Dostoevsky: Language, Faith and Fiction by Rowan Williams - review by Donald Rayfield

Donald Rayfield

The Devils in Detail

Dostoevsky: Language, Faith and Fiction


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Dostoevsky criticism has, over the last century, become a branch of theology at times, and some of the best introductions to Dostoevsky’s fiction have been written by ordained clerics, such as Konstantin Mochulsky, not to mention lay Christians in the UK such as Malcolm Jones or Avril Pyman. Rowan Williams, of course, is himself, however, primarily a theologian and secondarily a literary scholar. His command of Russian language and literature (and other European languages and literatures) is more than sufficient to qualify him to write this study, an examination of the Christian thinking, motifs, characters and episodes in Dostoevsky’s five major mature novels and, in particular, of the confrontation between the defiant, often criminal, freethinker and the representative of Orthodox religion so often found within them.

The book is not organised chronologically (which would have shown how Dostoevsky develops this polarisation of sinner and saint), but thematically. Williams begins with the necessity of choosing Christ, even against the evidence of one’s eyes, and then discusses the role of the devil (and the core of

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