Dostoevsky’s Russian chauvinism and anti-Semitism have long posed problems for his readers and critics. How could the author of The Brothers Karamazov also be the source of the slurs against Jews in Diary of a Writer? And where is the celebrated Christian humanist in the nationalist outbursts of The Idiot? These enigmas—the coexistence of humanism and hatred, faith and doubt—are linked, Susan McReynolds tells us in Redemption and the Merchant God. Her book analyzes Dostoevsky’s novels and Diary to show how the author’s anxieties about Christianity can help solve the riddle of his anti-Semitism as well as that of his Russian messianism.
McReynolds’ reading demonstrates Dostoevsky suffered from a profound discomfort with the crucifixion as a vehicle for redemption. Through his work, she traces this ambivalence to certain beliefs and values that Dostoevsky held consistently throughout his life. And she reveals how this persistent ambivalence about the crucifixion led Dostoevsky to project what he didn’t like about Christianity onto the Jews—and to invest those aspects of the crucifixion that he could approve with the “Russian idea.”
A radical rereading of one of the Western canon’s most revered and perplexing authors, McReynolds’ book is also a major reconfiguring of Dostoevsky’s intellectual biography and a significant contribution to literary and cultural studies.