The Master of Petersburg

The Master of Petersburg

By J.M. Coetzee

The Master of Petersburg is a 1994 novel by South African writer J.M.Coetzee. The novel is a work of fiction but features the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky as its protagonist.
In real life, there is a Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky. Dostoyevsky’s literary output explores human psychology in the troubled political, social and spiritual context of 19th-century Russian society.
“The Master of Petersburg” is a deep, complex work that draws on the life of Dostoevsky, the life of the author and the history of Russia to produce profoundly disturbing results. It won the 1995 Irish Times International Fiction Prize.
Frankly speaking, though it is written by the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, I was quite bored by the book until the ending. Probably because I don’t really know how to appreciate the Russian’s history and connections of the famous writer with some real life settings. Overall, the story is a dark one.
Set in 1869, when Dostoevsky was summoned to St Petersburg by the sudden death of his stepson Pavel. Dostoevsky is seen obsessively following his stepson’s ghost, trying to ascertain whether he was a suicide or a murder victim and whether he loved or despised his stepfather.
As if to conjure up the spirit of the dead man, he moves into Pavel’s room, dons his clothing, and pores over his diary. He becomes sexually involved with Pavel’s landlady, Anna Sergeyevna Kolenkina, and attempts to learn from her young daughter, Matryona, exactly how his stepson died, and lived.

In the final chapter, more is revealed of his stepson died…

Pavel is enrolled as a student at the university but he attends no lectures. He joins a kruzhok, a circle whose members experiment with free love. One afternoon he brings a girl back to his room. It occurs to him that he ought to lock the door but he does not. He and the girl make love ; they fall asleep. A noise wakes him and he knows they are being watched by his landlady’s daughter Matryona.

Later, it was revealed to Dostoevsky by Matryona that Pavel his stepson had given himself up so that he could be one of the martyrs.

For the first time, it occurs to his stepfather that Pavel might be better dead. He recalls a similar incident by his stepson Pavel that he assault the innocence of a simple child in the village.


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