2 Random Book Questions

(1) Does anyone own a copy of P.G. Wodehouse’s autobiographical Over Seventy, also published in the compilation Wodehouse on Wodehouse? If you do, and you’re willing to part with it, you will find in me a book trader of astonishing generosity.

(2) Anyone aware of a commendable study of the theology of Fyodor Dostoevsky? Has anyone pulled the theology from his works and organized it into some form of systematic study? Just curious. I do see a journal article of this nature.

Happy Friday!

9 thoughts on “2 Random Book Questions

  1. JOURNAL OF THE EVANGELICAL THEOLOGICAL SOCIETY
    33 no 1 Mr 1990, p 110-111.
    The Gospel in Dostoyevsky. Edited by the Hutterian Brethren. Ulster Park: Plough, 1988, 258 pp. $9.50 paper.
    Fyodor Dostoyevsky knew what it was to encounter the grace of God. During a life that included Siberian exile, a last-minute reprieve from execution, and the ever-present physical malady of epilepsy, he came to realize that the mercy of God is most gloriously evident when the material world offers only injustice and suffering. His writings reflect this spiritual pilgrimage, and the editors of the volume under review have taken on the ambitious task of paring down these writings to a few examples of how the gospel (i.e. the saving work of Christ in the life of the individual) is understood in Dostoyevsky’s works.
    This book is an English translation of vol. 20 of Source Books of Christian Witness throughout the Centuries (ed. E. Arnold, 1927). To facilitate their task the editors have limited their excerpts to Dostoyevsky’s last three major and most mature novels: Crime and Punishment, The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov. In order to explain the function of Christ’s redemptive work on the various characters found in these novels the excerpts are arranged under the headings “Faith in God—Man’s Venture,” “Man’s Rebellion against God,” “On the Way to God” and “Life in God,” with an extremely helpful introduction by E. Gordon as well as a brief biographical outline and aids in establishing the context of each passage.
    The book’s major strength is that the editors have chosen excerpts focusing primarily on parable-like anecdotes that serve to explain the spiritual state of—or progress of the gospel in—the characters involved and the hopes they have for their inner lives, often in the face of acute physical and mental torment. These characters, their thoughts, experiences and reactions—perhaps even more than the situations they find themselves in—are what serve to describe the gospel in Dostoyevsky’s novels. The situations are merely the natural results of the presence of these individuals and their various stages of spiritual maturity. The shock comes when we recognize ourselves—from the evil and frighteningly (even temptingly) rational Grand Inquisitor, to the prisoner who is hungrily grabbing his last seconds of life (“Execution”), to the woman who seeks her own salvation so self-centeredly that she is willing to damn others and so ultimately damns herself (“The Onion”), to Father Zossima, the eerily mystical but utterly sincere servant of God (“Conversations with Father Zossima”). J. Moltmann, even in his admiration for Dostoyevsky, has said that his characters are “psychologically impossible.” This may be true, but only because most lives are not lived as introspectively or intensely as are those of his subjects.
    The chief danger in reading such a book lies in assuming that once you have read it you have “read” Dostoyevsky. This is simply not the case. To focus on any writer in his maturity, and to do so on only the sketchiest of levels, is to do a disservice to the miracle of his ever having reached that maturity (e.g. the seeds of Dostoyevsky’s understanding of spiritual man’s struggle for meaning in the material, “reasonable” world are present in his much earlier Notes from Underground and House of the Dead). But the opposite side of the coin is that in reading this book it is quite likely that, armed with an outline of this great writer’s thought and the passion of his spiritual vision, one will have the courage to tackle the novels themselves.
    And it does take courage. Dostoyevsky’s world is one where sin abounds but where grace abounds more abundantly. While the good news that he embraces is in its aberrations anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, nationalistic, mystical, and steeped in Russian orthodoxy, in its purest, most distilled form it is full of the hope of grace, built on the foundation of a suffering and resurrected Christ.
    The Gospel in Dostoyevsky, then, is an excellent resource tool or textbook. It is valuable to the seasoned reader of Dostoyevsky in that it, through the judicious choices of the editors, clearly traces a major spiritual theme in his later works. The introduction contains a concise and accurate (if a bit simplistic) statement of Gordon’s understanding of that theme, especially within the framework of Dostoyevsky’s own spiritual journey. This book is valuable as well to the individual who wants a starting point from which to examine Dostoyevsky’s works further. It is by no means, however, an exhaustive examination of Dostoyevsky, and the thoughtful reader will not misunderstand it as such.
    Letty M. Umidi Essex Fells, NJ

  2. For readers of this blog, here is a pertinent portion of Bray’s review: “When Protestantism does appear in the book, it tends to be misrepresented, as when Dr.Williams injects the word ‘Calvinist’ as a synonym of ‘fatalist’, which shows that he does not have any idea of what Calvinism is
    (p. 55). This particular confusion is one that is often found among liberal Roman Catholics, especially laymen who do not know their theology, but for the head of a Protestant church whose official doctrines can reasonably be
    described as ‘Calvinist’, it is inexcusable. No wonder that Evangelicals, with their Calvinist roots, do not trust him.”

  3. Dostoevsky seems to defy systematization. “Remembering the End” by Kroeker and Ward is an interesting read, but focuses more on the prophetic and eschatological nature of Dostoevsky’s writings. I might suggest reading a biography of the writer, coupled with “Remembering the End” and Bakhtin’s “Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics.” Also, there is a helpful volume from Cambridge University Press, edited by Pattison and Thompson, called something like “Dostoevsky and the Christian Tradition.” The aforementioned “The Gospel in Dostoevsky” pretty much draws together pertinent passages from his writings without offering much analysis. That might be helpful for sermon illustrations and the like, but not as helpful for actually undertsanding Dostevsky. However, I don’t believe that there is one volume that is going to do what you’re looking for.

  4. You must contact Tom Wells of Ohio for info on books by Wodehouse. You surely have a book or two by Tom on your shelves (e.g. A Price for a People, Banner of Truth). Tom is a big Wodehouse fan and I think has first edition copies of all his books. He is a dear brother and would gladly aid you in your search.

  5. Dear Tony,

    Michael Treloar, Antiquarian Bookseller, in Adelaide, South Australia, has “Over Seventy” in his current catalogue (October 2009). It’s presumably an early / first edition (1957) as its price is $175 Australian. “Octavo, 192 pp. Cloth; endpapers lightly offset; a fine copy with the dustwrapper slightly rubbed and chipped (mainly spine ends) with short tears and some creasing to the rear top edge.” Contact Treloar on (Aust) 08 8223 1111; facsimile 08 8223 6599; or treloars@treloars.com.

    I’m delighted that a lover of Calvin and the Puritans is also a lover of Wodehouse, one of the finest craftsmen of the English sentence.

    Kindest regards,
    Margaret Turnbull (Sydney, Australia).

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