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  • Print publication year: 1997
  • Online publication date: December 2009

10 - Conrad, Russia and Dostoevsky

Summary

Immediately after its publication Under Western Eyes was granted the label of an anti-Russian book, and it stuck: such has been the prevailing view of Western critics and scholars since. Indeed, its text abounds in sharply critical remarks about the Russian national character, which can be used to support this view. The issue of whether it has either a Western, or a Polish bias has been raised and discussed innumerable times. Only the evident limitations of the horizons of the somewhat stuffy narrator, the Geneva-based English teacher of languages, save the novel's general perspective from being simply identified with the ‘Western eyes’ of the title. Still, a common critical assumption is that Russia as a whole is here viewed from the outside – and summarily condemned.

Under Western Eyes was one of Conrad's first works to be translated into Russian: in 1912, almost immediately after its publication. In 1925, eight years after the Bolshevik Revolution, a new translation appeared. Both were well received by the critics, who commented about the obvious analogies with Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment as well as echoes of The Devils, but did not complain of anti-Russian prejudice: on the contrary, Conrad was repeatedly praised for his knowledge of Russian realities and for his psychological perspicacity.

Why was it so? First, the very fact that Under Western Eyes received in 1912 the approving stamp of official censorship indicates that the atmosphere in Russia had changed from the period described in the novel.

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Conrad in Perspective
  • Online ISBN: 9780511582097
  • Book DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511582097
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