Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time

By Joseph Frank; Mary Petrusewicz | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 57

Controversies and Conclusions

Back in Staraya Russa, Dostoevsky dispatched a letter to Countess Sofya Tolstaya, who, along with Vladimir Solovyev and the singer and composer Yulia Abaza, had signed a collective telegram congratulating him on his Pushkin success. He repeats in brief much of what we already know, including the glowing spontaneous responses of Turgenev and Annenkov (“the latter absolutely an enemy to me”), and adds an extra detail: “'I'm not saying that because you praised my Liza,' Turgenev told me.” Apologizing for “talking so much about myself,” Dostoevsky insists, “I swear it isn't vanity: one lives for such moments, it's for them that you in fact come into this world. My heart is full—how can I help telling my friends. I'm still stunned.” 1

As a veteran campaigner in the Russian social-cultural wars, Dostoevsky was under no illusions that he would emerge unscathed or that battle would not rapidly be joined. “Don't worry—I'll soon hear 'the laughter of the crowd'” (a citation from Pushkin), he assures the countess. “I won't be forgiven this in various literary dark alleys and tendencies.” From the summaries of his speech in the newspapers, he already saw that two of his main points were being overlooked. One is Pushkin's “universal responsiveness,” which “comes completely from our national spirit.” Hence Pushkin “is in fact our most national poet.” The second point was that “I gave a formula, a word of reconciliation for all our parties, and showed the way out to a new era. That's what everyone in fact felt, but the newspaper correspondents either didn't understand that or refused to.” 2 He was convinced that he had been understood by the public, regardless of what the newspapers were saying or what the monthly journals would print in their next issues.

On June 15 Dostoevsky wrote to Yulia Abaza, responding to a story of hers on which she asked him to comment. Dostoevsky's criticism furnishes him an occasion to release the anti-Semitic animus that now more and more dominated his thoughts. The idea of Abaza's story, as Dostoevsky defines it, is “that races of people who have received their original idea from their founders, and who subordinate themselves to it exclusively over several generations, subsequently

1PSS, 30/Bk. 1: 187–188; June 13, 1880.

2 Ibid.

-835-

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