The Miserable with a Human Soul: Portrayal Modes in Works by F. Dostoevsky, N. Nekrasov, and F. Reshetnikov




“poor folk”, “humiliated and insulted”, “the miserable”, natural school, F. Dostoevsky, N. Nekrasov, F. Reshetnikov


This article deals with the tradition of portraying “miserable”, “minuscule”, “tiny”, “poor”, “downtrodden” people in Russian literature between the 1840s and the 1860s. F. M. Dostoevsky, through the main character of The Idiot, called them “a misère” with a “human soul” and considered “the restoration” of the “ruined” the main idea of the art of the entire nineteenth century. The starting point of the research is Poor Folk, Dostoevsky’s novel of the natural school period in which the writer reversed sentimentalist poetics following the new demands of literature, emphasising the socio-economic meaning of the “poor folk” concept. In the 1860s, Dostoevsky’s sentimental-naturalistic style changed, and his feuilletons from the Petersburg Dreams, the discourse of poverty began to sound ironic; it was partly due to Dostoevsky’s polemical tasks. There is a connection with N. A. Nekrasov’s poetry in the middle of the century. It traces the change in the modality in the depiction of the “miserable” and the lower strata of the population from sympathetic drama to irony and sarcasm, which accompanies not so much the images of the poor themselves as the presence of the theme in literature, its traditionally philanthropic and sentimental personification. The material of the analysis in the article is In the Street and About the Weather, Nekrasov’s poetic cycles of the 1850s–1860s, most vividly depicting the images of the “poor folk” in St Petersburg’s streets and “Petersburg slums”. The third writer to focus on the urban poor, inhabitants of the basement slums is F. M. Reshetnikov with his story Yashka (1868). This writer’s story of entering the sphere of literature was comparable with that of the first edition of Dostoevsky’s novel. Reshetnikov himself, judging by his letters and diary, sometimes resembled the “miserable” characters of his much more famous and successful contemporary. Starting from the traditional forms of the author’s emotional experience for the character thrown to the bottom of life, Reshetnikov’s naïve and simple-hearted writing imitated normality, the commonness of the terrible life of his characters, concealed the warmth and human pain that the reader was supposed to perceive. It brought his “miserable” wordless characters closer to the author, and therefore to the reader, opening new possibilities in the literature that would be developed by writers of the turn of the century.

Author Biography

Elena Sozina

Dr. Hab. (Philology), Head of the Centre of the History of Literature, Institute of History, and Archaeology, Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences; Professor, Ural Federal University.

16, S. Kovalevskaya Str., 620990, Yekaterinburg, Russia.

19, Mira Str., 620002, Yekaterinburg, Russia.

ORCID 0000-0002-7462-4153


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How to Cite

Sozina, E. (2023). The Miserable with a Human Soul: Portrayal Modes in Works by F. Dostoevsky, N. Nekrasov, and F. Reshetnikov. Quaestio Rossica, 11(1), 52–72.



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