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Here’s a a sample of the Times’ (London) review, via Arts & Letters Daily , of Rowan Williams’ new book on Dostoevsky:

There are many insights in Dostoevsky: Language, faith and fiction which will illumine its subject’s novels, and which could only have come from this interpreter. Williams’s discussion of The Idiot, and the salience of Holbein’s painting “Christ in the Grave” (1521) for our understanding of the protagonist, is a case in point. “Holbein’s [deposition] shows (though this is not explicitly described in the novel) a corpse seen from alongside - not only a dead man fixed at a moment in the past (there are Orthodox depictions of the dead Christ and his entombment), but a dead man in profile, a double negation of the iconographic convention. In a fairly literal sense, this is a ‘diabolical’ image.” There will be few non-Orthodox readers who are aware of the fact, presented here by Williams, that in the tradition of icons, the only figures who normally appear in profile are demons or Judas Iscariot. This is a very pertinent addition to Williams’s accumulation of readings of the Idiot’s character. Far from seeing Myshkin as Christ-like, Williams alerts us to his “lethal weakness”: “the person who is presented as innocent and compassionate in Christ-like mode is in fact unwittingly a force of destruction”. With even greater precision, he hits the target with this paradoxical statement: “Myshkin is a ‘good’ person who cannot avoid doing harm” - about the neatest summary of The Idiot that has ever been written. In the conclusion to his book, Williams makes the striking claim that the fusion of incompatibilities in which so much of Dostoevsky’s work consists, creates something comparable to the traditions of icon-painting.

Read the whole thing here , and look for our own review of the book in a forthcoming issue.



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