I was delighted when Joseph Frank asked if I would compose the one-volume edition of his monumental five-volume work on Dostoevsky. As I reread the volumes to formulate some principles for editing, it became clear that the rich detail (of biography, literary culture, ideology) is employed in a singular manner— namely, to bring out the full power of Dostoevsky's work. All of the stories and novels are then analyzed, as literary texts, in separate, self-contained chapters. Frank doesn't analyze the literary work as a window into Dostoevsky's life and times, quite the reverse; and what he achieves in the process is a literary criticism that gives the reader the most intense and clearest possible impression of the fiction.
My aim as I set to work was to maintain that brilliant balance of biography, literary criticism, and intellectual history that Joseph Frank originated; and to keep as well the “novelistic” narrative style so appropriate to the life of Dostoevsky. The challenge was to do this while cutting nearly two-thirds of the original material. I therefore went through several editing rounds carefully, cutting more each round, summarizing more each round, reorganizing or rewriting passages as needed for narrative cohesion. I frequently combined two, three, or even four chapters of the original volumes into one chapter. For the major novels, I maintained a separate chapter or chapters for the analysis of the literary text, as in the original volumes, though condensing as necessary. For some of the early minor works, however, I was forced to weave Frank's analysis of the literary text into the narrative; and I did this by cutting much of the plot summary and focusing on the key ideas of the work and its significance for Dostoevsky's development as a writer, or for the development of important themes in Dostoevsky's greatest novels. Despite the cuts, the essential material of the original is preserved.
My warmest thanks to Robin Feuer Miller for reading the first draft of the condensation side by side with the original and for her suggestions for restoring text; to Joseph Frank for his meticulous review of the condensation in its final stages; and to Hanne Winarsky, whose idea it was to bring out this edition, for her generous and steadfast support.
Mary Petrusewicz is an independent scholar, writer, and translator who lectures in Russian literature and history at Stanford University.