Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time

By Joseph Frank; Mary Petrusewicz | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 10

Feuilletons and Experiments

Despite the wounding criticism from Belinsky and others, the besieged and struggling Dostoevsky nonetheless continued along his own path. Weary with the narrow stylistic range of the Natural School, he felt his shift to a new style and subject matter as an inner release. “I am writing my Landlady,” he tells Mikhail at the end of January 1847. “My pen is guided by a source of inspiration rising directly from the soul. Not like Prokharchin, over which I agonized all summer.” 1 Even as inspiration coursed through him, however, and even as he had already begun to block out another major novel (Netotchka Nezvanova), Dostoevsky's chronic indebtedness forced him to keep a sharp eye on the literary marketplace and to snap up any assignments that could bring in a little extra cash. While rushing the completion of “The Landlady,” he picked up an assignment from the St. Petersburg Gazette. The writer who supplied the feuilletons for this newspaper died unexpectedly, and the editor hastily filled the gap by appealing to some of the young St. Petersburg literati to furnish him with copy. Four feuilletons, signed F. D., were written by Dostoevsky.

All the up-and-coming young talents of the Natural School—Grigorovich, Panaev, Turgenev, Goncharov, Sollogub, Pleshcheev—wrote feuilletons, and Dostoevsky was simply joining a general literary trend that had originated in France. Starting out as a medium of publicity, this type of newspaper column branched out to describe urban types and social life, giving birth to the physiological sketch. Once the taste for such sketches had caught on, it occurred to Frédéric Soulié to unite them week by week with a loose narrative line, and this was the origin of the feuilleton-novel. The feuilleton allows the writer to roam wherever his fancy pleases and to display his personality. Indeed, as we learn from Belinsky, he is essentially “a chatterer, apparently good-natured and sincere, but in truth often malicious and evil-tongued, someone who knows everything, sees everything, keeps quiet about a good deal but definitely manages to express everything, stings with epigrams and insinuations, and amuses with a lively and clever word as well as a childish joke.” 2 These words fit the personality

1Pis'ma, 1: 108; January–February 1847.

2 Cited in V. S. Nechaeva, V. G. Belinsky, 4 vols. (Leningrad, 1949–1967), 4: 298.

-104-

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