Coetzee Vs Dostoevsky | Daily News

Coetzee Vs Dostoevsky

Profile writing or biographies are more known as literary portraits than creative narratives. But quite several literary portraits of poets and novelists have been transformed into world-known narratives. One of the pioneer efforts by the French biographer named Andre Maurois titled as Ariel based on the life story of the well known English poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley. Over the years, some of the salient events in the lives of great people have been recreated into creative fiction giving vent to a new form of narratives.

One such example comes from JM Coetzee’s The Master of Petersburg. The work, according to my reading, is a series of remaking or rewritings of the episodes known and unknown in the life of the well known Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky, whose works are translated into English and thence become world classics. Coetzee, one of the winners of the Nobel literary awards brings as unwritten by others on any of the sensitive areas in the life of Dostoevsky. The Russian novelist is portrayed here as an elderly person who tries to recollect the memory of his stepson Pavel. The reader may know only about the narrator Dostoevsky, not in the same name but as Fyodor Mikhailovich. The narrator Coetzee comes all the way from Dresden to Petersburg in order to know about the truth of his stepson who is guessed as abducted, exiled or killed. He is in the possession of a few clues left behind.

But by and by Mikhailovich comes to know the places he frequents and the persons whom he acquainted in those various places. Furthermore, he also gets a few clues as to the social movements he was linked one such social movement happened to be one of the radical and revolutionary cliques about which he wants to find more and more in the form of an investigative reporting. In Petersburg, he comes to know some of his old friends but alien to his sensitivity and investigation.

In this manner, the narrative of Coetzee is written in 20 episodes linked to the other. In the course of his investigation, he encounters both young and old, keen observers who are vigilant to social events as well as individuals who are reluctant and repulsive to some of the utterances. The climax of the narrative is that Mikhailovich comes to know in a manner of a fantasy that the secret agencies are following him.

The actual event in the life of Dostoevsky is that in 1869 he was summoned from Germany to Petersburg in order to get information about the missing stepson Pavel. This is the pre-revolutionary period in Russia, the social history of which is hidden in various legends. The writer Coetzee makes use of some of the historical legends in the course of the investigative process of Mikhailovich. As such, the reader faces a puzzle as to whether that the real investigation on the part of Dostoevsky at a particular moment in the body of the narrative the reader falls in between the reality and the fantasy. As one finds in a novel of Dostoevsky like Poor Folks and Crime and Punishment. The strangest thing is that there are two sensitive references to these novels in the work of Coetzee. Thus a reader may find entangled in the search for real Dostoevsky, the real writer is his ghost Fyodor Mikhailovich.

They are not shown as two, but as a single portrait in search of something missing and this instance the stepson Pavel. Mikhailovich is made to meet these official informants with whom he has ordeal-like interrogations, out of which he gets no hint of the missing stepson. In the course of his investigations, he keeps notes and diaries to pacify and clarify himself.

In these 20 short episodes that go into the making of Coetzee’s narrative of the reader comes to grips with three basic narrative techniques. They are firstly the short but poetic diction in the presentation of the background scenes to the main investigation. Secondly, the writer Coetzee fuses legends and myths traditionally held in order to illuminate the events. Thirdly he uses the human dialogue as a measure to present the sensitivity of the verbal communication factors that evaluate the intensity of the investigation of this narration on the subject of his missing stepson.

The two female characters of Anna Sergevna and Maryana as portrayed in the work stand epitomes of angels who try to help Mikhailovich until the end. The high point in the narrative could be discerned as disclosed in the mind of Mikhailovich to the main investigation where the real findings have not been quite fulfilled.

Thus the protagonist had to go back getting to know that it’s the ghost or the fantasy of the stepson Pavel that remains to be understood. Though the actual findings are hard to find, he gets to know the fate of a rebel who fought for a cause. He comes to know of social contradictions unsolvable.

The contradiction in the life of Mikhailovich is nothing but the contradictions as handed down the ages from the forefathers by their followers and traditional holders of particular ideologies. One salient factor as regards the creative process of Coetzee is more or less similar to that of Dostoevsky in his greatest creative works. Undoubtedly Coetzee has transcended the narrow barriers of biography writings to achieve a super creative layer holding two extreme ends. They are the existential factors of living and the existential factors of the struggle to change the mere mundane patterns of existence.

Through the portrayal of Mikhailovich, Coetzee tries to depict the pulse beat of the individual who wants to perceive the knowledge of how a person ought to live with others devoid of falling into a trap of disaster.

By the time when Coetzee was awarded Nobel Literary Prize in 2003, he had been known to the English reading world as a writer of memoirs as well as studies in linguistic literary criticism and narratology. I feel that time is ripe for us to reassess Coetzee.


 

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