He, like many others, describes Anna as submissive to strange her husbands will. On the contrary, she was a fascinating and complex person. First of all, Anna attended a womens college (yay, womens colleges! Can you tell I go to a womens college? which was remarkable in her time because higher education for women was still relatively unheard. She met Dostoyevsky through his hiring her as a stenographer to help him finish the manuscript for The gambler. Having an independent means of earning money was also revolutionary for a woman in 19th century russia. The two eventually fell in love and were married, living abroad for several years afterward.
And, Frank adds, many were inclined to view Dostoyevsky in the same manner because he suffered from epilepsy. Dostoyevskys contemporary ivan Turgenev is known to have held this opinion as well. Frank skillfully weaves this context into his analysis of Dostoyevsky, and his words carry connotations about the instinctive human fear of that which we do not understand. This thought echoes Dostoyevskys own beliefs in his short story, a gentle Creature, in which the inability to understand one another leads his characters to disaster. Certainly a sobering thought in todays war-ravaged, isolation-based world as well. Of course, i couldnt finish this review without discussing Anna Snitkina, dostoyevskys second wife (after the death of his first, marya isaeva, in 1864 from Tuberculosis). Anna is one of my favorite historical ladies, and often doesnt receive the respect she deserves. In fact, my one point of contention with Frank arises over this very issue.
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Many people are quick to label Dostoyevsky as rude or arrogant because of his occasional losses essay of temper over seemingly-trivial issues. Such a judgment, in my opinion, disregards and belittles the traumatic experiences Dostoyevsky endured. While his cruel words were clearly in the wrong, they were likely the manifestations of deep psychological scars which never healed, and which, in the 19th century, were also never fully understood. One of the most unforgettable scenes from Franks biography, related through the words. Letkova-sultanovas memoir, comes to mind: Dostoyevskys words came tumbling out in a stream of spasmodic sentences. He evoked the freezing coldness of the morning of the mock execution, and the horror that overcame the prisoners as they heard the death sentence being pronounced.
It could not be that i, amidst all the other thousands who were alive—in something like five to six minutes would no longer exist! Polonsky (the host of the gathering Letkova-sultanova describes) approached Dostoyevsky to break the tension and said consolingly, well, all this is past and gone, inviting him to drink tea with their hostess. Is it really gone? Throughout this masterful work, i admired Franks ability to powerfully address various controversial issues from which others would shy away. He does this in describing Dostoyevskys own prejudices (most often against Jewish people assessing them in their 19th century context, when such views were commonplace, without excusing them. Frank also, in describing Dostoyevskys epilepsy (from which he suffered seizures about once a month touches on cultural stigmas which continue to surround the disease even today. Offended by the portrayal of radicals in Dostoyevskys novel Demons, many protested that the writers characters were too psychologically damaged to be taken seriously.
Though this work is, of course, non-fiction, it often reads like a novel, and I found myself thoroughly engrossed in its pages. Frank opens with Dostoyevskys childhood, and it is endearing to read of the little boy who protected his schoolmates from bullies, a touching detail that I think has quite a bit to say about Dostoyevskys character and who he would become. Indeed, while the aforementioned detail may seem trivial out of context, it becomes truly profound when one begins to understand the later events of Dostoyevskys life. In the 1840s, the young Dostoyevsky was accused of political subversion—for supporting the freedom of the press—and he was sentenced to four years in a siberian prison. However, this lighter sentence came only after Dostoyevsky and his fellow prisoners were subjected to a mock execution; they stood before a firing squad, and were only saved at the last moment.
Frank unflinchingly illustrates the harrowing experience, and one must respect Dostoyevsky, if for no other reason than fortitude in surviving this horror with his sanity intact. The next four years, during the great novelists time in prison, can only be adequately fathomed by reading Dostoyevskys haunting semi-autobiographical novel, The house of the dead. Many have speculated about Dostoyevskys years in Siberia, including leonid Tsypkin, in his novel Summer in Baden-Baden (which I have also reviewed). Tsypkin believed that Dostoyevsky was flogged while in prison, and while we may never know for certain whether this is true, the awful possibility is entirely plausible. What we can say for sure constitutes one of my principal reasons for caring so deeply about Dostoyevsky: it was only through his suffering in Siberia that he began to regard his fellow prisoners as human beings who had erred but could be redeemed. (Let it be noted that, while dostoyevsky was a political prisoner, many of the convicts he lived with had committed violent crimes, and some had murdered multiple people). Dostoyevskys ordeal in prison arguably became the trial by which he could become an author truly capable of seeing the souls in all people. Frank marvelously sums up Dostoyevskys convictions: Dostoyevsky believed that since man was capable of remorse and repentance, the hope of his redemption should never be abandoned (357). As can well be expected, memories of his prison years would haunt Dostoyevsky for the rest of his life, and i applaud Frank for not overlooking this issue.
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It has seen me through the triumphs and tribulations of my first year of college. It has witnessed my frantic consultation of its pages for help in citing facts about Dostoyevsky for my emotional final paper on The Brothers Karamazov (for which I have also written a goodreads review, if you would like to share in my gushing over that. It has seen me defend, time and again, my reasons for choosing Dostoyevsky as a favorite author, and my agreement with him, despite what some call naivety, that people, after all things, are inherently good. (In his short story, the Dream of a ridiculous Man, dostoyevsky asserts, i will not and cannot believe that evil is the normal condition among men. And yet they all laugh at this faith of mine. But how can I help believing it?) And Franks biography has played its part in my choice to major in Russian Language and Literature. It may sound silly, but I really do think that companion is the best word to describe the relationship that I now have with this massive volume, which I have toted with me through ups and downs and changes now for more than half. Franks Dostoyevsky is a condensation of his famous five- volume set detailing the russian authors life. Nonetheless, this short version cannot be found wanting in its meticulous—and arguably unrivaled—depiction of Dostoyevsky and all that he stood for.
them. I can wholeheartedly say that Joseph Franks Dostoyevsky: a writer in His Time is one of those works I will never forget. If you follow me on goodreads, or Facebook, or Tumblr, or if you know me personally, youve probably heard this before: Dostoyevsky is my favorite author, and one of a very few For as long as I can remember, ive regarded reading as a powerful. If you follow me on goodreads, or Facebook, or Tumblr, or if you know me personally, youve probably heard this before: Dostoyevsky is my favorite author, and one of a very few influences who i can say without doubt has changed my life. Thus, reading Franks account of Dostoyevskys life and works was extremely enticing to me, especially as the biography comes with such esteemed acclamations. I honestly dont even know where to start in my humble attempt to recapture some of the impact Franks work produced. This is, to date, the longest book i have ever read (a hefty tome of 959 pages in paperback) and its been my companion since last January.
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