CFP: Dostoevsky panels at MLA 2018

The MLA 2018 Convention will be in NYC this year (Jan 4-7). The International Dostoevsky Society has a guaranteed panel, which will be on this year’s MLA theme: “Dostoevsky and States of Insecurity.” The IDS may also propose two additional panels, the calls for which are as follows:

First Call: Dostoevsky and Conscience

The concept of ‘conscience’ is easily one of the most influential in the history of thought. It is also deployed frequently in the analysis of literary texts. However, the concept is often taken for granted both in literary studies and philosophy. This is especially troubling, given, as Paul Strohm recently put it, that “[c]onscience is a bit of a shape-shifter, remaining elusive in many of its particulars.” Dostoevsky scholarship is no exception, even though conscience plays a central role in his works. What, then, is Dostoevsky’s conception of conscience? Does he investigate multiple conceptions? How does his conception of conscience shape his fictional texts? What insights does his fiction provide for a more general investigation of the concept of conscience? This panel aims to explore these questions. Please submit abstracts of 300 words by March 10 to Dr. Brian Armstrong at

367Second Call: The Idiot at 150

Dostoevsky’s second major novel, The Idiot, its associated with many superlatives: among his works, it is considered the most strange, most enigmatic, most difficult, and most problematic. It began serial publication in The Russian Messenger in January 1868, and so MLA 2018 is the perfect time to begin the sesquicentennial reflection on the novel. Please submit abstracts of 300 words by March 10 to Dr. Brian Armstrong at

Please submit 300-word abstracts for all three panels to Dr Brian Armstrong ( by March 10.

To be the wife of Fyodor Dostoevsky (part 3)

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 (, 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 part 3 of a 4-part series about Dostoevsky’s wife, Anna Grigorievna. For Part 1, please click here; part 2 can be found here.



Maria Dostoevskaya (nee Isaeva)

Dostoevsky said about his first marriage to Maria Isaeva, “She loved me without limit, and I loved her also without measure, but she and I did not live happily…” And in reality, his first marriage, which lasted 7 years, almost from the very beginning was unhappy. Both he and his wife had very strange personalities; and in essence they did not live together. So how was it that Anna Grigorievna turned out to be successful in making Dostoevsky happy?

Indeed after the death of her husband, in a conversation with Leo Tolstoy, Anna Grigorievna said (speaking actually about her husband and not herself), “Nowhere is the true character of a person revealed, as it is in daily life in his family.” So it was that there, in the family, in daily existence that she made known her good and wise heart…

After a serene and quiet home life Snitkina, now Dostoevskaya, entered into a house where she was forced to live under the same roof with Paul, the troubled, disorderly and spoiled stepson of Fyodor Mikhailovich. This 21-year-old young man constantly complained to his step father about his new in-law, and when left alone with her, tried to wound the young woman painfully. He reproached her for her inability to maintain the household, for the anxiety that she conveyed to his ailing stepfather, and he always demanded money for his own upkeep.

“This stepson of mine,” admitted Fyodor Mikhailovich, “is a good and honorable boy, but unfortunately, has an unusual character. He promised himself since childhood to do nothing, even though he has no personal fortune and at the same time has the most ludicrous understanding of life.”

And the other Dostoevsky relatives maintained a haughty and domineering attitude toward her. She quickly noticed that as soon as Fyodor Mikhailovich received an advance for a book, it would start – Emilia Fyodorovna, the wife of his brother Mikhail, appeared, or his younger unemployed brother Nikolai appeared, or Paul suddenly had an emergency need – for instance the need to purchase a new coat to replace the old one which had gone out of style. Once in the middle of winter Dostoevsky had returned home without his coat, having given it as security for the 50 rubles that Emilia needed – without delay… or the Chinese vase which had been given by friends, or the fur coat, or the silver service; all of which had to be pawned. So it was that Anna Grigorievna came to face the necessity of living in debt and living very modestly. And she accepted this necessity calmly and bravely.

One additional heavy burden for her was Dostoevsky’s epilepsy. Anna Grigorievna knew about it from the very first days of their acquaintance. But she hoped that his health would improve with a happy change of life. She witnessed his first seizure when the couple was visiting her family:

“Fyodor Mikhailovich was extremely animated and was discussing something interesting with my sister. Suddenly he interrupted his conversation in the middle of a word, sat up from the divan and began to lean to his side. I gazed at his altered face with amazement. And suddenly there rang out a terrible, inhuman cry, or more truthfully a howl, and Fyodor Mikhailovich began to lean forward…Subsequently it has happened to me tens of times to hear that “inhuman” howl, so common to an epileptic at the beginning of a seizure. And that howl always overwhelmed and frightened me…But it was then that I for the first time saw the terrible illness from which Fyodor Mikhailovich suffered. Hearing his cries and groans which did not stop for hours, his completely distorted face, his madly unmoving eyes, not understanding his disconnected speech, I almost became convinced that my dear, beloved husband had lost his mind, and what terror that idea brought me!”

She had hoped that after his marriage his seizures would become less frequent. But they continued…

She had hoped that there would be time – at least during the honeymoon – for them to be alone together, to talk, to enjoy the company of each other. But all of her free time was taken up by guests with their constant visits, by the relatives of Dostoevsky to whom she was obliged to offer refreshments and amusement, because Fyodor Mikhailovich was himself constantly occupied.

The young spouse lamented her prior quiet home life, where there had been no place for anxiety, sadness or conflict. She lamented that short period of time between the engagement and the wedding when she and Dostoevsky had spent an evening together expecting the fulfillment of their happiness… but happiness did not come in a hurry.

“Why did he, the greater reader of the human heart, not see how difficult it was for me to live?” she asked herself. She was tortured by her thoughts: he had fallen out of love for her, he had seen how much she was his inferior in spiritual and intellectual development (which of course was far from the truth). Anna Grigorievna thought about a divorce, reasoning that if she had ceased to be of interest to her beloved husband, and she could not be satisfied with meekly remaining with him – she would have to go away.”

“I had placed too much hope of happiness on my union with Fyodor Mikhailovich, and how bitter it was to me if this golden dream would not be realized!”

Once there occurred another in a chain of misunderstandings, and Anna Grigorievna could not bear it. She began to cry and could not be calmed. It was in this condition that Fyodor Mikhailovich found her. Finally, all her hidden doubts came to light. The spouses made a decision to get away. At first they went to Moscow and then they went abroad. That was in the spring of 1867. They returned to Russia only four years later.


Although Anna always emphasized that she had been a complete child, after her marriage she unusually quickly became accustomed to taking upon herself the concerns of the family “treasury”. Her primary aim was to guarantee her husband peace and the ability to occupy himself only with literary creativity. He worked primarily at night. Writing was for Fyodor Mikhailovich not only a vocation but also his only source of income, not having a personal fortune or estate, as for instance Leo Tolstoy or Ivan Goncharov had.   Fyodor Dostoevsky had to write all of his works (except the first novel) hastily, pressed in time by a commission, without which he could not survive.


Anna Dostoevskaya in the 1870s

Intelligent and energetic, Anna Grigorievna took upon herself the dealings with creditors, the analysis of length vouchers; protecting her husband from all of these concerns. And she took a risk – she pawned her considerable dowry in order to go abroad to “save our happiness.” She was certain that only “continuous spiritual communication with my husband will be able to create the strong and harmonious family of which we dreamed.”

Incidentally, it was precisely her efforts which helped to uncover the fictitiousness of many of Dostoevsky’s supposed debts. In spite of his great life experience, he was a man very trusting, honorable and conscientious but ill disposed to real life. He believed everyone who came to him for money. After the death of his brother, Mikhail, who had owned a tobacco factory, there began to appear before Fyodor Mikhailovich people demanding the return of money which was owed to them by his brother. Among them were many scoundrels who decided to profit from the simplicity of the famous author. He did not demand from anyone confirmation or notes, he believed everyone. Anna Grigorievna took all of that upon herself. One can only imagine how much wisdom, patience and work was required to fulfill that task. In her memoirs, Anna admitted, “A bitter feeling rises up in me when I remember how my personal life was spoiled by the debts of others… All of my life at the time was darkened by constant concerns about where and for how much to pawn a certain thing, how to do it so that Fyodor Mikhailovich did not learn about the visit of a creditor or the pawning of a certain object. My youth was taken away, my health suffered and my nerves were frayed by this.”

She wisely guarded him from her own emotions: when she wanted to scream, she went to another room. She tried never to complain – not about her health, which was fairly poor, nor about her anxieties, but she always encouraged him. Believing that flexibility was a necessary condition for a happy marriage, fortunately she possessed this rare quality in full measure… even when he left to go play roulette and returned having lost all they had to live on…

Roulette was a dreadful misfortune. The great writer was addicted to it. He dreamed of winning in order that he could remove his family from bondage to debt. This fantasy possessed him entirely. Alone he was not able to find sufficient strength to free himself from its claws… ff it had not been for Anna Grigorievna’s unprecedented support and love for her husband and her absence of self pity.

“I was sickened to the depth of my soul to see how Fyodor Mikhailovich himself suffered,” she wrote. “He returned from playing roulette pale, haggard, barely able to walk, asked me for more money – he entrusted me with all the money – left and in a half hour returned all the more distraught, for more money. This continued until he had lost everything that we had.” But what about Anna himself? She understood that the problem was not a weak will, but this was a true illness, an addiction, an all-consuming passion. She never reproached him, did not quarrel with him and to his requests for more money for gaming, she did not oppose him. Dostoevsky on his knees asked her for forgiveness, wept, promised to give up his pernicious passion… only to return anew to it. Anna Grigorievna in these moments did not remain expressively silent; but she tried to convince her husband that all would get better, that she was happy, and would distract him with a walk or by reading the newspaper. And Dostoevsky calmed down…

When, in 1871, Fyodor Mikhailovich wrote that he had given up roulette, his wife did not believe it. But he really never returned to the game: “Now everything is yours, entirely yours, all yours. Up until now half belonged to that accursed fantasy.”

Part 4 is available here.

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.

Petition to save Slavonic and Eastern European Studies at KU Leuven

Prof. dr. Pieter Boulogne has alerted us to the fact that the Slavonic and Eastern European Studies program at KU Leuven is facing closure. The program is a vibrant one, and its closing is an administrative decision made without consultation with the department. (Information about the working group can be found here:

screen-shot-2017-02-24-at-1-39-15-amStudents have created a petition to call for the reconsideration of the program’s suspension and a democratic and transparent discussion. If you would like to support Slavonic and Eastern European Studies at KU Leuven, click here:

“Дважды два четыре — ведь это, по моему мнению, только нахальство-с. Дважды два четыре смотрит фертом, стоит поперек вашей дороги руки в боки и плюется. Я согласен, что дважды два четыре — превосходная вещь; но если уже все хвалить, то и дважды два пять — премилая иногда вещица.” — “Записки из подполья”

(“Twice two makes four seems to me simply a piece of insolence. Twice two makes four is a pert coxcomb who stands with arms akimbo barring your path and spitting. I admit that twice two makes four is an excellent thing, but if we are to give everything its due, twice two makes five is sometimes a very charming thing too.” ― Notes from the Underground)

To be the wife of Fyodor Dostoevsky (part 2)

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 (, 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 part 2 of a 4-part series about Dostoevsky’s wife, Anna Grigorievna. For Part 1, please click here.


image2The first impression from his meeting with Anna Grigorievna was actually not the most pleasant. She could not believe her good fortune that Professor Olkhin had suggested her to work with the famous Dostoevsky – the very same famous writer who was so admired in her home. The night before their first meeting she didn’t sleep but kept repeating, for fear of forgetting, the names of the heroes of his novels. She was certain that the author would quiz her about these. So with a pounding heart she hurried to his apartment on Cabinetmaker lane fearing that she might be even a minute late, but there…

There she was met by a sickly appearing man exhausted from life; a morose, dissipated, grouchy fellow who could not even remember her name. He dictated too quickly several lines and then snarled that she did not keep up, saying that nothing was going to come from this venture.

But at the same time Dostoevsky endeared himself to Anna Grigorievna with his sincerity, openness and credulity. During this, their first meeting, he related to her the most incredible episode of his life – one which he later described in detail in his novel, The Idiot. He related to her the moment when he – the 28-year-old Dostoevsky – because of his connection to the political coterie of followers of Mikhail Butashevich Petrashevsky (called the Petrashevtsy) – was sentenced to be shot and in fact was taken to the place of execution at the Semyonovsky parade ground in St. Petersburg.

“I remember”, he said, “how I stood on the Semyonovsky parade ground with my condemned comrades, saw the preparations, and knew that there were only five minutes left for me to live. But those minutes seemed to me to be years, decades, and it somehow seemed to me I had long to live. We had already been given to wear “death shirts” and divided into groups of three. I was the eightth person, in the third group to be shot. The first three were tied to the execution pillars. In two or three minutes both of the first two groups would be shot, and then would come our turn! How much I wanted to live, O my Lord God! How precious life seemed, how many good, how many decent things would I be able to do! I remembered all my past life, how I had not used it very well, how I wanted to experience life anew and to live long, long… Suddenly, there was heard the all clear signal and I was heartened. My comrades were untied from the pillars, led back and a new sentence was read: they sentenced me to four years of hard labor. I cannot remember any happier day!   I walked around my prison cell in the Alekseevsky crescent [of the Peter-Paul Fortress] and just sang, sang loudly, so happy was I to have life given back to me!”

Leaving the author after their first meeting, Snitkina took away a sad impression. It was a heaviness, not disappointment or only compassion. “For the first time in my life,” she wrote later, “I saw an intelligent, good man, but unhappy and abandoned by everyone…”

But that moroseness, aloofness, discontent which were on his surface did not hide from her the sensitive heart at the depth of his personality. Later Dostoevsky would write to his wife, “You see me usually, Anya, as morose, somber and capricious, but this is only the exterior which I have long had – having been broken down and corrupted by fate. But believe me, please believe me, on the inside there is something else.” And she not only believed but was surprised that other people could only see gloominess in her husband when he “is good, magnanimous, generous, delicate and compassionate, like no one else.”



Dostoevsky, 1860s

The future spouses faced 26 days of combined work to compete the novel, The Gambler. In this novel Fyodor Mikhailovich described his own passion for roulette gaming and his unhealthy but real attraction to the writer Apollinaria Suslova – that infernal woman, as the writer himself called her. But the passion for gambling which Fyodor Mikhailovich could not conquer for many years, disappeared as quickly as it had appeared, due to the unusual patience and extraordinary wisdom of his young wife.

So it happened – Anna Grigorievna Snitkina took down in shorthand the novel, went home and frequently during most of the night transcribed the stenotype into ordinary language, and brought this back to the home of Fyodor Mikhailovich. Slowly he began to believe that it would work out. And on October 30, 1866 the manuscript was ready!

Then the author arrived with the prepared novel for the editor, and it turned out that Stellovskiiy … had left for the provinces and it was unknown when he would return. His servant refused to accept the manuscript in Stellovsky’s absence. The manager of the editorial office also refused to accept the manuscript. This was base villainy on the part of Stellovsky. But such meanness was not unexpected. With her usual energy Anna Grigorievna applied herself to the problem.   She asked her mother to consult with an attorney who said to take the work of Dostoevsky to a notary, to verify its date of completion. But Fyodor Mikhailovich arrived late at the notary. But he nevertheless was able to verify his work at the neighborhood administration with the notary’s receipt. He had been saved from bankruptcy!

As it turned out, Stellovsky, with whose name was associated not just with one scandal and not just one villainy but many in the lives of other writers and musicians, ended his days sadly; he died in a psychiatric hospital, at the age of only 50 years.

And so, The Gambler being completed, a heavy stone was removed from his shoulders, but Dostoevsky understood that he could not part with his young helper… So he suggested after a short interval to continue their efforts together on Crime and Punishment. Anna Grigorievna was also noticing a change in herself; all her thoughts were about Dostoevsky. Her former interests, friends, and diversions paled in luster. She very much wanted to be at his side.

Their recognition and avowal of love occurred in an unusual manner. Fyodor Mikhailovich began with a discussion of the subject for a novel he had thought of in which an older man, a worldly wise artist, fell in love with a young woman… “Consider for a minute yourself in her place,” he said with a quivering voice – “Imagine that this artist is me, and I acknowledged to you that I love you and asked you to be my wife. Tell me, how would you answer?” – “I would answer that I love you and I will love you all my life!”

On February 15, 1867 Anna Grigorievna Snitkina and Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky were married. She was 20 years old and he 45 years old. “God gave her to me,” the author not infrequently afterward would say about his second wife.

In truth, for her that first year turned out to be a year of both happiness and of a difficult deliverance from illusion. She entered into the home of a famous writer and well known interpreter of the human heart, Dostoevsky, whom she had so greatly admired; for a time excessively, calling him her idol. But the realities of life pulled her back to terra firma from that ephemeral paradise.

To go on to Part 3, click here.

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.

To be the wife of Fyodor Dostoevsky (part 1)

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 (, 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.


Anna Grigorievna Snitkina entered into the house of her future husband, the 44-year-old already famous author Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky, in many ways a naive young girl. Fyodor already bore on his shoulders many burdens of life – penal servitude and hard labor, exile, an unhappy first marriage, the death of his spouse and of his beloved brother, unending debts, the terrible physical pain of epileptic seizures, obsessive roulette gambling, loneliness and most importantly – a knowledge of life from its most unattractive side. Anna was optimistic, raised in a warm household without stress, in fact she was not able to manage a household under stress. The depth and strength of her character, which she did not notice in herself because of her own unpretentiousness, Dostoevsky was able to notice.

Their hurried marriage could easily have ended in rapid disappointment. But their marriage brought to the renowned author precisely the great happiness, which he had never known before. In those last 14 years of his life he wrote the most powerful and well known of his works. “You are the only woman who understood me,” he repeated to his Anya, and it was precisely to her that he dedicated his magnificent and final novel, The Brothers Karamazov.

What kind of marriage was it? How was a fragile, inexperienced young lady to make a genius happy–a man who knew all the evil of life and yet had become the great preacher of the Light?


Anna Grigorievna in the 1860s

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Russian actor L. M. Leonidov recalled his encounter with the widow of Dostoevsky, Anna Grigorievna.   Leonidov who played Dmitri Karamazov in the 1910 production of The Brothers Karamazov at the Moscow Art Theatre, wrote, “I saw and heard ‘something’ not like anything I had known, but through this ‘something’, through this 10-minute meeting, through his widow I sensed Dostoevsky; 100 books about Dostoevsky would not have given me as much as that encounter.”

Fyodor Mikhailovich recognized that he and his wife were united in the spirit. But at the same time he also recognized the disparity in their ages: between the spouses there was almost a quarter of a century of difference. This inequality in their life experiences could have led to two vastly different possibilities: either they suffered together several years, and then separated; or they lived together happily for the remainder of their lives. And judging by the fact that Fyodor Mikhailovich wrote with astonishment and delight on the 12th anniversary of his wedding that he was unceasingly and hopelessly in love with his Anya, obviously their life really was very happy.

Nevertheless their life was not easy from the beginning: the marriage of Anna Grigorievna and Fyodor Mikhailovich endured many problems and struggles – poverty, sickness, the death of children, and the fact that against their marriage rose up the entire Dostoevsky clan. But it helped them to resist that they – the spouses – looked at life in the same way, having been brought up in the same values.

Anna Grigorievna was born 30 August 1846 in the family of a minor functionary, Grigory Ivanovich Snitkin. Along with his elderly mother and four brothers, one of whom was also married and had children, Grigory Ivanovich and his family lived in a large apartment of 11 rooms. Anna Grigorievna recalled that in their large family unit a friendly atmosphere reigned. She knew no arguments to clarify family relationships and she thought that this was the case with any family.

The mother of Anna Grigorievna, Anna Nikolaevna Snitkina (Miltopeus), was of Swedish and Finnish descent, and was a Lutheran. Her love for her future husband presented her with a serious choice: marriage with this beloved man or faithfulness to the Lutheran faith. She prayed a great deal for a solution to this dilemma. And once she had a dream: in her dream she entered an Orthodox church and knelt down before the Shroud of Christ and prayed. Anna Nikolaevna took this as a sign; she decided to convert to Orthodoxy. To her astonishment, when she arrived at the church of Saints Simeon and Anna on Mokhovaya Street in St. Petersburg for her confirmation, she saw that very same Shroud in the exact position it had appeared in her dream.

From that time onward, Anna Nikolaevna Snitkina lived a life faithful to the Orthodox church, going often to confession and communion. The spiritual director she chose for her daughter Anya, whom she called by the diminutive Netochka, was from a young age the Archpriest Filipp Speransky. At the age of 13, while vacationing in Pskov, the young Anya decided to enter a monastery (convent). Her parents were able to have her return to St. Petersburg, although they resorted to the cunning ruse that her father was seriously ill.

In the Dostoevsky family, as he expressed it later in A Writer’s Diary, “The Gospel was known essentially from the earliest childhood.” His father, Mikhail Andreevich, was a physician of the Mariinsky Hospital for the Poor on Bozhedomka Street in Moscow. The fate of those whom the author would later make the heroes of his novels spread themselves before his eyes and here he learned compassion from an early age. This compassion was nevertheless similar in character to that of his father – strangely mixed with magnanimity, moroseness and irascibility. Dostoevsky’s mother, Maria Fyodorovna, whom he loved and respected immensely, was a person of uncommon goodness and sensitivity. She died like a saint: just before her death she regained her “complete consciousness, requested an icon of Our Savior, began blessing her family, giving barely audible blessings and admonitions.”

In Anya Snitkina Dostoevsky saw a similar good, sensitive and compassionate heart. Soon he felt that, “with me she might be able to be happy.” Or more precisely he meant, she might be happy, but not me. Did he really think about his own happiness? Like anyone he did think of it. He spoke with friends and hoped that after all the difficulties of his life and at his age, which for the generation of his parents was already old age, he would come to a quiet harbor and would be happy in his family. “Happiness has not yet occurred. I am waiting for it,” he said, already a man tired of life.

As often happens, before the moment of obtaining such happiness, fate brought to each of them tragic critical events. In the spring of 1866, after a year of continuous suffering, Anna’s father died. A year earlier the physicians had announced that Grigory Ivanovich was incurably ill and that there was no hope for any improvement. Anna was therefore obliged to leave the St. Petersburg Pedagogical Gymnasium where she was a student to spend more time with her father.

At the beginning of 1866 in St. Petersburg there opened stenographic courses, which would allow her simultaneously to continue her education and to help nurse her father – so Anna Grigorievna, at her father’s insistence, signed up for the courses. But after 5-6 lectures, she returned home in despair that “tarbar literacy [stenographic system]” had turned out to be a too difficult an undertaking. Grigory Ivanovich however was a little upset at the lack of patience and perseverance from his daughter and made her promise that she would finish the courses. If only he could have known how fatefully important was this promise.

What was happening at that time in the life of Dostoevsky? He was then already quite well known – all his works were even being read in the Snitkin household. His first novel, Poor Folk, written in 1845, had elicited the most complimentary praise from the critics. But then there was a swell of negative comments pelted down on his subsequent works, there was a sentence of hard labor in a penal camp, the death from tuberculosis of his first wife, and the sudden death of his beloved brother, Mikhail. In addition there were all the financial obligations and debts – alleged and real – of his brother, which Fyodor Mikhailovich took upon himself as the responsible party. At the time of his first meeting with Anna he was financially responsible for his grown 21-year-old stepson (the son of his first wife Maria Dmitrievna), for the family of his deceased brother Mikhail, and for assistance to his younger brother Nicholas. As he later recognized, “all my life I was squeezed financially.”

At the end of the summer of 1866 this genius of literature was led by these needs to sign an unfair, one-sided contract with his cunning and enterprising publisher, Fyodor Timofeevich Stellovsky. That fellow paid Dostoevsky 3000 rubles for which Stellovsky agreed to publish a complete collection of the works of Fyodor Mikhailovich, under the condition that Dostoevsky, by November 1, 1866, would write a large novel of real value. If there was a delay of even a month, Dostoevsky was to pay a large forfeiture, and if he could not produce a novel by December 1, the rights to all his works for 9 years were transferred to Stellovsky. Dostoevsky would be deprived of even a percentage from their publication. In effect this would doom the author to debtor’s prison and abject poverty. As Anna Grigorievna would later write in her “Memoirs”, Stellovsky “knew how to lie in wait for people in difficult moments and to trap them in his nets.”

Even the thought of writing a new full-value novel in such a short period brought Fyodor Mikhailovich to depression – he had not yet even finished work on Crime and Punishment, the first parts of which had come out in print, and that work needed to be finished. But by not fulfilling the conditions of Stellovsky, he risked losing everything. That prospect seemed more real than the possibility of laying on the desk of the editor a completed novel in the remaining time.

As Dostoevsky later admitted, in this difficulty, Anna Grigorievna was the first person to offer him any real help – and not just words. His relatives and friends sighed, groaned, lamented, sympathized, gave advice, but no one entered into this essentially hopeless situation. Except for this young lady, recently having completed the stenography course, but actually without any work experience, who appeared at the doors of his apartment. She had been recommended by Pavel Matveevich Olkhin, the founder of the stenography course, as the best of his graduates.

“It is a good thing that you are not a man,” said Dostoevsky after their first short meeting and writing trial.


“Because a man without fail would take to drink. You probably have not started drinking…?”

For Part 2, click here.

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.

Heading to AATSEEL this weekend? Check out these Dostoevsky panels and papers!

emilfilla_readerofdostoevskyx3We’re excited to host one of the new AATSEEL panel streams at the conference in San Francisco this weekend! Check it out for a diverse group of papers and roundtable discussions on Dostoevsky, his works, and the state of Dostoevsky studies. It’s called DOSTOEVSKY. And here’s the full line-up of Dostoevsky papers and panels … we’re looking forward to it!


8am: our Dostoevsky Stream A panel: “Dostoevsky and the Law” in Powell II featuring papers by Gary Rosenshield (Raskolnikov, Lawgivers, and the Law), Richard Weisberg (Judicial Error, Novelistic Stress), and Erica Drennan (Miusov v. Monastery: The Other Trial in The Brothers Karamazov), discussion by Susan McReynolds and Amy Ronner

8am: on the “Mimesis in Russian Art and Aesthetic Theory” stream panel A in Stockton: Ilya Kliger presenting on “Imitating Pathos: Tragic Incorporation in Belinsky, Grigoriev and Dostoevsky.”

10am: on the “The Alchemy of Allusion” panel in Davidson: 2 papers. Irina Erman presents “The Specter of Achilles and the Spectacle of Svidrigailov’s Suicide in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment” and Sidney Dement presents “Realizing the Future of Allusion: Dostoevsky Interprets Opekushin”

4:30pm: on the “19th-century Russian Women Prose Writers” panel in Cyril Magnin III: Anna Berman on “Plotting the Family and Failed Marriage Plots”

4:30pm: the panel 4-5 “Dostoevsky’s Ethics and Aesthetics” in Cyril Magnin I includes papers from: Thomas Dyne (“Знаю, что и вы обо мне там думаете”: the ethics of realism in Dostoevsky’s Bednye liudi), Giulia Dossi and Matylda Figlerowicz (Language as a metaphor for the human condition in Dostoevsky’s The House of the Dead and Eva Kantürkova’s My companions from the Bleak House), Alexei Pavlenko (Dostoevsky’s Heretical Christology), and Alina Wyman (Helpless Love in the Context of Revaluation of Values: Dostoevsky’s Frustrated Dreamers).


8am: our Dostoevsky Stream B panel in Fillmore with papers by Kathleen Scollins (Pronouncing the “New Word”: the Bronze Horseman Subtext of Crime and Punishment) and Katie Lane (The Art of Literary Creation in The Brothers Karamazov) and discussion by Robin Feuer Miller

8am: on the “Mimesis in Russian Art and Aesthetic Theory” stream panel B in Divisadero: Anastassia Kostrioukova on “Mimetic Art and Medicine: The Ill Body as a Challenge to Claims to Truth in Late 19th Century Russian Realism and Medical Knowledge”

3:15pm: on the “Silver Age Perspectives on the Golden Age” panel in Cyril Magnin I: Lindsey Ceballos on “Merezhkovskii’s Dostoevskian Response to Tolstoyan Death in “Smert’”

5:15pm: our Dostoevsky Stream C panel “Teaching Dostoevsky outside a Traditional Slavic Department” in Davidson: with Susan McReynolds, Katherine Bowers, Flavio Ricardo Vassoler do Canto, and Richard Weisberg.


9am: on the panel “Gogol and Dostoevsky” in Mission II: Irena Avsenik Nabergoj on “The “Ridiculous Jew” in Gogol, Dostoevsky and Cankar”

As always, you can join the discussion on Twitter – we’ll be live-tweeting on @DostoevskySoc and using the #AATSEEL2017 hashtag!

Twitter, Criticism, Dialogue: Dostoevsky and a Call to Action

by Tomi Haxhi

cvzxbh6usaa96lcBy now, you have no doubt heard about the @RodionTweets project (still ongoing!), whereby an ambitious team of Dostoevsky scholars brought Crime and Punishment into the twenty-first century, tweeting the events of the novel from Raskolnikov’s point of view to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the novel. As Professor Carol Apollonio put it during her keynote address at the Crime and Punishment at 150 conference this past fall, criticism is “nothing but long, smart tweets.” She went on to say that, “in this hasty, impatient age, there is a whole lot to be said for short, smart tweets.” Her absorbing address, handily performed and very witty throughout, began with one of the primary concerns of the Twitter project and of the conference at large: how to update the text (indeed, any text) for the contemporary reader—or “non-reader”—, whose attention has become the site of a continuous battle between various media. Academics must not point fingers, Apollonio warned us, but must rather step up to the plate and do the greatest kindness, that is, initiate a conversation.

Bakhtin tells us that “to be means to communicate dialogically,” that “two voices is the minimum for life, the minimum for existence.” (Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics 1984 p. 252). Thus, the importance of any novel, not least of all of Crime and Punishment, lies in our discussion of it, irrespective of the medium. Literature comes to life in dialogue—not only in dialogue between author and reader, but between the readers themselves, thereby enriching our understanding of both self and other. It is in dialogue that the human subject is born, for the subject does not stand alone: we live in the world—and through the word—of the other. In Bakhtin’s words, “only in communion, in the interaction of one person with another can the ‘man in man’ be revealed, for others as well as for oneself” (Ibid.).

With this in mind, throughout her talk Apollonio encouraged her audience to participate, right then and there, in an ongoing, live Twitter discussion under the hashtag #CP150, transforming each audience member from a passive listener into an active participant (granted, of course, that they are active on Twitter).

What gets Raskolnikov into trouble, according to Apollonio, is exactly his lack of communion, i.e. communication. He reads, and reads, and reads, but he keeps his thoughts bottled up, denying himself the dialogue so necessary to life. As such, Raskolnikov remains to a degree unformed, incomplete—in cutting himself off from the world, he cuts himself off from his self. Despite the fact that the bulk of Crime and Punishment is composed of his thoughts, they are rarely in reality voiced. Apollonio noted that, even in the novel’s most famous dialogues, Raskolnikov is mostly silent, be it with Marmeladov, Porfiry Petrovich, or Svidrigailov.

To prove her point, Apollonio did the kind of thing which, admittedly, “non-academics mock academics for doing”—that is, she took advantage of the ‘find’ function on a Word-document version of the entire novel, searching for each and every quotation mark in the text to find where, exactly, Raskolnikov is speaking, and on the other hand, where he is thinking. Unlike in English translation, where dialogue and thought are both marked by quotation marks and differentiated by quotation words (“he said” vs. “he thought”), in the Russian original, dialogue is marked by long dashes at the beginning of utterances, and thoughts by quotation marks. Here, however, she came up against some trouble, noting that serious slippages occur throughout the novel. In fact, Raskolnikov appears to think his thoughts aloud time and again, directed toward no one in particular.

screen-shot-2017-01-22-at-11-03-58-pmFor Apollonio, this presents one of the central problems of the novel: what is dialogue without an other? “Does it matter if he speaks aloud if no one seems to hear him,” she asked her audience, deeming this this the classic ‘tree falling in the forest’ dilemma, presented anew throughout Crime and Punishment. Dostoevsky blurs the boundaries between the speaking and the thinking subject in much the same way as he blurs the boundaries between his protagonist’s inner life and the outside world. According to Apollonio, Dostoevsky thereby brings us back to the problem of “the isolated individual’s uncertain ontological grounding,” again reminding me of Bakhtin’s emphasis on dialogue. In isolation, the subject does not exist in full capacity—if at all. And this could not be truer of the protagonist of Crime and Punishment. Ultimately, the reader witnesses Raskolnikov move from “mute isolation” to “speaking his guilt” and finding new life in the world of the other.

screen-shot-2017-01-22-at-11-04-40-pmToward the beginning of her talk, Apollonio suggested the following, which touched me greatly. “Tweeting does not assume anyone is listening,” she said, “but it does convey our yearning for conversation, for someone to listen and respond. It is a free leap, full of trust and hope, into an invisible community.” I now see that this leap of faith is related directly to Raskolnikov himself—it is the leap which he denied himself throughout the novel, too frightened to act on this basic human need, and which he finally learns to take, born again, in its last pages.


Tomi Haxhi is a PhD student in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Columbia University. He received an MA in Slavic Languages and Literatures from the University of Toronto in 2016. His talk at CP150 was entitled “Schismatic Temporalities: Raskolnikov and the Raskolniki.”