The Master of Petersburg

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The Master of Petersburg
First edition
Author J. M. Coetzee
Country South Africa
Language English
Publisher Secker & Warburg
Publication date
1 November 1994
Media type Print (paperback)(hardback)
Pages 256pp (hardback)
ISBN 0-09-947037-3
OCLC 59264366

The Master of Petersburg is a 1994 novel by South African writer J. M. Coetzee. The novel is a work of fiction but features the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky as its protagonist. It is a deep, complex work that draws on the life of Dostoyevsky, the life of the author and the history of Russia to produce profoundly disturbing results. It won the 1995 Irish Times International Fiction Prize.

The content of the novel is strongly based on "At Tikhon's", a chapter written by Dostoyevsky for his 1872 novel Demons (often translated as The Devils) but suppressed by his editor M.N. Katkov. The chapter was never reinstated in the novel but is found as an appendix in many modern editions. In the chapter, the character Nikolai Stavrogin confesses to a sordid liaison with a 14-year-old girl, Matryosha. Matryosha, and the setting of Stavrogin's tale, appear in The Master of Petersburg.

Hanging over the novel is a scene from Coetzee's own life: the death of his son at 23 in a mysterious falling accident. Dostoyevsky is found at the start of the novel trying to accept the death of his stepson Pavel, which occurs in a similar manner. Though Pavel is based on a real person, his death is fictional – the real Pavel outlived Dostoyevsky.

The antagonist in the book, who shares many conversations with Dostoyevsky, is Sergey Nechayev, real-life leader of the Nechaevists, a clandestine group of Nihilist terrorists. The murder which occurs in the novel is not fictional, and the cellar containing a printing press used by Nechaev, which features in the novel, was the scene of the actual murder.