THE VISION OF AN AXE Dostoevsky and Astronautics

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This essay explores the scientific and literary origins of the image of an axe thrown into outer space to orbit the earth, as it appears in the chapter “The Devil. The Vision of Ivan Fyodorovich” in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Did Dostoevsky anticipate the idea of an artificial satellite, as many critics and journalists argue? How were science (in this case astronomy) and literature connected in his mind? How did Dostoevsky’s scientific and creative imagination work in general? The author shows that Dostoevsky’s “prophetic” reference to a sputnik was rooted in popular articles and textbooks about Newton’s mechanics and in Marko Vovchok’s (Maria Vilinskaya’s) translation of Jules Verne’s science fiction novel Around the Moon (“Autour de la Lune”), published in The Russian Herald (Russkii vestnik) in 1869. The novel relates the chronicle of a voyage of brave researchers inside a cannonball that was fired out of a giant space gun. The essay reconstructs the trajectory of Verne’s image of a manmade satellite in Russian literature of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)124-152
Number of pages29
JournalDostoevsky and World Culture. Philological Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Literature and Literary Theory


  • astronomy
  • Dostoevsky
  • fantastic realism
  • Gippius
  • Jules Verne
  • Merezhkovsky
  • Newton
  • satellite
  • science fiction
  • scientific predictions
  • Swedenborg
  • “axe theme” in fiction


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