The Gamemaster: Politics and Rhetoric in the Novel «What Is to Be Done? (from the Stories about the New People)» by N.G. Chernyshevsky

Feldman D.M. , Scherbakov D.A.


The article explores the causes that had led to specific reception of the most famous Chernyshevsky’s novel, which was originally published by the «Sovremennik» journal in 1863. Taking into account a great variety of printed opinions about the book – from complete denial of its literary merits to admiration – the authors provide a step-wise review of the polemic, which started right after the publication of the novel and which doesn’t stop up to the present day. At that, analyzed is the specific political and literary context of each stage. The authors argue that the novel was first and foremost oriented on the contemporary context of the European political history of 1850–1860s. This context was set up not only by the earlier defeats of the revolutions but also by the victory of the Italian national revolutionary movement, which was perceived by the radical left as an algorithm for carrying out social revolution. This algorithmization was emblematized in the names of the three heroleaders: the ideolog of the conspiracy organization «The Young Italy», G. Mazzini, the war leader of the uprisings, G. Garibaldi, and the monarchomach, F. Orsini. Particular attention is paid to the analysis of rhetoric devices used by Chernyshevsky. We demonstrate that in the novel one can find a complex of the so-called role models, and each of these models is presented by means of the imagery, not only by didactics. Thus it’s argued that the author of the novel presented to the reader the freedom to choose the best suitable option of social behaviour, and the choice of the etalon was available to both men and women, as long as they were aspiring to become «the new people». As time passed, the political context in Chernyshevsky's book was de-actualized, and so were the «role models» visualized in it. However, the polemics surrounding the novel remained quite fierce, since over the years it became associated with the new paradigms of self-discipline and value systems.


N.G. Chernyshevsky; A.I. Herzen; G.V. Plekhanov; V.I. Lenin; journalism; rhetoric; role model; the revolution; the party.

DOI: 10.31249/rsm/2020.03.14

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