National and Personal Renewal and Resurrection: Dostoevsky and Asia


  • Gary Rosenshield University of Wisconsin, Madison



In 1881, right before his death, in the last numbers of The Diary of a Writer, Dostoevsky wrote about the need to develop Russia’s Asian empire in Siberia. Recently, a good deal has been made of Dostoevsky's views on Asia, as well as on Europe, by the Russian diplomatic corps, with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov often mentioning Dostoevsky in his speeches. But the truth is that Dostoevsky wrote very little about Asia – and virtually all of it in the last issue of The Diary of a Writer. Even Milan Hauner’s insightful book, What is Asia to Us, which takes its title from Dostoevsky’s article byline, concerns itself mostly with Soviet policy toward Russian Eurasia and does not attempt to engage Dostoevsky’s actual views in the article. In the abridged version of Kenneth Lantz’s excellent translation of The Diary of a Writer, the editor, Saul Morson, states that many sections and passages, especially those dealing with foreign policy, “were easy [to omit] because it is hard to imagine they could interest anyone”. About eight-five percent of the Diary article on Asia was cut. Some of those who have dealt with the Diary article on Asia have used it to castigate Dostoevsky’s extreme political views. Kalpana Sahni, for example, argues that the article just underscores Dostoevsky’s orientalism, “religious fanaticism, chauvinistic nationalism, and an unfounded hatred of the Orient”, unfavorably comparing Dostoevsky’s views with those of the more universalist Tolstoy. In 1925, Clarence Augustus Manning, by contrast, argued that, at least among prominent Russian writers, Dostoevsky was introducing a new and salutary view by his seeming turn away from Europe toward Asia.

Keywords: Eurasia, The Diary of a Writer, XIX century Imperialism, Orientalism, Asia, Siberia, Constantinople