Understanding Foreign Masters

the examples of Rabindranath Tagore and Fyodor Dostoyevskiy

Document identifier: oai:dalea.du.se:1921
Keyword: Rabindranath Tagore, Fjodor Dostojevskij, Indian Literature, Russian Literature
Publication year: 2006
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The Indian author Rabindranath Tagore was received like royalty during his visits to the West after winning the Nobel Prize in 1913. Dreams of foreign cultures offered a retreat from a complicated age. In a time when the West appeared to be living under threat of disintegration and when industrialism seemed like a cul-de-sac, he appeared to offer the promise of a return to a lost paradise, a spiritual abode that is superior to the restless Western culture. However, Tagore’s popularity faded rapidly, most notably in England, the main target of his criticism. Soon after Tagore had won the Nobel Prize, the English became indignant at Tagore’s anti-colonial attitude. Tagore visited Sweden in 1921 and 1926 and was given a warm reception. His visits to Sweden can be seen as an episode in a longer chain of events. It brought to life old conceptions of India as the abode of spirituality on earth. Nevertheless, interest in him was a relatively short-lived phenomenon in Sweden. Only a few of his admirers in Sweden appreciated the complexity of Tagore’s achievements. His “anathema of mammonism”, as a Swedish newspaper called it, was not properly received. After a steady stream of translations his popularity flagged towards the end of the 1920s and then almost disappeared entirely. Tagores visits in Sweden gave an indication that India was on the way to liberate itself from its colonial legacy, which consequently contributed to the waning of his popularity in the West. In the long run, his criticism of the drawbacks in the western world became too obvious to maintain permanent interest. The Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevskiy’s Crime and Punishment (1866) has enticed numerous interpretations such as the purely biographical approach. In the nervous main character of the novel, the young student Raskolnikov, one easily recognizes Dostoyevskiy himself. The novel can also be seen as a masterpiece of realistic fiction. It gives a broad picture of Saint Petersburg, a metropolis in decay. Crime and Punishment can also be seen as one of the first examples of a modern psychological novel, since it is focused on the inner drama of its main character, the young student Raskolnikov. His actions seem to be governed by mere coincidences, dreams and the spur of the moment. it seems fruitful to study the novel from a psychoanalytical approach. In his book Raskolnikov: the way of the divided towards unity in Crime and Punishment (1982), a Swedish scholar, Owe Wikström, has followed this line of interpretation all the way to Freud’s disciple C G Jung. In addition to this, the novel functions as an exciting crime story. To a large extent it is Viktor Sjklovskij and other Russian formalists from the 1920s and onwards who have taught the western audience to understand the specific nature of the crime story. The novel could be seen as a story about religious conversion. Like Lasarus in the Bible (whose story attracts a lot of attention in the novel) Raskolnikov is awakened from the dead, and together with Sonja he starts a completely new life. The theme of conversion has a special meaning for Dostoyevskiy. For him the conversion meant an acknowledgement of the specific nature of Russia itself. Crime and punishment mirrors the conflict between traditional Russian values and western influences that has been obvious in Russia throughout the history of the country. The novel reflects a dialogue that still continues in Russian society. The Russian literary historian Mikhail Bakhtin, who is probably the most famous interpreter of the works of Dostoyevskiy, has become famous precisely by emphasizing the importance of dialogues in novels like Crime and Punishment. According to Bakhtin, this novel is characterized by its multitude of voices. Various ideas are confronted with each other, and each one of them is personified by one of the characters in the novel. The author has resigned from his position as the superior monitor of the text, and he leaves it to the reader to decide what interpretation is the correct one.. The aim of the present study is thus to analyze the complex reactions in the west to Tagore’s visits in Sweden and to Fyodor Dostoyevskiys novel Crime and Punishment.. This leads to more general conclusions on communication between cultures.


Olavi Hemmilä

Högskolan Dalarna; Litteraturvetenskap
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