“What appears shameful to the mind, is sheer beauty to the heart. Is there beauty in Sodom? Believe me, for the great majority of people it is in Sodom and nowhere else.” — Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
Dmitri Karamazov, in the “Confessions of an Ardent Heart in Verse,” rants with great feeling about the two ideals of beauty that haunt the heart of man: the Ideal of Sodom, and the Ideal of Madonna. Dostoevsky expanded on this idea in one of his journals, calling the Ideal of Sodom the “Second Beauty” — the beauty which sin has in the eyes of those who are tempted to commit it.
Dostoevsky was criticized, of course, by those who felt that his works sank too far into the darkness without offering any “real” solutions to the problem of human sinfulness. D. H. Lawrence wrote that, “He is like the rat, slithering along in hate, in the shadows, and in order to belong to the light, professing love, all love,” while Freud lamented that “Dostoevsky threw away the chance of becoming a teacher and liberator of humanity; instead he appointed himself as jailer.” Such criticisms are typical of a certain critical tenor that sees literature, and art more generally, as a force for reworking the social order and rewriting the heart of man. It is a critical pose that leads to a kind of puritanism, and it is found just as commonly amongst atheistic reformers as amongst Christians.