Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time

By Joseph Frank; Mary Petrusewicz | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 46

The Citizen

The Dostoevskys had been living from hand to mouth on advances from Katkov, and with the conclusion of Demons, this source of income ceased to exist. Anna was determined to help her husband increase the family income, and the opportunity arose when Dostoevsky turned to publishers for the sale of the rights to Demons as an independent volume. He had hoped to net a considerable sum, but the hail of unfavorable criticism lowered the novel's value in the marketplace, and the offers he received were derisory for an important work by a famous author. He and Anna thus decided to publish the book themselves—at last realizing a dream that Dostoevsky had nourished since the mid-1840s. The project was financially risky and might sink them even further into debt, but the rewards were too enticing to resist.

With justifiable pride, Anna describes in her Reminiscences how she made presumably innocent inquiries of booksellers and printers about costs, discounts, and so on, carefully concealing her real purpose, and learned the secrets of the trade. The Dostoevskys then published Demons on their own, buying the paper, arranging for the printing and binding, and turning out an edition of thirty-five hundred copies. Anna conducted all the negotiations with the buyers, and the Dostoevskys were thus launched as a publishing firm. This was, as Anna writes with satisfaction, “the cornerstone of our joint publishing activity and, after his death, of my own work, which continued for thirty-eight years.” 1 When their first edition was sold out, they had earned a profit of four thousand rubles.

Long before he even fancied that he could become a publisher, however, Dostoevsky had thought of another means of rescuing himself from his humiliating wage slavery to editors and publishers. Several times in his correspondence from abroad he had mentioned the idea of a new journalistic publication, and he even worked such a notion into the text of Demons. Liza Drozdova, wishing to be “useful” to her country, tells Shatov about her plan for a yearly almanac that would be a selection of facts about Russia, but all chosen in such a way as to convey “an intention, a thought, illuminating all of the whole” (10: 104). As far back as 1864–1865, Dostoevsky had also jotted down notes for a biweekly

1 Anna Dostoevsky, Reminiscences, trans. and ed. Beatrice Stillman (New York, 1975), 220.

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