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Nikolai Chernyshevsky's great novel, originally published in 1863, transformed Russian views of the peasantry in much the same way that Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel Uncle Tom's Cabin changed American perceptions of slavery. In its pages, a group of idealistic Russian intellectuals go back to the land, easing the lot of the peasants with scientific methods of farming and liberating the serfs from hardship. The intellectuals' socialist vision offers the promise of a world that subsequent events did not bear out, and it is fascinating to consider in the light of historical reality. Fyodor Dostoyevsky gave Chernyshevsky's tale, full of sermonizing and idealism, a darkly pessimistic twist in his masterpiece The Possessed.
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