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"It Was Not You . . ." Dostoevsky's View of Evil

Richard Pevear

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Richard Pevear discusses Dostoevky's view of evil and posits that while evil is never intrinsic to a person's nature, evil is nevertheless a personal force.

This is an abridgement of the introduction to Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky's translation of Dostoevsky's novel, Demons -- a prophetic work, given the author's recognition of the demonic forces that were gaining strength in 19th century Russia.

Dostoevsky called the novel Demons precisely because the demons in it do not appear, and the reader might otherwise overlook them. The demons are visible only in distortions of the human image, the human countenance, and their force is measurable only by the degree of the distortion.

What this means for an understanding of demonic possession in the novel may be elucidated by a passage from The Brothers Karamazov. Alyosha and Ivan Karamazov are talking about the murder of their father. Alyosha suddenly turns to his brother and says: "It was not you who killed father . . . You've accused yourself and confessed to yourself that you and you alone are the murderer. But it was not you who killed him, you are mistaken, the murderer was not you, do you hear, it was not you! God has sent me to tell you that." In fact, Ivan was their father's murderer, if only in an "intellectual" sense.

But Alyosha is talking about something else. He seems to mean that the evil in Ivan is not him, is not identical with him, is not his essence. Ivan is in danger of taking it for his essence, of "damning" himself and losing himself entirely. He is on the verge of madness. Alyosha's message is truly meant to save him...

For the complete article go to the Orthodox Peace Fellowship website.



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