In Dead Souls
renewal of the epic
took the form of an effort to create a work of national literature, of cultural expression; to encapsulate “all of Russia” in his prose. Though the problematization of interiority and the glorification of renewed totality is not as prominent here as it is in later examples of the nineteenth-century Russian novel, Gogol’s deliberate restriction of interiority and his attempt to encapsulate Russian culture reveals Dead Souls as a definite beginning of the nineteenth-century Russian renewal of the epic.
Tolstoy’s consciousness of interiority enabled him to fully problematize it in his novels, but the fact that he does not present an earthly answer to his consciousness and dissatisfaction with interiority means that the renewal of epic takes place within isolated segments, in brilliant moments rather than throughout the whole; nevertheless, the philosophical motivations for his novel form are completely in agreement with the renewed epic.
Dostoevsky’s knowledge of interiority, combined with his nationalism and Orthodoxy, inspired him not only to present interiority as a foreign and fragmentary influence, but also to offer a solution in the form of an abdication of the self in favor of service to the people. As a result, his novels were able to access a truly epic quality to a greater extent than had been achieved by any other modern writer.
In nineteenth-century Russia, the introduction of interiority as a foreign concept inspired the renewal of epic as a more essentially Russian form of literature, a form that was consistent with Russia’s heritage of totality. Interiority plays a vital role in the nineteenth-century Russian novels; but that role is consistently a unique one, distinct from that discussed in Georg Lukács’s Theory of the Novel. In the Russian novels discussed within Lukács’s Theory, there is a consistently unconventional approach to the interiority Lukács identifies as the soul of the novel form; a constant need to subvert and reinvent that led to a characteristically Russian style and to a renewal of the epic.