This essay explores Donna Tartt’s adaptation of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novels The Adolescent, The Idiot, and The Brothers Karamazov in The Goldfinch as a guide to understanding Dostoevsky’s unorthodox and theologically inflected theory of trauma. The essay argues that both authors approach traumatic memory through the ancient folkloric archetype of the “external soul” (the inner essence displaced into external objects for safekeeping) and conceive of the healing process as the attempt to bring the externalized soul—and its unwanted memories—back into the body. This motif allows both writers to reimagine the concept of the soul in modern secular terms: in Tartt’s conception of post-traumatic “soul loss” as a critical stage in the moral and aesthetic education of the self, and in Dostoevsky’s view of wounded memory as opening up the self to the more expansive, overwhelming trauma of religious experience. Tartt’s use of Dostoevsky in The Goldfinch underscores the Russian author’s value to contemporary trauma studies as an alternative to the prevailing canon.

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