Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time

By Joseph Frank; Mary Petrusewicz | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 29

The Prison of Utopia

All during the summer and fall, Mikhail had been writing endless petitions to the authorities for permission to resume publication, and in mid-November permission was given, not to revive Time, but to publish a new journal—on condition that it maintain an “irreproachable tendency.” 1 The loss of the previous name of the journal meant that the new publication could not benefit from the prestige already acquired by Time in the past two years and would have to begin anew to establish itself. Dostoevsky took as active a part as he could in the preparations, and there was a steady flow of correspondence between the two cities. The title Epoch was finally hit upon, and the first announcement asking for subscriptions was placed at the end of January 1864, which meant that most potential subscribers had already sent their money elsewhere. Also, the first issue (a double one) came off the presses only in April, creating an impression of editorial disorganization and unreliability. Strakhov uncharitably blames Mikhail Dostoevsky for lacking energy at this crucial moment, forgetting to mention that Mikhail's youngest daughter Varya died of scarlet fever in February and that the poor father was prostrate with grief.

Dostoevsky mentions to Mikhail that he would write a lead article establishing the position of the journal, and he mentions two others as well: “A critique of the novel of Chernyshevsky and the one of Pisemsky would create a considerable effect…. Two opposed ideas and both demolished. As a result, the truth.” 2 Pisemsky's The Unruly Sea (1863), which had been published in The Russian Mes- senger, was among the first of the important so-called anti-Nihilist novels that form a subcategory in Russian prose fiction of the nineteenth century. Such books differ from Turgenev's Fathers and Children, or Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, by depicting the Nihilists as outright scoundrels moved only by the basest personal motives. On the opposing side, Chernyshevsky's Utopian novel, What Is To Be Done? (1863), gave a glowing picture of the extraordinary moral virtues of the “new people” whom Turgenev had maligned with the label of Nihilist, and it also includes an enticing tableau of their future Utopian Socialist

1DMI, 543.

2Pis'ma, 1: 341; November 19, 1863.

-399-

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