Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time

By Joseph Frank; Mary Petrusewicz | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 41

The Pamphlet and the Poem

The termination of The Idiot allowed Dostoevsky, who had been writing steadily for a year and a half, to catch his breath for a moment, but it also meant the end of the monthly stipend he had been receiving from Katkov. To make matters worse, Dostoevsky calculated that the amount of copy he had furnished still left him with a debt to Katkov's journal of one thousand rubles. Dostoevsky thus begins to mention all sorts of new plans and projects, and the relation of these crisscrossing ideas to the works he then wrote is sometimes difficult to unravel.

Even before finishing the fourth part of The Idiot, and in the same letter to Maikov in which he defines his aesthetic of “fantastic realism,” Dostoevsky had outlined the idea for a major new novel. This outline immediately precedes the statement of his aesthetic, which may have emerged not only as a response to criticisms of The Idiot but also as a generalization of the approach to Russian life and reality expressed in his new creative project. Dostoevsky had in mind

a huge novel whose title will be Atheism…. The main figure is: a Russian
of our society, … he loses faith in God. All his life he … did not go off
the beaten path, and for forty-five years was in no way other than ordi-
nary…. His loss of faith in God has a colossal effect on him…. He darts
about among the young generation, the atheists, the Slavs and Europeans,
the Russian fanatics, anchorites, the priests; he is strongly affected, among
others, by a group of Jesuits, propagandizers, Poles; he slips away from
them to the depths of the flagellants—and in the end finds Christ and the
Russian God.1

Such a novel was never written, but this outline soon developed into a much longer work that also remained unwritten, The Life of a Great Sinner (Zhitie ve- likogo greshnika), and both then fed into Demons. Dostoevsky's ambition, it is clear, was to present a large fresco of Russian opinions and religious experiences,

1PSS, 29/Bk. 1: 58n.1; August 29/September 10, 1869.

-590-

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