Anyuta’s First Literary Experiments

  • Sofya Kovalevskaya


A big, old-fashioned suitcase, neatly encased in a canvas cover and tied with rope, had been standing in the front hall since morning. Over it towered a whole battery of little boxes, baskets, bags and bundles, the sort of thing no old maid g maid can travel without. The old e springless carriage, g , hitched up to a troika of horses with the oldest and least elegant harness, in the one Yakov, the coachman, always used Y when a long was n the offing, was already waiting at the entrance. The maids were fussing about, bringing in g g different trifles and trinkets n and out, but Papa’s valet, , Ilya, stood motionless, leaning languidly against the door jamb and expressing through his whole contemptuous posture . impending l’ p ture the opinion that the inpending departure was of no moment, not worth raising a household commotion over.


Typhoid Fever Literary Experiment Young Lady Provincial Town RUSSIAN Childhood 
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  1. 1.
    Kovalevskaya’s memory betrays her here. Although she conveys the gist of Dostoevsky’s letter to Anyuta, she does not reproduce it verbatim. It should be remembered that there was an interval of twenty-two years between Dostoevsky’s letter and Kovalevskaya’s reminiscence.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    It appeared in The Epoch, No. 8, for August, 1864.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    To understand the remarkable fervor with which Dostoevsky responded to Anyuta’s unremarkable story, one should recall the dismal circumstances of his life at the time he received it. His wife, Maria Dmitrievna Isayeva, had died of tuberculosis three months before, in April, leaving a son Paul by her first husband and binding Dostoevsky with a promise to look after the youth, who was then eighteen years old. The affair with Polina Suslova was dragging to a conclusion but was not quite finished. The Epoch was on the verge of financial collapse. Mikhail, its joint owner, died suddenly in July, bequeathing to his brother a mountain of debts and a large and helpless family. For all of these burdens Dostoevsky assumed full financial and moral responsibility. That he should have reacted with deep depression is not surprising. This was the situation when Anyuta’s youthful story and letter arrived. Dostoevsky’s interest was immediately aroused, perhaps less by the story than by its author. Not only did he publish her story in the next issue of T he Epoch, he also paid her honorarium at once, although the journal’s financial plight was such that other better-known and more regular contributors went unpaid until long afterward. Dostoevsky maintained a secret correspondence with Anyuta not only through the Krukovskys’ housekeeper, as Kovalevskaya relates, but also through Anyuta’s friend Zhanna Evreinova, another budding Nihilist who happened to be the daughter of the Imperial Palace commandant, Genera] A. M. Evreinov.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Kovalevskaya’s manuscript contains the following passage which did not appear in print: For my poor father, a female writer was the embodiment of every possible abomination. His attitude toward them was one of naive horror and indignation; he considered them, every one of them, capable of all kinds of wrongdoing. This attitude of his came to mind spontanously when I read Nekrasov’s description of one of his characters: “He harshly criticized George Sand/For wearing trousers . . . ”Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    The poetess Evdokia Petrovna Rostopchina ( 1811–59) . She was commended by Pushkin, Zhukovsky and Lermontov for the elegance and sonority of her verse. In 1845 she published a controversial poem, “The Forced Marriage,” in which the Russian state was depicted as a despotic husband who brutalized Poland, his oppressed bride-victim.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    From a poen by N. A. Dobrolyubov which appeared in The Contemporary in 1862: “Then let me die, there’s little grieving . . .” The lines quoted by Kovalevskaya are not quite verbatim.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    This paragraph, taken from Kovalevskaya’s draft manuscript, did not appear in print.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    It was published in The Epoch, No. 9, September, 1864. The story’s original title, “The Novice,” as Dostoevsky wrote Anyuta on December 14, 1864, was not exactly prohibited but was rejected by the ecclesiastical censor. At first he prohibited the story itself, and therefore I was compelled to assent to many deletions and revisions. Some of these revisions were necessary in my own judgment as well. . . . Let me add that the highest ability of a writer is the ability to cross out. He who has the ability and the strength to strike out his own writing will go far. All the great writers wrote with extreme compression. And the main thing is not to repeat what you have already said and what was clear without repeating it. . . . Our regular editorial staff and all those close to it liked your story very much. Not all of them liked “The Dream.” My own opinion you already know. You not only may, you must take your talent seriously. You are a poet. That alone is worth a great deal. . . . One thing: study and read. Read serious books. Life will do the rest. The story appeared in first place, as the opening item of the issue. Such an honor was a rare occurrence even for established writers.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    An unpublished paragraph from Kovalevskaya’s manuscript reads: “Sometimes Elizaveta Fyodorovna came to her daughter and tried to bring her round.” “Anyutochka, come on, give Papa a little pleasure. Promise him not to write any more, and occupy yourself with something else. Look here, I remember that when I was a young girl I suddenly got the desire to study the violin. But my father wouldn’t let me do it. He considered it very ungraceful for a girl to handle a bow. Well—so what! Naturally I didn’t insist, and I started taking singing lessons instead. So then why can’t you give up this horrid literature and take up something else?”Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    A letter from General Korvin-Krukovsky to Dostoevsky dated January 14, 1866 (about a year after the first meeting between Dostoevsky and the Korvin-Krukovsky sisters) makes it clear that the General never did make the writer’s acquaintance and never veered from his original assessment of him as “a journalist and ex-convict.”Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Kovalevskaya’s draft manuscript adds a final line which she did not publish: “But I am afraid to remember it. Once you start thinking back, you cannot go on.”Google Scholar

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© Beatrice Stillman 1978

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  • Sofya Kovalevskaya

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