|Anna Dostoveskaya lived to be 71.|
Sunday, May 17, 2020
The Secret to a Happy Marriage
Dostoyevsky's Young Wife on the Secret to a Happy Marriage
How to nurture a love that will “stand as a firm wall,” “won’t let you fall,” and “gives warmth.”
In the summer of 1865, just after he began writing Crime and Punishment, the greatest novelist of all time hit rock bottom. Recently widowed and bedeviled by epilepsy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Nov. 11, 1821–Feb. 9, 1881) had cornered himself into an impossible situation.
After his elder brother died, Dostoyevsky, already deeply in debt due to his gambling addiction, had taken upon himself the debts of his brother’s magazine. Creditors soon came knocking on his door, threatening to send him to debtors’ prison.
(A decade earlier, he had narrowly escaped the death penalty for reading banned books and was instead exiled, sentenced to four years at a Siberian labor camp — so the prospect of being imprisoned was unbearably terrifying to him).
In a fit of despair, he agreed to sell the rights to an edition of his collected works to his publisher, a man named Fyodor Stellovsky, for the sum of his debt — 3,000 rubles, around $80,000 in today’s money.
As part of the deal, he would also have to produce a new novel of at least 175 pages by Nov. 13th of the following year. If he failed to meet the deadline, he would lose all rights to his work, which would be transferred to Stellovsky for perpetuity.
Only after signing the contract did Dostoyevsky find out that it was his publisher, a cunning exploiter who often took advantage of artists down on their luck, who had purchased the promissory notes of his brother’s debt for next to nothing, using two intermediaries to bully Dostoyevsky into paying the full amount.
Enraged but without recourse, he set out to fulfill his contract. But he was so consumed with finishing Crime and Punishment that he spent most of 1866 working on it instead of writing The Gambler, the novel he had promised Stellovsky. When October rolled around, Dostoyevsky languished at the prospect of writing an entire novel in four weeks.
His friends, concerned for his well-being, proposed a sort of crowdsourcing scheme — Dostoyevsky would come up with a plot, they would each write a portion of the story, and he would then only have to smooth over the final product.
But, a resolute idealist even at his lowest low, Dostoyevsky thought it dishonorable to put his name on someone else’s work and refused. There was only one thing to do — write the novel, and write it fast.
On Oct. 15 he called up a friend who taught stenography, seeking to hire his best pupil. Without hesitation, the professor recommended a young woman named Anna Grigoryevna Snitkina. (Stenography in that era was a radical innovation, and its mastery was so technically demanding that of the 125 out of the 150 students who had enrolled in Anna’s program had dropped out within a month).
Anna, 20, had taken up stenography shortly after graduating from high school hoping to become financially independent by her own labor. She was thrilled by the offer. After all, Dostoyevsky was her recently deceased father’s favorite author, and she had grown up reading his tales. The thought of not only meeting him but helping him with his work filled her with joy.
The following day, she presented herself at Dostoyevsky’s... More