When Dostoevsky Met Dickens

As an incredibly cool aside to our Dickens-inspired “Whole Duty Of Man” series, there was […]

David Zahl / 12.24.09

As an incredibly cool aside to our Dickens-inspired “Whole Duty Of Man” series, there was a great piece in the Washington Post entitled “Christmas Carol: Dickens’s Gift Keeps On Giving”. The whole article is worth your time, but I was especially struck by the final paragraph. [Update 11/8/11: A few extra lines of Dostoevsky’s impressions were published in The NY Times’ “Being Charles Dickens.” I’ve included them below]:

In his book, [Dickens’ biographer Michael] Slater records Fyodor Dostoevsky’s report of meeting [Charles] Dickens. The Russian novelist wrote that Dickens, “told me that all the good simple people in his novels… are what he wanted to have been, and his villains were what he was, or rather what he found in himself, his cruelty, his attacks of causeless enmity towards those who were helpless and looked to him for comfort, his shrinking from those whom he ought to love. . . . There were two people in him, he told me: one who feels as he ought to feel and one who feels the opposite. From the one who feels the opposite I make my evil characters, from the one who feels as a man ought to feel, I try to live my life.”

Slater also recommends that readers check out Dickens’ other Christmas book, The Haunted Man, an endorsement which we strongly second. Take it away, Jarvis [slight skin/awesome dance move warning]:


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6 responses to “When Dostoevsky Met Dickens”

  1. David Browder says:


  2. David Browder says:

    The amazing part of this is that it takes Dickens' work from being somewhat moralistic (while predominantly redemptive) to being entirely repentant and redemptive. I can appreciate him all the more.

  3. Frank Sonnek says:

    wow. dostoevsky. that does put a new spin on things. I can see now that they are very similar. that gospel end. sinner-who-is-forgiven end. and in contrast tolstoy is sinner trying so very hard to make it all work with the law.

  4. Ron R says:

    The following biblical texts came to mind after reading the piece in the Washington Post several days ago. Like you, I was especially moved by Dostoyevsky’s insight into Dickens, the man.

    “For I do not understand my own actions. … For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. … So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (Romans 7:15ff, excerpts, ESV).

    There must have been a little Redlaw in Saul, the Apostle Paul.

    You got to love the JC dance moves and the fun tongue!

    So “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:12-13, ESV).


  5. This meeting never happened.

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