Grand Inquisitors

Excerpting Dostoevsky’s “Legend of the Grand Inquisitor” for my Introduction to Russian Culture (lower level general education class), I find two relatively recent translations available online in a reasonable format for class. One is the Pevear and Volokhonsky version, which provides the whole chapter, the other a slightly condensed version of David McDuff’s 1993 translation from *Introduction to Western Philosophy*, with a handy outline and some interpretive questions at the end. The P&V has notes for the Latin phrases, which I know will be helpful to my students, but they also insist on keeping Dostoevsky’s interminable paragraphs intact, which I know will put most of my students to sleep.

Maybe it works well for a philosophy course, but I’m not a fan of using this kind of excerpted text as part of a culture course. Among other things, it leads to rather naive questions like (their No. 7): “What is the point of Dostoevsky’s story? What do you think, was the Inquisitor right about human nature?” I guess I can put some emphasis on keeping in mind that these are characters in a story, actually characters in a story within a story, not direct mouthpieces of the author, or I could just ask the students a different question and omit that particular one.

Actually, what I think I’ll do instead is ask the students to read the seven questions in the intro philosophy text (“Western”? Really?) but not answer them per se, just tell me which two they think are the best questions that get at the heart of the text and why. A little meta, but they won’t find any answers online for that sort of question.

The absence of notes to any of the foreign phrases in the philosophy version bothers me, but the students who are interested can easily look up what “auto da fe” or “ad majorem gloriam Dei” means. And the paragraphing is going to make the text so much easier for them to follow.

Going with the modified McDuff, but I’ll upload the P&V for any of the students who are really into it and want to read


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