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The author argues that the novel is a genre that constantly seeks its own identity: we still do not know what it is, since the uniqueness of its members defines the class to which it belongs. This anomaly explains the central role of the novel for Russians, perplexed as they were in the nineteenth century by idiosyncrasies that hindered development of a coherent national identity.
Michael Holquist shows that the generic impulse of the novel to explore the mysteries of individual biography met and fused in Dostoevsky's works with the national quest of the Russians for an identity of their own. The paradox of the writer's achievement consists in the degree to which his meditations on the significance of being without a past are grounded in history.
Originally published in 1977.
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