First Words: On Dostoevsky’s Introductions

First Words: On Dostoevsky’s Introductions

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Lewis Bagby

Series: The Unknown Nineteenth Century
ISBN: 9781618114822 (hardcover), 9781618118134 (paperback)
Pages: 222 pp.
Publication Date: December 2015

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Dostoevsky attached introductions to his most challenging narratives, including Notes from the House of the Dead, Notes from Underground, The Devils, The Brothers Karamazov, and “A Gentle Creature.” Despite his clever attempts to call his readers’ attention to these introductions, they have been neglected as an object of study for over 150 years. That oversight is rectified in First Words, the first systematic study of Dostoevsky’s introductions. Using Genette’s typology of prefaces and Bakhtin’s notion of multiple voices, Lewis Bagby reveals just how important Dostoevsky’s first words are to his fiction. Dostoevsky’s ruses, verbal winks, and backward glances indicate a lively and imaginative author at earnest play in the field of literary discourse.

Lewis Bagby, Professor Emeritus of Russian, University of Wyoming, is the author of Alexander Bestuzhev-Marlinsky and Russian Byronism and editor of A Hero of Our Times: Critical Articles. He has published widely on Russian Romanticism, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Bakhtin.

Table of Contents

Note on Transliteration

Chapter 1: Model Prefaces from Russian Literature
Chapter 2: Dostoevsky’s Initial Post-Siberian Work
Chapter 3: Playing with Authorial Identities
Chapter 4: Monsters Roam the Text
Chapter 5: Re-Contextualizing Introductions
Chapter 6: Anxious to the End



Students, teachers, and admirers of Dostoevsky’s novels, of whom there are many, will want to have Lewis Bagby’s book at hand or nearby. In this engaging and provocative study, Bagby offers the most extensive analysis to date of what he calls Dostoevsky’s ‘first words,’ the introductions that appear in many of Dostoevsky’s texts...With its hard look at a new, little understood, but absolutely crucial, area of Dostoevsky’s work, Bagby’s study is a useful guide to a significant body of Dostoevsky’s fiction, and is especially well written. Full of sure-handed, solid, refreshing critical analysis, this volume belongs in the top echelon of scholarship about Dostoevsky.
Tatyana Novikov, University of Nebraska-Omaha, The Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature (Vol. 70, No. 2)
What do Dostoevsky’s introductions contribute to our understanding of the works in which they appear? By raising and answering this question in his excellent study of Dostoevsky’s first-person narratives, Lewis Bagby demonstrates that Dostoevsky’s ‘first words’ are ‘complex, multifunctional, variegated rhetorical phenomena’ (xiv).
Ksana Blank, Princeton University, Slavic and East European Journal
In an arresting passage early in First Words, Lewis Bagby compares literary introductions, prefaces, prologues, and forewords to monsters in an illuminated medieval manuscript ... After an engaging and helpful discussion of the subgenre’s historical contexts in nineteenth-century Russian and European literature, Bagby traces Dostoevsky’s literary evolution by way of a painstaking taxonomy of his prefaces—a microbiography of sorts.
— Val Vinokur, The New School, The Russian Review (Vol. 76, No. 1)
What might seem at first like a rather narrow topic becomes, in Bagby’s capable hands, a path into a complex realm of contradictory voices and ideas, ultimately yielding significant new readings of several of Dostoevskii’s most important works ... this exhilarating, wonderfully written and profoundly original book is a very significant contribution to Dostoevskii studies and to scholarship on nineteenth-century Russian literature more generally ... this book will be an invaluable addition to Dostoevskii bibliography for readers, students, and scholars alike
— Kate Holland, University of Toronto, Canadian Slavonic Papers (Vol. 58, issue 4)
A uniquely refreshing study of Dostoevsky’s complex and little understood introductions, Lewis Bagby’s First Words: On Dostoevsky’s Introductions, is a groundbreaking new work. Through a close reading and utilizing Genette’s typology, Bagby provides insights into narratology and authorial voice and discovers that Dostoevsky’s fictional introductory commentaries create frames essential in understanding the multifacetedness of his novelistic characters and plots. A required reading for literary scholars which can be of a significant interest to all readers of Dostoevsky’s fiction.
— Gene Fitzgerald, Emeritus Professor of Russian, University of Utah
Drawing attention to a surprisingly neglected aspect of Dostoevsky’s works, Lewis Bagby deftly reveals how Dostoevsky used introductions—or prologues or forewords or prefaces—to subtly indicate themes and structures of many of his most important writings, such as Notes from the Underground and The Brothers Karamazov. Taking that cue, Bagby offers rich and newly insightful interpretations of Dostoevsky’s works large and small, alerting readers how to read them from Dostoevsky’s point of view. Bagby’s reading of the introduction to “A Gentle Creature” is nothing short of a revelation. The book will likely surprise, and will indeed enlighten, many a reader.
— Elizabeth Cheresh Allen, Bryn Mawr College