This week, we conclude the amazing story of Anna Dostoyevskaya, the woman without whom Dostoyevsky would never have written his best and most famous novels. Here are Part 1 and Part 2 if you missed them.
SAVING THE MARRIAGE
Although Anna Dostoyevskaya often repeated that she had been only a child when she was married, she adapted to her new position very quickly. She also immediately took upon herself the responsibility of “family treasurer,” a role she fulfilled with ability and enthusiasm.
Her main goal was always to provide her husband with a sense of peace and the right environment for creative production. He worked at night. It is important to remember that for Fyodor Mikhailovich, writing was not just a calling, but also his sole means of earning money.
Unlike Tolstoy or Turgenev, he did not possess a family fortune, so he had to write all his works (except his first story) hastily and hurriedly. He was always rushing to fulfill an order on time; otherwise, he and his family would have been left with no material means for survival.
Cleverly and energetically, Anna began to deal with the creditors that hounded Dostoyevsky. She analyzed and re-analyzed debt receipts, shielding her husband from all these worries. She also took a risk: she pawned her small dowry to go abroad and “save our happiness.”
She was convinced that only “constant spiritual communication with my husband can allow us to create the strong and united family that we dreamed about.”
By the way, it was only by her efforts that the fictitious nature of many of Dostoyevsky’s debts became known. For despite his vast life experience, Dostoyevsky was such a trusting, honest, conscientious person and so little adapted to life that he trusted anyone who came to him asking (or demanding) money.
After his brother Mikhail died, people began to appear at Fyodor Mikhailovich’s door with demands for money that his brother supposedly owed them. Among them there were many rascals who had decided to cash in on the credulity of the writer. He never demanded any confirmation from anyone, no documents of any sort; he simply believed them.
Anna took it upon herself to deal with these so-called creditors. In her Memoirs, she admits:
A bitter feeling rises in me when I remember how my personal life was poisoned by these debts of others … At that time, my entire life was shadowed by unending reflections about where I could get so much money by such a date; where and for how much I could pawn this or that; how I could manage to keep Fyodor from knowing about the visit of a creditor or the mortgage on something. My youth was spent on it, my health suffered and my nerves shattered. “
But she shielded her husband from her own emotions. When she wanted to cry, she went to another room. She tried never to complain, either about her health (rather weak, though nothing compared to his epilepsy) or about her worries, but always tried to encourage him. Dostoyevsky’s wife believed that flexibility was an indispensable condition of a happy marriage. She possessed this rare characteristic to the fullest extent.
Even in those moments when he would leave to play roulette and return, having spent all the money that had been saved to buy them food …
Roulette was a disaster for the family. The great writer was, simply put, sick with it. He had a wild dream of winning enough money to tear his family out of the bondage of debt. This fantasy had complete control over him and alone he could not find the strength to escape its clutches.
Nor would he have, if not for Anna’s unprecedented endurance, love and complete lack of self-pity.
It pained me so deeply to me to see how Fyodor Mikhailovich himself suffered,” she wrote. “He would come back from the roulette table pale, drawn, barely standing on his feet and ask me for more money (he gave me all the money for safekeeping). He would leave and return in half an hour even more upset, get more money and so on until he lost everything that we owned.”
And what about Anna? She understood that the problem wasn’t a lack of will or desire to change, but that this was a real disease, an all-consuming passion. And she never once rebuked him. Nor did she fight with him. In fact, she didn’t even try to refuse his requests for money.
Dostoyevsky begged for her forgiveness on his knees, sobbed, promised to give up the fatal passion… and did it again. At such moments, Anna did not keep a strict, meaningful silence. Instead, she tried convince her husband that everything would be alright, that she was happy. She distracted him from his frenzied repentance by going on walks with him or reading newspapers to him. And eventually Dostoyevsky would calm down.
When in 1871 Fyodor Mikhailovich wrote that he was giving up roulette, his wife did not believe it. Miraculously, it was true. One day, he just gave it up.
Now I’m yours, yours inseparably, all yours. Up until now, I half belonged to this accursed fantasy. “
In countless families, the loss of a child is the rock against which marriages crash. However, this terrible tragedy, experienced twice in the 14 years of their marriage, only brought the family closer together.
The first time they experienced this terrible grief was during the first year of marriage. Sonechka, their first child and daughter, suddenly died of an ordinary cold, having lived only 3 months.
Anna describes her own grief sparingly. With her typical selflessness and dedication, most of her thoughts were about another: “I was terribly afraid for my poor husband”.
Fyodor Mikhailovich, according to her recollections, “Sobbed and cried like a woman, standing before the cold body of his favorite baby, covering her pale face and hands with hot kisses. I never saw such violent despair ever again.”
A year later, their second daughter, Lyubov, was born. Anna, who had feared that her husband could never love another child, noticed that the new joy of fatherhood eclipsed all his prior pain. In a letter to a critic, Fyodor Mikhailovich claimed that a happy family life and the birth of children are three-fourths of all the happiness that a person can experience on earth.
In general, Dostoyevsky had a unique connection with children. His wife wrote that he, like no one else, knew how to “enter into a child’s worldview,” understand the child, and capture his or her attention with conversation. At such moments he himself became like a child.
Fyodor Mikhailovich wrote the novel The Idiot while the family was abroad and finished the novel The Demons when he returned to his homeland. Living so far away from Russia proved to be difficult for the couple, and in 1871 they returned.
Eight days after their return to St. Petersburg, their son Fyodor was born. In 1875, another son was born in the family. They named him Alyosha, in honor of the righteous Alexey, the holy man of God, a saint Fyodor Mikhailovich particularly revered.
That same year the magazine Otechestvennye Zapiski (Notes from the Fatherland) published Dostoyevsky’s fourth great novel, The Adolescent. But misfortune struck the family again. Their son Alyosha inherited epilepsy from his father, and his first attack, which occurred when the boy was three years old, was fatal… This time the roles of the spouses was reversed. Anna, an unusually strong and resilient woman, was crushed with grief and could not cope with this loss. She lost her energy, her interest in life, and even became distant from her other children, which frightened her husband.
He spoke to with her, urging her to submit to the will of God, to live on. It was during this year that the writer traveled to Optina Monastery and met twice with elder Ambrose. The elder gave Dostoyevsky his blessing and told him the words that the writer would later memorialize through elder Zosima in The Brothers Karamazov:
It is Rachel of old,” said the elder, “weeping for her children, and will not be comforted because they are not. Such is the lot set on earth for you mothers. Be not comforted. Consolation is not what you need. Weep and be not consoled, but weep. Only every time that you weep be sure to remember that your little son is one of the angels of God, that he looks down from there at you and sees you, and rejoices at your tears, and points at them to the Lord God; and a long while yet will you keep that great mother’s grief. But it will turn in the end into quiet joy, and your bitter tears will be only tears of tender sorrow that purifies the heart and delivers it from sin. And I shall pray for the peace of your child’s soul. What was his name?”
WHAT DID HE SEE IN ME?
Dostoyevsky began The Brothers Karamazov (his last and, in the opinion of most critics, his best novel) in the spring of 1878 and finished it in 1880.
He dedicated it to his beloved wife, Anna.
Anka, my angel, you are my everything, my alpha and omega! Ah, so you also see me in a dream and, ‘waking up, yearn because I’m not there.’ It’s terrible how wonderful this is, and I love it. Long, my angel, long for me in all respects—it means that you love. To me, this is sweeter than honey. I’ll come and kiss you endlessly…
“But how will I live through this time without you and without the children? It’s no joke, an entire 12 days “
These are lines from Dostoyevsky’s letters from 1875-1976, when he left for business in Petersburg, while the family stayed at the summer house in Staraya Russa.
His family became a quiet harbor for him, and as he himself admitted, he fell in love with his wife many times anew throughout their life together. Meanwhile, Anna, to the end of her days, genuinely could not understand what Dostoyevsky had found in her:
All my life I have seen it as somewhat of a mystery, the fact that my good husband not only loved and respected me, as many husbands love and respect their wives, but almost worshiped me, as though I was some kind of special being, created especially for him. And this was true not only of the time immediately following our marriage, but of all the other years until his very death.
For in reality, I was neither particularly beautiful, nor did I not possess talents or an incredible intellect. I had only a secondary school education. And yet, in spite of this, I earned such reverence and almost worship from such an intelligent and talented person.”
Although Anna Grigoryevna and Fyodor Mikhailovich were perhaps not the perfect “character match” (a modern obsession), she knew she could always rely on him. Meanwhile, he could always count on her delicacy and care. He trusted her completely, to a degree that sometimes surprised her.
We didn’t copy each or try to remake our characters for the other, nor did our souls get two entangled in each other’s psychologies And so my good husband and I—we both felt that our souls were free … This approach from both sides was what allowed us to live all fourteen years of our married life.”
That’s not to say that their married life was idea. Anna had to get used to living in cramped conditions, in constant debt. Neither was great writer, of course, always an ideal husband. For example, he had a tendency to be very jealous and would sometimes flare up, causing a scene. Anna wisely avoided situations that could provoke her husband and always tried to alleviate the consequences of his temper.
During editing, he would often lose his temper. He maintained that some writers were so arrogant that they rebelled against even miniscule changes in their works, like the placement of a comma. Irritated, he would compose very sharp letters to his editors.
The next morning, having cooled down, he would be filled with regret and ashamed at his own short temper. In these situations, Dostoevskaya simply would not mail out the letters, waiting until the next morning. When magically “it turned out” that the hasty letter had not yet been sent, Fyodor Mikhailovich was always very happy. He would write a new one, much softer in tone.
Although, for some reason, the couple’s religiosity did not prevent them from visiting a fortuneteller once (who, by the way, predicted the death of their son Alyosha), nevertheless the Gospel was a fundamental part of their lives.
Dostoyevskaya often remembered how Fyodor Mikhailovich would put the children to sleep. He would read the prayers “Our Father”, “O Theotokos Rejoice” and his favorite – “All my hope I place in thee, Mother of God, keep me under Thy protection ” with them…
SUFFER IT TO BE SO
In 1880, Anna Grigorievna became the independent publisher of her husband’s works. She founded an enterprise called “The Book Trade of F. M. Dostoyevsky” (exclusively aimed at residents of other cities) that was incredibly successful. The financial situation of the family improved and the Dostoyevsky family finally repaid their debts.
But Fyodor Mikhailovich did not have many days left to live. In 1880, his novel Brothers Karamazov was published. This, according to his wife, was the last joyful event of his long-suffering life.
On the night of January 26, 1881, blood gushed from the writer’s throat. The bleeding recurred during the day, but Fyodor Mikhailovich calmed down his wife and entertained the children so that they would not be frightened. During the doctor’s examination, the bleeding was so strong that Dostoyevsky lost consciousness. When he awoke, he asked his wife to invite a priest so that he could have confession and communion.
His confession took a long time. In the morning, a day later, he told his wife: “You know, Anya, I have not slept for about three hours and am still thinking, and only now I realize clearly that I’m going to die today.”
He asked her to give him the Gospel, which had been given to him by the wives of the Decembrists during his exile, and he opened it at random:
But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? And Jesus answering said unto him, suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him. (Matthew 3:14)
“Do you hear?” he told his wife. “‘Suffer it to be so’ means I will die.”
Anna Grigorievna recalled:
I could not keep back my tears. Fyodor Mikhailovich began to comfort me, saying sweet, kind words, thanking me for the happy life he had lived with me. He entrusted the children to me, saying that he trusted in me and hoped that I would always love and cherish them. Then he told me the words that very few husbands can say to their wives after fourteen years of marriage life:
“Remember, Anya, I have always passionately loved you and never betrayed you, even in thought!”
A Postscript that Lasted 37 Years
Anna Grigorievna Dostoevskaya devoted the rest of her life to republishing her husband’s books. Even her Memoirs were written only for the purpose of shedding light on the writer, whose image was already being distorted by his contemporaries.
She was only 34 years old when he died, but there could be no talk of another marriage. “And for whom can you go after Dostoyevsky? She joked. “Maybe Tolstoy only!”
But in all seriousness, she wrote:
I gave myself to Fyodor Mikhailovich when I was 20 years old. Now I’m over 70, and I still belong to him only in every thought, in every action. “
All her life, Anna Grigorievna collected everything related to Dostoyevsky, and in 1899, she transferred more than 1000 items to the Historical Museum for the creation of a special museum dedicated to her husband. In Staraya Russa, where the Dostoyevsky family often resided in the summer months, she opened a parish school. It was named after Dostoyevsky, served children from poor peasant families, and even had a boarding house.
In the last year of her life, Anna was already seriously ill and experienced starvation in a war-torn Crimea. She died in Yalta on June 22, 1918.
Perhaps someone may be bewildered by Dostoevskaya’s self-abnegation and her reverence for her husband, who filled her entire life. But who knows, could it be otherwise? Could anyone less self-sacrificing have endured the trials and burdens that always accompanied Fyodor Mikhailovich? And is it surprising that next to the great writer was a truly great woman?
“Many Russian writers would feel better if they had wives like Dostoyevsky had,” said Leo Tolstoy after meeting with her. How did she manage to do it? … If Anna Grigorievna Dostoyevskaya were asked to give the recipe for a happy marriage with a great writer, it could surely be summed up by her following words:
You must handle feelings with care, so that they don’t shatter. There is nothing more precious in life than love. One must forgive more—look for the fault within yourself and smooth your own rough edges”…
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