That so prodigiously long and so luridly convoluted a novel as The Possessed evolves, nevertheless, with the structural coherence of a tragedy of Aeschylus or Euripides is a testament of Dostoyevsky’s unparalleled genius. It has always been known that he is a marvelous creator of character—he is the equal of Dickens, and perhaps even the equal of Shakespeare, in this regard. But that he is a genius as a craftsman is perhaps less well known.
One is driven, then, again and again to a reassessment of this novel: is it an affirmative work, a kind of divine comedy that successfully answers the questions it asks? Or does it mock its very intentions, containing within it an antinovel, a tragic vision of life that bitterly opposes the joy of the ending?
By Joyce Carol Oates Originally published in The Georgia Review, Fall 1978; Reprinted in Contraries. Somehow it has happened—no one knows quite how, or why—that the incidence of violence and robbery has […]