Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time

By Joseph Frank; Mary Petrusewicz | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9

Belinsky and Dostoevsky: I

Belinsky's age, as well as his authoritative position, excluded the intimate rivalry that pitted Dostoevsky against his contemporaries; and Dostoevsky, quite naturally, also felt an immense gratitude toward the man who had catapulted him to fame. Belinsky never joined in the persecution and openly expressed his disapproval; but despite all the good will on both sides, the acquaintance that began so promisingly in the late spring of 1845 ended in a quarrel in the first half of 1847. This short span of time remained one of the most important and memorable in Dostoevsky's life.

Belinsky was a powerful and passionate personality who stood squarely at the center of the Russian culture of his time; and the memoir literature concerning him is enormous. But the most heartfelt and moving tribute he ever received was the one written by Dostoevsky, remembering, almost thirty years later, the exalted state of rapture in which he had emerged after his first interview with the great critic. “I left in a state of ecstasy. I stopped at the corner of his house, looked up at the sky, at the luminous day, at the passersby, and with my whole being I felt that a solemn moment had occurred in my life, a decisive cleavage; something entirely new had begun, but something that I had not anticipated even in my most impassioned dreams…. 'Oh, I will be worthy of that praise; and what people, what people! … such men are only to be found in Russia; they are alone, but they alone have the truth, and … the good and the true, always conquer and triumph over vice and evil. We shall win; oh, to be of them, with them!' … That was the most wonderful moment in all my life.” 1

Dostoevsky's period of elation, however, ended with the publication of Poor Folk. The book was attacked vehemently from many sides, the main criticisms being that it was terribly long-winded, tedious, and its language too obviously an imitation of Gogol's stylistic mannerisms. He was cheered by the prospect of an impending critical campaign in his favor led by Belinsky, which would include lengthy articles by Odoevsky and Sollogub (he now called the latter “my friend”). “In me,” he had told Mikhail just before the novel was published, “they find a new original current (Belinsky and others) … I go deep and search for

1DW (January 1877), 587–588.

-94-

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