Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

Dostoevski began his series of articles in the Petersburg Citizen with the plan of talking in an informal way about any subject in current events that impressed or appealed to him. He did not intend the articles to be a specifically literary endeavor and they are not, although literary subjects appear frequently. Nor did he intend his writing to be predominantly political, although he expounds his political philosophy and his slavophilic ideas at intervals throughout. This was to be a personal and freely-ranging undertaking; hence he called it a diary. It combines characteristics found in current journalism, column, editorial, and feature story. The style is flowing, associative, digressive.

The author frequently and half humorously complains that he is having no success in keeping to his main subject because the things which were intended to take up but a few words have absorbed all the space. In fact, the announced subjects are often but launching points for what Dostoevski really has to say. At the end of the 1876 issues, he admits that his main object in writing the DIARY is to explain the ideas of Russia’s national spiritual independence, that is, the qualities of the human mind and heart as he observes them in his countrymen. Always fascinated by the consciousness and emotions of people all of kinds, Dostoevski makes many profound observations, and the pages of his DIARY reveal keen observation and sensitivity to our essential humanity. This prime interest accounts for the rambling and discursive form of his writings. As he explains, he writes of the things he has seen, heard, read. But in life, these things do not fit together, do not form patterns. All is strange, all is “segregation.” The lack of order and coherence in his writings mirrors the disorder and unrest in life, which are his true subject: what life is like in Russia in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

Dostoevski shows the quirks and quiddities of the Russian character by sketches, by narrated incidents, and by simple rumination. A visit he made to a mineral-water spa provides him with material for comments about railway traveling, social behavior, particularly the propensity of many Russians for speaking poor French rather than good Russian. Dostoevski analyzes this affectation and criticizes it. He is quick to see the faults of his countrymen: their simplicity, their lying, their dissipations. He observes that most men are not bad but wretched, a situation that may be attributed partly to the social confusion in the country after the liberation of the peasants in 1861, when many Russians could not be secure in their identities or their social positions. The writer observes that everybody wants to revenge himself on the world for his own nullity. Because people lack an outlet to express their identities, they feel neglected and faceless; they debauch, they drink, they write anonymous letters to newspapers. However, he insists, the Russian people should be judged not by their villainies but by the great and holy things they long for, even while they are committing wrongs. In the long run, he argues, Russia will be redeemed because her problems all arise from errors of the mind, not of the heart. Errors of the mind are easily remedied, by the very logic of events in life. But errors...

(The entire section is 1351 words.)