Milosz on Dostoevsky

N.B.: Despite the disavowal below, Milosz himself wrote what I think must be included in any list of the best novels of the 20th century, The Issa Valley.

Interviewer: You have been uninterested in writing novels. You seem to have a quarrel with the genre. Why?

Milosz: It’s an impure form. I taught Dostoevsky at Berkeley for twenty years. A born novelist, he would sacrificed everythinbg; he knows no obligations of honor. He would put anything in a novel. Dostoevsky created a character in The Idiot, General Ivolgin, who is a liar and tells stories – how he lost his leg in a war, how he buried his leg, and then what he inscribed on the tombstone. the inscription is taken from the tomb of Dostoevsky’s mother. There you have a true novelist. I couldn’t do that.

I have just started reading Dostoevsky’s The Possessed, spurred on by Girard’s treatment of same in his first book, Deceit, Desire, and the Novel, and my intention is to keep some notes here at Korrektiv as I do. That may or may not count as our Summer Reading Club selection, but I’d welcome any input anyone would care to give. This weekend I’ll start with some key passages from Girard’s commentary as a way of getting a leg up (thanks, General!), on which my reading will certainly be based.

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