Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time

By Joseph Frank; Mary Petrusewicz | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 51

The Diary of a Writer, 1876–1877

The ideas promulgated in the Diary of a Writer were already familiar from Dostoevsky's earlier journalism, as well as from the ideological flights of his novels. But they are given new life and color by the constant parade of fresh examples drawn from his omnivorous reading of the current press, from his wide knowledge of history and literature both Russian and European, and, very frequently, from the events of his own life. Such autobiographical revelations were certainly one of the main attractions of the Diary; readers felt they were truly being admitted into the intimacy of one of their great men. This constant interplay between the personal and the public—the incessant shift of level between the social problems of the day, the “accursed questions” that have always plagued human life, and the glimpses into the recesses of Dostoevsky's own private life and sensibility—proved an irresistible combination that gave the Diary its unique literary cachet.

In addition, the Diary served as a stimulus not only for short stories and sketches but also, as he had anticipated, for the major novel he was planning to write. Time and again motifs appear that will soon be utilized in The Brothers Karamazov. Even if not literally a notebook, the Diary lives up to this name in the exact sense of the word. It is genuinely the working tool of a writer in the early stages of creation—a writer who searches for (and finds) the inspiration for his work as, pen in hand, he surveys the passing scene and attempts to cope with its deeper import.


I. Journalism

In the 1860s, Dostoevsky's journals had advanced a doctrine ofpochvennichestvo, advocating the return of the intelligentsia to their own native soil, to their own culture and its moral-religious roots and values. This conception of the ideal relation between the intelligentsia and the people forms the background for the treatment of this question in the Diary. The peasants were liberated with land, Dostoevsky writes in the June 1876 issue, “because we saw ourselves as Russians, with the Tsar at our head, exactly as the landowner Pushkin dreamed forty years

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