November 01, 2021

Is Dostoyevsky Still Alive?

Is Dostoyevsky Still Alive?

To most Russophiles, Dostoyevsky is a literary demigod. To most Russians, his name recalls memories of literature class torture – of reading under duress.

With the approach of Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky’s 200th birthday (November 11, or October 30 Old Style), natives of St. Petersburg (Peterburzhtsy or Pitertsy) – where Dostoyevsky became an adult and transformed the city into a character in 20 of his 30 novels – still feel haunted by the writer.

St. Petersburg, Russia’s “cultural capital,” is laden with a sense of its own literary importance. At least that is the myth that educated Pitertsy pass on to each generation. The historian Nikolai Antsiferov noted that Dostoyevsky was particularly responsible for this: the novelist “created real attitudes, expectations, and understandings of the lived experience of the city.” Reading Dostoyevsky, Antsiferov wrote, made “student poverty easier to bear: ‘All the adversities of Petersburg life are accepted beforehand: literature had made them attractive… I even liked the danger and prospect of hunger… I looked at life through the prism of literature.’ ”

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