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By Hilary Mantel

From the double guy Booker prize-winner comes a rare paintings of old mind's eye – this can be Hilary Mantel’s epic novel of the French Revolution. Georges-Jacques Danton: zealous, full of life and debt-ridden. Maximilien Robespierre: small, diligent and scared of violence. And Camille Desmoulins: a genius of rhetoric, captivating and good-looking, but additionally erratic and untrustworthy. As those younger males, key figures of the French Revolution, flavor the addictive delights of energy, the darker part of the period’s political beliefs is unleashed – and all needs to face the horror that follows.

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38 One important Western European writer, Danish critic Georg Brandes, actually had a chance to learn of Nietzsche’s views from Nietzsche himself, though he appears to have applied other ideas of Nietzsche to the works of Dostoevsky. ’”39 Brandes had read Beyond Good and Evil (1886) and The Genealogy of Morality (1887) with great enthusiasm and was particularly struck by Nietzsche’s distinction, introduced in the first of these books, between the powerful morality of masters and the weak morality of slaves.

Guardini makes an admirable effort to approach his subject without the bias of either Western Christianity or Russian Orthodoxy. In fact, as he explains in his preface, he has avoided almost all secondary interpretive literature, relying only on sources that provide factual information. The result is some truly valuable comments simply on the content of the religious ideas that various characters express in Dostoevsky’s novels. But despite his method, Guardini was not without bias. He repeatedly observes that the key to a proper understanding of Dostoevsky’s religious ideas is Nietzsche.

Second, I’m not claiming Dostoevsky actually read texts by all the figures I’m including. Third, I don’t mean to suggest that the philosophers I’m about to speak of belonged to the same “school” or generally thought the same way about religion. What I’m looking at are two closely related tendencies: to regard God and Jesus as purely human attributes and to regard religion either as a natural, predictable human phenomenon or as something having a primarily practical function for human life. Some of these philosophers profess contempt for religion, others admiration and respect.

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