While I didn’t tote up all the votes for the various aspects of St. Petersburg for this week’s show-and-tell, the top three choices seemed to be Dostoyevsky, cats, and food.
Let’s start with Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881; 60 years was a good long life then). I won’t recount his biography, as you can find that in numerous places, including Wikipedia, but I will say that I find him among the world’s very best authors, with Crime and Punishment, set in St. Petersburg, as his best book (The Brothers Karamazov, with its stirring episode of The Grand Inquisitor, detailing the interrogation of the returned Jesus and touching on the conflict between reason and faith, runs a close second). I have to add that although I consider Dostoyevsky the greatest Russian writer, I think the greatest Russian novel is Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. I should also add that I’ve read all of his (and Tolstoy’s) novels in the Constance Garnett translations, though I hear there are better ones now (readers, please weigh in here).
Here he is (I took all the pictures in his last apartment; click to enlarge):
He is one of those supreme talents who seem to come out of nowhere. An epileptic, a chain-smoker, and an inveterate gambler, he rushed out (can you imagine!) Crime and Punishment to settle his gambling debts. That story, of course, also takes place in St. Petersburg, though I did not visit the building where Raskolnikov was supposed to live, nor the place where he supposedly hid the purse he took from the woman he murdered.
As part of a clique of young intellectuals, Dostoevsky was imprisoned in the Peter and Paul fortress, the original site of St. Petersburg. In 1849 he was subject to a mock execution: he and several others were placed in front of a firing squad, expecting to die. At the last moment the execution was called off—it was only a ruse to scare the prisoners. One can only imagine the effect this would have on one’s life. Here’s the fortress today; the tall golden spire belongs to the SS Peter and Paul Cathedral, where all the tsars since Peter the Great are buried, including the recently-interred Romanovs who were shot by the Bolsheviks. (I’ll show that place later.)
He was later exiled to Siberia, a dire experience that produced his House of the Dead.
Dostoyevsky returned to St. Petersburg in 1859 and lived there the rest of his life. He changed apartments every few years, and had few possessions. After his first wife died, he married a much younger woman, Anna Grignorevna, who served as his assistant and amanuensis (I’m told that he often dictated his novels to her).
His last apartment, where he lived from 1878 until his death in 1881, is located on Kuznechny street, a short trek from the Nevsky Prospekt. He lived on the second floor of this building:
There is a plaque on the outside:
The apartment is a small warren of rooms, the most famous being his study, where he would write all night and smoke. The couch behind his desk—the desk where he wrote The Brothers Karamazov—was where he often slept. Note the clock.
Here’s is a copy of Crime and Punishment, along with a reproduction of one of the manuscript pages. My Chicago colleague Ilya Ruvinsky has kindly furnished translations and explanations:
The title page of a book is indeed “Crime and Punishment”. Judging by the date (1867) and that it says “corrected edition” it is either not the first edition, or the first edition as a stand-alone book that was corrected compared to the previous publication (1866) in a literary magazine.
Here’s the desk where Anna Grignorevna would correct Dostoyevsky’s manuscripts, handle his correspondence and finances, and help market his books:
And here is the salon in which that desk resides:
Beside the desk is an autographed portrait of Dostoyevsky, which Ilya translates as
“To my kind Anya from me. F. Dostevsky. 14 June/80 y(ear)”.
The word used for “kind” is a bit unusual in such a context. It is not “dear” for example. I assume “Anya” refers to his wife A. N. Snitkina [Anya Grigovrevna].
On the sideboard beside the desk are two papers, translated by Ilya as:
The printed letters say
F. M. Dostoevsky
(exclusively for out-of-towners (or nonresidents))
S. P. B. (which is an abbreviation for St. Petersburg) Kuznechny lane, 5 (unclear)
I can’t make out every word of the letter below, but it goes something like this:
Kindly issue (not clear to whom, probably to FMD, and by whom) 1 book of “David Copperfield” in exchange for my publications which will be delivered on Monday, Jan. 26.
Jan. 24 1881, F. Dostoevsky”
(Note, this was written just a couple of weeks before Dostoevsky died.)
I can’t read the writing on the right, except for the top (title) line that stats with “Chapter 5…”
Here is the dining room:
and the children’s room:
Here is Dostoyevsky’s hat, the only item of clothing recovered from his “estate”. Oh, how I wished that I could have put it on!
Dostoyevsky died on February 9, 1881. His clock was stopped at the moment of his death (Ilya notes, “Which reminds me that the dates as written refer to what is known as OS [“Old Style”, i.e. Julian calendar]. Russia used it until after the Revolution.
For instance, Dostoevsky’s date of death is now given as Feb. 9.”)
To me the most poignant item in the museum is this: a box of Dostoyevsky’s cigarettes signed by his daughter. Fyodor loved to smoke, even though his doctors forbade it because of his emphysema. On the day he died, his daughter Lyubov wrote on the bottom of the box, “February 28, 1881. Papa died.” She was 12.
Here is Dostoyevsky’s death mask:
And his statue in the nearby Vladimirskaya Place:
Sadly, I didn’t have time to visit his grave in the nearby Alexander Nevsky Monastery, but here’s a photo, not taken by me:
Here’s to a very great writer and a great, though flawed, man.