Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time

By Joseph Frank; Mary Petrusewicz | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8

Dostoevsky and the Pléiade

Belinsky's excitement over the manuscript of Poor Folk quickly made Dostoevsky's name a byword among his circle, and the fame of the new young author spread throughout the literary community even before the publication of the novel in January 1846. Panaev, who paid Dostoevsky the compliment of immediately beginning to imitate his manner, wrote several years later: “We carried him in our arms through the streets of the city, and, exhibiting him to the public, cried: 'Here is a little genius just born, and whose works in time will kill off all the rest of the literature past and present. Bow down! Bow down!' We trumpeted his name everywhere, in the streets and in the salons.” 1 The ironic tone of this passage reflects the later attitude of the Belinsky Pléiade to Dostoevsky, but it also confirms the enormous acclaim that he received even before his first novel appeared in the Petersburg Almanac, a collection of writing of the Natural School edited by Nekrasov.

With his usual impetuosity and wholeheartedness, Belinsky immediately adopted the young author as an intimate and spoke of him to others with unconstrained affection. “'Yes,' "Belinsky" used to say proudly,” recalls Turgenev, “as though he had himself been responsible for some terrific achievement, 'yes, my dear fellow, let me tell you it may be a tiny bird,' and he would put his hand about a foot from the floor to show how tiny it was, 'but it's got sharp claws.' … in his access of paternal tenderness to a newly discovered talent, Belinsky treated him like a son, just as if he were his own 'little boy.'” 2

Dostoevsky thus became—for an all-too-brief season—the literary lion of cultivated Petersburg society, and the newfound glory of his position, the flattering adulation he received on all sides, would have turned the head even of a more balanced personality. In Dostoevsky's case, it opened the floodgates of a boundless vanity that, up to this point, he had kept tightly closed. His letters are now filled with a manic exuberance and self-glorification quite comprehensible under the circumstances. “Everywhere,” he tells Mikhail, “an unbelievable esteem, a passionate curiosity about me…. Everybody considers me some sort of prodigy. I can't even open my mouth without it being repeated in all quarters

1 Cited in DZhP, 121.

2 Ivan Turgenev, Literary Reminiscences, trans. David Magarshack (New York, 1958), 148.

-86-

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