Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time

By Joseph Frank; Mary Petrusewicz | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 17

Private Dostoevsky

Dostoevsky was released from the Omsk stockade on February 15, 1854, but the freedom for which he had waited so long was still minimal. As he remarked in his letter to Mme Fonvizina, “In the overcoat of a soldier, I am just as much of a prisoner as before.” 1 For reasons of health he was allowed to remain in Omsk for a month, and both he and Durov lived at the home of the hospitable Konstantin Ivanov and his wife.

Dostoevsky's letters give us a graphic picture of his plight as a lowly soldier. Completely dependent on the good will and even charity of others, he was forced to continually plead for help. What made his situation even worse was the conviction that he had emerged from prison camp with new powers as a writer and that, if he were only allowed to utilize his talents, all his problems could be solved at one stroke. In his letter to Mikhail written during his recuperation in Omsk, Dostoevsky makes no effort to conceal his personal agenda when he asks for a full report on all his relatives and on the exact state of Mikhail's finances. (Mikhail had opened a small cigarette factory with his share of the distribution of the Dostoevsky family property.) Dostoevsky is determined to fight his way back into Russian literature and he knows this will involve a long campaign, during which his survival will depend on the help he can muster from family and friends. “I need money,” he tells Mikhail bluntly. “I have to live, brother. These years will not have passed without bearing their fruits…. What you spend for me—will not be lost. If I manage to live, I will return it with interest … and now I will no longer write trifles. You will hear of me being talked about.” 2

A further request to Mikhail, made in even more pressing terms, was for the dispatch of books. Even after Major Krivtsov had been toppled, Dostoevsky's relation to literature had been too emotionally charged to allow him to pick up a book lightly. He recalls “the strange and agitating impression of the first book I read in prison”—one of the Russian “thick” periodicals containing literary works, criticism, and social commentary. “My former life rose up before me full of light and color and I tried from what I had read to conjecture how far I had

1Pis'ma, 1: 143; between February 20, 1854, and the end of the month.

2 Ibid., 138. February 22, 1854.

-223-

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