“Memories of the West: Fyodor Dostoevsky”

Suda E. Z.

The Prof. Süheyla Artemel Lectures: Memory in Literature and Culture, İstanbul, Turkey, 22 October 2021

  • Publication Type: Conference Paper / Unpublished
  • City: İstanbul
  • Country: Turkey


Many literary figures, famous writers wrote their memories either life stories / memories of their travels in given time periods or on specific events on their lives or on their countries. We may accept that memories of Saint Augustine or J.J.Rousseau’s Confessions are early examples of this type but there are more famous examples from modern times that most memory studies root themselves such as Marcel Proust or Goethe.[1] To give an example, Proust wrote a famous text about the richness of memory and its contribution to understanding everyday life. Proust’s text published in between 1913-27 in France, A la recherche du temps perdu, a search for a memory which is lost. In the 19th century then on writing memories became famous and as a result accepted as a genre in literature.

The use of memories as a valuable social record and their acceptance as a scientific source is a recent and interdisciplinary approach in social sciences. Biographies of prominent people, statesmen, soldiers or diplomats were widespread during 19th and 20th century. Especially after the Great War, ordinary people, reserve officials, specialists such as doctors, nurses, veterinaries put down their memories, personal experiences on paper. All these were accepted as valuable sources for historians and social scientists. After war period writing memories became popular with the growing literacy in the western and nonwestern world.


In this paper I like to present and discuss the famous 19th century Russian literary figure Dostoyevsky’s pamphlet regarding his first visit to western countries in 1862, published in 1863, Winter Notes on Summer Impressions.[2] In this pamphlet he wrote out his observations and experiences, memories on the “Western world” comparing this with the untouched Russian existence and substance reflecting the pan-slavist and anti-western feelings and thoughts. By doing this I like to compare his regards on the western world with that of the memories of Rifaa Rafi el Tahtavi, an Egyptian who visited and stayed in Paris between 1826 and 1831 with a group of students send by Egyptian authorities to have education and learn foreign languages to improve modernization in Egypt.[3] In his memories (which accepted as travel writing) that Tahtavi presented to Mehmet Ali Pasha after his return to his country, he wrote his observations on the western world with a feeling of admiration on the contrary to that of Dostoyevsky.

My aim is to display and discuss on the personal and subjective, what is more the political character of memories.

[1] Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, From my Life: Poetry and Truth (covering his memories from birth, within The Collected Works, vol 4, Princeton University Press, 1994.) or Marcel Proust (covering childhood memories), In Search of Lost Time, vol.1-7, KTHTK, 2021.

[2] Feodor M.Dostoyevski, Winter Notes on Summer Impressions, New York: Criterion Books, 1955. (Dostoyevski, Batı, Batı Dedikleri... (Yaz İzlenimleri Üzerine Kış Notları), Çeviren: Ergin Altay, Ankara: Bilgi Yayınevi, 1972.)

[3] Newman, Daniel L, An Imam In Paris: Al-Tahtawi’s Visit to France (1826–1831), Londra: Saqı Books, 2004. (Rifa’a Rafi’ Tahtavi, Paris Gözlemleri, Hazırlayan: Cemil Çiftçi, İstanbul: Ses Yayınları, 1992.)