Dostoevsky and Speshnev
Nikolay Speshnev—who unquestionably furnished Dostoevsky, twenty years later, with some of the inspiration for the character of Nikolay Stavrogin in De- mons, stood out among the rather drab personages clustering around Petrashevsky as a bird of a more brilliant plumage. He was, in the first place, a very wealthy landowner. Like Petrashevsky, he had attended the Alexander Lyceum, and the two had known each other as students, but with an arrogant off-handedness typical of his character, Speshnev had not bothered to graduate. He was the only member of the circle who did not have to earn a living, and he was the only one who had traveled to Europe and had enjoyed the cultural advantages of the cosmopolitan life of the Russian gentry.
Bakunin—a product of the same milieu, and who knew a fellow aristocrat when he saw one—was much impressed with Speshnev when they met in Siberia in 1860. “Speshnev,” he wrote to Herzen, “is a remarkable man in many ways: intelligent, cultivated, handsome, aristocratic in bearing, not at all standoffish though quietly cold, inspiring confidence—like every one possessing a quiet strength—a gentleman from head to foot.” 1 The wife of Nikolay Ogarev, who met him just before his arrest in 1849, describes him as being tall, with finely chiseled features and dark brown hair flowing in waves down to his shoulders; his large blue-gray eyes were, she thought, shadowed by a look of gentle melancholy.2
Speshnev had lived in Europe between 1842 and 1847, and, when he returned to Petersburg in December of that year, was surrounded with the aureole both of a romantic and a revolutionary legend. Women, as Bakunin notes somewhat enviously, found Speshnev irresistible. “Women are not opposed to a bit of charlatanry,” he sagely informs Herzen, “and Speshnev creates quite an effect: he is particularly good at wrapping himself in the mantle of a deeply pensive and quiet impenetrability.” 3 If we are to believe Bakunin, Speshnev cut a wide swath during 1846 in the Russian-Polish society of Dresden. Whether old or young,
1 P. S. Schegolev, ed., Petrashevtsy, 3 vols. (Moscow–Leningrad, 1926–1928), 1: 134.
2 Ibid., 75.
3 Ibid., 135.