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Gary Rosenshield. Challenging the Bard: Dostoevsky and Pushkin. A Study of a Literary Relationship.

Gary Rosenshield. Challenging the Bard: Dostoevsky and Pushkin. A Study of a Literary Relationship. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2013. 318 pp. ISBN 978-0-299-29354-3.

The focus of Rosenshield's thought-provoking study is Dostoevsky's attempt to challenge and transform various important images and ideas pertaining to modernity and modern psychology found in Pushkin's works. Rosenshield uses the term "literary relationship" throughout his study in order to avoid any emphasis on the precursor as implied in Harold Bloom's concept of the anxiety of influence. He also aspires "to steer clear of the anti-authorial focus of the more extreme postmodernist thinking on intertextuality" (6). While the study scrutinizes Dostoevsky's reworking of key Pushkin's texts during the early years of his career, some attention is given to the later novels, too.

The book comprises two parts titled "Before Exile" and "After Exile." The first part includes a chapter that examines Dostoevsky's creative response to Pushkin's "The Stationmaster" as conveyed in Poor Folk; a chapter on the representation of madness in The Bronze Horseman and The Double; and a chapter on the influence of Pushkin's The Covetous Knight on Dostoevsky's Mr Prokharchin (1846). The second part offers a chapter on the theme of gambling in The Queen of Spades and The Gambler; two chapters that analyze various links between Crime and Punishment and Pushkin's works; and a chapter on the later novels, including The Idiot. The book includes an Introduction, Notes, Selected Bibliography, and Index.

One of the interesting aspects of the study is related to the representation of St. Petersburg in the works of Pushkin and Dostoevsky. "For Pushkin," maintains Rosenshield, "Petersburg remains beautiful, young and vibrant" despite occasional floods (152). He points out that Dostoevsky's Petersburg is strikingly different: it is a city "in the process of decay" where "the interiors are no less depressing than the streets and squares" (152). In this context, the presence of Pushkinian themes in Crime and Punishment might be seen as an important point of reference for the articulation of Dostoevsky's dystopian vision of modern urban life. In a similar vein, the study enables the reader to unravel the ideological complexity of many works of both authors by bringing them in dialogue in a new way.

Rosenshield's highly successful interpretation of Raskolnikov as an individual "in whom many different selves engage in a continual, conflictual dialogue with each other" (162) leads to a fruitful examination of Raskolnikov's mindset that is partly shaped by his interest both in Napoleon and in Peter the Great. Certainly, Rosenshield's juxtaposition of The Bronze Horseman and Crime and Punishment is insightful and effective. Yet not all comparisons and conclusions found in this provocative study will satisfy the reader as being convincing despite many attentive readings of Dostoevsky's texts that offer a fertile set of nuanced interpretations. To my mind, by focusing too much on how Dostoevsky appropriated the works of Pushkin, the study overlooks some important sources that might have been influencing both authors, such as Schiller's drama The Robbers (1781) and Milton's Paradise Lost (1667). Nevertheless, many scholars specializing in Pushkin and Dostoevsky will find this book rewarding and illuminating.

Alexandra Smith

University of Edinburgh
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Author:Smith, Alexandra
Publication:Pushkin Review
Date:Jan 1, 2019
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