“Repasts” of the Revolution: Personal Asceticism and Collective Sacrificial Feasts (F. M. Dostoevsky’s Demons, J. Conrad’s The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale)

Tyumen State University Herald. Humanities Research. Humanitates


2021, Vol. 7. № 2 (26)

“Repasts” of the Revolution: Personal Asceticism and Collective Sacrificial Feasts (F. M. Dostoevsky’s Demons, J. Conrad’s The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale)

For citation: Gorbunova N. V., Ushakova O. M. 2021. “‘Repasts’ of the Revolution: Personal Asceticism and Collective Sacrificial Feasts (F. M. Dostoevsky’s Demons, J. Conrad’s The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale)”. Tyumen State University Herald. Humanities Research. Humanitates, vol. 7, no. 2 (26), pp. 144-159. DOI: 10.21684/2411-197X-2021-7-2-144-159

About the authors:

Natalya V. Gorbunova, Cand. Sci. (Philol.), Associate Professor, Department of Russian and Foreign Literature, University of Tyumen; natvlagor@yandex.ru; ORCID: 0000-0002-8583-1385

Olga M. Ushakova, Dr. Sci. (Phylol.), Professor, Department of Russian and Foreign Literature, University of Tyumen; olmiva@yandex.ru; ORCID: 0000-0002-0656-3774


This paper presents a comparative analysis of food patterns as the elements of political discourse in the novels by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881) and Joseph Conrad (1857-1924). The stereotypes of food behavior and the gastronomic symbols, associated with the revolutionary activities, appeared simultaneously with literary nihilists. In Dostoevsky’s Demons (1871-1872), the issue of accomplishing social harmony (which was discussed in polemics with T. Carlyle and J. S. Mill) is connected to metaphorical images of repast. The “culinary” episodes are quite limited; this “poverty” of gastronomic motives could be explained by the “industrial era” ideology, when a meal ceased to stay among existential foundations. The ”revolutionaries” destroying Russian traditional life are depicted as instruments of suicide or destruction. Heroes are eager for spiritual food but can only “devour each other” or be devoured; the “Idea”, which destroys individual organisms, turns entire social organisms into “porridge”. The abstract characters of feasts and the absence of any specific meal details symbolize “emptiness” of human existence. This rejection of “basic” elements of life can develop into “sacrificial” feasts with human victims. In Conrad’s novel The Secret Agent (1907; a dialogue with Dostoevsky), the revolutionary “sacrificial meal” appears through the “kitchen” metaphors and “slaughterhouse” symbols. The remains of an idiot sacrificed by new “apostles” resemble butcher’s by-products. The “secret agent” (Verloc) having satisfied hunger with meat (like Verkhovenskiy who is constantly hungry) is murdered with a kitchen knife as a sacrificial animal. Another expressive “gastronomic” trail is Conrad’s parody on stereotypical food asceticism of fighters for the Idea: fat anarchist Michaelis eats only raw carrots. Thus, in Dostoevsky’s and Conrad’s novels, important models of individual food behavior and culinary “bloody triune” metaphors are associated with nihilistic behavior and revolutionary activities. Food metaphors help writers to express their negative attitude towards the destructive activities of nihilists. The main ideas of the paper were presented at the BASEES Annual Conference 2018 (Fitzwilliam College — Churchill College, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom).


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