Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time

By Joseph Frank; Mary Petrusewicz | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 52

A New Novel

The Diary of a Writer for October 1877 contained the announcement that, due to illness, Dostoevsky would suspend publication for two years. When this decision brought more than a hundred letters pleading with him to continue, he told his readers that “in the forthcoming year of rest from periodical publication, I expect, indeed, to engage in belletristic work, which imperceptibly and involuntarily has been taking shape within me during the two years of the publication of the Diary” (26: 126). Both reasons certainly played their part, but perhaps the irresistible call of artistic creation was the stronger. For the next three years, Dostoevsky would be absorbed primarily with writing The Brothers Kara- mazov, whose first installment appeared in The Russian Messenger at the beginning of 1879. During the last two years of his life, he held all of literate Russia spellbound with monthly installments of his greatest novel. Its gripping theme placed the murder of a father in a vast religious and moral-philosophical context; and no Russian reader of the time could avoid associating its deeply probing pages with the increasingly frequent attempts then being made to assassinate the tsar.

Dostoevsky's life now took on the features of a cult figure, someone regarded with awe and unstinting admiration.1 It became customary during these years, even among people who disagreed violently with Dostoevsky on social-political issues, to regard him with a certain reverence, and to feel that his words incarnated a prophetic vision illuminating Russia and its destiny. In the eyes of the vast majority of the literate public, he became a living symbol of all the suffering that history had imposed on the Russian people, as well as all their longing for an ideal world of (Christian) brotherly love and harmony.

Nor was Dostoevsky averse to assuming such a prophetic role, one that he could well have felt had been accorded to him by destiny itself. His life had placed him in an extraordinary position from which to understand the problems of Russian society, and his artistic-ideological evolution embodies and expresses

1 One symbolic indication of this new status was his election in 1878 to membership in the Im-
perial Academy of Sciences, Division of Russian Language and Literature. He was pleased with such
official recognition, though remarking to his wife that, compared with some of his contemporaries,
his thirty-three years of literary activity made the distinction rather belated. See Anna Dostoevsky,
Reminiscences, trans. and ed. Beatrice Stillman (New York, 1975), 297.

-760-

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