Written in Blood: Revolutionary Terrorism and Russian Literary Culture, 1861–1881

In This Review

Written in Blood: Revolutionary Terrorism and Russian Literary Culture, 1861–1881
By Lynn Ellen Patyk
University of Wisconsin Press, 2017
368 pp.
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The immediacy of the threat from contemporary terrorism might make it difficult to view the phenomenon through the lens of nineteenth-century Russian literature, but Patyk makes a stimulating case that the essence of today’s violence originates there. The seditious emotions that would later inspire political terror, she suggests, first appeared in Aleksandr Radishchev’s 1790 Journey From St. Petersburg to Moscow. It then gestated in the work of authors such as Turgenev and Dostoyevsky (and, even more boldly, in that of their less famous but more radical counterparts, Sergei Nechaev and Nikolai Chernyshevsky), who depicted revolutionary zeal and its terrorist strain. Although Patyk draws on the works of many authors to subtly tease out the symbiosis between words and deeds, her central focus is Dostoyevsky’s three great novels Crime and Punishment, Demons, and The Brothers Karamazov, which gave terrorism literary form well before it became a fixture of modern politics.