BASEES Annual Conference 2022

Opera, Birds, and Romantic Encounters in Dostoevsky’s "Poor Folk" (1846) and Goethe's Werther

Fri8  Apr05:00pm(20 mins)
Games Room


Inna Tigountsova


Drawing on my previous work on the trope of the eternal moment in Goethe’s tragedy Faust (1808-32) and Dostoevsky’s “Meek One” (“Кроткая,” 1876), and departing from it to investigate the concept of Romantic death in the latter’s Poor Folk (Бедные люди, 1846), I argue that the narrative of Dostoevsky’s first novel is saturated with metaphors relating to flight, birds, and song, connecting his text to European Romantic discourse, including the notion of Romantic death as presented in Goethe’s own epistolary novel The Sufferings of Young Werther (Die Leiden des jungen Werthers, 1774). I would like to focus in particular on the role of opera references in Poor Folk and on their support for the Romantic element in Dostoevsky’s novel, as well as on the somewhat paradoxical parodies of Romantic discourse we see in Rataziaev’s tales and the meaning they have for Makar Devushkin and Varen’ka as evidenced in their respective letters. How do we explain Varen’ka’s reaction to what she considers stories in poor taste, in the light of Devushkin’s own literary ambitions? At what point in the novel does Devushkin’s part change from that of a copyist to that of a writer and how does this relate to the text’s many references to birds, song, and death? These are some of the questions my paper intends to answer, while situating Dostoevsky’s novel in the context of German Romanticism.