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Dostoevski Dies - History

Dostoevski Dies - History

Fedor Mikhailovich Dostoevski died in 1881. The Russian novelist wrote Crime and Punishment as well as The Idiot.

Biography of Fyodor Dostoevsky

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky was born October 30, 1821, in Moscow's Hospital for the Poor. He was the second of seven children born to a former army surgeon, who was murdered in 1839 when his own serfs poured vodka down his throat until he died.

Following a boarding school education in Moscow with his older brother Mikhail, Fyodor was admitted to the Academy of Military Engineers in St. Petersburg in 1838. He completed his studies in 1843, graduating as a lieutenant, but was quickly convinced that he preferred a career in writing to being mired in the bureaucratic Russian military. In 1844 he published a translation of Balzac's Eugenie Grandet, and he followed this two years later with his first original published work, Poor Folk, a widely-acclaimed short novel championed by the influential critic Vissarion Belinsky.

His works over the next three years were not as well accepted. The "literary lights" whose acquaintance he had made started to treat him with contempt and mockery. Under the influence of Belinsky, Dostoevsky turned to a materialist atheism. In 1847, he broke with Belinsky's group to join the socialist Petrashevsky group, a secret society of liberal utopians, where he associated himself with the most radical element.

On April 23, 1849, Dostoevsky was arrested with other members of the Petrashevsky circle and was sentenced to death. He was placed in solitary confinement in the Petropavlovsky Fortress for eight months. During this time, Tsar Nikolai I changed his sentence but ordered that this change only be announced at the last minute. On December 22, Dostoevsky and his fellow prisoners were led through all the initial steps of execution, and several of them were already tied to posts awaiting their deaths when the reprieve was sounded.

Dostoevsky's sentence of eight years' hard labor in a Siberian prison was reduced to four, followed by another four years of compulsory military service. During the latter, he married the widow Marya Dmitrievna Isaeva, with whom he returned to St. Petersburg in 1859.

Dostoevsky's harrowing near-execution and his terrible years of imprisonment made an indelible impression on him, converting him to a lifelong intense spirituality. These beliefs formed the basis for his great novels.

After his release, Dostoevsky published a few short works, including "Memoirs from the House of the Dead" (1860-1861), which was based on his prison experiences, in the journal Time, which he had co-founded with his brother Mikhail. In 1862, he made his first trip abroad, to England, France, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland. While abroad, he had an affair with Apollinaria Suslova, a young and attractive student whom Dostoevsky considered an intellectual equal. He also made observations on Western society that fueled his rejection of Western philosophies as models for Russian society.

In 1863, Time was banned, so Fyodor and Mikhail founded another magazine, Epoch, which in 1864 published the complex Notes from Underground, generally considered the preface to Dostoevsky's great novels.

In that same year, both Marya Dmitrievna and Fyodor's beloved brother Mikhail died, leaving Dostoevsky saddled with debts and dependents. Apollinaria Suslova declined a marriage proposal, and in an attempt to win money through gambling, Dostoevsky mired himself further in debt. With creditors at his heels and with debts of around 43,000 rubles, Dostoevsky escaped abroad with 175 rubles in his pocket and a "slave contract" with bookseller F. T. Stellovsky. This agreement stipulated that if Dostoevsky did not produce a new novel by November 1, 1866, all rights to Dostoevsky's past and future works would revert to Stellovsky.

Time passed, and Dostoevsky, preoccupied with a longer, serialized novel, did no work on the book he had promised Stellovsky until at last, on the advice of friends, he hired the young Anna Grigorievna Snitkin as his stenographer. He dictated The Gambler to her, and the manuscript was delivered to Stellovsky on the very day their agreement was to expire. Through November, Dostoevsky completed the longer novel Crime and Punishment, which was published that year to immediate and abundant success. Fyodor proposed to Anna, and they soon were wed on February 15, 1867.

This second marriage brought Dostoevsky professional and emotional stability. Anna tolerated his compulsive gambling, managed his career, and nursed him through depression and epilepsy. His great works, notably The Idiot (1868), Demons (1871-1872, also known as The Devils or mistranslated as The Possessed), and The Brothers Karamazov, were all written in this last phase of his life.

Despite this relative success, the Dostoevskys were dogged by the massive debts left by Mikhail's death and Fyodor's gambling until about 1873. At this point, Anna became his publisher and he (according to his wife) gave up gambling. Their newfound financial stability enabled the Dostoevskys to purchase the house they had been renting in 1876, and between 1877 and 1880, Dostoevsky worked on The Brothers Karamazov, regarded by many as the apex of his career. During these last years of his life, he enjoyed prominence in his public life as well as his literary career.

Fyodor Dostoevsky died on January 28, 1881, of complications related to his epilepsy. At the funeral procession in St. Petersburg, his coffin was followed by thirty to forty thousand people. His epitaph reads, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit," which is the quotation Dostoevsky chose for the preface of The Brothers Karamazov.

Dostoevsky is one of the first writers to explore the ideas of psychoanalysis in his works. His religious ideas are still relevant in theological debate. He also is one of the seminal creators of the ideas of existentialism. Despite his varying success during his lifetime, today Dostoevsky is considered to be one of the preeminent Russian novelists—indeed, one of the preeminent novelists—of all time.


The Brothers Karamazov

Dostoyevsky’s last and probably greatest novel, Bratya Karamazovy (1879–80 The Brothers Karamazov), focuses on his favourite theological and philosophical themes: the origin of evil, the nature of freedom, and the craving for faith. A profligate and vicious father, Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, mocks everything noble and engages in unseemly buffoonery at every opportunity. When his sons were infants, he neglected them not out of malice but simply because he “forgot” them. The eldest, Dmitry, a passionate man capable of sincerely loving both “Sodom” and “the Madonna” at the same time, wrangles with his father over money and competes with him for the favours of a “demonic” woman, Grushenka. When the old man is murdered, circumstantial evidence leads to Dmitry’s arrest for the crime, which actually has been committed by the fourth, and illegitimate, son, the malicious epileptic Smerdyakov.

The youngest legitimate son, Alyosha, is another of Dostoyevsky’s attempts to create a realistic Christ figure. Following the wise monk Zosima, Alyosha tries to put Christian love into practice. The narrator proclaims him the work’s real hero, but readers are usually most interested in the middle brother, the intellectual Ivan.

Like Raskolnikov, Ivan argues that, if there is no God and no immortality, then “all is permitted.” And, even if all is not permitted, he tells Alyosha, one is responsible only for one’s actions but not for one’s wishes. Of course, the Sermon on the Mount says one is responsible for one’s wishes, and, when old Karamazov is murdered, Ivan, in spite of all his theories, comes to feel guilty for having desired his father’s death. In tracing the dynamics of Ivan’s guilt, Dostoyevsky in effect provides a psychological justification for Christian teaching. Evil happens not just because of a few criminals but because of a moral climate in which all people participate by harbouring evil wishes. Therefore, as Father Zosima teaches, “everyone is responsible for everyone and for everything.”

The novel is most famous for three chapters that may be ranked among the greatest pages of Western literature. In “Rebellion,” Ivan indicts God the Father for creating a world in which children suffer. Ivan has also written a “poem,” “The Grand Inquisitor,” which represents his response to God the Son. It tells the story of Christ’s brief return to earth during the Spanish Inquisition. Recognizing him, the Inquisitor arrests him as “the worst of heretics” because, the Inquisitor explains, the church has rejected Christ. For Christ came to make people free, but, the Inquisitor insists, people do not want to be free, no matter what they say. They want security and certainty rather than free choice, which leads them to error and guilt. And so, to ensure happiness, the church has created a society based on “miracle, mystery, and authority.” The Inquisitor is evidently meant to stand not only for medieval Roman Catholicism but also for contemporary socialism. “Rebellion” and “The Grand Inquisitor” contain what many have considered the strongest arguments ever formulated against God, which Dostoyevsky includes so that, in refuting them, he can truly defend Christianity. It is one of the greatest paradoxes of Dostoyevsky’s work that his deeply Christian novel more than gives the Devil his due.

In the work’s other most famous chapter, Ivan, now going mad, is visited by the Devil, who talks philosophy with him. Quite strikingly, this Devil is neither grand nor satanic but petty and vulgar, as if to symbolize the ordinariness and banality of evil. He also keeps up with all the latest beliefs of the intelligentsia on earth, which leads, in remarkably humorous passages, to the Devil’s defense of materialism and agnosticism. The image of the “petty demon” has had immense influence on 20th-century thought and literature.

In 1880 Dostoyevsky delivered an electrifying speech about the poet Aleksandr Pushkin, which he published in a separate issue of The Diary of a Writer (August 1880). After finishing Karamazov, he resumed the monthly Diary but lived to publish only a single issue (January 1881) before dying of a hemorrhage on January 28 in St. Petersburg.


Joseph Frank, Dostoevsky biographer and 'brilliant' scholar, dies

Joseph Frank, the Class of 1926 Professor of Comparative Literature, Emeritus, at Princeton University, died of pulmonary failure Feb. 27 at Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto, Calif. His five-volume biography of Dostoevsky is widely recognized as the best biography of the writer in any language, according to Princeton University Press, who published the work. Frank is remembered as a "brilliant scholar" and was a mentor to many students. He was 94.

Frank began his career during World War II as an editor in the Bureau of National Affairs in Washington, D.C. (1942-1950) during which time he published his groundbreaking article "Spatial Form in Modern Literature," in 1945. Based on this influential essay, he won a Fulbright scholarship to the University of Paris and subsequently was accepted by the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago to earn a Ph.D. His first contact with Princeton was as a lecturer in the Gauss Seminars in Criticism in 1955-56, at the invitation of professors Richard Blackmur, E.B.O. Borgerhoff and Francis Fergusson, all of whom became close friends, according to Frank's wife, Marguerite, who joined the mathematics department as a researcher during this time.

Frank taught at the University of Minnesota and Rutgers University before joining the Princeton faculty in 1966 as a full professor. He also served as the director of the Gauss Seminars in Criticism until 1983, and transferred to emeritus status in 1985. He served as a visiting member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton from 1985-88 and joined the faculty of Stanford University in 1985.

He was a wide-ranging writer and intellectual before joining academia, pursuing diverse topics in literature, the arts, philosophy and religion, while building a reputation as a theoretician.

Frank's work on Dostoevsky was his magnum opus that included two decades researching and writing the five-volume, 2,500-page biography, which was published between 1976 and 2002.

The biography explores the life and work of Dostoevsky in the context of the cultural and political history of 19th-century Russia to give readers a picture of the world in which Dostoevsky lived and wrote. It won a National Book Critics Circle Award, a Los Angeles Times book prize, two James Russell Lowell Prizes, two Christian Gauss Awards, among other honors. In 2008, the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies awarded Frank its highest honor, the Award for Distinguished Contributions to Slavic Studies.

Ellen Chances, professor of Slavic languages and literatures, knew Frank both from the perspective of a graduate student — he served as her Ph.D. dissertation adviser at Princeton — and a colleague.

"Joe's passion for Dostoevsky was palpable," Chances said. "It was exciting for us graduate students to hear his brilliant interpretations of Dostoevsky's works and of Western European novels. As my dissertation adviser, Joe's breadth and depth of knowledge of Dostoevsky's novels, of his historical, intellectual and cultural contexts, profoundly influenced my thinking about Dostoevsky."

Frank was equally engaging as a colleague, Chances said. "It was stimulating to talk to Joe — about Dostoevsky, about literary criticism, about Russian intellectual history, about Paris, and of course, about the latest news about his family. His erudition — and his laughter — graced the campus."

As a professor and as an adviser, Frank was considered a mentor in deepening not only the academic experiences of his students but also their careers beyond Princeton.

"Since my very first graduate course at Princeton, Professor Frank became the ultimate role model of a brilliant scholar," said Anna Tavis, executive editor of People and Strategy Journal who earned her Ph.D. in 1987. "He was the supportive dissertation adviser and a personal mentor to me. I trusted him with my deepest doubts, and he knew how to listen. He let me know that he had a vision for me, and I felt enriched for rest of my professional life. Joe Frank became synonymous with my graduate experience at Princeton. "

The legacy of scholarship Frank left at Princeton is felt today. "Current students continue to appreciate Joe's ideas," Chances said. "On a regular basis, I assign some of Joe's writings in my Dostoevsky seminar. The students, not surprisingly, always say how illuminating his interpretations are."

In 1987, four years after Frank left Princeton, Caryl Emerson, the A. Watson Armour, III, University Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures, arrived. "Those four years of his absence had turned him into a legend," Emerson said. "Two volumes of his Dostoevsky biography were in print, which would permanently change the way that titanic novelist would be read. Joseph Frank was not a Russianist he was a Europeanist who fell in love with Dostoevsky's life and brought the whole of European culture to bear on it. For those of us trained more narrowly, this was a revelation."

Frank was born on Oct. 6, 1918, in New York. While he never earned a bachelor's degree, he attended classes at New York University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Paris. He earned his Ph.D. in 1954 from the University of Chicago. He married Marguerite Straus in 1953.

In addition to the awards for his Dostoevsky biography, Frank's numerous academic honors include two Guggenheim Fellowships, 1956-57 and 1975-76. He was also elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1969.

Chances said she believes Frank's scholarship will continue to influence generations of students to come. "In Dostoevsky’s novel, 'The Brothers Karamazov,' we read that seeds of good keep getting transmitted from one person to the next, from one generation to the next. Joe's brilliant interpretations, in his books about Dostoevsky, keep being transmitted to readers, scholars and students all over the world."

In addition to his wife, Frank is survived by his daughters, Claudine and Isabelle — members of Princeton's Classes of 1978 and 1980, respectively — and two grandchildren.

A memorial service for Frank will take place in California in the spring.


Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The sentence of death had been read, last rites offered. Fyodor Dostoyevksy, 29, watched as fellow prisoners were tied to a stake, readied to be shot.

Then a messenger burst upon this scene, saying the Tsar had decided to spare their lives (as it turned out, the mock execution had been part of his punishment). When the pardon was announced, two of the prisoners went permanently insane another went on to write Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov &mdashtwo of the greatest novels in Western literature.

The experience was perhaps the most dramatic but not the only crisis of Dostoyevsky's mercurial life. Though a devout Christian, he was never a good one though a brilliant writer, his works remain technically unpolished. And yet, his insights into the human heart&mdashperhaps because his own heart was so troubled&mdashremain some of the most profound in literature.

Brutalized by chance

Dostoyevksy's father, a lecherous and cruel man (he was eventually murdered by his serfs), had marked out for him a career as a military engineer. But Dostoyevsky longed to take up the pen, and after completing his degree in 1843, he resigned his commission to commence his writing career.

His first novel, Poor Folk , won praise from Russian critics, who hailed him as the great new Russian talent. After the mock execution, Dostoyevsky was sent to a Siberian labor camp for four years for his involvement in "revolutionary activities." After his release, he wrote The House of the Dead , based on his brutal camp experiences. The novel initiated the Russian tradition of prison camp literature.

Timeline

Schleiermacher publishes Lectures on Religion

Elizabeth Fry organizes relief in Newgate Prison

Freud publishes first work on psychoanalysis

It was while in prison that Dostoyevsky suffered his first attacks of epilepsy, a condition that plagued him his whole life and that he described in his writings.

In the 1860s, Dostoyevsky edited (with his brother, Mikhail) two influential journals. In these journals, and in his 1864 Notes from the Underground , he increasingly distanced himself from utopian radicals (socialists and communists) who sought to abolish serfdom and corruption in the Tsarist government&mdashin fact, the whole hierarchical nature of society&mdashand usher in a better society.

In spite of his literary success, Dostoyevsky managed to bring his life to ruin. He had become addicted to gambling, and had lost all his own money and all that friends had loaned him. He fervently believed in a will to win: "In game of chance," he once wrote, "if one has perfect control of one's will &hellip one cannot fail to overcome the brutality of chance."

Chance was brutal to Dostoyevsky, and in order to stave off his creditors, he signed an unjust contract with a conniving publisher who sought to exploit Dostoyevsky's situation and lack of discipline: Dostoyevsky was to finish a novel by a certain date, and if he failed, the publisher would retain all the rights to all of Dostoyevsky's published work.

Dostoyevsky characteristically delayed until it seemed too late. Less than a month remained when finally he employed an 18-year old stenographer, Anna Smitkina. After dictating to her day and night for three weeks, he delivered the manuscript, titled The Gambler, to his publisher and was saved. It was the discipline and encouragement of Anna that had made the difference, and Dostoyevsky knew it.

His first marriage (which had ended with his wife's death) had been an emotional seesaw: "We were unhappy together &hellip but we could not cease to love one another," he wrote. "The more unhappy we were, the more we became attached to each other." His subsequent marriage to Anna proved to be a stabilizing force in his life, and only after marrying her did he produce his greatest works.

Troubled Christian

In his later novels, Christian themes emerge more explicitly, though they are never the only ones.

Crime and Punishment (which he was most of the way through when he wrote The Gambler ) is about the commandment, "Thou shalt not kill." With rich psychological insight, Dostoyevsky tells the story of Raskolnikov, who murders a greedy old woman and is brought to ruin by the weight of his conscience.

In The Idiot (1868&ndash69) Dostoyevsky presents a man of Christlike goodness in a world of thorny reality. In The Possessed (1872) he critiqued liberalism's skepticism, mockery of traditional values, and neglect of the family.

The Brothers Karamazov (1879&ndash80) was his last and arguably greatest novel. Theological and philosophical themes emerge as he describes the lives of four brothers. The two most memorable are Alyosha, a Christ figure who desperately wants to put Christian love into practice, and Ivan, who angrily defends agnosticism.

In the chapter "Rebellion," Ivan indicts God the Father for creating a world in which children suffer. In "The Grand Inquisitor," Ivan tells the story of Christ's return to earth during the Spanish Inquisition. The Inquisitor arrests Christ as "the worst of heretics," because, the Inquisitor explains, the church has rejected Christ, trading away its freedom in Christ for "miracle, mystery, and authority."

Dostoyevsky, the Russian Orthodox believer, made room for a most scathing critique of Christianity. Yet at the same time he affirms it in the character of Alyosha, who believes passionately in Christlike love. In answer to the question "What is Hell?" one of the characters replies, "It is the suffering of being unable to love."

This internal war between the believer and the skeptic waged within Dostoyevsky's soul his entire life, both theologically and morally. One of Tolstoy's friends said, "I cannot consider Dostoyevsky either a good or happy man. He was wicked, envious, vicious, and spent the whole of his life in emotions and irritations.&hellip In Switzerland he treated his servant, in my presence, so abominably that the offended servant cried out, 'I too am a human being!'" The writer Turgeniev once called him "the most evil Christian I have ever met in my life."

In addition, his social and political views were often extreme. He believed that western Europe was about to collapse, and that Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church ("Christ lives in the Orthodox Church alone," he once said) would create the kingdom of God on earth.

His faith, however, seemed deeply devout, if somewhat perplexing in its expression: "If someone proved to me that Christ is outside the truth," he wrote, "and that in reality the truth were outside of Christ, then I should prefer to remain with Christ rather than with the truth."

In spite of the paradoxes of his life, genius shines through his work, and no other novelist has ever presented characters with such depth and ideas so vital.


A Light in the Dark

However, his view of suffering was not pessimistic. In his writings, the darkness was always lighted, however indistinctly, by the sufferings of Christ. The most degenerate person still retains a spark of God's image and must be loved as our neighbor. In the The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky alluded to the good and evil in every human being writing, "The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man.”

He also believed in God's Providence. Once, when a friend remarked that his Siberian punishment had been unjust, Dostoyevsky disagreed, pointing out that God had sent him to Siberia to teach him important lessons. Dostoyevsky's best known novels--The Idiot, Memoirs from Underground, Crime and Punishment, and The Brothers Karamazov--explore man's sinful soul and show that suffering has a purifying effect upon an individual.

Dostoyevsky, an epileptic, struggled all his life with powerful compulsions, such as gambling. Although he saw Christ as embodying freedom for men (a freedom that the Grand Inquisitor he invented in The Brothers Karamazov considers cruel, because most people can't bear it), Dostoyevsky never seemed to understand how to experience that freedom himself.

He died in 1881. The epitaph on his grave is from John l2:24: "Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone but if it dies, it bears much fruit."


Fyodor Dostoyevsky > Quotes

&ldquoI am a dreamer. I know so little of real life that I just can't help re-living such moments as these in my dreams, for such moments are something I have very rarely experienced. I am going to dream about you the whole night, the whole week, the whole year. I feel I know you so well that I couldn't have known you better if we'd been friends for twenty years. You won't fail me, will you? Only two minutes, and you've made me happy forever. Yes, happy. Who knows, perhaps you've reconciled me with myself, resolved all my doubts.

When I woke up it seemed to me that some snatch of a tune I had known for a long time, I had heard somewhere before but had forgotten, a melody of great sweetness, was coming back to me now. It seemed to me that it had been trying to emerge from my soul all my life, and only now-

If and when you fall in love, may you be happy with her. I don't need to wish her anything, for she'll be happy with you. May your sky always be clear, may your dear smile always be bright and happy, and may you be for ever blessed for that moment of bliss and happiness which you gave to another lonely and grateful heart. Isn't such a moment sufficient for the whole of one's life?&rdquo
― Fyodor Dostoevsky, White Nights


A Review of Amazon Prime’s Series Dostoevsky

Walter G. Moss is a professor emeritus of history at Eastern Michigan University and a Contributing Editor of HNN. He is the author of Russia in the Age of Alexander II, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and A History of Russia. 2d ed. 2 vols. He has also authored an essay on the indebtedness of religious thinkers Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton to Dostoevsky and other Russian writers in Beyond the Soul and Barbed Wire: The Continuing Legacy of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Russian Voices in American Culture, David P. Deavel and Jessica Hooten Wilson, eds., forthcoming from Notre Dame Press in 2020. For a list of his other books and online publications click here.

The great Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky has influenced many writers like William Faulkner, as well as other individuals from around the world. Americans unfamiliar with his life, and perhaps even with some of his greatest works like Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov can now get to know him via Amazon Prime&rsquos 8-part subtitled series Dostoevsky, directed by the Russian Vladimir Khotinenko.

The series first appeared in 2011 (in 7 parts) on Rossiia 1 television channel, and a Western expert on Russian literature and film, Peter Rollberg, then wrote, &ldquoIn scope and quality, Khotinenko&rsquos 7-part biopic can be compared to the best HBO and Showtime history dramas, such as John Adams (2008) and The Tudors (2007-2010).&rdquo

Indeed the series has much to recommend it-good acting (especially by Evgenii Mironov as Dostoevsky), picturesque scenery (e.g., in St. Petersburg and foreign sites such as Baden Baden), and a fascinating story that, despite taking some artistic liberties, depicts well the tumultuous and eventful life of one of Russia&rsquos greatest writers. Each episode begins with Dostoevsky sitting for the famous portrait of him painted by V. Perov in 1872.

As we watch the almost eight hours of the series, we witness some of the main events of his adult life beginning with his traumatic experience on a December morning in 1849 when he and other prisoners stood on a St. Petersburg square, heard their death sentences read out, and excepted to be shot by a firing squad. In his late twenties by then, Dostoevsky had already gained some fame as a writer, but became involved with dissidents whom the reactionary government of Tsar Nicholas I considered treasonous. Only at the last minute, did a representative of the tsar bring word that Nicholas I was going to spare the lives of the condemned, and Dostoevsky spent the next four years in a Siberian prison camp in Omsk, which he later described in his novel "The House of the Dead."

The first episode of the series is set mainly in this camp, and the gloomy existence of the prisoners may be off-putting to some viewers. But the experience was important to Dostoevsky. Himself the son of a serf-owning Moscow doctor, he was forced to mix with less educated common criminals, but came to appreciate their Russian Orthodoxy, their religion of Christ, of sin and suffering, of resurrection and redemption. He came to regret his earlier rebellious ideas, influenced by Western European utopian thinkers. His prison experiences convinced him that the only path for Russian intellectuals to follow was one that united them with the common people and their religious beliefs.

Through a variety of techniques, usually by having Dostoevsky state his convictions or argue with someone like the writer Turgenev, the series conveys his post-prison populism and Russian nationalism. In one scene in Episode 3, a young man at a dinner table tells Dostoevsky that he left St. Petersburg for prison camp &ldquoa dissenter and socialist, and you returned a defender of The Throne and Orthodoxy.&rdquo Toward the beginning of Episode 6, Dostoevsky tells the painter Perov, &ldquoThe ones seeking freedom without God will lose their souls . . . . Only the simple-hearted Russian nation . . . is on the right way to God.&rdquo

But the series is more concerned with depicting his personality and love life, which begins to manifest itself during Episode 2, set mainly in the Central Asian-Siberian border town of Semipalatinsk (present-day Seney). Dostoevsky served in the army there for five years (1854-1859) before finally being allowed to return to European Russia. But his service allowed him sufficient time for writing and mixing with some of the town&rsquos people, including Maria Isaeva, a somewhat sickly, high-strung, strong-willed woman in her late twenties.

Episodes 2 and 3 depict the writer&rsquos stormy relations with her in Siberia and then in their early days in St. Petersburg. After she leaves Semipalatinsk to accompany her husband, who takes a new job in the distant town of Kuznetsk (today Novokuznetsk), he soon after dies. Dostoevsky makes a secret and unlawful trip to this Siberian city, but has to contend with a younger rival, a schoolteacher, for Maria&rsquos affection. Finally, after much agonizing by both Maria and Dostoevsky and another trip to Kuznetsk, the two marry there in February 1857.

While in Semipalatinsk, Dostoevsky makes a written appeal to his brother, Mikhail, and to an aunt for money. The writer&rsquos financial difficulties, later exacerbated by gambling loses, will remain a consistent theme for most of the rest of the series.

After finally being allowed to settle in St. Petersburg in late 1859, Dostoevsky renews acquaintance with Stepan Yanovskiy, a doctor friend, and is introduced to his wife, the actress Alexandra Schubert. She and Dostoevsky soon become romantically involved, while Maria shows increasing signs of having consumption (tuberculosis)-she died of it in 1864. His main health problem was epilepsy, and occasionally, as at the end of Episode 3, we see him having a seizure.

In Episode 4, we are introduced to a young woman, Appolinaria Suslova, who for several years became Dostoevsky&rsquos chief passion. Young enough to be his daughter, she reflected some of the youthful radicalism of the Russian 1860s. An aspiring writer herself, she was fascinated by the older author, and eventually had sexual relations with him. But their relations were stormy, often mutually tormenting, and while traveling in Western Europe together, she sometimes denied him any intimacy. A fictionalized portrait of her can be found in the character of Polina in Dostoevsky&rsquos The Gambler (1866).

In Episodes 4 through 8, we see sometimes see Dostoevsky at the roulette tables from 1863 to 1871 in such places as Weisbaden, Baden Baden, and Saxon les Bains, usually loosing, and from 1867 to 1871 most often travelling with his second wife, Anna (nee Snitkina), whom he first meet when she came to him to work as a stenographer in 1866 to help him complete The Gambler and Crime and Punishment.

But Anna does not appear until Episode 6, and only after Dostoevsky&rsquos infatuation with two very young sisters, Anya and Sofia (Sonya) Korvin-Krukovskaya, who later became a famous mathematician. Nevertheless, once Anna appears she remains prominent for the remainder of the series, first as his stenographer, then as his wife and the mother of his children. In Episode 7, they travel to Western Europe, where they remain in places like Baden Baden and Geneva until 1871, when they return to Russia. Throughout their marriage, Anna remains the level-headed, common-sense wife who tolerates and loves her much older mercurial husband. But the couple had their up-and-down moments, including the death of two children. The first to die, Sofia (Sonya) does so in May 1868, at the end of Episode 7.

Thus, to deal with the rest of Dostoevsky&rsquos life-he died in January 1881-the Russian filmmakers left themselves only one episode, number 8. And much happened in that dozen years, including the couple&rsquos return to Russia the birth of more children ( two boys and a girl, but the youngest, Alyosha, died in 1878) trips to Bad Ems for emphysema treatments, and major writings (the novels The Idiot, The Possessed, The Adolescent, and The Brothers Karamazov and his collection of fictional and non-fictional writings in A Writer&rsquos Diary).There are brief mentions and/or allusions to these writings, but not much.

Dostoevsky often encounters people whose last name is ungiven. In Episode 8, for example, he visits the dying poet and editor Nikolai Nekrasov, but only those already familiar with Dostoevsky&rsquos biography might realize who he is. The final scene in that last episode shows Dostoevsky and a young bearded man whom he addresses as Vladimir Sergeevich sitting on hay behind a horse and carriage driver on their way to the famous Optina Monastery.

The not-further-identified young man, although only in his mid-twenties, was in fact the already well-known philosopher Vladimir Soloviev, son of Sergei Soloviev, who by his death in 1879 completed 29 volumes of his History of Russia from the Earliest Times. Dostoevsky had read some of his history and earlier that year had attended Vladimir&rsquos "Lectures on Godmanhood." At one of these talks attended by Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy was present, but the two famous writers never met each other. During the remaining 22 years of his life, Soloviev went on to develop many philosophic and theological ideas and to influence later religious thinkers including Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.

At Optina, Dostoevsky sought consolation from the death of his son Alyosha by talking to the monk Ambrose, who became the model for Father Zossima in his The Brothers Karamazov. And the brothers Alyosha and Ivan Karamozov, in different ways, reflect the influence of the young Soloviev.

Of the novel itself, one of Dostoevsky&rsquos most influential, little is said in the series except when in the final episode, Dostoevsky tells a police official that he plans to write a work about a hero who goes through many phases and struggles with the question of the &ldquoexistence of God.&rdquo The Brothers Karamazov deals with that question-but also, of course, with much more. And Dostoevsky did not live long enough to complete The Life of a Great Sinner, a work he had long contemplated but only managed to include portions of in some of his great novels.

Despite the many positive aspects of the 8-part series, it only hints at Dostoevsky&rsquos relevance for our times. Just a few examples are his significance for understanding 1) Vladimir Putin and his appeal to Russians, 2) terrorism, and 3) whether or not to accept the existence of God and the implications of faith vs. agnosticism.

Regarding his influence on Putin, an excellent article by Russian-expert Paul Robinson thoroughly examines the question. He begins his essay by writing, &ldquoI&rsquove spent the last week ploughing through the 1,400 pages of Fyodor Dostoevsky&rsquos Writer&rsquos Diary. . . . The experience has left me pretty well acquainted with the writer&rsquos views on the Russian People (with a capital &lsquoP&rsquo), Europe, the Eastern Question, and Russia&rsquos universal mission. I&rsquove also just finished writing an academic article which discusses, among other things, references to Dostoevsky in Vladimir Putin&rsquos speeches.&rdquo

In novels such as Notes from the Underground, Crime and Punishment, and The Possessed, Dostoevsky reflected on and provided insight into the thinking of many a terrorist. As one essay on his insight into terrorism indicates, Theodore Kaczynsk, the Unabomber, &ldquowas an avid reader of Dostoevsky.&rdquo Freud wrote on the great Russian writer and appreciated some of his insights into what is sometimes referred to as &ldquoabnormal psychology.&rdquo Some even claim that Dostoevsky &ldquoought to be regarded as the founder of modern psychology.&rdquo

Regarding the existence of God, it is The Brothers Karamazov that is most often cited, especially its chapters on &ldquoRebellion&rdquo and &ldquoThe Grand Inquisitor,&rdquo where the brothers Ivan and Alyosha discuss whether to accept or reject God. Ivan rejects because he cannot accept any God that would allow innocent suffering, especially that of little children. In the agnostic Camus&rsquos The Rebel he devotes his chapter &ldquoThe Rejection of Salvation&rdquo to Ivan&rsquos stance.

In summary, this reviewer&rsquos advice: enjoy Amazon&rsquos Dostoevsky but then go on to read more by and about him. You can even download his great novels and many of his other works at the Project-Gutenberg-Dostoevsky site.


Why do some Russians hate Dostoevsky?

&ldquoI&rsquove re-read all of Dostoevsky over the past three months. And I feel nothing but almost physical hatred for the man,&rdquo the Russian politician Anatoly Chubais said during an interview with the Financial Times in 2004. Chubais, a famous liberal, would love to &ldquotear Dostoevsky to pieces&rdquo for &ldquohis idea of Russians as special, holy people, his cult of suffering and the false choices he presents.&rdquo

Konstantin Kokoshkin/Global Look Press

Chubais doesn&rsquot speak for all Russians, of course, but he is not the only person who regards Dostoevsky as toxic and dangerous. But what is it about the great writer that makes him so controversial?

Poor style

Ernest Hemingway respected Dostoevsky but found his style hard to deal with.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

Dostoevsky&rsquos critics point to two main arguments. The first touches on his alleged lack of style. &ldquo&rsquoPoorly written&rsquo is the main claim Dostoevsky himself hears about his books,&rdquo journalist Sergei Lebedev wrote on TheQuestion (Russia&rsquos Quora). &ldquoTolstoy thought so, emphasizing that some of Dostoevsky&rsquos novels are weak and &lsquonot perfect in terms of technique.&rsquo&rdquo

Compared to Tolstoy&rsquos rich and flamboyant prose, some of Dostoevsky&rsquos works really do look weak stylistically. Sometimes his novels even contained sloppy mistakes. For instance, in Crime and Punishment he once mentioned &ldquoa round table of oval shape.&rdquo

This happened in part because Dostoevsky had money problems and was forced to write his works quickly to make ends meet and stave off creditors. He complained ironically about this: &ldquoIf I was paid as much as [Ivan] Turgenev [another great author from that period], I would certainly write just as good!&rdquo

Of course, technique is not what draws most people to Dostoevsky, but rather his deep psychological insights and talent for depicting the deepest and darkest corners of the human soul. Ernest Hemingway, who championed a kind of terse and laconic prose that was the absolute opposite of Dostoevsky&rsquos, mentioned this in A Moveable Feast: &ldquoHow can a man [Dostoevsky] write so badly, so unbelievably badly , and make you feel so deeply?&rdquo

Universe of lunatics

A scene from the Soviet ecranisation of Crime and Punishment (1969): Raskolnikov near the dead body of a woman he killed.

The second argument used by Dostoevsky&rsquos critics deals with the actual content of his works. Dostoevsky&rsquos heroes often are deeply sinful people, eaten up by passions and suffering terribly over this. In Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov murders a pawnbroker just to prove a point. In The Idiot, Rogozhin weights whether to love Prince Myshkin like a brother or to kill him. In The Possessed, Stavrogin molests a child (and so does Svidrigailov in Crime and Punishment) .

Taking into consideration Dostoevsky&rsquos popularity, many feared that his novels provided a perverted depiction of Russians. Maxim Gorky, a famous writer of the 20 th century, wrote: &ldquoDostoevsky surely is a genius but an evil one. He felt, understood and portrayed with pleasure two sicknesses of a Russian man nurtured by our ugly history&hellipthe sadistic violence of a nihilist who&rsquos lost faith in everything and the masochism of a downtrodden creature&hellipbut this is not everything that we have, there is something more than beasts and thieves inside us! And Dostoevsky saw only them.&rdquo

As a socialist writer, Gorky had his reasons for disliking Dostoevsky, an Orthodox monarchist, but other authors with views completely opposite to Gorky&rsquos have expressed similar thoughts. Vladimir Nabokov, who emigrated from Russia right after the 1917 revolution, said in his lectures that Dostoevsky&rsquos &ldquogallery of characters consists almost exclusively of neurotics and lunatics.&rdquo

&ldquoI do not like this trick his characters have of &lsquosinning their way to Jesus&rsquo or, as the Russian author Ivan Bunin put it more bluntly, &lsquospilling Jesus all over the place, &rdquo&rdquo Nabokov wrote. Sometimes he even called Dostoevsky &ldquoa third-rate writer whose fame is incomprehensible.&rdquo

Ultra-conservative monarchist

Vladimir Nabokov harshly criticized Dostoevsky.

Fred Stein/Global Look Press

Nabokov did not mince words in criticizing Dostoevsky and also listed among his sins creating &ldquothe ultimate formula of egoism-Antichrist-Europe on one side and brotherhood-Christ-Russia on the other,&rdquo thus dividing Russia from the West and presenting it as a God-loving holy nation whose purpose is to save the world with Orthodox Christianity.

In Dostoevsky&rsquos works, Russia is a conservative milestone protecting the world from moral decay. There was no love lost between Dostoevsky and pro-Westerners or liberals of his time. &ldquoOur Russian liberal is a flunkey before everything, and is only looking for someone whose boots he can clean,&rdquo he wrote in The Possessed. Unsurprisingly, to this day many pro-Western liberal Russians (like Chubais) dislike Dostoevsky.

Genius remains genius

Dostoevsky's monument nearby the Russian State Library in Moscow.

Nevertheless, all the weaknesses in Dostoevsky&rsquos work do not outweigh the merits, and so the author remains beloved by millions of readers, even if they don&rsquot share all his beliefs. Many famous international authors are fans as well. For example, the American author Jonathan Franzen said he &ldquowent to school on Dostoevsky.&rdquo The Turkish Nobel-prize-winner Orhan Pamuk is sure that &ldquoDostoevsky is an author with whom I tend to identify. I have learned a lot from him.&rdquo

Perhaps the best recommendation Dostoevsky was given came from another great Russian novelist: Leo Tolstoy himself. They never met each other and had vastly different views, but when Dostoevsky died Tolstoy wrote in his diary: &ldquoNow I lost some kind of a moral pillar&hellipI got confused and then understood how dear Dostoevsky was to me and cried, and I&rsquom crying right now.&rdquo

Dostoevsky's worlds were dark and grim - and not everyone in Russia liked it.

You know who was even a harsher, more badass author than Dostoevsky? Tolstoy. Just read how he fought against all the powers-that-be he ever knew.

If using any of Russia Beyond's content, partly or in full, always provide an active hyperlink to the original material.


Dostoevsky and His Demons

How should one narrate the life of a great writer? Joseph Frank&rsquos five-volume biography of Dostoevsky, now supplemented by his Lectures on Dostoevsky, revivified the form by situating the novelist within the ideological struggles of his day. The many fascinating primary sources about Dostoevsky&rsquos life inspired Thomas Marullo to experiment with a new kind of biography in his brilliant Fyodor Dostoevsky: A Life in Letters, Memoirs, and Criticism. (A third volume is still to come.) The novelist Alex Christofi was similarly inspired, and while his innovative biography, Dostoevsky in Love, occasionally intrigues, it ultimately offers little that&rsquos new. All three recognize the difficulty of distinguishing Dostoevsky&rsquos actual life from the legends about him.

The special importance Russians have traditionally assigned to literature has conferred on writers a mythic aura. Not surprisingly, the real and imagined lives of Pushkin, Griboedov, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Mandelstam, and others have prompted novelistic treatment by significant writers, from Yuri Tynyanov to J.M. Coetzee. As the Russian Formalist theoretician Boris Tomashevsky observed, widely shared legends shape readers&rsquo experience and so become &ldquoliterary facts&rdquo in themselves. Tomashevsky argued that scholars should therefore examine &ldquohow the poet&rsquos biography operates in the reader&rsquos consciousness.&rdquo Authors, eager to excite interest, &ldquocreate for themselves an artificial legendary biography composed of intentionally selected real and imaginary events,&rdquo a process especially important during the Romantic period.

The romantic poet was his own hero. His life was poetry&hellip. The readers cried: &ldquoAuthor! Author!&rdquo&mdashbut they were actually calling for the slender youth in a cloak, with a lyre in his hands and an enigmatic expression on his face.

In Russia this approach to writers&rsquo lives continued long after Romanticism and, indeed, has never ceased. As poets and novelists became the national conscience, or what Solzhenitsyn called a &ldquosecond government,&rdquo tradition required them not only to create great works but also to live appropriately high-minded lives. When the novelist Mikhail Sholokhov joined in the condemnation of dissident writers Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel, and regretted that they had only been imprisoned rather than summarily executed, the editor and author Alexander Tvardovsky wrote in his diary that &ldquoSholokhov is now a former writer.&rdquo

Few writers&rsquo biographies have excited more interest than Dostoevsky&rsquos, as the volumes under review suggest. Several incidents in his life seem like excerpts from his most fantastic tales. Most famous is the story of how, after being imprisoned from April to December 1849 for illegal political activity, Dostoevsky was condemned to death, led out with other prisoners to be shot, and offered last rites. The entire scene had been staged in advance&mdashcoffins had been strewn about to make everything look more terrifying&mdashas part of the punishment. At the last possible moment, with the guns trained on the first group of condemned radicals, and Dostoevsky in the next group, the execution was called off. One of the prisoners went mad and never recovered his sanity another wrote Crime and Punishment.

Dostoevsky, whose sentence was reduced to time in a Siberian prison camp followed by army service, made the most of this near escape. Prince Myshkin, the hero of The Idiot, three times imagines the thoughts of a man being led to execution. Time accelerates exponentially as the mind tries to cram decades into a few final minutes looking at the crowd, the prisoner feels an infinite loneliness realizing that &ldquonot one of them is being executed, but I am to be executed&rdquo his attempts to distract himself fail as everything becomes a symbol of what he wants to forget. &ldquoPerhaps there is some man who has been sentenced to death, exposed to this torture, and has then been told &lsquoyou can go!, you are pardoned,&rsquo&rdquo Myshkin wonders. &ldquoPerhaps such a man could tell us&rdquo what the experience is like. As every reader knew, and as Dostoevsky counted on their knowing, there was such a man, and he was telling us.

The Idiot also dramatizes another well-known fact: Dostoevsky&rsquos epilepsy. In one thrilling passage, Myshkin, just before an epileptic seizure, remembers in detail what the experience is like. Remarkably enough, it resembles the moments before execution: time accelerates to infinity until he understands &ldquothe extraordinary saying [in the Book of Revelation] that &lsquothere shall be time no longer.&rsquo&rdquo Epilepsy differs from execution because it replaces the unfathomable horror of the condemned prisoner with an equally unimaginable bliss, which affords a mystical understanding of the very essence of existence. Just before he loses consciousness, Myshkin has time to say to himself, &ldquoYes, for this one moment one might give one&rsquos whole life!&rdquo Readers might presume that such experiences enabled insights no other writer could attain.

Almost as famous was Dostoevsky&rsquos addiction to gambling. Picture the scene: in 1867 he has hurried abroad with his bride to escape debtor&rsquos prison. They pawn their clothing but do not raise enough to pay their hotel bill or buy food. At last Dostoevsky receives an advance from his publisher but cannot resist the roulette table, where he loses it all. His novella The Gambler describes this addiction, which, like execution and epilepsy, offers the vertiginous thrill of a maximally intense moment&mdashin this case, because the next instant can make one either a millionaire or a beggar. When the novella&rsquos hero wins, he wastes the money, because what matters to him is the thrill.

After Dostoevsky&rsquos death, more legends accumulated. Best known is the one included in Freud&rsquos &ldquoDostoevsky and Parricide&rdquo and elaborated by later biographers and critics. Relying on a document mentioning an unspecified tragic incident in Dostoevsky&rsquos life, Freud presumed that it must have been punishment by a tyrannical father for masturbation and the consequent onset of a nervous disease. When serfs murdered Dostoevsky&rsquos father&mdashas Dostoevsky&rsquos daughter Lyubov reported&mdashDostoevsky, who in Freud&rsquos view must have desired his father&rsquos death, experienced intense guilt. The quasi death of epilepsy ensued as a self-inflicted punishment, and so the disease was not organic but &ldquohysterical&rdquo in origin. Freud speculated that when Dostoevsky was actually punished in Siberia, the substitute punishment of epilepsy must have temporarily ceased.

As Frank and Marullo demonstrate, everything about this widely accepted story is wrong. To begin with, the comment on which Freud based his analysis referred not to an event in early childhood, as he supposed, but to the death of Dostoevsky&rsquos father when Dostoevsky was seventeen. Since the author&rsquos own son Aleksey died of an epileptic seizure at the age of three, it seems likely that the father&rsquos epilepsy was inherited, and so organic rather than hysterical. Of course, as Frank observes, this argument would not have impressed Freud, who, as an unreconstructed Lamarckian, believed in the heritability of acquired characteristics.

Did Dostoevsky&rsquos epilepsy begin when he learned of his father&rsquos murder? Did it cease in Siberia? As Marullo notes, when his father died in 1839, Dostoevsky was studying at the academy of military engineering, and

a seizure would not have passed unnoticed by the hundred or so schoolmates with whom Dostoevsky lived on close terms&hellip. If Dostoevsky had had such an attack, he would have been dismissed immediately by the administrators of the institution.

Far from ceasing in Siberia, Dostoevsky&rsquos epilepsy began there. By then, he was worrying about the cause of his various nervous ailments, including attacks that weakened his memory and produced the sensation that he was dying, and he wanted to return to Russia &ldquoto see qualified doctors so as to know what my illness is.&rdquo He wondered whether it might be the forerunner of epilepsy. If he still did not know he had epilepsy at this time, he could hardly have experienced his first seizure years before, as Freud had argued.

Believe it or not, Dostoevsky&rsquos first seizure occurred on his honeymoon in 1857, while he was still confined to Siberia. His first wife, Maria Dmitrievna Isaeva, who knew nothing of his previous ailments, suddenly heard his unearthly shriek and witnessed his convulsive movements, fainting, foaming at the mouth, and uncontrolled urination. Christofi skillfully evokes this scene, from which the marriage never recovered. He aptly quotes Dostoevsky&rsquos letter to his brother Mikhail about the event: &ldquoIt scared my wife to death and filled me with sadness and depression. I begged [the doctor] to tell me the whole truth, on his honor. He advised me to beware of the new moon.&rdquo

&ldquoDostoevsky now learned, for the first time, the true nature of his malady,&rdquo Frank explains in his biography. Dostoevsky explained to Mikhail that

the doctor (well-informed and serious) told me, contrary to everything said previously by doctors, that I had genuine epilepsy, and that I could expect, in one of these seizures, to suffocate because of throat spasms.

He still hoped that the diagnosis was mistaken:

In marrying I completely trusted the doctors who told me that [my symptoms] were only nervous seizures which would pass with a change in the circumstances of my life. If I had known as a fact that I had genuine epilepsy, I would not have married.

The first unmistakable attack, then, occurred precisely where, according to Freud, no attack should have happened. What&rsquos more, it has become abundantly clear that Dostoevsky&rsquos father, Dr. Mikhail Dostoevsky, was not murdered. Frank&rsquos biography conveys the drama of discovering this fact. The text of his first volume accepts the murder as established, but a footnote reverses this judgment: &ldquoAs the present volume goes to press,&rdquo Frank reports, &ldquosome important new material has come to light that casts considerable doubt on whether the death of Dr. Dostoevsky was a murder at all.&rdquo In asserting that the death was murder, Dostoevsky&rsquos daughter Lyubov had relied on thirdhand information. What&rsquos more, her biography of her father is notoriously unreliable and makes readily identifiable errors.

The murder story took on a life of its own. Not only did it fit Freud&rsquos theory perfectly, it also included all sorts of lurid details. (In one version, the peasants crushed the doctor&rsquos genitals.) But the truth is almost as interesting. Two doctors independently ascertained that Dr. Dostoevsky, who had recently suffered a stroke, died suddenly from another one. Proponents of the murder theory assert that the peasants must have bribed the doctors, but where they could have secured sufficient funds for a bribe has never been explained.

For obvious reasons, the tsarist regime took the charge of serfs&rsquo killing their owners quite seriously, and when the rumor of murder reached them, authorities sent an investigating commission, which eventually exonerated the peasants. The rumor, the commission established, had been deliberately spread by one of Dr. Dostoevsky&rsquos neighbors for financial reasons. If the charge were accepted, the peasants would have been exiled to Siberia, which would have meant that Dr. Dostoevsky&rsquos land could be purchased for considerably less. Today, little doubt remains that this account is correct.

Marullo&rsquos two new volumes supplement and question Frank&rsquos conclusions on this and other matters. Perfecting a technique he first used in his three-volume study of the novelist Ivan Bunin, Marullo weaves a narrative by bringing together diverse illuminating documents&mdashby Dostoevsky, his relatives, his friends, his first biographer, critics commenting on his work, other writers who knew him, Nicholas I, and the commission investigating Dr. Dostoevsky&rsquos death. Letters written while events were unfolding appear side by side with memoirs, some thoughtful and others mendacious, written decades later. Marullo includes &ldquoanything and everything they have said about Dostoevsky&mdashthe truths and lies the good, bad, and ugly even the laughable and ludicrous.&rdquo Assembling the thrilling facts and legends about Dostoevsky, Marullo has invented a new genre of biography, &ldquoa portrait of the writer in a new and seminal way.&rdquo Readers can not only form their own opinions about disputed events, but also trace the origins of various legends. The documents reflect a haze of rumors, plausible mistakes, shrewd guesses, and vindictive falsities that shaped Dostoevsky&rsquos reputation while he lived and the conclusions drawn by biographers and critics ever since.

In his introductions and extensive notes, Marullo corrects misstatements and argues with other scholars, including Frank. While Frank correctly contested most of the Freudian myth, Marullo argues, he still presumed that Dr. Dostoevsky was a tyrant and sadist guilty of &ldquomistreating the peasants abominably.&rdquo As a result, Frank concluded that even if Dr. Dostoevsky had not been murdered, and even if his children never believed he had been, Dostoevsky may still have experienced intense guilt for his father&rsquos cruelty to serfs. Such a reaction would explain why Dostoevsky became obsessed with the evils of serfdom and joined a revolutionary organization, a decision that led to his imprisonment.

Against this view, Marullo marshals evidence&mdashimpressive, if not conclusive&mdashthat Dr. Dostoevsky was an &ldquoexemplary&rdquo father, that he treated the peasants well, and that there is no reason to suppose Dostoevsky felt any guilt for his father&rsquos death. Future biographers will need to weigh Frank&rsquos and Marullo&rsquos competing arguments in light of whatever evidence is available to them.

Marullo also adds to Frank&rsquos account of events leading to the moment Dostoevsky described as his happiest. After graduating from the school of military engineering&mdashwhere, according to a friend, &ldquothere was no student less capable of military bearing than F.M. Dostoevsky&rdquo&mdashhe briefly worked for the drafting department of the St. Petersburg Engineering Corps. Dreaming of becoming a writer who would solve the mysteries of the soul, Dostoevsky worked inattentively and once submitted a design for a fortress that had no gates. When Tsar Nicholas I happened to see the drawing, he asked, &ldquoWhat idiot drew this?&rdquo The future author of The Idiot was allowed to resign.

Dostoevsky roomed with a friend from the engineering academy, the writer Dmitri Grigorovich, who had developed good connections with literary Petersburg. One night when Dostoevsky was out, Grigorovich borrowed the manuscript of Dostoevsky&rsquos first novel, Poor Folk, to show to the poet Nikolay Nekrasov. &ldquoWe&rsquoll be able to tell from the first ten pages&rdquo whether it is any good, they agreed, and before they knew it, they had finished the whole work. &ldquoThey both decided to see me at once,&rdquo Dostoevsky recalled. &ldquo&lsquoWho cares if he&rsquos asleep,&rsquo they said, &lsquothis is more important than sleep!&rsquo&rdquo Having just returned home when they arrived at 4 AM , Dostoevsky was overwhelmed as the two friends, &ldquospeaking hastily and with exclamations,&rdquo told him of their decision to share the manuscript with the most influential critic of the day, Vissarion Belinsky. &ldquoA new Gogol has appeared!&rdquo Nekrasov told Belinsky, who replied, &ldquoYou find Gogols springing up like mushrooms.&rdquo

When Nekrasov dropped in on Belinsky the following evening, he had already read Poor Folk and demanded to meet Dostoevsky, who was sure the severe critic would tear his novel apart. But Belinsky could not have been more enthusiastic. &ldquoDo you, your very self, realize what it is you have written?&rdquo he kept repeating. &ldquoHave you yourself comprehended all the terrible truth you have shown to us?&rdquo To explain his lack of enthusiasm over some of Dostoevsky&rsquos subsequent works, critics have wrongly argued that Belinsky, whom the Soviets regarded as a forerunner of socialist-realist aesthetics, misread Poor Folk as social criticism rather than psychology. But what Belinsky grasped is that Dostoevsky revealed how economic deprivation is only the beginning of poverty&rsquos ills. Still worse is the psychological harm of losing one&rsquos self-respect. Belinsky especially praised the passages in which, he told Dostoevsky, &ldquothis wretched clerk of yours&hellipfrom humility&hellipdoes not even dare to acknowledge his own wretchedness&hellipor claim even the right to his own unhappiness.&rdquo

&ldquoCherish your gift, remain faithful to it, and be a great writer!&rdquo Belinsky advised. This was the moment Dostoevsky deemed his happiest. But it did not last. The extraordinary success of Poor Folk, Marullo explains, &ldquoso inflated the writer&rsquos being that he lost contact&hellipwith reality,&rdquo a judgment with which Dostoevsky, when recalling this period of his life, largely concurred. &ldquoFor two years&hellipI was sick with a strange disease, a moral one,&rdquo he explained. &ldquoI fell into hypochondria. There was even a time when I lost my reason. I was extremely irritable, impressionable&hellipand capable of distorting the most ordinary facts.&rdquo

Other writers and critics responded to Dostoevsky&rsquos newfound self-importance with shocking cruelty. Turgenev, who became Dostoevsky&rsquos lifelong enemy, deliberately provoked the irritable young man into saying absurdities and then circulated them. &ldquoWell, you are one to talk!&rdquo Belinsky rebuked Turgenev. &ldquoYou pick on a sick individual, you egg him on as if you yourself do not see that he is irritated and does not understand what he is saying.&rdquo Turgenev, Nekrasov, and the critic Ivan Panaev concocted the story that Dostoevsky demanded that a literary anthology place Poor Folk at the end, the most striking position, and surround it with a border indicating its superior status. Their satiric poem &ldquoA Greeting from Belinsky to Dostoevsky&rdquo called the young author &ldquoa new pimple on literature&rsquos nose&rdquo and ended with &ldquoBelinsky&rdquo enthusing, &ldquoI will surround you with a border/And put you at the end.&rdquo Marullo includes a translation of the poem and commentaries on Poor Folk. He also provides generous extracts from Nekrasov&rsquos satire The Stone Heart (also called How Great I Am!), which makes fun of both Belinsky and Dostoevsky.

In his classic biography of Alexander Pope, Maynard Mack assumed the task of presenting the irascible poet in the best possible light. &ldquoIf the results of the effort in my case are dismissed as special pleading, so be it,&rdquo he wrote. &ldquoThere are few poets who cannot use an advocate.&rdquo Scholars, however, are not defense attorneys they owe their primary allegiance not to the poet but to the truth. Remarkably, neither Frank nor Marullo whitewashes Dostoevsky&rsquos unattractive sides. For those dealing with the last years of Dostoevsky&rsquos life, a crucial test of a biographer&rsquos intellectual honesty is the terrible anti-Semitism that then possessed him. *

On this issue, Christofi, like many others, falls short. He minimizes Dostoevsky&rsquos anti-Semitic outbursts as &ldquoof their time. Like his beloved Dickens, he was&helliptoo ready to found his edifices on stereotypes&hellip. We must remember that, for many years, anti-Semitism was official policy in Russia.&rdquo These comments paint a wholly false picture. Dostoevsky&rsquos diatribes against the Jews were extreme even for his day, and even by Russian standards, which is saying a lot. &ldquoWhat if it weren&rsquot the Jews who numbered three million in Russia but the Russians and what if there were eighty million Jews?&rdquo Dostoevsky asked.

Would they [the Jews] not turn them [the Russians] directly into slaves? Even worse&hellipwould they not massacre them altogether, exterminate them completely, as they did more than once with alien peoples in times of old?

No wonder Nazis and genocidal Russian nationalists made use of these comments.

Dostoevsky had once argued for Jewish rights, and always called for compassion for sufferers, so these comments have startled his admirers. Most studies ignore them and the work in which they occur, his one-person periodical, A Writer&rsquos Diary, which he published monthly in 1876 and 1877. As if he were ideologically possessed, like the fanatics in his novel The Demons, he came to believe for about eighteen months that he had discovered the key to history, which enabled him to predict, with no hesitation, that the apocalypse would occur within months. Apocalyptic mythology often presents the Antichrist as a Jew who will lead his adherents in a final battle with true Christians, and these ideas seem to have fueled Dostoevsky&rsquos anti-Semitism. When history failed to end, Dostoevsky suspended A Writer&rsquos Diary. His last novel, The Brothers Karamazov, represents an attempt to rethink the ideas leading to such colossal errors.

Christofi, a novelist, presents his unconventional narrative of Dostoevsky&rsquos life as accurate. Yet he takes extraordinary liberties. The book consists of three types of statements. Direct quotations from the sources are footnoted and presented accurately. Narrative exposition relies on &ldquotrusted scholars&rdquo but does not indicate the sources for particular facts. It is the third type of material, presented in italics, that involves &ldquoartistic license.&rdquo Christofi includes passages from Dostoevsky&rsquos writings as if they were direct comments on incidents in his own life. The tortured ruminations of his characters become the author&rsquos thoughts about himself.

&ldquoWhen authors conceive fiction,&rdquo Christofi explains, &ldquothey often shear memories off from their context to use them as the building blocks of their new world. It is a kind of willful source amnesia.&rdquo Christofi reverses this process so that he can &ldquore-attribute many of the memories and sense impressions that litter his fiction&rdquo and apply them once again to Dostoevsky. But not all processes are reversible. An egg breaks, but the shards and liquid cannot be reassembled into an egg. And even if passages from novels reflect some real experience, why must they pertain to the author rather than to other people he knew? For that matter, why could they not, as Frank suggests in his lectures, magnify a barely discernible fact in order to examine its implications?

However dubious the method, the result is what counts. Does Christofi&rsquos narrative help us &ldquoto understand how people thought&hellipand to represent that thought faithfully so that others might know themselves better,&rdquo as he suggests? The reader will look in vain for anything beyond superficial, even mistaken, observations. For example, Christofi claims that Dostoevsky wrote &ldquoso much&rdquo of The Idiot with the powerful final scene &ldquoin mind,&rdquo but we know from Dostoevsky&rsquos letters and notebooks that, desperate for money, he began publishing the first serialized parts of this novel without a clue as to its overall plot. The last scene did not occur to him until he was already halfway through the third of four parts, and even after that he continued to consider alternative endings.

In her foreword to the present collection of the lectures Frank delivered at Stanford after his retirement from Princeton, Robin Feuer Miller&mdashlong one of Dostoevsky&rsquos subtlest interpreters&mdashobserves that Frank &ldquomade the genre of biography new again, helping to ignite our general fascination with cultural history.&rdquo In chapters on Poor Folk, The Double, The House of the Dead, Notes from Underground, Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, and The Brothers Karamazov, Frank distills his multivolume biography&rsquos provocative and superbly argued readings. In one of his lectures, he addresses the criticism that &ldquoin focusing as much as I do on the social-cultural context, I reduce [Dostoevsky&rsquos] novels to being a reflection of the limited issues and questions of his own day.&rdquo &ldquoThere is something to be said for this point of view,&rdquo Frank observes, but there is also a danger in reading our own social and political concerns into them. When we do, the novels can no longer teach us anything we don&rsquot already know.

It is also a mistake to read Dostoevsky&rsquos works using &ldquothe most general psychological and philosophical categories,&rdquo such as &ldquothe eternal conflict in Western culture between love and justice,&rdquo because the novels&rsquo greatness arises from the specifics of time and place that shed light on those questions as no generalities ever could. The best approach, in Frank&rsquos view, is first to locate Dostoevsky&rsquos fiction and ideas within his immediate concerns, and only then proceed, from the ground up rather than from generalities down, to consider their broader implications.

These lectures do that especially well. Particularly impressive is Frank&rsquos thesis that the experience of the mock execution left Dostoevsky with a completely different view of time and ethics, which Frank calls &ldquoeschatological [apocalyptic] apprehension.&rdquo Dostoevsky concluded, he says, that &ldquoevery instant takes on a supreme value,&rdquo and &ldquoeach moment of the present is when a decisive choice has to be made.&rdquo That is why Dostoevsky offers so many brilliant descriptions of the agonies of choice at critical moments. What matters most, in his view, is what we can do for another person right in front of us right now. Most essential, as Frank puts it, &ldquois action at every moment, at this very instant, as if time were about to stop and the world would come to an end.&rdquo This way of looking at things, which Albert Schweitzer called &ldquointerim ethics,&rdquo creates an especially urgent sense of compassion, but it also, I think, entails dangers, as Dostoevsky&rsquos susceptibility to literal apocalypticism demonstrates.

Reviewing Dostoevsky&rsquos second work, The Double, Belinsky observed that the young writer had demonstrated &ldquothe ability, so to speak, of migrating into the skin of another, a being completely different from himself.&rdquo One cannot expect a literary biographer to migrate into the skin of an author the way great novelists do with their characters, but one can hope to understand, if not to actually experience, how the writer viewed the world. Frank accomplishes that, and Marullo gives us the material to do so for ourselves.


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