“A Little Hero” by F. Dostoevsky—Goodreads Book Review

Originally posted on Goodreads.com.

A delightful novella that incorporates the best of Dostoevsky’s early literary concerns, namely the exploration of the psychology of characters and the tension between the Romantic and naturalistic ways of interpreting life.

Told from the perspective of an eleven-year-old boy, “A Little Hero,” depicts a seasonal congress of the nobility at the estate of Mr. and Mme. M. After laying out the cast and their respective idiosyncrasies—including those of a particular blonde and pokingly impertinent divinity and the more sentimental Mme. M, who engross most of the little narrator’s attention—the story moves on to depict how the young hero seeks to derive his status as such with a show of horsemanship on an unridable horse. Throughout and at times in spite of the young boy’s perceptions Dostoevsky depicts the types of illicit intrigues of the estate class in which much of Tolstoy’s later work would consist.

Motifs of the romantic knight-errant, as well as those of the courtly love tradition, provide both structure and irony to the story: while using such themes, Dostoevsky nonetheless turns them on their head, both with the hero being beset by two ladies (a reversal of Guinevere and Arthur v Lancelot—which, itself, is depicted elsewhere in the story), the dramatic irony of the boy’s romantic interpretation of the reality of the upper-class interludes, and with the hero’s being, in the end, only an observer of the woman with which he is in love.

Continuing Dostoevsky’s earlier depiction of the dreamer in “White Nights,”“A Little Hero” thus incorporates many of the questions for which the author was articulating his own answers, providing an early Dostoevskian depiction of a generally non-Dostoevskian milieu.

Author: dustinllovell

Writing professor, literature and US history tutor, previous ESL instructor, and would-be novelist who enjoys/specializes in Shakespeare, 19th century lit, and philosophy (whether in print or via audiobook). Author of the novel Sacred Shadows and Latent Light (Wipf and Stock, Resources Imprint). Member of Heterodox Academy. Columnist for The Mallard.

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