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82 6 Spoiling One Idea to Save Another There is only one explicit mention of Dmitry Karakozov’s attempted regicide in Dostoevsky’s correspondence in the months following April 4, 1866. It would be expected that with M. N. Murav’ev, the notorious “hangman of Warsaw” and head of the investigative commission, unleashing what Herzen’s The Bell referred to as the “White Terror” on St. Petersburg and all of Russia, Dostoevsky would exercise extreme discretion in his writing. In point of fact, Dostoevsky knew that as a former Petrashevets he was under constant police surveillance, and that government permission for his proposed trip to Germany had been denied due to Karakozov’s attempt.1 Nonetheless, Dostoevsky did something characteristically contrary: rather than mute the political implications of Raskolnikov’s crime, he amplified them and went “further” even than Pisarev. As Dostoevsky confessed in a letter dated June 17, 1866, to his former sweetheart, Anna Korvin-Krukovskaia, he was not one to shy away from the eccentric, the audacious, or the extraordinary: “I want to do an unprecedented, an eccentric thing: write 30 signatures in four months, in two different novels, of which I’ll work on one in the morning, and the other in the evening and finish on time. Do you know, Spoiling One Idea to Save Another 83 my dear Anna Vasilievna, that even now I even like these sorts of eccentric and extraordinary things. I’m not fit for the ranks of people who live respectably [italics mine]. I’m convinced that not one of our writers, past or living, wrote under the conditions in which I constantly write. Turgenev would die from the very thought. But if you only knew how hard it is to spoil an idea that has been born in you, made you enthusiastic, of which you know that it’s good—and to be forced to spoil it consciously!”2 Turgenev would have indeed died at the thought of what Dostoev­ sky proceeded to do. Not only did he procrastinate in writing the second novel promised to his publisher, Stellovsky, until the eleventh hour, but he tactfully challenged his other publisher, Katkov’s blackening of the nihilists. Katkov, whom Dostoevsky had described to Vrangel as “such a vain, conceited and vengeful person,” held Dostoevsky’s livelihood in his hands, so it was no small act of courage to take on this most ticklish of points.3 In unmistakable but diplomatic counterpoint to Katkov’s invective, Dostoevsky rushed to the defense of the maligned nihilist “Russian boys and girls” in a letter written only three weeks after Karakozov’s attempt. “Our poor, defenseless Russian boys and girls have their own additional, eternally present basic point on which socialism will long be based, namely enthusiasm for goodness and the purity of their hearts. There is an abyss of swindlers and rogues among them. But all of these little gymnasium students, university students, of whom I have seen so many, have turned to nihilism so purely, so selflessly , in the name of honor, truth, and true usefulness!”4 Shortly thereafter, he entered into an editorial scuffle with Katkov and his assistant, Liubimov, who “saw evidence of nihilism” (where there was “even quite the contrary”) in the scene where the prostitute Sonya Marmeladova reads the raising of Lazarus at Raskolnikov’s request .5 Finally, at a time when the findings of the Investigative Commission attributed Karakozov’s crime to the pernicious influence of Chernyshevsky and his novel What Is to Be Done?,6 Dostoevsky rendered the most sympathetic portrait of the muddle-headed but good-hearted Chernyshevskyite, Lebeziatnikov, who exposes Luzhin’s slander of Sonya.7 As he had done at the height of the 1862 fires, Dostoevsky also deflates the anti-nihilist hysteria spread by the likes of Katkov by satirizing Luzhin’s exaggerated fear of the nihilists’ power and their ability to destroy him by “unmasking” him as a fraud.8 The degree to which Dostoevsky was conspicuously swimming against dangerous political 84 Part One: Enigmas of A-synchrony currents is even more apparent when it is recalled that he wrote these chapters, 1–3 of Part V, during the trial, sentencing, and execution of Karakozov and the Ishutintsy in August–September 1866.9 What Dostoevsky didn’t do was what he feared he would: “spoil a good idea consciously.” Instead, he saved it unconsciously. His plan for the novel, as he originally pitched it to Katkov, had consisted precisely in spoiling Raskolnikov...


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