Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time

By Joseph Frank; Mary Petrusewicz | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 19

The Siberian Novellas

Once Dostoevsky had received his commission as an officer in March 1857, and once his rights as a nobleman had been restored in May 1857, we hear no more about his Letters on Art. Instead, all his energies are now concentrated on the various projects for novels and stories on which he had never ceased to work in the three years since his release from the prison camp, despite the demands of his military duties and the stultifying aftermaths of his epileptic seizures. He still did not know whether he had regained the right to publish, but his correspondents assured him that such a right was implicitly included in those he had been accorded. Since other returning Petrashevtsy had begun to appear in print, Dostoevsky decided to publish, at first without signature, and to see whether this would provoke any reaction from the authorities.

The only work immediately available was the story he had completed in the Peter-and-Paul Fortress, “A Little Hero,” which was published in the August 1857 issue of Notes of the Fatherland. That summer, Dostoevsky's literary efforts were concentrated on work that, as he tells Evgeny Yakushkin, was “as bulky as a novel of Dickens” and had occupied him for about a year and a half. Dostoevsky speaks of a plan containing three books, but “only the first book has been written in 5 parts” and he promises to now “start to polish it by sections and send the sections to you.” 1 He asks Yakushkin to inquire among editors in Petersburg if they would be interested in the first volume and how much they would pay.

From a letter to Mikhail a few months later, it is clear that Dostoevsky had hoped to publish in installments as these were completed, but that Mikhail advised him to hurry up and complete whatever he was then writing. “Seeing that my novel is taking on huge proportions,” Dostoevsky writes, “that it was turning out excellently, and that it was necessary, absolutely necessary (for money) to terminate it quickly—I began to hesitate. Nothing is sadder than such hesitation in the midst of work. Eagerness, will, energy—all sputter out.” As a result, Dostoevsky informs his brother that “the whole novel with all its material is now packed in the trunk.” 2

1Fisima 1: 221–222; June 1, 1857.

2 Ibid., 2: 585–586; November 3, 1857.

-255-

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