Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time

By Joseph Frank; Mary Petrusewicz | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 42

Fathers, Sons, and Stavrogin

At the end of May 1869, Katkov published an article in the Moscow Gazette dealing with the recent student disorders that had broken out in St. Petersburg and Moscow, and he designated among their leaders “a certain Nechaev.” He was described as a “very hardened Nihilist,” an “inflamer of youth,” who had been arrested but managed the unprecedented feat of escaping from the Peter-and-Paul Fortress and fleeing abroad. In Europe he had produced a series of incendiary proclamations calling on students to revolt, “printed them very handsomely,” and sent bales of them back to Russia through the public mails.1 In fact, Nechaev had never been arrested, much less escaped from the impregnable fortress, but this was the legend that he spread about himself in accordance with his calculated tactic of deception in the service of the revolution. Bakunin and Ogarev, who eagerly aided Nechaev in his proclamation campaign, at first greeted him admiringly in Geneva as the resurrected incarnation of the revolutionary aspirations of their youth. It was only later, when his unscrupulousness had been turned against them, that their initial enthusiasm was reversed to regretful repudiation.

Six months later, the Moscow Gazette carried news of the murder of a student on the grounds of the Petrovsky Agricultural Academy in Moscow, where Anna's brother, Ivan Snitkin, was a student. But it was only on December 29 that Nechaev's name was linked to the murder, and thereafter stories about him appeared regularly in the newspapers, with references to “some kind of wild conspiracy with proclamations” and to Ivanov, the murdered student, as having “died because he wished to denounce the criminal scheme.” 2 (What Ivanov objected to, so far as can be established, was Nechaev's assertion of his right to absolute dictatorial control over the members of his group of five.)3 On January 4, 1870, a leading article by Katkov, which summarized and commented on foreign newspaper reports covering the Nechaev affair, devoted a good deal of space to Bakunin, who, along with the weak-willed and compliant Ogarev, had participated with Nechaev in launching his propaganda campaign. Katkov had known

1 See the commentary to The Devils in PSS, 12: 198. I am greatly indebted in general to the ma-
terial contained in pages 192–218.

2Ibid., 199.

3See Philip Pomper, Sergei Nechaev (New Brunswick, NJ, 1979), 112.

-601-

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