Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time

By Joseph Frank; Mary Petrusewicz | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 37

Escape and Exile

The days immediately following the wedding were filled with postnuptial celebrations, and Anna remarks that “I drank more goblets of champagne during those ten days than I did all the rest of my life.” So too did her husband, and those celebratory libations brought on Anna's first encounter with the frightening physical manifestations of Dostoevsky's dread disease. It overtook him at the home of her sister, just as Dostoevsky, “extremely animated,” was telling some story. Suddenly, “there was a horrible, inhuman scream, or more precisely a howl—and he began to topple forward.” 1 Although her sister became hysterical and fled from the room with a “piercing scream,” Anna seized Dostoevsky firmly by the shoulders, tried to place him on the couch, and, when this failed, pushed aside the obstructing furniture and slid his body to the floor. There she sat holding his head in her lap until his convulsions ceased and he began to regain consciousness. The attack was so severe that he could hardly speak, and the words he succeeded in uttering were gibberish. An hour later he suffered another onslaught, “this time with such intensity that for two hours after regaining consciousness he screamed in pain at the top of his voice. It was horrible.” 2 Such repeated attacks were mercifully infrequent, and Anna attributes the one she describes to the nervous strain, as well as the obligatory overindulgence in drink, of the postnuptial visits.

Anna proved capable of coping with such severe tests of her equilibrium and did not allow them to dampen her joy at being Dostoevsky's bride. But she found herself initially helpless before a more insidious and covert threat—one that arose partly from the circumstances of Dostoevsky's life, partly from her bruising contacts with other members of Dostoevsky's family, most notably his stepson, Pasha. Dostoevsky's routine made it almost impossible for her to spend any time with him alone. He wrote or read at night, slept through most of the morning, and rose in the early afternoon. An early riser, Anna busied herself with household matters while he slept, but found that it was usual for his young nieces and nephews to drop in during the late morning and stay for lunch.

1 Anna Dostoevsky, Reminiscences, trans. and ed. Beatrice Stillman (New York, 1975), 6, 79.

2 Ibid., 80.

-531-

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