Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time

By Joseph Frank; Mary Petrusewicz | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 48

Bad Ems

Dostoevsky resigned from The Citizen in April 1874, and it was shortly afterward that an unexpected event occurred: Nekrasov called on his former friend. Anna was aware of their recent estrangement, and when her husband invited his visitor into his study she could not resist eavesdropping on their conversation. What she heard was an offer from Nekrasov for Dostoevsky to contribute a new novel to Notes of the Fatherland during the next year, at “a payment of two hundred and fifty rubles per folio sheet, while until this time Dostoevsky had gotten only a hundred and fifty.” 1 When he went to consult Anna, she impetuously told him to accept even before he could pose the question. Dostoevsky, however, went to Moscow to first determine whether Katkov, who had supported him so loyally for so long, wished to acquire his new novel for the Russian Messenger. Katkov consented to the higher rate per folio sheet but demurred at a large advance, and Dostoevsky was thus released from any obligation.

Around this time, a Russian specialist, Professor Koshlakov, had advised Dostoevsky that his emphysema could be alleviated by a six-week stay at the spa of Bad Ems, whose mineral waters were famous for their curative powers. At the beginning of June he thus left Staraya Russa for Petersburg and spent a few days looking after urgent matters before undertaking his journey abroad. One such case involved the estate of his late aunt, the wealthy A. F. Kumanina, who had given Dostoevsky and his brother Mikhail ten thousand rubles each in 1864 and then excluded them from her will. Both Dostoevsky and Mikhail's widow were contesting the exclusion. In a letter a month earlier to his younger brother Nikolay, an engineer given to drink and often aided by his older brother, Dostoevsky put pressure on him to sign a statement, as one of the heirs, renouncing any claim to the money given to the brothers. “Otherwise,” he writes, “don't bother to have any dealings with me at all,” 2 and Nikolay promptly complied.

Even though he was disappointed to find that only two copies of The Idiot had been sold at the offices of The Citizen, which served as a depot for the Dostoevsky publishing firm, he was heartened when he ran into a publisher named

1 Anna Dostoevsky, Reminiscences, trans. and ed. Beatrice Stillman (New York, 1975), 228.

2PSS, 29/Bk. 1: 319; May 5, 1874.

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