Representations of 'the Jew' in the writings of Nikolai Gogol, Fyodor Dostoevsky and Ivan Turgenev
The image of 'the Jew' in nineteenth-century Russian literary texts is traditionally viewed as a paradigm of anti-Semitic discourse. Critics have typically accentuated the presence and continuity of negative stereotypes of the Jews. Yet anti-Semitic discourse is not the only approach to the representation of the Jews in Russian literature. This study explores the manifold nature of the portrayal of 'the Jew' in the works of three Russian writers of the highest calibre: Gogol, Dostoevsky and Turgenev. Literature at the time was highly politicized and a writer was expected to examine the issues of the day from an ideological stance. This meant that a writer's fictional representation of 'the Jew' was treated by many as an illustration of Jews' qualities in real life. After the partitions of Poland in the eighteenth century, Russia acquired a large Jewish population. These new Jewish subjects were confined to the Pale of Settlement, which restricted their rights of residence in Russia proper. That in itself meant that the majority of Jews were invisible to Russian society. Writers mainly used Western literary patterns in describing 'the Jew'. Nevertheless, in using traditional mythic stereotypes of the Jews they not only applied the familiar framework of Western authors but also created images based on specifically Russian culture. Moreover, at different periods of the century 'the Jew' was endowed with traits uncharacteristic of previous myths. The writers' constructions of 'the Jew' thus became complex and flexible. In order to investigate the complex constructions of 'the Jew' the following matters are discussed: (1) the depiction of 'the Jew' by these three writers in conjunction with their understanding of their own identity, events occurring during their lifetime, and stereotypical frames of reference for the Jews; (2) the degree of controversy in their representations; (3) their use of the image of 'the Jew' to define the essential qualities of the Russian.