When geniuses meet, something extraordinary happens, like lightning produced from colliding clouds, observed Russian poet Alexander Blok. There is perhaps no literary collision more fascinating and deserving of study than the relationship between Alexander Pushkin (1799–1837), Russia's greatest poet, and Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821–81), its greatest prose writer. In the twentieth century, Pushkin, "Russia's Shakespeare," became enormously influential, his literary successors universally acknowledging and venerating his achievements. In the nineteenth century, however, it was Dostoevsky more than any other Russian writer who wrestled with Pushkin's legacy as cultural icon and writer. Though he idolized Pushkin in his later years, the younger Dostoevsky exhibited a much more contentious relationship with his eminent precursor.
In Challenging the Bard, Gary Rosenshield engages with the critical histories of these two literary titans, illuminating how Dostoevsky reacted to, challenged, adapted, and ultimately transformed the work of his predecessor Pushkin. Focusing primarily on Dostoevsky's works through 1866—including Poor Folk, The Double, Mr. Prokharchin, The Gambler, and Crime and Punishment—Rosenshield observes that the younger writer's way to literary greatness was not around Pushkin, but through him. By examining each literary figure in terms of the other, Rosenshield demonstrates how Dostoevsky both deviates from and honors the work of Pushkin. At its core, Challenging the Bard offers a unique perspective on the poetry of the master, Pushkin, the prose of his successor, Dostoevsky, and the nature of literary influence.