Dostoevsky’s Landlady.

I took a break from Veltman to read one of Dostoevsky’s early stories, Хозяйка [The Landlady]. I fear Victor Terras is quite correct in calling it “perhaps the only outright failure Dostoevsky ever produced”; he sums it up very well:

The story begins in a nervous, precariously balanced style, neither ironic nor stylized, just tense and highstrung. But then, beginning with the second scene at the suburban church, it turns into a steady flow of unabashed romantic colportage, crass color effects, and hyperbolically emotional sensuality. Needless accumulations of adjectives, trite metaphors, and hackneyed similes abound. Time and again, one cannot help seeing a rift between statement and drama, or between statement and image, without any indication that we are dealing with stylized or ironic diction. (Reading Dostoevsky, p. 25)

Terras says it’s basically a mashup of Hoffmann’s “Erscheinungen” (in which the hero “meets a demonic old man, who at one point tries to kill him, and an angelically beautiful but demented peasant girl” whose betrothed, Alexei, died crossing a river — all these elements, including Alexei, are in Dostoevsky as well) and Gogol’s «Страшная месть» [A Terrible Vengeance] (where the beloved woman with the evil sorceror father/suitor is named Katerina, as in Dostoevsky), and that’s about the size of it; I wouldn’t feel the need to write about it except that as I read it I kept thinking of Andrei Bely’s novel Серебряный голубь [The Silver Dove], which I wrote about here; just as part of “The Double” reminded me of the opening of Bely’s Petersburg, the melodramatic/mystical plot and folk-poetic language of “The Landlady” reminded me of Bely’s earlier novel. Bely, of course, was as heavily influenced by Gogol as Dostoevsky was, but I wonder if he had “The Landlady” in mind when he developed his plot, splitting Dostoevsky’s madonna/whore Katerina into the virginal Katya and the sexy Matryona? Old Murin in “The Landlady” is the same sort of lewd religious fanatic as Kudeyarov in Bely. Having such an influence would be at least do something to redeem the story.


  1. So as a chaser I decided to read Karamzin’s 1794 Gothic tale Остров Борнгольм, “The Island of Bornholm” (you can read an odd “updated” translation by KA Semënova, completely literal except that a few references to engines and the internet are thrown in, here), and what did I find but a young intellectual encountering a beautiful maiden held prisoner by a mysterious old man whose relationship to her is undefined! I feel like I’m trapped in a chronotope.


  1. […] of good stuff at Languagehat: Dostoevskii’s failures and Andrei Belyi; Del’vig the bête de somme; digitizing pre-1831 Russian books; tips on what to read by […]

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