Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time

By Joseph Frank; Mary Petrusewicz | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 18

A Russian Heart

Thanks to the kindness of new friends like Wrangel and Yakushkin, who obligingly conveyed letters between Dostoevsky and his family and old circle of friends in Petersburg and Moscow, the novelist, though far removed from the centers of Russian social and cultural life, could still gain some sense of the ideas and tendencies now stirring the intelligentsia. The outbreak of the Crimean War in 1853 (news of which had barely managed to seep into the prison camp) had stirred all the latent patriotic ardor of Dostoevsky's old friend Apollon Maikov, a progressive Westernizer, and his open letter, published in the St. Petersburg Gazette in 1854 as a cultural-political manifesto, records the upsurge of chauvinistic nationalism that swept over much of literate Russian society at the beginning of hostilities. In this open letter the critic urges writers, as Russians, to honor the “sacred feeling of love for the fatherland” and to “illuminate "in their work" that ideal of Russia which is perceptible to everybody.” 1

“I have read your letter,” Dostoevsky responds approvingly in January 1856, “and have not understood the essential. I mean about patriotism, the Russian idea, the feeling of duty, national honor … my friend! … I have always shared exactly these same sentiments and convictions…. What is really new in this movement that you have seen come to birth and of which you speak as a new tendency?” “I entirely share your patriotic sentiments about the moral liberation of the Slavs,” he continues, “I agree with you that Europe and her mission will be realized by Russia. This has been clear to me for a long time.” 2 Dostoevsky asserts repeatedly that both he and Maikov have remained the same men on the level of “the heart,” whatever alterations may have taken place in the “ideas” they profess; and these assertions serve as a prelude to the important profession of faith that Dostoevsky makes and his disclosure of how he now interprets his past.

“Perhaps a little while ago,” writes Dostoevsky, “you were still troubled by the influx of French ideas into that class of society which thinks, feels, and studies…. But you will agree yourself that all right-thinking people, that is, those who gave the tone to everything, regarded French ideas from a scientific point

1 Cited in Leonid Grossman, “Grazhdanskaya smert F. M. Dostoevskogo,” LN 22–24 (Moscow,
1935), 688–689.

2Pis'ma, 1: 165; January 18, 1856.

-243-

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