Dostoevsky's relation with Turgenev can at best be described as turbulent. It is fair to say that both were brilliant but dissimilar writers and had different political ideologies, with Dostoevsky adopting a more slavophilic stance. Their meeting outside Russia was fictionalized in The Devils and Turgenev's character was lampooned unfairly perhaps as Karmazinov in the same work by Dostoevsky. In fact, Cherneshevsky, considered as the real ideologue of the Russian revolution was not spared either, with his great novel What is to be done satirized and lampooned as Merci in The Devils. Turgenev was aristocratic and his political ideas, it seems to me were more euro centric and mature, in contrast to Dostoevsky who had more nationalistic fervour and saw in Russia a possibility of grandeur, based on the cultural and moral superiority of the Slavic people. Dostoevsky was not the only exception. Those were turbulent times in Russia, political winds were changing and yet, Dostoevsky was more in favour of autocracy and the Russian church, hating socialists, disbelieving God but devoted to Christ. Both writers wanted change, albeit in different ways and this is clearly reflected in their important and lesser known works.
What Turgenev would achieve in a few pages, Dostoevsky would take hundreds to do. Of course, Dostoevsky was brilliant in building up a characters and other numerous unimportant characters and their intertwined relations and his morose, morbid and psychological insights and those are without comparison , but It seems , on second or third reading of his novels that some of his more favourite characters are actually quite confused, ready to throw away their whole life's work or ideology at a whim. We must never forget that these novels are novels of ideas and the inner motives are mostly political and psychological and some characters are driven by various motives. Dostoevsky however, as cleverly pointed by numerous critics and by Nabokov also, gave multiple dimensions to his characters, making them look and feel physically unwell also, which sometimes absolves them of blame partly blame. Some of his famed creations were epileptic, melancholic and morose and he makes them organically ill, a distinction which Turgenev clearly maintains in his work.
Turgenev's Bazarov for instance is a more stable ideologue for in the end, he is not much of a nihilist. He calls for negation but not more annihilation, a departure from the grand inquisitor. Bazarov's friend settles for family life, Bazarov could have got married and so on. There is a climate of doom that surrounds the Dostoevsky hero or heroes and it clearly reflects his own preoccupations. Turgenev's Sketches, a great work on its own, even in the desperate situations that he finds the serfs in, Turgenev gives them a sense of hope, and in the landscape he describes a possibility of change but he never subscribes to a religious dimension or hopes that a religious falling back on could lift his country out of that morass. Turgenev is truly anti-iconic but not icon breaking while Dostoevsky strives to let say even a Verkhovensky sit stupefied in the Devils when a half-wit mystic solves problems by making people drink sugary tea!
The present political climate in Russia, with an autocratic democracy, political opponents languishing in jails or as emigres, journalists being killed in Russia or outside, the driving force seems to be the same kind of slavophilic nationalism, Russian superiority, xenophobia that brings fascism and intolerance. It is a moot point how the two great writers would react now. The purpose of this post is just to reflect on these issues between the writers and not make a case for either one as that is an academic and frankly facile job. Both the novelists are great in their own ways and if one employs the criteria of a writer who is actively political, as I think writers should be, then they are a cut above the rest. Their fiction is an indicator of how they reacted to the Russia of their times and produced works that will never die. It is my desire to write more about what Bakhtin so beautifully describes in the work mentioned earlier as it enhances one's understanding of not only what the writers were in their essence but also allows the dilettante reader to form some ideas. I am reading Dostoevsky's A writer's Diary these days which prompted this post and have also been revisiting Turgenev's timeless Sketches. More to follow soon, I hope.