Aristophanean Travesty in Dostoevskij

This paper is based on three premises: 1) Dostoevskij’s tendency to take his characters and ideas from literature (mostly contemporary), 2) his maximalism, a tendency to exaggerate character traits and the extent of ideas, 3) a definition of travesty as a distortion of the formal side of a character or idea, usually for the purpose of discrediting them, as distinguished from parody, where the form is intact, but the content replaced or changed.

Aristophanes will take his contemporaries, such as Euripides and Socrates, and put them on stage wearing masks that clearly identify them. He will then proceed to misrepresent their ideas, often by misquoting or quoting out of context, and in the process destroy their character as well. Dostoevskij does this to his ideological—and personal—enemies. Turgenev is his victim in The Devils, The Brothers Karamazov, and A Little Hero. Gogol′ is the prototype of Foma Opiskin in “The Village of Stepančikovo.” Gercen and his Westernism are lampooned in the character of Mjusov in The Brothers Karamazov. Many other literary figures have served as prototypes of—invariably negative—characters in Dostoevskij’s novels.

Ideas to which Dostoevskij was opposed are consistently travestied by obviously unfair means. Čaadaev’s theory according to which Russia is a historically inferior nation is advanced by Kraft, a man with a German name (who claims to be Russian, though), and who eventually commits suicide. In the same novel, Vasin, who stands for progressively liberal ideas, becomes a willing informer to the police—and his work turns out to have been only a translation from the French. Versilov, who has developed a humanist religion without God, is presented as weak and a dismal failure in everything he tries.