What Is To Be Done

In This Review

What Is To Be Done

By Nikolai Chernyshevsky
Cornell University Press, 1989
449 pp. $39.95

This extraordinary novel, published in Russia in 1863, allegedly inspired generations of Russian radicals and was to the Russian Revolution what Uncle Tom's Cabin was to the American Civil War. Its author was a member of the Russian intelligentsia who believed in Western science and technology as well as Western utopian thinking as the engines for social transformation in Russia; above all, they believed in the "leading role" of the intellectuals-themselves. Today the novel is something of a curiosity but is intensely interesting nonetheless. Surprisingly, its dominant preoccupation is neither politics nor economics but the emancipation of women, its main character a feminist (and a very engaging one). The book is analytical, didactic, talky and long-winded; it is also witty and psychologically sharp. The translation by Michael R. Katz is the first new American translation in more than a century. It reads well and has copious annotations by William G. Wagner.

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