Fyodor Dostoevsky, Walker Percy, and the Age of Suicide

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John F. Desmond
  • Washington, DC: 
    Catholic University of America Press
    , January
     2019.
     320 pages.
     $75.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9780813231273.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Description

Fyodor Dostoevsky, Walker Percy, and the Age of Suicide is a study of the phenomenon of suicide in modern and post-modern society as represented in the major fictional works of Fyodor Dostoevsky and Walker Percy. In his study, suicide is understood in both a literal and spiritual sense as referring to both the actual suicides in their works and to the broader social malaise of spiritual suicide, or despair. In the 19th century Dostoevsky called suicide "the terrible question of our age". For his part, Percy understood 20th century Western culture as "suicidal" in both its social, political and military behavior and in the deeper sense that its citizenry had suffered an ontological "loss of self" or "deformation" of being. Likewise, Thomas Merton called the 20th century an "age of suicide". 

John Desmond examines the cultural ethos of suicide as it is developed in eleven major works of fiction—Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground, Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, Demons and The Brothers Karamazov; and Percy's The Moviegoer, The Last Gentleman, Love in the Ruins, Lancelot, The Second Coming and The Thanatos Syndrome. His study is analogical and progressive in that it demonstrates how Percy "furthered" Dostoevsky's prophetic insights and intuitions about suicide as they evolved in modern Western culture. It reveals how the spiritual, moral and ideological conditions that Dostoevsky analyzed in the latter 19th century came to prophetic—and dire—fulfillment in the 20th century, as Percy observed. The study develops its argument through a close analysis of themes, characters, actions and images that reveal both correspondence between and development from Dostoevsky to Percy. In the Epilogue, Desmond offers a Christian counter-vision to the suicidal ethos of the age.

About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

John F. Desmond is the author of Gravity and Grace: Seamus Heaney and the Force of Light; Flannery O'Connor's Vision of History; At the Crossroads: Ethical and Religious Themes in the Writings of Walker Percy, and Walker Percy's Search for Community.

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