Childhood as an Ethical Category in the Works of F. M. Dostoevskij

Irina Muravyova, Brown University

An ambivalent image of childhood, at times "angelic" and at other times "demonic," presents a philosophical universe of its own within Dostoevskij's novels. The presentation links the personal experiences of the writer's own early years to his artistic vision where the theme of childhood becomes the main focal point for addressing the ethical motifs of innocence, suffering and redemption. The development of this theme is traced from Dostoevskij's earliest novels, such as Poor Folk and Netochka Nezvanova, to the last one, The Brothers Karamazov. We also examine Dostoevskij's relationship with his father, Mixail Andreevich Dostoevskij, presenting an impressive picture of his blind fear and financial dependency, which are hidden under the euphemistic discursive strategy of love and respect. The similarities between molestation and murder are of the main concern and being analyzed through the characters of Svidrigajlov, Raskol'nikov, Stavrogin and others represent an entirely new approach to Dostoevskij studies.

The presentation strongly illuminates the religious subtexts of Dostoevskij's imagery, such as his belief that the preservation of childlike nature in adults signifies the highest level of spirituality. This belief is the keystone of Dostoevskij's work as it echoes Christian vision of children who will be the first to enter The Kingdom of Heaven, but the presentation is not only build around Dostoevskij's deep belief that "through the children the soul heals," but also pictures his tragic vision of childhood, as a target of the demonic temptations.

We combine aesthetic and ethical approaches to Dostoevskij's images of childhood seeking to explore the significance of the theme of childhood in Dostoevskij's oeuvre.