The Dostoevsky Society of Japan

FMD-Kitami

by Tikashi KITAMI

Congratulations to the members of the newly formed Dostoevsky Society of Japan! We in the North American Dostoevsky Society welcome you warmly, wish you the very best, and look forward to fruitful communication, collaborative scholarship, and friendly discussion with you around the work of Dostoevsky for many years to come. 

Sincerely, Carol Apollonio, President, The North American Dostoevsky Society

Dostoevsky’s Stepanchikovo

by Steve Dodson

I would guess that among English-speaking readers, Selo Stepanchikovo i ego obitateli [translated as The Village of Stepanchikovo and Its Inhabitants] is the least-known of Dostoevsky’s novels — certainly far less known than his works of the 1860s, but also less so than his early novellas, Poor Folk and The Double and so on. (It seems to be well known among Russians, judging from the number of dramatizations available on YouTube.) In a way, this is understandable, since it’s unquestionably a slighter work than the ones to follow, but Dostoevsky was very pleased with it, considering it the best thing he’d done up till then (“I put into it my soul, my flesh and blood”), and I found it well worth reading. It is, though, a very odd novel, and I kept changing my mind about it as I read.

At first, it seems to be structured like a mystery. The narrator, Sergei, an orphan fresh out of college, is urgently invited by his kindly uncle Egor Rostanev to his country estate at Stepanchikovo, where he is told he is to marry a wonderful young woman. He puts off the visit for a while, but finally grits his teeth and goes; on the way, he meets an irascible fellow, Bakhcheev, who has just come from Stepanchikovo and tells him a former hanger-on and fool, Foma Fomich Opiskin, has taken despotic control of the entire family — he himself has quarreled with Opiskin and left in a huff, though he admits he’ll probably be back the next day.

So we are immediately faced with two enigmas: why has Rostanev summoned him to marry some woman he’s never met, and why is he putting up with this Opiskin fellow? When Sergei gets there he tries to investigate, but his uncle keeps telling him “I’ll explain it all later” and running off on one pretext or another. Eventually we learn that his mother and Opiskin are trying to force the poor but beautiful young governess Nastenka out of the house because they’re afraid Rostanev will marry her, so he’s decided if Sergei marries her instead she’ll be able to stay. None of this makes any sense, of course, but it’s told in a highly comic way, through young Sergei’s disillusioned eyes (he sees through Opiskin as soon as he meets him), and it’s a lot of fun to read.

The problem is that Opiskin is too strong a character for the book he finds himself in. He’s a magnificent creation, proud and tortured and humiliating everyone else to make up for the humiliations he’s suffered; to some extent he’s based on Gogol in his late crazed-moralizer phase, and he serves as an exorcism of both Gogol — who had been a strong influence on Dostoevsky, as on all Russian writers of the 1840s — and the high-minded intelligentsia of which Dostoevsky had been a part before he was sent to prison and Siberia. I suspect he is based on people Dostoevsky knew during that time, fellow prisoners who took out their sufferings on those weaker than themselves. He’s unforgettable, but the other characters seem pale next to him, and he’s so vicious it was hard for me to stay in the requisite comic mood. (This may be in part because I’m not Russian.) It’s fine for him to humiliate Rostanev and various fools and hangers-on, but when he is brutal to the faithful old servant Gavrila and the beautiful and somewhat simple-minded boy Falalei, this reader’s smile freezes. Opiskin gets a very satisfying comeuppance, but it doesn’t last long, and he winds up staying on as the evil deity of the household.

Frankly, I found it unbelievable that Rostanev, a former hussar, would put up with endless humiliations from this nasty fellow and continue to regard him as wise and benevolent; in fact, once the plot settled in I didn’t actually believe anything that happened — it has the air of a Moliere play in which you’re supposed to accept all the silliness and laugh at the folly of humanity. But this is Dostoevsky, not Moliere, and he’s thinking not of folly but of good and evil. Before long he’ll figure out how to create plots worthy of his characters and obsessions, but it’s very interesting to watch him working it out as he goes. If you have any interest in Dostoevsky, I recommend giving this book a try; just don’t expect Crime and Punishment.


This post is cross-posted from languagehat.com with kind permission from its author. The original post can be seen here: Dostoevsky’s Stepanchikovo.

Steve Dodson is a linguist manqué, an editor by profession, and a lover of all things Russian.  Having grown up in Japan, Thailand, and Argentina and put down roots in New York City, he now lives in Western Massachusetts with his wife, two cats, and 5,000 books.

Dostoevsky in Europe

by Himadri Chatterjee

Among the many things in life I find myself utterly at a loss to account for is the tremendous attraction I feel for the writings of Dostoyevsky. When his many faults are listed to me, I can do little but nod away in agreement. Yes, his novels are hysterical, irrational – indeed, he seemed to laud irrationality; they are loosely structured baggy monsters. He was also a fervent Slavophile, while I despise nationalism. He was politically conservative, and hated liberalism and liberals with a vengeance, whereas I tend to describe my politics as “liberal”. (Indeed, I was amused to find recently that I had described my politics on my Facebook profile as “Turgenevian liberal”. I don’t remember writing this, and suspect I was drunk at the time and not entirely serious; but I did laugh at what was presumably my own joke, and decided not to change it.) Dostoyevsky hated those Russians such as Turgenev who had adopted the values of Western liberalism, and I can’t help but see my own adherence to these same Western liberal values, despite my Indian background, as a sort of parallel (even though I have, I suppose, the excuse of having lived most of my life in the West). I suspect that if Dostoyevsky had known me personally, he would have despised me, and my values. And, by rights, I should also be repelled by Dostoyevsky, who stood for so much that I do not, and who loathed so much that I do. And yet, I find myself irresistibly drawn to Dostoyevsky. Which, I suppose, demonstrates Dostoyevsky’s dictum that we are far from being the rational creatures we like to imagine ourselves.

Dostoyevsky had not always been a right-wing Slavophile, of course. In his youth, he had been very left-wing indeed. He had been member of a revolutionary group, had narrowly avoided the death sentence (he had, famously, been led out to be executed before it was announced that his sentence had been commuted), and had served many years in a labour camp. His early works had been of a somewhat sentimental nature, focussing on “poor folk”, on the “insulted and the injured”, and lamenting the social injustice that cause so much suffering. But then, in the early 1860s, a very profound change took place in his outlook. As translator Kyrill Fitzlyon (Zinovieff) says in his preface to Winter Notes on Summer Impressions:

His earlier novels aim at the entertainment of the reader; undeterred by considerations of verisimilitude or psychological probability, they glide over the surface of life without stopping to take soundings of what goes on underneath; they shun deep analysis and they lack the later Dostoyevskian eagerness to reconcile the actions of men with their consciences, conceived in terms of spiritual anguish.

It was in the summer of 1862, at what we may see as the turning point between Dostoyevsky’s earlier viewpoints and his later, that Dostoyevsky visited Europe for a few weeks. That winter, he wrote of his travels in Winter Notes on Summer Impressions, and here we may see quite clearly his mature thoughts and ideas taking shape.

The West was what liberals, such as the hated Turgenev, pointed towards: it was in the liberal values of the West that Russia must seek salvation; by looking West, and adopting its values, Russia, so far from the major centres of civilisation, could, at long last, civilise itself. But Dostoyevsky was not having any of this. This is not necessarily because of his Slavophilism: what he saw in the few weeks he spent in Paris, and the week he spent in London, did not suggest to him a Heaven to be aimed for. That Russia was no Heaven he already knew: but salvation did not lie in emulating the West.

Before he goes into all this, he writes a preface, to which he gives the title “Instead of a Preface”. This sense of playfulness is apparent throughout the book. Dostoyevsky tells us right away that he is not a reliable narrator. He has spent only a few weeks in London and in Paris, he tells us, and his views are not only based on limited exposure, but are also, no doubt, biased and jaundiced in all sorts of ways. As he goes on to expand on this, he seems to create an authorial persona that may or may not be himself. At times, he seems almost to present himself as of those Gogolian grotesques who can’t stop digressing into all sorts of irrelevancies. The narrator he presents is, in short, a comic character, the first of the many weird and unreliable voices who come and go in the narration of his later novels. Giving the authorial voice such a persona allows Dostoyevsky to pursue his ideas into unexpected areas, and explore thoughts and concepts that may appear eccentric or whimsical, but without necessarily giving these ideas the seal of authorial approval.

He spends some time in London, and presents it in almost apocalyptic terms. He is shocked by the level of extreme poverty and vice. This may be surprising: as is apparent from his own novels, extreme poverty and vice aren’t exactly unknown in Russia. But perhaps he had expected better from London. What shocked him, I think, was the open acceptance of these things. He gives a description of a pathetic half-starved young girl, a child, openly trading herself in Haymarket, right in the centre of fashionable London. The English are often chided for their hypocrisy, but it seems to be the lack of hypocrisy, the openness of such moral depths, that seemed particularly to strike Dostoyevsky.

He has more to say about France, and, rather interestingly, he seems shocked by the very aspects of Russia that had shocked Europeans of that age – the lack of freedom, adulation of the Emperor, police informers, and the like. And he considers especially the middle classes, the bourgeoisie. The inspiring slogans of the French Revolution – liberty, equality, fraternity – are, he feels, an immense sham: all that has happened is that the middle classes have now taken on the power to exploit the lower classes. All ideals, all morals that people pretend to live by, are sham:

Paris has an unquenchable thirst for virtue. Nowadays the Frenchman is a serious and reliable man, often tender-hearted, so that I cannot understand why he is so afraid of something even now, and is afraid of it in spite of all the gloire militaire which flourishes in France and which Jacques Bonhomie pays so much for. The Parisian dearly loves to trade, but even as he trades and fleeces you in his shop, he fleeces you not for the sake of profit, as in the old days, but in the name of virtue, out of some sacred necessity. To amass a fortune and possess as many things as possible – this has become the Parisian’s main moral code, to be equated with religious observance.

Dostoyevsky keeps probing: what, exactly, are the bourgeoisie afraid of?

Whom should he fear then? The workers? But the workers are all of them capitalists too, in their heart of hearts: their one ideal is to become capitalists and amass as many things as possible.

This is not the solution, Dostoyevsky felt, for Russia. Rational precepts, and noble sentiments – liberté, égalité, fraternité – end up meaning nothing, and not merely because humans are not rational creatures: as he goes on to examine in Notes From Underground (which was written shortly after this book), humans are, if anything, anti-rational creatures, who, far from accepting ideas because they are shown to be rational, would choose, rather, deliberately to reject them in order to proclaim their freedom from the tyranny of reason. All he can see in the great cities of Europe are “anthills”: any attempt from above to bind humans into a unity is bound to fail disastrously, because they misunderstand the essentially paradoxical nature of humanity.

I can understand Dostoyevsky’s argument – at least, up to a point. Our lives have, if anything, become worse in certain respects: they have become “atomised” – to use the word popularised by the title of Michel Houellebecq’s novel – as never before. Not only do we not have fraternité between the classes, solidarity even within the social classes is becoming more problematic. But I don’t really understand what Dostoyevsky’s own solution is. Are we to expect a mystical fraternité to spring up spontaneously?

Of course, Dostoyevsky was not so foolish as to think that. His novels are not didactic novels: they are multi-voiced works, in which many of the voices rebel against their author and speak out against him, unanswered; and where, furthermore, many of the voices articulating some of Dostoyevsky’s own most deeply held beliefs are presented in a ridiculous light. Those great novels are seething cauldrons of ideas and counter-ideas, endlessly contesting and intermingling with each other, never resolving; but never are these ideas presented as something abstract: they are, as Kyrill Fitzlyon (Zinovieff) says in his preface, “conceived in terms of spiritual anguish”.

I still do not know why I am so drawn to the writings of Dostoyevsky, when, all things considered, I shouldn’t be. But there is something about these very strange books of his that has about it the air of prophecy.


This post was originally published on April 17, 2017 on the blog The Argumentative Old Git, and has been cross-posted here by invitation. The original post can be found here: Dostoyevsky in Europe.

All quotes above are taken from the following translation: Winter Notes on Summer Impressions by Fyodor Dostoevsky, translated by Kyrill (Fitzlyon) Zinovieff (Alma Classics, 2016).

The cover image is an 1862 illustration by Just L’Hernault, which in the public domain and has been available from the digital image collection of the John Hay Library, Brown University: Les Boulevards de Paris le Jour de l’An.


Himadri Chatterjee is an operational research analyst, lives near London, and has long had a passion for Russian literature, especially for Dostoevsky. He blogs mainly about books on his site The Argumentative Old Git and can be found on Twitter @hairygit.

The Dostoevsky Games: A New Tobacco Road Rivalry

Readers of The Bloggers Karamazov do not need to be convinced that time spent alone with Dostoevsky is time well spent. But we live in an age when reading itself, and engagement in the humanities generally, is under attack from all sides. Demonic forces, toxins and temptations abound, even (or especially) within institutions of higher education: careerism, pre-professionalism and utility; transient titillations and instant gratification; ephemeral and flashy things; insidious technological tools; and social media outlets like, ahem, this blog. In the face of all this chaos, the quiet, dark, brilliant, reader can use a little company.

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Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have long engaged in the fiercest rivalry in college sports. This year’s March Madness expanded the field of competition beyond the basketball court into Duke’s Rubenstein Library, where on 26 March 2017 elite teams from both institutions clashed in The Dostoevsky Games. Students clad in UNC light blue and Duke royal blue, coached by UNC’s Radislav Lapushin and Duke’s Carol Apollonio, respectively, met in a series of epic battles around Jeopardy, Taboo, “Name the Quote,” Dostoevsky Debate, and the performing arts.

The program is now available exclusively on The Bloggers Karamazov, and you can view it here!

The Games were well attended, with scores of competitors and spectators. Passions ran high, and the teams ran neck and neck through the afternoon, trading lead changes and ties. UNC presented a short film and a series of skits and mock interviews with Dostoevsky characters that, despite the high seriousness of the subject matter, sparked hilarity in the hall. For its part, Duke moved heartstrings and brought tears to many eyes with a soulful musical performance. The extremes of emotion thus inspired were worthy of the Master. One look at the UNC team’s winning video “The Fresh Prince of ‘To Dare'” will convince the readers of The Bloggers Karamazov of the overall quality of The Games. Screen Shot 2017-04-12 at 11.07.56 PMUltimately, in a close race that seemed to come down to an edge in the performing arts, the workings of fate, and possibly a sheer numerical advantage, UNC edged past the hosting team and took possession of a well-deserved freshly 3D-printed Dostoevsky Games 2017 trophy. (Radislav Lapushin waves with the trophy in the image to the right)

The Dostoevsky Games benefitted from the intellect, stamina and energy of a world-class team of scholars, ranging from newly minted to well seasoned. Doctors Michael Marsh-Soloway (Master of Bobble-Heads and Busts), Denis Mickiewicz, and Ambassador Jack Matlock lent dignity and excitement to the occasion; Professors Irene Masing-Delic and Ilya Kliger served valiantly and with ruthless fairness as celebrity judges; and Professor Eric Naiman delivered an impressive keynote address.

The teams were so carried away by the intellectual ferment in the room that they remained on the field of battle through the Games’ culminating event: small-group discussions of Crime and Punishment over dinner led by the celebrity guests and judges. True to the spirit of Dostoevsky, groups at two of the tables carried on their frenzied debates even as tables and chairs were cleared from the room, throats were cleared, and doors were slammed more loudly than would normally be warranted. It is to the UNC team’s credit that its members remained on the scene with only the faintest of defections (though with some furtive gleams of cell-phone screens), even after 5:00 p.m. when their men’s basketball team began play in the Elite Eight. Skill, luck, dedication, passion, fate…this year they paid off for both UNC teams. But even a national basketball championship is a transient thing when you take home a Dostoevsky Bobble Head, a 3D printed trophy, and the World Championship in the first, and possibly only ever, Dostoevsky Games.

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Players and coaches on both sides are still in recovery. But should additional teams desire to take up the tradition or issue a challenge, we are available for consulting, and may even rise to compete again.

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The Dostoevsky Games were fueled by Duke University’s Humanities Futures program (The Franklin Humanities Institute) and the David L. Paletz Course Enhancements fund, with contributions from the Duke Department of Slavic and Eurasian Studies.

Respectfully submitted,
Carol Apollonio


Carol Apollonio is the President of the North American Dostoevsky Society and a Professor of the Practice of Slavic and Eurasian Studies at Duke University. Her publications include Dostoevsky’s Secrets: Reading Against the Grain (2009) and The New Russian Dostoevsky: Readings for the Twenty-First Century (2010). 

The Dostoevsky 3D Printing Project

by Michael Marsh-Soloway

The Dostoevsky 3D printing project grew out of a series of energetic conversations with Carol Apollonio and Brian Armstrong at the 2016 ASEEES Conference in Washington D.C. The bobble head that we devised would serve not only as a prize at the 2017 Duke-UNC Dostoevsky Games in Durham, but also as a prospective merchandise offering for the North American Dostoevsky Society. These items can be manufactured by anyone with access to a 3D printer.

15078598_10102091516471045_5261402057652427077_nCarol and I collaborated on the production of the Dostoevsky model. She printed the models using more than 30 Ultimaker printers at the Innovation Co-Lab Studio at Duke, and then I used a series of MakerBot printers in UVa MakerSpaces (which you can see to the right). Printing the model at two universities allowed us to divide the assembly and manufacture of the removable components.

Specialists in the humanities have only recently started utilizing 3D resources, and these tools hold great potential for enhancing the study of artifacts, symbols, and spaces. The objects that Carol and I produced were made with a biodegradable, corn-based PLA plastic, which we selected as the cheapest and most easily obtainable material. Eventually, however, we may experiment with a range of other material compositions, including sand, chocolate, and various metals.

It is not advisable to manufacture edible models in a printer that has been used primarily for plastic productions. Small pieces of plastic could contaminate the finished product. ChocEdge, and Cocojet are two companies exploring culinary applications of 3D printing technology for chocolate, but it seems likely that the cheese, butter, and caramel industries will soon follow suit. In the medical sciences, doctors have started loading 3D printers with cell tissue to manufacture bodily organs. Thomas Boland of Clemson University was one of the first researchers to replicate organ structures with cells via ‘bioprinting’ procedures.
3d printing gifDepending on the size of the model, each Dostoevsky bobble head takes between two to ten hours to print. Users can adjust the size of the associated bobble head parts as their given 3D printer will permit. The Ultimaker printers at Duke University are equipped with a small camera that records a short time-lapse video of the manufacturing process, and users can opt to receive this video as a GIF file via an automated email message when the object is completed (ours is to the right of this text). Despite the long duration of each job, once the printing has started, the Ultimakers and Makerbots are safe to leave running unattended. In total, we printed 17 Dostoevsky figures in different colors that were given to students, game organizers, and guest judges.

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The most time-intensive process of 3D printing is the preparation of the associated component files. To print a 3D object, users need to develop their models as an STL file — Standard Tessellation Language. Although there are several 3D file types that can be processed by different printers, STL is the most common and universally recognizable format. The 3D printers construct the desired model layer by layer. The extruder melts the plastic into a molten noodle of sorts, and the final form appears as the material hardens after cooling. With irregular shapes, the plastic will sometimes drip over the sides of the model, but the resulting shards and columns can be easily removed with an awl or pliers. While users can download expensive programs to develop and modify STL files, Carol and I developed the Dostoevsky bobble head using only free and open-source tools. We used the following resources and steps to facilitate this process.

  1. There are several dozen reputable online repositories of 3D models. This blog post by Bulent Yusuf compiles the most popular sites, and rates their overarching functionality. Carol and I eventually used a Dostoevsky bust that we found on Thingiverse as the basis of the bobble-head. If we had not been able to find the open-source Dostoevsky model, we could have created our own file. Users can build 3D models from scratch using the free website, TinkerCad. Alternatively, while there are few memorials to Dostoevsky in the U.S., we could have generated a 3D model of our own by asking colleagues in Russia to photograph statues of the author with their cellphones. There are several apps, including 123D Catch, Trnio, and ItSeez3D, which employ the technique of photogrammetry to create a 3D model by photographing a given object from different angles. As yet another possibility, there are other digital tools like Smoothie 3D that allow users to approximate a 3D model from a 2D image.
  2. Using TinkerCad, I ‘remixed’ the open-source Dostoevsky bust, removing the head from the torso and pedestal, and placing a cylindrical hole in the base of the neck. Next, I found an open-source bobble-head torso on Thingiverse. Since we designed the Dostoevsky bobble head during the U.S. presidential elections, the most readily available bodies were those belonging to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The Hillary Clinton action figure came with a pearl necklace and high-heeled shoes, so we opted instead to use the Trump Though few people noticed or thought to inspect the files closely, it is not coincidental that the hands on the bobble head are disproportionally smaller compared to the rest of the body.
  3. Screen Shot 2017-04-12 at 11.07.56 PMSpecial modifications were made to the largest bobble head model that would serve as the trophy for the Dostoevsky Games. We mounted the body on a rectangular pedestal bearing the inscription, ‘Champions The 2017 Dostoevsky Games’. Radislav Lapushin appears to the right holding the trophy. In retrospect, I should have tinkered more carefully with the fitting, because shortly after showing the audience the prize, the head of the model became detached, which provided a closing note of humor to the full day of intellectual discussion, performances, analysis, and debate. Printing the head and body as two separate pieces allowed the bobble head to move up and down, but the pieces can also be conjoined in a static model.

Since successfully producing the bust and bobble heads in various sizes, we have returned to our initial premise of the movable Dostoevsky action figure, as well as a range of other ‘remixed’ products. These more elaborate items could include mugs, showerheads, doorstops, coat hooks, vases, or even mock images of the author mounted on dinosaurs, animals, and cartoon characters. Here is a rough list of 3D objects that we’ve considered combining with the head of the author. Feel free to print one for yourself, and stay tuned for future product announcements!

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Michael Marsh-Soloway earned his PhD in Russian literature at the University of Virginia in 2016 with a dissertation entitled “The Mathematical Genius of F.M. Dostoevsky: Imaginary Numbers, Non-Euclidean Geometry, and Infinity.” He is a specialist in Russian literature, history, and linguistics. Currently, he serves as the Coordinator of the UVA Arts & Sciences Language Lab, and he soon hopes to publish his dissertation as an academic monograph.

To be the wife of Fyodor Dostoevsky (part 4)

By Valeriya Mikhailova (translated by Thomas E. Herman)

The original Russian version of this article was first published in Thomas: an Orthodox Journal for Doubters (foma.ru), in Оctober 2016. It is re-published here in the form of Mr. Herman’s English translation with the permission of the author and of the editors of Thomas.

This is the final part of a 4-part series about Dostoevsky’s wife, Anna Grigorievna. For Part 1, please click here; part 3 can be found here.

SONYECHKA

For the vast majority of families, the loss of a child is a fateful trial. This terrible tragedy, through which the Dostoevskys suffered twice in the 14 years of their marriage, only bound them closer. The first time the family encountered this enormous tragedy was during their first year of marriage when their daughter, Sonya, little Sonyechka, having lived only 3 months, suddenly died from a common cold. Anna Grigorievna did not describe much about her grief, because she, with her usual propensity not to think of herself, thought only of Fyodor Mikhailovich – “I was extremely frightened for my poor husband.” Fyodor Mikhailovich, by her recollection, “wept and cried like a woman over the cold body of his beloved daughter, and he covered her pale little face and hands with warm kisses. Such furious despondency I have never again seen.”

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Lyubov Dostoevskaya

After a year, their second daughter, Lyubov, was born. Anna Grigorievna feared that her husband would never be able to love another child, but happily noticed that his joy at this fatherhood eclipsed all prior experience. In fact once in a letter to a critic Fyodor Mikhailovich insisted that a happy family life and the birth of children are three quarters of the happiness which a man can experience on earth.

His relationships with his children were altogether unique. He like no one else could, as Anna wrote, “enter into the world of childhood, understand a child, captivate a child with talk, and become in those moments, himself, a child.”

While abroad, Fyodor Mikhailovich wrote The Idiot, and started the novel The Demons (which he finished after returning to Russia). But living far from their home was a very difficult experience for the spouses, and in 1871 they returned to their native land.

Eight days after their return to St. Petersburg, into the family was born a son, Fyodor, and then in 1875 another son, Alyosha, named in honor of righteous Alexius, the man of God – a saint whom Fyodor very much venerated. That was the year that the journal, Fatherland Notes, published his fourth great novel, The Adolescent (Raw Youth).

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Alyosha Dostoevsky

But misfortune struck the family anew. Their son Alyosha inherited epilepsy from his father. His first seizure, which occurred when the boy was 3 years of age, turned out to be fatal… On this occasion the spouses literally changed places. The unfortunate Anna Grigorievna, a woman of unusual strength, nevertheless now was not able to cope with this grief. She lost interest in life, in the other children, which greatly alarmed her husband. He spoke to her urging her to submit to the will of God and continue living. Therefore, that year Dostoevsky made a visit to the (Holy Presentation) Optina Pustyn Monastery. Here he twice met with the Starets Ambrosius, who conveyed to Dostoevsky his blessing and also words which later the author placed on the lips of his hero, the Elder Zosima, in the Brothers Karamazov:

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Anna Dostoevskaya with son Fyodor and daughter Lyubov

“Rachel is weeping for her children, and she could not be comforted, because they are no more. And so to you mothers, there is a boundary laid out on earth. So do not be comforted, you need not be comforted, do not find comfort but cry, only each time that you cry remember unswervingly that your little son is one among the angels of God – from there he gazes and sees you, and is gladdened by your tears, and he shows them to the Lord God. And so for a long time your mighty maternal lamentation will continue, but in the end it will be turned for you into quiet joy, and your bitter tears will be converted to tears of tranquil tenderness and of a warm absolution for the one saved.”

His last, and in the opinion of many critics his most powerful novel, The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky wrote from the spring of 1878 until 1880. He dedicated it to his beloved wife, Anna Grigorievna.

“Aneka, you are my angel, my everything, my alpha and omega! And it is so good and how I love that you dream of me in sleep, and ‘awakening, you feel sad that I am not there.’ Be sad, my angel, feel sad in all your dealings about me, which means you love me. This is sweeter to me than honey. I will come and will kiss you.” “But how am I to survive this time without you and without the children. A funny joke, for it is all of 12 days!” These are lines from letters of Dostoevsky, written in the years 1875-1876, during days when he would be gone on business to St. Petersburg, but the family remained at the dacha at Staraya Russa. These lines need no commentary. His family had become for him a quiet haven, and, by his own recognition, he many times over literally fell in love anew with his wife.

Anna Grigorievna to the end of her life could not sincerely even understand what Dostoevsky himself saw in her: “All of my life it seemed to me some kind of an enigma that my good husband not only loved and respected me as other husbands love and respect their wives, but almost bowed down before me as if I were some sort of special being, specifically created just for him. And this was true not just at the first moments of marriage but for all the remaining years until his death. But the reality is that I am not distinguished by beauty, I possess neither talents nor unusual intellectual development, and my education was only to the gymnasium level. And in spite of this I was worthy of the deep adoration and almost worship of such a wise and talented man.”

Of course, she was not an ordinary person, just a ninny or simpleton, whom this genius loved for some reason or other. Fyodor Mikhailovich loved his stenographer; he felt in her not only a compassionate and good character, but an active, strong-willed, and exalted one. She had a rich interior spiritual world and the skill to be a genuine woman with the virtue to remain in the shadow of her husband, being at the same time, without exaggeration, his main inspiration.

And although Anna Grigorievna and Fyodor Mikhailovich really were not compatible personalities, as is now the current pleasant expression, she recognized that she could always be guided by him; and he, relying on her delicacy and concern, completely trusted her, which sometimes surprised Anna Grigorievna. “We little echoed each other, nor accommodated ourselves to each other, nor intertwined our soul – but I – in his inner being – and he in mine – my good husband and I in some fashion, we together felt ourselves a free spirit… This relationship from each side gave us both the possibility to live all the fourteen years of our married life in the greatest possible happiness that people on earth can have.”

It did not fall to Anna Grigorievna’s lot to have an ideal existence – fortunately she was naturally indifferent to fine attire, and grew accustomed to living in constrained circumstances and in constant debt. The great author was also not an ideal husband. For instance he was extremely jealous and could make a scene before his wife and fly off the handle. Anna Grigorievna wisely avoided situations which could anger her husband, and tried to avert the consequences of his hot temper. In times, when he worked as an editor, he could become angry with the insolence of some authors who demanded that he not change even a punctuation mark of their works, and would write a sharp letter to them. But the next morning having cooled down, he very much regretted this, and was ashamed of his quick temper. It happened that Anna Grigorievna on such occasions would not mail the letter until the next morning. When it “turned out” that the harsh letter not not been able to be sent, Fyodor Mikhailovich was always very happy and wrote a new, toned down letter.

Anna did not reproach her husband for his impracticality and gullibility. She was well aware that he could not refuse anyone help. In fact if he did not have any change, he would bring a beggar home and give them money there. “Then those visitors began to come on their own, and having learned the name of my husband thanks to the nameplate on the door, began to ask for Fyodor Mikhailovich. But of course it was I who came out and greeted them. They would tell me about their misfortunes and I gave them 30 or 40 kopeks. Although we are not rich people, we are able to offer such help,” she related.

Their religious beliefs did not prevent the spouses, for some reason, perhaps out of curiosity, from going once to some sort of fortune-teller, who incidentally predicted the death of their son, Alyosha. Nevertheless the Gospel and Christianity were constant accompaniments of their lives.

Anna Grigorievna remembered that when putting the children to bed, Fyodor Mikhailovich would pray together with them, praying the Our Father, Hail Virgin Mother of God and his beloved prayer: “I place all my hope in You, O Mother of God, guard me under your mantle.”

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Anna Dostoevskaya in the 1880s

In 1880 Anna Grigorievna took upon herself the independent publication of his works, establishing an enterprise, “The Book Market of F.M. Dostoevsky – exclusively for non-residents.” And she was successful. The financial situation of the family was corrected and they were able to pay off their debts.

But Fyodor Mikhailovich was not to live much longer. In 1880 his novel, The Brothers Karamazov, came out. In the words of his spouse, this was the last happy occasion of his long suffering life. On the night of January 26, 1881 blood hemorrhaged from his throat; he had suffered from emphysema since his days in the hard labor camp. During the day the hemorrhage recurred, but Fyodor Mikhailovich calmed his wife and distracted the children, so that they would not be frightened. By the time he was able to be examined by a physician, the hemorrhage was so heavy that Dostoevsky lost consciousness. When he regained consciousness, he asked his wife to call for a priest to receive confession and communion. He spent a great deal of time in confession, and the next morning, after his confession, he said to his wife:

“Anya, you know I have not slept for 3 hours, but have been thinking a great deal, and only now recognize clearly, that today I will die.” He asked that she give him the Gospel, which had been given to him on his path to exile by the wives of the Decembrists, and opened it at random to the following (Matt 3:14-15): “And John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by You, and You come to me?’   But Jesus said to him in answer, ‘Do not be restrained because it is fitting for us to fulfill all truthfulness.'”

“Do you hear,” he said to his wife, “Do not be restrained – this means I will die.”

Anna Grigorievna remembered, “I could not restrain myself from tears. Fyodor Mikhailovich began to calm me, saying kind and consoling words, thanking me for the happy life which he had lived with me. He entrusted the children to me, and said that he believed in me and trusted I would always love and protect them. Then he said words to me which husbands rarely can say to their wife after fourteen years of married life: “Remember, Anya, I have always loved you passionately and have never been unfaithful to you ever, even in my thoughts!”

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Anna Grigorievna with grandsons Andrei and Fyodor; she inscribed the picture to Dostoevsky’s nephew

For the remainder of her life, Anna Grigorievna Dostoevskaya dedicated herself to the re-publication of the books of her husband. She wrote her memoirs with the sole goal of shedding light on the true character of the writer, which had already become distorted by descriptions of his contemporaries. She was at his death only 34 years of age, but there would be no discussion of a second marriage. “Whom could I marry after Dostoevsky?” she joked. “Perhaps only Tolstoy.” But in seriousness she wrote, “I gave myself entirely to Fyodor Mikhailovich when I was 20 years old. Now I am past 70 years old and I still belong completely and only to him in every thought and action.”

All her later life Anna Grigorievna spent gathering anything which related to Dostoevsky. In 1899 she turned over to the depository in the Historical Museum 1000 proprietary materials for the foundation of a special museum. She published, in 1906, The Bibliographic Handbook of the Works and Artistic Writings of F. M. Dostoevsky in Relation to his Life and Activities. She also opened in Staraya Rusa, where their dacha was located where they frequently lived, a Church Parish School (named after her husband) for children from poor peasant families, with a dormitory. The last year of her life, already seriously ill, she was left to starve in war torn Crimea. Anna Grigorievna died in Yalta June 22, 1918. A half century later her remains were transferred to the Aleksandr Nevskaya Lavra in St. Petersburg where Fyodor Mikhailovich was buried.

Perhaps some may be astounded by the complete selflessness and admiration with which Anna related to her husband. He filled up her life without any room remaining. But who knows, could it have been any other way? Could some less selfless person have survived that burden of trials which accompanied Fyodor Mikhailovich? So it should not be surprising that alongside this greater author, in truth there turned to be a great woman.

“Many Russian writers would feel better, if they would have had wives such as Dostoevsky had,” said Leo Tolstoy after a meeting with her. How did it all turn out for her? If someone asked Anna Grigorievna to tell the recipe for a happy marriage with a greater writer, her own words would have served as an answer: “It is necessary to manage cautiously and with feeling so as not to break up. There is nothing in life more valuable than love. It follows therefore to forgive more, to search for the fault in yourself and to smooth out your own rough edges.”


Valeriya Posashko Mikhailova was born in 1985 in Minsk.  She studied journalism at the National Research University Higher School of Economics in Moscow.  A writer and journalist, she also is an accomplished triathlete and parishioner of the Orthodox church of the All Merciful Savior in central Moscow.  In addition to Dostoevsky her favorite authors are Gilbert Chesterton and Henryk Sienkiewicz.

Thomas E. Herman is a retired pediatric radiologist from St. Louis Children’s Hospital.  He is a member of the friends of Ukrainian radiology, and has lectured in Russian and Ukrainian on radiological topics, primarily in Ukraine.