Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time

By Joseph Frank; Mary Petrusewicz | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 50

A Public Figure

With the completion of A Raw Youth, Dostoevsky was once again faced with the problem of what to undertake next. Although the publisher of several of his own works, he still had no regular source of income to provide for his family, recently increased to three children with the birth of a new son, Aleksey, on August 10, 1875. Now he returned to the idea of publishing a new periodical, his Diary of a Writer, which he had experimented with in The Citizen. A family decision was made to take the plunge, even though, as Anna wrote, “if the Diary proved to be a failure, we would be put into a hopeless position.” 1

Dostoevsky's decision to undertake his Diary of a Writer was an adventurous gamble that marked a new stage in his astonishing career. Although he had once more become a name to be reckoned with on the Russian literary-cultural scene, his fame was still largely confined to intelligentsia circles. With the Diary of a Writer, however, he reached out to a much larger and diversified reading public, to whom he spoke eloquently and passionately about matters that were uppermost in the minds of all literate Russians. No one had ever written about such matters so forcefully and vividly, with such directness, simplicity, and intimate personal commitment. It is little wonder that the public response was tremendous, and that Dostoevsky was deluged with correspondence, both pro and contra, the moment his publication appeared in the kiosks.

One of the salons he frequented in these years was that of Elena Shtakenshneider, who attracted everyone by her intelligence, sensitivity, and kindness, and by the stoic courage with which she bore her disfiguring hunchback. Noting the immense popularity of the Diary, she wrote in her own diary: “Dostoevsky's fame was not caused by his prison sentence, not by House of the Dead, and not even by his novels—at least not primarily by them—but by the Diary of a Writer. It was the Diary that made his name known in all of Russia, made him the teacher and idol of the youth, yes, and not only the youth but all those tortured by those questions that Heine called 'accursed.'” 2

1 Anna Dostoevsky, Reminiscences, trans. and ed. Beatrice Stillman (New York, 1975), 213.

2 Cited in DVS, 2: 364–365.

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