Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time

By Joseph Frank; Mary Petrusewicz | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 39

An Inconsolable Father

The publication of the first seven chapters of The Idiot in The Russian Messenger (January 1868) successfully crowned the months of torturing gestation that Dostoevsky had just lived through. But his uncertainties about the novel's continuation were far from over. Dostoevsky was forced to create both a scenario and a final text for each new installment, remaining in continual uncertainty until the very last stage of composition. And he changed residences five times while the novel was under way. Twice the Dostoevskys were forced to change quarters in Geneva, and then they shifted from Geneva to Vevey, on the other side of the lake, which supposedly had a milder climate. Three months later the Dostoevskys went to Italy, living for two months in Milan and then for the remainder of the year in Florence, where the final chapters were completed.

Work was also interrupted by the birth of their first child, a joyful event then followed by the tragedy of her death—a terrible blow to the couple, whose anguish is movingly expressed in Dostoevsky's letters. Dostoevsky was continually plagued by worry over the wayward conduct of his stepson Pasha, as well as by the indigence of his late brother's family. All these and other matters constantly distracted him, and it is not difficult for an observer to share the admiring astonishment expressed by Maikov: “Anna Grigoryevna in her condition, poverty, exile, no close friends or family nearby, how do you bear all this, yes, and while bearing it, to write a novel into the bargain!” 1 These were the circumstances under which Dostoevsky toiled away at The Idiot; and he had ample justification for claiming that no major Russian novelist of his time had worked under such disheartening impediments.

Dostoevsky's most pressing concern during the remainder of January was to furnish the copy promised to Katkov, and he sat at his desk day and night, struggling to embody his artistic intuitions in living figures on the page. To Sofya Ivanova he provides an image of his working routine: “I get up late, light the fire in the fireplace (it's awfully cold here), and we drink our coffee; then I get down

1 “Pis'ma Maikova,” DSiM, 2: 343.

-564-

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