where two lines are jokingly quoted by Mitia (‘Íå âåðü òîëïå ïóñòîé è ëæèâîé, / Çàáóäü ñîìíåíèÿ ñâîè ...’[‘Don’t believe the idle and mendacious crowd, / Forget your doubts ...’] ).