It's well known that Dostoyevsky as a person didn't like Jews.

But is there clear evidence of that in his books?

Ideally, I'd prefer evidence of things that arise above things that were commonplace normal stereotypes in Russian society of the time, such as Pushkin's Jewish moneylender.

1 Answer 1


I'm not well acquainted with most of Dostoevsky's writings, but The House of the Dead stands out as a controversial case. In it, we see the character Isay Fomitch Bumstein, who worked as both a jeweler and a pawnbroker (close enough to the stereotypical Jewish moneylender). Apart from his job, Dostoevsky's physical characterization of Bumstein is not quite flattering. This short essay puts together some criticisms of the jeweler's appearance:

As Goldstein states, "The caricature quality of the portrait is potent, and the intention of the author is unmistakably clear: to laugh at the little Jew and provoke laughter at his expense."6 Dostoevsky reminds us that Isay Fomitch is a "skinny, feeble, puny man of around fifty...with a white body like a chicken's" (IX, pg. 105). Immediately after drawing this image, Dostoevsky marshals a series of moral traits which stigmatize Isay Fomitch and to a certain extent, the larger Jewish nation. He calls attention to Isay Fomitch as "a most comical mixture of naiveté, stupidity, craft, impudence, good nature, timidity, boastfulness and insistence" (IX, pg. 106).

In Chapter X, Bumstein's first arrival to the prison actually involves moneylending, as he is intimidated into letting a convict pawn his (worthless) raggedy clothing. It would be wrong to characterize Dostoevsky's treatment of the main as wholly repugnant, but it falls squarely into the category of "clear evidence".

As the essay points out, we also see some anti-Semitic tones in The Brothers Karamazov. While there are some minor side references to Jews in the moneylending business (again, a negative stereotype), there is one passage where a character suggests that some believe that Jews kill and eat children. While there is no clear indication that anyone treats this claims as anything but ridiculous, there is certainly no clear rejection of the general tone.

Yes, you see the moneylending stereotype perpetuated on several of Dostoevsky's works. But there are additional negative characterizations - the overt characterization of Bumstein as a fool and the references to savage Jewish rituals - that seem to at least waggle some eyebrows at the phrase "anti-Semitism", if not point to it directly.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.