Celebrate Elijah’s day – and Dostoevsky, too.


In his fiery chariot…

Fyodor Dostoevsky wanted to present a uniquely Russian brand of Christianity to the world. What better way than Elijah the Prophet, popular image in iconography and a hero of folklore? 

Hence, the axe murderer Raskolnikov of Crime and Punishment confesses on Elijah’s Day, after wandering the city all night during a fierce  thunderstorm – which, according to Russian folklore, is always expected on Elijah’s holiday. Elijah stands in for retribution and judgment in the folkloric cosmology – and also for the pagan thundered Perun.

Today’s his feast day. Celebrate with – what? A flaming brandy, perhaps?

The link with Dostoevsky is a fascinating one. According to a post today on SEELANGS, an Eastern European listserve:

Raskolnikov confesses to a gruff assistant police superintendent named Elijah (Il’ia) whose portrayal is replete with imagery connected with thunder, lightning and fire. There is no doubt that the spectacular storm is the proverbial Elijah’s Day thunderstorm because the story begins in the first week of July. Two weeks pass before the confession, taking us to around July 20 (August 2 on the new style calendar). The assistant superintendent’s nickname is Gunpowder, a detail that evokes the boom of thunder as well as the Petersburg Church of Elijah, which stood at the gunpowder factory. In his earlier work called “The Village of Stepanchikovo” Dostoevsky had used the Elijah’s Day storm in a similar fashion at the story’s climax. In Stepanchikovo the assembled characters cry out “Elijah the Prophet!” as thunder strikes overhead and the central hero ejects the evil backbiter Foma Fomich from his home. It is Elijah’s Day, the nameday of the hero’s son and father.

Elijah’s biggest booster

Dostoevsky’s early novella “The Landlady” is undecipherable without a knowledge of the Russian folkloric Elijah. The bileous, enigmatic old Elijah Murin is an earthly emanation of the prophet Elijah. Failing to see this, scholars have interpreted Murin as a demonic figure in the tale and have misunderstood the author’s intent. Elijah symbolism runs through around ten other works by Dostoevsky, including The Brothers Karamazov, where the Elijah theme is very prominent. In the first drafts of the novel, the family name Il’inskii (from Il’ia ‘Elijah’) is used instead of Karamazov.

The story of this imagery in Dostoevsky’s fiction is long and fascinating. Literary scholars have been blind to the Elijah allusions because most of them know little about the folklore of Elijah and they have never suspected that folk beliefs of this nature could play such a central role in Dostoevsky’s writing. The late Yurii Marmeladov is the discoverer of the Elijah theme in Dostoevsky. See his study Tainyi kod Dostoevskogo (1992) …

You can read more at the Birchbark Press of Karacharovo, the source of the posting here.


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