Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time

By Joseph Frank; Mary Petrusewicz | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7

Poor Folk

No début in Russian literature has been described more vividly than that of Dostoevsky, and few, in truth, created so widespread and sensational a stir. Dostoevsky's account is well-known, though he considerably exaggerated and sentimentalized his own innocence and naïveté. “Early in the winter "of 1845", suddenly, I began to write Poor Folk "Bednye lyudi", my first novel; before that I had never written anything. Having finished the novel, I did not know what to do with it, and to whom it should be submitted.” 1 Dostoevsky knew very well what he wished to do with his novel, and there is also evidence that Grigorovich was pushing him to give his work to Notes of the Fatherland.2

There can be no doubt, however, about what occurred when the novel was ready. Grigorovich was profoundly moved by the work; he took it to Nekrasov; and both young literati shed tears over the sad plight of Dostoevsky's characters. Acting on impulse, they rushed to Dostoevsky's apartment at four o'clock in the morning—it was a St. Petersburg “white night,” bright and luminous as day—to convey their emotion. The next day Nekrasov brought it to Belinsky, who greeted it with equal warmth and appreciation. Annenkov visited Belinsky while the critic was plunged in Dostoevsky's manuscript, and he has left a graphic account of Belinsky's enthusiasm at his discovery. “You see this manuscript? I haven't been able to tear myself away from it for almost two days now. It's a novel by a beginner, a new talent his novel reveals such secrets of life and characters in Russia as no one before him even dreamed of. Just think of it—it's the first attempt at a social novel we've had…. The matter in it is simple: it concerns some good-hearted simpletons who assume that to love the whole world is an extraordinary pleasure and duty for every one. They cannot comprehend a thing when the wheel of life with all its rules and regulations runs over them and fractures their limbs and bones without a word. That's all there is—but what drama, what types! I forgot to tell you, the artist's name is Dostoevsky.” 3

1DW (January 1877), 584.

2Pis'ma, 1: 75; March (February) 24, 1845.

3 P. V. Annenkov, The Extraordinary Decade, ed. Arthur P. Mendel, trans. Irwin R. Titunik (Ann
Arbor, MI, 1968), 150.

-76-

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