“During the sixty years [of his life],” began Manuel Komroff in his 1957 translation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. “[Dostoyevsky] worked and…won…the distinction of being the world’s greatest novelist.”
In the 7-page piece which preceded the famous masterpiece Dostoyevsky originally wrote in his native Russian language, Komroff introduced readers to the writer’s life, utilizing every opportunity to praise and applaud the Dostoyevsky brilliance.
“Dostoyevsky is a supreme novelist of ideas,” Komroff wrote somewhere, and then he wrote:
Dostoyevsky’s revelations in the fields of psychology are enormous. They anticipated many of the principles later established by trained psychologists… Dostovyesky is not only a psychologist but also a visionary and prophet. He wrote about extra-sensory perception and his observations contributed to our present day theories of physical research.
Komroff climaxed his short biography of Dostoyevsky with a breathtaking description of the powerful nature exclusive to all of Dostoyevsky’s works:
Due to the pressure of his existence, Dostoyevsky’s books suffer from serious technical defects. But in the face of his great genius these defects are trifling. Dostoyevsky towers above all other novelists, for no other novelist has ever presented s many vital ideas—ideas that have revolutionized our thinking and our lives. As a novelist he has brought to life a whole gallery of people; people of bone, flesh and blood all caught up in a web of circumstance. He has the power to engulf his characters in dramatic situations and drive them headlong with passionate desperation. And while his characters are caught in the agony of life, he plumbs deep and lays bare their secret hearts. We understand these hearts for they are not unlike our own. The Dostoyevsky heart is universal. And the people that he gave life to a century ago are living today and will live for centuries to come. Their blood is warm, red and their hearts beat on.
Zeena Schreck once wrote, “We all have vices, visible and invisible.” While Komroff dwelt well on Dostoyevsky’s goodness, brilliance and positive characteristics, he didn’t fail to reference his shortcomings, vices and challenges.
First, at twenty nine Dostoyevsky was “arrested for being a member of a young socialist group” , tried and condemned to die. “At the last moment of his life” though, he was granted pardon and his death sentence was dissolved into a four-year prison term. Eventually he was granted release but “with this freedom came a new kind of bondage which was to last to the end of his days: epilepsy, gambling and poverty”. Following this tragic turn of fate, Dostoyevsky was so down and unappealing. Kormoff wrote:
Dostoyevsky was not an easy man… His passion for gambling, his epilepsy, his financial difficulties and his infidelities continued throughout the years… Not was his character agreeable. Turgeniev once said that he was “the most evil Christian I have ever met in my life.” And when Dostoyevsky died one of Tolstoi’s friends wrote of him: “I cannot consider Dostoyevsky either a good or a happy man. He was wicked, envious, vicious, and spent the whole of his life in emotions and irritations…. In Switzerland he treated his servant, in my presence, so abominably that the offended servant cried out: “I too am a human being!”
However, in the midst of all these, Dostoyevsky was blessed with a selfless partner that understands and supports in spite of his weaknesses.
It was at Dostoyevsky’s critical moment that the eighteen year old Anna made her appearance… The fourteen years of their life together, she was recorded in her memories, convinced her that Dostoyevsky was the purest being in earth.
By becoming, first, the transcriber of his books and then becoming his wife and sole manager, Anna lifted the dying Dostoyevsky and made him into the giant he is.
He and Anna were married and a new life now opened for him… During the fourteen years of their married life, Dostoyevsky’s created his four important novels, his masterpieces: Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, The Possessed, and The Brothers Karamazov… She made a home for him and bore him children. She was practical and efficient. She possessed all that his starved nature required. In a short time she rescued him from his most pressing debts, took charge of the finances, drove off the money-lenders, his begging relations and other leeches. She alone made it possible for his genius to unfold and develop. She even published and acted as book-seller of his later books so that he could secure a fair share from his labor.
Anna’s purpose was to be a selfless helpmate to Dostoyevsky and she served as a lesson on the importance of the human/helpmate factor in a person’s journey to greatness. I have this to clarify, though, that a person being a helpmate to another does not mean they have to loose themselves in the process—in fact, I think that, say for example in Anna’s case, she found herself—her essence—in her service to Dostoyevsky.
I believe that everyone can be great but greatness comes in varying phases. Both Anna and Dostoyevsky are great in their own way: while Dostoyevsky’s greatness is in writing beautiful literature, Anna’s greatness is in helping Dostoyevsky write beautiful literature.
Anna made it possible for him to surmount his difficulties—his poverty, his constant epileptic fits, his inner suffering, his feelings if guilt and humiliation. She had no great charms, no talents, no wealth, no wit. She was ordinary. Her lips were thick, her nostrils too far apart. But she was devoted to Dostoyevsky, recognized his genius, understood the fever of his creation and softened his torments with affection and care… Without Anna there would have been no Dostoyevsky as we know him today.
I’m currently reading The Brothers Karamazov and I couldn’t help but feel gratitude for the day Anna came into Dostoyevsky’s life, without which such masterpiece as this wouldn’t have been possible. Get a copy on Amazon or listen to it with your free one month membership at Audible.