Nikolaj Karamzin's Influence on Dostoevskij's Winter Notes on Summer Impressions (Zimnie zametki o letnix vpechatlenijax)

Charles Arndt, Brown University

My paper is entitled "Nikolaj Karamzin's Influence on Dostoevskij's Winter Notes on Summer Impressions (Zimnie zametki o letnix vpechatlenijax)," and involves not only a comparison between Karamzin's account of Europe in Letters of a Russian Traveler and the novelist's own record of his western sojourn, but also explores the broad effects of Karamzin's ideology on Dostoevskij. I will demonstrate how, over the years, Karamzin was of such consequence to Dostoevskij's political and social views that he becomes the principal reference point in Winter Notes on Summer Impressions. By doing this, I hope to broaden the research in this area, which has until now been relatively limited.

Looking at the correlations between these two writers, scholars have traditionally focused on how Karamzin engendered in Dostoevskij a love for Sentimentalism, which permeates his epistolary novel Poor Folk, and as A. S. Dolinin points out, "runs through all his work right up to The Brothers Karamazov" (Dolinin, Pis'ma, p. 493). While acknowledging this, I draw attention to other significant aspects of Karamzin's literary life that affected Dostoevskij. Most prominent is his role as an historian, embodied in the History of the Russian State, a work which Dostoevskij himself mentions as contributing to his ideological position:

I was, perhaps, one of those [] for whom it was the easiest to return to the native root (narodnyj koren'), to the discovery (uznanie) of the Russian soul, to the acknowledgement (priznanie) of the spirit of the people. I was only ten years old, when I already knew almost all of the main episodes of Russian history from Karamzin, whom our father would read to us aloud in the evenings. (Dostoevskij, Dnevnik pisatelja, Polnoe sobranie sochinenij v tridcati tomax, Vol. 21, p. 134).

In my report I prove that, by the time of Winter Notes, Dostoevskij had developed such an ideological affinity for Karamzin that he saw himself following in his steps as he evaluated Europe from the standpoint of a Russian intellectual:

On my journey back through Cologne, that is, when, returning from Paris, I saw the cathedral for the second time, I nearly wanted to "beg its forgiveness on my knees" for not perceiving its beauty the first time, exactly like Karamzin, with the same purpose got on his knees before the Rhine waterfall. (Dostoevskij, Zimnie zametki o letnix vpechatlenijax, Polnoe sobranie sochinenij v tridcati tomax, Vol. 5, p. 48. I also consulted the translation by David Patterson, p. 3).

The feeling of partnership with Karamzin, particularly in Winter Notes, however, goes well beyond a single quotation, as Jurij Lotman, in an extraordinarily perceptive remark, insists on in his book "Karamzin":

The complex and basically polemical relationship of Dostoevskij to the image of the "Russian traveler" implies continual correspodence (postojannaja sootnesenost') (Lotman, Karamzin, p. 491).

I fully support this statement and, in my paper, argue that there needs to be considerably more research in this area. One useful overview on the subject is A. V. Arxipova's article, "Dostoevskij i Karamzin," published in 1983. In it she undertakes to explain Karamzin's ideological importance to Dostoevskij, particularly in how the latter begins to view Peter the Great's reforms and the rift that occurred between Russian intellectuals and the people. In my report, I will attempt to give a more comprehensive study of the factors that form the composite image of Karamzin, which so influenced Dostoevskij and comes to the forefront in his work Winter Notes on Summer Impressions.