Belinsky and Dostoevsky: II
To the public and literary aspects of their involvement must be added the asserted direct influence of the renowned critic on the formation of the young man's convictions and beliefs. Thirty years later, Dostoevsky published two articles about Belinsky in his Diary of a Writer, and their burden is that Belinsky was the ideological mentor responsible for having placed Dostoevsky's feet on the path leading to Siberia.
Dostoevsky's account provides an irresistibly hagiographic version of the great drama of his conscience. Before meeting Belinsky, he had been a young, pure-hearted, idealistic, naïvely devout believer in the God and Christ of his childhood faith. It was Belinsky, the revered idol of Russian radical youth, who had succeeded in converting him to Socialism and atheism. The result had been his participation in subversive activity, and then his arrest, conviction, and exile to Siberia. There he rediscovered God and Christ through the Russian people, and came to realize that atheism could lead only to personal and social destruction. Dostoevsky's articles of 1873, however, do not quite jibe with what we know of his life.
Belinsky's name had become a slogan and a banner to successive generations of Russian radicals, and it is about this mythical or symbolic Belinsky that Dostoevsky was really writing in the 1870s. In a letter of 1871 to Nikolay Strakhov, who had objected to the violence of Dostoevsky's language about Belinsky, Dostoevsky replies: “I insulted Belinsky more as a phenomenon of Russian life than as a personality.” 1 The portrait Dostoevsky sketched of him two years later is dominated by this impersonal perspective, and the result, as we shall see, is that he integrates his own personal history—even when the facts do not quite fit— into the general image he wishes to create of Belinsky's baneful effect on Russian culture as a whole.
By the time the critic and the young writer met in 1845, Belinsky's point of view had evolved in a manner that took Dostoevsky by surprise. When Belinsky
1Fisima, 2: 364; May 18/30, 1871.