“The absurd is only too necessary on this earth. The world stands on absurdities.”

The Brothers Karamazov
The Wrap-up continues
by Dennis Abrams

Our good friend Minnikin, had an interesting comment to make regarding my observations yesterday about Dostoevsky’s women:

I didn’t realise that Dostoevsky had a mistress: a lady by the name of Apollinaria Prokofyevna Suslova, commonly known as Polina Suslova.

According to the very-reliable Wikipedia, ‘she is considered to be the prototype of several female characters in Dostoyevsky’s novels, such as Polina in The Gambler, Nastasya Filipovna in The Idiot, Katerina Ivanovna Marmeladova in Crime and Punishment, Lizaveta Nikolaevna in The Possessed, and both Katerina and Grushenka in The Brothers Karamazov’.

It further goes on to describe the relationship as ‘difficult and painful for…Dostoyevsky’ and furthermore that she was ‘imperious, manipulative, jealous, and constantly demanded that he divorce his “consumptive wife” Maria Isayeva…Dostoyevsky later noted that she was “a sick selfish woman”, whose “selfishness and self-esteem were colossal” and who did not tolerate any imperfection in other people. After Maria’s death in 1865, he proposed to Suslova, but she declined’.

Polina Suslova
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Polina Suslova

Polina Suslova c. 1890
Born 1839
Panino, Nizhny Novgorod guberniya
Died 1918
Other names Apollinaria Prokofyevna Suslova
Education Saint Petersburg State University
Occupation writer
Years active 1861—?
Home town Saint Petersburg
Spouse Vasily Rozanov (1880—)
This name uses Eastern Slavic naming customs; the patronymic is Prokofyevna and the family name is Suslova.

Apollinaria Prokofyevna Suslova (Russian: Аполлинария Прокофьевна Суслова; 1839–1918), commonly known as Polina Suslova, was a Russian short story writer, who is perhaps best known as a mistress of writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky[1], wife of Vasily Rozanov and a sister of Russia’s first female physician Nadezhda Suslova.[2][3] She is considered to be the prototype of several female characters in Dostoyevsky’s novels, such as Polina in The Gambler, Nastasya Filipovna in The Idiot, Katerina Ivanovna Marmeladova in Crime and Punishment,[4] Lizaveta Nikolaevna in The Possessed, and both Katerina and Grushenka in The Brothers Karamazov.[5][6][7] Suslova has often been portrayed as a femme fatale.[8] Fyodor Dostoyevsky called Suslova one of the most remarkable women of his time.[7]

Her own works include a short story Pokuda, published in Mikhail Dostoyevsky’s Vremya magazine in 1861, Do svadby (1863)[7], and the autobiographical Chuzhaya i svoy, published in 1928.[9]

1 Early life
2 Relationship with Fyodor Dostoyevsky
3 Later life
4 References
5 See also

Early life

Polina Suslova was born in Panino, Nizhny Novgorod guberniya.[10] Polina’s father, Prokofiy Suslov, was a serf of the Sheremetevs, but was able to succeed as a merchant and manufacturer. He decided to give a proper education to his daughters, Polina (a diminutive form of the given name Apollinaria) and Nadezhda. They had a governess, and a dancing teacher.[7]
Suslova in 1867

Polina attended a finishing school, and when the Suslov family moved to Saint Petersburg, Polina entered the Saint Petersburg State University. She enjoyed the political struggle, demonstrations, and student meetings. She was sympathetic to the radical views of the day, especially regarding women.[11][7]

Lyubov Dostoyevskaya in Dostoyevsky as Portrayed by His Daughter described her as a young provincial woman, whose “rich relatives were able to sent her enough money to live comfortably in Saint Petersburg. Every autumn she entered the University as a student, but never actually studied or pass any exams. However, she attended lectures, flirted with the students, … forced them to sign petitions, participated in all political demonstrations, … sang La Marseillaise, scolded the Cossacks and behaved provocatively.”[12]
[edit] Relationship with Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Fyodor Dostoyevsky in 1863

In 1861, Suslova attended classes taught by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, already a renowned writer, whose lectures were very popular among young people. At that time, Dostoyevsky was 40, and she was 21. Lyubov Dostoyevskaya recalled that Suslova “spun around Dostoevsky and tried in every way to please him. Dostoevsky did not notice her. Then she wrote him a love letter”.[12] Another version is that Suslova brought her writing to Dostoyevsky and asked for advice. Her story was bad soDostoyevsky, attracted to a beautiful young girl, had promised to teach her writing.[13] Yet another explanation is that Dostoyevsky had read Suslova’s story, liked it and wanted to meet the author.[14]

The relationships were difficult and painful for both sides but mostly for Dostoyevsky.[8] He was exhausted by work, poor health, and financial distress.[15] Furthermore, Suslova was imperious, manipulative, jealous,[7][16] and constantly demanded that he divorce his “consumptive wife” Maria Isayeva[11]. Dostoyevsky later noted that she was “a sick selfish woman”, whose “selfishness and self-esteem were colossal” and who did not tolerate any imperfection in other people. After Maria’s death in 1865, he proposed to Suslova, but she declined.[17]

Unlike Dostoyevsky’s second wife Anna Snitkina, Polina Suslova rarely read his books, did not respect his work, and regarded him as a simple admirer. Dostoyevsky wrote her once: “My dear, I am not inviting you to a cheap essential happiness.” After their breakup, she burned compromising papers, including their letters. In 1867, Fyodor Dostoyevsky married Anna Snitkina.[18]
[edit] Later life

Vasily Rozanov met Suslova when he was a schoolboy, and she was already over thirty years old. He fell in love at first sight.[7] Rozanov knew her as a former mistress of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, which was enough to spark his interest in her, because Dostoyevsky was the writer whom Rozanov admired most.[19] Rozanov made only a short entry in his diary: “Meeting Apollinaria Prokofyevna Suslova. My love for her. Suslova loves me, and I love her very much. She is the most wonderful women I’ve ever met.” They had an affair for three years, married on November 1880.[7][4] She was 40 at that time, and he was 24.

They departed in 1886.[4] Their life together was a torture for Rozanov, according to his personal correspondence[7]. Suslova made public scenes of jealousy and flirted with his friends at the same time. Rozanov’s daughter, Tatyana, stated in her memoirs: “Suslova mocked him, saying that what he was writing were just some stupid books, insulted him, and finally dumped him”. Suslova broke up with Rozanov twice, but he always forgave her and begged to return home. After they parted, Rozanov admitted: “There was something brilliant (in her temperament) that made me, despite all suffering, love her blindly and timidly.”[7]

After Rozanov met his future wife, Varvara, Polina refused to divorce him for 20 years.

Since the early 1900s Polina Suslova lived alone in Sevastopol.[7] She died in 1918 at the age of 78.

Does she perhaps fall into the any of three categories you mentioned at the top of the post?


And finally for today, a couple of weeks ago I started to post excerpts from Freud’s essay “Dostoevsky and Parricide.” I found this essay last night, which, I think, sums the whole thing up pretty nicely:



Fyodor Dostoevsky’s (1821-1881) Existentialist writings are universally renown for their convincing ability to portray characters of a complex psychological nature. It is, therefore, no wonder, then, that in Sigmund Freud’s (1856-1939) 1929 article ‘Dostoevsky and Parricide,’ the founder of psychoanalysis proclaims, “‘The Brothers Karamazov’ is the most magnificent novel ever written.” Indeed, it is in this final masterpiece by Dostoevsky that the author successfully culminates the entire breadth of his talent by firmly establishing his mature style. Despite Freud’s admiration, however, he often criticizes Dostoevsky and the fact that he threw away “the chance of becoming a great teacher and liberator of humanity and made himself one with their jailors.” Overall though, Freud connects with ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ primarily because of the novel’s unsurpassed psychological insight, its reinforcement of the Oedipus Complex and, in spite of Freud’s skepticism of free will that was essential for Dostoevsky’s Christianity, both thinkers reluctantly liberate the individual from predestination through their introspective conclusions on man’s conflicted nature.

There can be no doubt, however, that the primary reason for Freud’s undying praise of ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ lies within the novel’s ability to convincingly illustrate Freud’s principal theory of the Oedipus Complex. Freud notes “It can scarcely be owing to chance that three of the masterpieces of the literature of all time the ‘Oedipus Rex’ of Sophocles, Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ and Dostoevsky’s ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ should all deal with the same subject, parricide. In all three, moreover, the motive for deed, sexual rivalry for a women, is laid bare.” Indeed, father figures are ubiquitous throughout the entire novel and Fyodor Pavlovich, inappropriately enough, even goes as far to lay out explicit details to his sons of the bedroom escapades he had with their mother, Sophia. Rebellion against paternal authority is also aptly evident throughout the novel. Ivan, alone, is guilty of physically assaulting his biological father, his adopted father, and even Ilyusha’s father. The most obvious allusion to the Oedipus Complex, however, lies within Dmitri’s rivalry with his father, Fyodor, for the beautiful Grushenka, as well as in the following accusations that Dmitri even murdered his own father.

While Fyodor Pavlovich’s bastard son, Smerdyakov, is the one physically responsible for the death of the patriarch, all sons are universally implicated, in some way or another, of the heinous crime. For one, Dmitri had already made explicit plans to kill the unpopular father. It was, also, only through Ivan’s cold logic that Smerdyakov was even able to convince himself to commit the crime in the first place. In fact, Ivan suffers a complete psychological breakdown when he realizes his direct involvement in the final demise of their father. Freud was sure to point out “It is a matter of indifference who actually committed the crime; psychology is only concerned to know who desired it emotionally and who welcomed it when it was done.” As an entity both sidelined and unacknowledged, Smerdyakov represents the unconscious force that only fulfilled the primal desire to murder the father. In front of an entire judicial courtroom, the intellectual Ivan elucidates the basic fact “everyone wants his father dead. Viper devours viper… If there were no parricide, they’d all get angry and go home in a foul temper.” Even the righteous Alyosha is guilty through negligence of his family’s precarious position but also, as a devout Christian, he has to carry the burden of the other’s sins as well.

In ‘Dostoevsky and Parricide,’ Freud went far beyond a mere analysis of his favorite book to analyze Dostoevsky, the man himself, so as to attain a more comprehensive understanding of the creative source behind the beloved masterpiece. Dostoevsky’s fervent conviction that suffering is the necessary pathway to salvation is highly indicative of the writer’s own deep-seated masochism. In ‘Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality,’ Freud defines masochism as a perverse state in which “satisfaction is conditional upon suffering physical or mental pain.” As both Dostoevsky and Freud knew, all to well, it is a bewildering paradox that one can obtain both pleasure and pain, simultaneously, from the same cause. The oxymoron questions causality itself and endows the observer with a brief glimpse into the abysmal complexity of the human mind. It is the overall suffering of innocent children, however, which is at the root of Ivan’s inability to reconcile a benevolent God within an apparently indifferent world of pain. Alyosha simply responds to Ivan’s questions of faith by murmuring “I want to suffer, too.” The desire to suffer remains in accordance with Existentialist doctrine that asserts happiness is not, necessarily, a goal worthy of aspiration because, in reality, happiness is only a form of stagnant contentment. The Christian Kierkegaard, one of the forefathers of Existentialism, swore if God gave him the choice between, on the one hand, a life of ease and, on the other hand, a life of continuous struggle, he would promptly choose the enriching difficulties of the latter. Indeed, it is a curious fact that the central object of Kierkegaard’s, Dostoevsky’s, and Alyosha’s fanatical Christianity is the cross, which is, by all means, a torture device to enhance suffering.

Here, too, in Dostoevsky’s devout Christianity we see, yet another, father and son relationship which Freud explicates more thoroughly in his 1913 essay ‘Totem and Taboo.’ Freud insists there is “no doubt that in the Christian myth the original sin was one against God the Father” and even goes as far to state that Christ “himself became God, beside, or, more correctly, in place of, the father. A son-religion displaced the father-religion. As a sign of this substitution the ancient totem meal was revived in the form of communion, in which the company of brothers consumed the flesh and blood of the son – no longer the father.” ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ is not only reminiscent of Christ’s life but of also Christ’s own parable of the prodigal son who returned home after rejecting his own overbearing father. Freud explains the incessant rebellion perpetuated between the generations is an essential component of natural progression and, earlier on in his career, he had labeled it “the family romance.” It is easy to see how the seminal ideas of paternal rebellion found in the “family romance” would eventually mature into Freud’s more complicated theory of the Oedipus Complex. Perhaps the pagan Oedipal myth attains it most eloquent Christian analogy within the very opening lines of ‘The Brothers Karamazov.’ Later on in the novel, Zosima recites this biblical passage again to Alyosha when he tells him, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” Successful propagation seems to thrive on, and even require, the downfall of the ancestral precedent and, accordingly, it is only through the sacrifice of the prophet Christ that his followers are ‘saved’ and can flourish.

Ivan composes his own story of Christ entitled ‘The Grand Inquisitor’ which he narrates to Alyosha in the chapter of the same name. Freud shows particular admiration for this poem, claiming it as “one of the peaks in literature of the world,” which “can hardly be valued too highly.” Basically, in Ivan’s fictitious poem, the second-coming of Christ is not fully welcomed when the messiah returns to earth during the sixteenth-century Spanish Inquisition. The Grand Inquisitor, the leader of the Church, feels that the faithful do not need Christ because the Church already provides them with everything they need and, therefore, frees them from any burdensome decisions. The Grand Inquisitor concludes “nothing has ever been more insufferable for man and for human society than freedom!” The statement echoes Existentialism’s chief promoter, Sartre, and his claim that humanity is “condemned to be free” because we are thrown into a world not of our own making, yet we are responsible for every little thing we do. Freedom is irrevocably bound to accountability.

The story of ‘The Grand Inquisitor’ has numerous parallels throughout the novel, especially when Dmitri is imprisoned in the twelfth and final book ‘A Judicial Error.’ It is not completely irrelevant that ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ comes to its climax in a courtroom scene that takes great pains to publicly detail the deepest recesses of the mind. Consequently, Dostoevsky brings his customary descriptive narration of the interior to the forefront of the entire story. In fact, an entire chapter is referred to as ‘Psychology at Full Steam.’ The prosecutor and defense attorney are both talented psychologists and bend psychology to justify each of their opposing arguments. Here, Dostoevsky’s concern with the decision-making process in the individual is clearly laid out for the reader but, at the same time, Dostoevsky also exposes psychology’s unreliability. Freud cannot help but notice “this famous mockery of psychology” and especially the quote that psychology “is a knife that cuts both ways.” In the chapter ‘Confession. In verse,’ the skeptical character of Dmitri clearly recognizes that “man is broad, even too broad” and Dostoevsky, overall, also seems reluctant of the ultimate capabilities of psychology.

Freud should have taken more heed to Dostoevsky’s lead and realized that any attempt to truly comprehend the mind is inherently futile because, in the end, it is always obscured by the unconscious. As a result, Freud’s theories often conflict back and forth between, on the one hand, asserting the existence of the unconscious and, on the other hand, establishing psychoanalysis as a science capable of accounting for every arbitrary thought, in a deterministic fashion. In Freud’s second introductory lecture he strictly states that there are no “occurrences so small that they fail to come within the causal sequence of things” and “Anyone thus breaking away from the determination of natural phenomena, at any single point, has thrown over the whole scientific outlook on the world.” This Enlightenment faith in science, as the ultimate authority, misled Freud not to take full advantage of his remarkable unearthing of the unconscious as the mysterious source of our being, albeit as an inaccessible source. Little did Freud realize that uncertainty, which epitomizes the unconscious, would gone on to define the rest of science in the twentieth-century, as seen in such landmark discoveries as Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem, Chaos Theory, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, and all of Quantum Theory. Freud’s predicament was much like that of Einstein, who fathered both of the fundamental, yet conflicting, Theories of Relativity and Quantum Physics. In what, today, many experts consider the tragedy of his career, Einstein, too, was reluctant to accept the uncertainty of Quantum Theory, in favor of the precise elegance presented by his first prodigy, the Theory of Relativity. Often perturbed by philosophy’s continual correlation of the mind with mere conscious thought, Freud set out to defuse these traditional notions. Freud’s subsequent work, which implied that there is an integral part of our self that we don’t know of, imploded Descartes’ pillar “cogito ergo sum” (“I think therefore I am”) and, therefore, undermined the very basic foundations of Modern philosophy itself. The ensuing crisis of knowledge resulted in our Postmodern condition.

On this matter, the writings of Dostoevsky are quite successful in emphasizing the inexplicable nature of the human condition. Several decades later, the Existentialists would refer to the random and indifferent facts of life as ‘the absurd.’ Indeed, the scholarly Ivan teaches Alyosha, “The absurd is only too necessary on this earth. The world stands on absurdities.” Accordingly, there is no rhyme, nor reason, for the chance events that constantly bombard an individual throughout life. In ‘The Uncanny,’ Freud explains it is exactly this erratic assault on the senses that conjure up the illusion of the self. He goes on to say that one should always be aware of “all the strivings of the ego which adverse external circumstances have crushed, and all of our suppressed acts of violition, which nourish in us the illusion of Free Will.” Perhaps, by this, Freud seems to think that if people were in complete harmony with the rest of the universe there would be no need to perceive one’s self as unique. The only certainty is uncertainty and, therefore, any probable reliability springs from the stream of consciousness within. Oppressive external assaults on man’s senses always inevitably force him out of the agenda of the universe. However, nothing exists independently and so, therefore, it seems as if any assumption that man exists apart from nature is irrational. This only reinforces Friedrich Schelling’s mantra that man is simply nature which has finally achieved self-realization. Freud notes “the factor of repression enables us, futhermore, to understand Schelling’s definition of the uncanny as something which ought to have remain hidden but has come to light.” The uncanny shatters preconceived notions when a seemingly unique subject is reflected in what it is opposed against. Perhaps, it is this need to establish one’s originality that induces the ominous desire to eradicate one’s forebearer.

In the end, though, the psychological reconstructions that the attorneys present in the climatic scenes of ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ seem plausible enough but, in reality, none of them accurately explain ‘the truth.’ Much like the smooth-talking attorneys, Freud is also guilty of a “judicial error” by conforming his so-called ‘scientific’ explanations according to his liking, despite the actual reality of things. Waves are often perceived but, beneath, there is only an abyss. Freud’s model of a mind conflicted upon itself, however, did enable mankind to finally escape the clutches of determinism in a way that oddly mirrors Dostoevsky’s own personal belief that His internal strife would ultimately grant him His salvation and, therefore, necessitated His Free Will.

More tomorrow.

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