Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time

By Joseph Frank; Mary Petrusewicz | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 61

Death and Transfiguration

After the intense pressure under which he had been laboring for the past three years, Dostoevsky might well have felt a need to relax, rest, and recoup his strength. But now that the first volume of The Brothers Karamazov had been completed he threw himself, with his usual assiduity, into gathering material for his revived Diary of a Writer. Well aware of the severe demands this renewal would make on his gradually deteriorating health, he was driven by economic need—other sources of income were quite insufficient—and also by the mission he had assumed to speak out against the forces disintegrating the fabric of Russian society.

Two memories portray Dostoevsky at this time as aged, feeble, and sickly. I. I. Popov, a student at the Pedagogical Institute and later a member of the terrorist organization People's Will, lived close to the Dostoevsky residence and often saw the writer sitting in the park of the nearby church, watching the children at play. “Hunched up, emaciated, with a yellowish-colored face, hollow cheeks, sunken eyes…. He gave the impression of a person seriously ill.” 1 Popov once saw him walking with his old friend and fellow author Grigorovich, dragging himself along and leaning heavily on an umbrella, and he thought that Grigorovich would surely outlive his companion. A similar image is given by Letkova-Sultanova, who saw Dostoevsky at the home of the marquis Paulucci, where he took part in a benefit evening. In the stately and brilliantly lit reception room, filled with fashionably dressed society, he was attired in an ill-fitting formal evening suit too large for his frame and appeared “even more shrunken, more emaciated, more pallid than ever,” and she was struck by “his look of suffering.” 2

Whatever the state of his physical health, and perhaps because he knew that his days were numbered, Dostoevsky felt it imperative to speak out in defense of his ideas that were now under attack by both liberals and radicals. Many entries in the notebooks rebut K. D. Kavelin, an important liberal Westernizer and university professor who had been tutored by Belinsky as a young student. Kavelin had attacked Dostoevsky's belief that personal and moral betterment could

1 DVS, 2: 475.

2Letopis zhizni i tvorchestvo F. M. Dostoevskogo, ed. N. F. Budanova and G. M. Fridlender,
3 vols. (St. Petersburg, 1995), 3: 503.

-912-

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