Our Friendship With Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky

  • Sofya Kovalevskaya


As soon as we arrived in Petersburgl Anyuta wrote to Dostoevsky and asked him to come and see us. He came on the appointed day. I remember our feverish anticipation as we waited for him, how we listened to every ring in the entrance hall an hour before he was due to arrive. But this first visit of his was a total failure.


Corporal Punishment Passable Touch Entrance Hall Finger Dexterity RUSSIAN Childhood 
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  1. 1.
    February 28, 1865.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Sofya was then fifteen years old, Anyuta twenty-three.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Kovalevskaya’s draft manuscript contains a lengthy digression at this point in which she retells the highlights of Dostoevsky’s early life: his success with his first novel Poor Folk, his sponsorship by the critic and literary arbiter V. V. Belinsky, his analysis of the Russian literary scene during that period, his involvement with the Petrashevsky circle, his arrest and condemnation to death. The section was evidently intended for a foreign readership; it appeared in the Swedish edition in abbreviated form.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    A great deal has been written about the origins of Dostoevsky’s epilepsy, including Sigmund Freud’s essay, “Dostoevsky and Parricide,” which attempts to establish a connection between the onset of the disease and the murder of Dostoevsky’s father by his own serfs. The most recent and impassioned counter-argument to this thesis is given in Joseph Frank’s Dostoevsky: T he Seeds of Revolt 1821–1849 ( Princeton, 1976). Orest Miller, Dostoevsky’s first biographer (St. Petersburg, 1883) says that the disease, contrary to Dostoevsky’s assertion, manifested itself even before his arrest and imprisonment, but was not acknowledged by Dostoevsky until it erupted so violently that there could no longer be room for doubt as to the diagnosis.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    This theme was used by Dostoevsky in T he Possessed ( in the chapter titled “At Tikhon’s” in Russian, “Stavrogin’s Confession” in English). The chapter was not published in Dostoevsky’s lifetime. Nikolai Strakhov, Dostoevsky’s putative “best friend,” spread a scurrilous rumor in a letter to Tolstoy written years after Dostoevsky’s death, alleging that the perpetrator of the rape was Dostoevsky himself (for Strakhov’s letter and Anna Dostoevskaya’s reply to it, see Dostoevsky: Reminiscences, by Anna Dostoevsky, trans. and ed. by Beatrice Stillman, LiverightNorton, New York, 1975, pp. 3 71–3 82) . The curious history of the suppressed chapter is given in the same volume, p. 412.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    D. A. Milyutin, Minister of War during the 1860s and 1870s. Kovalevskaya’s parents and later she herself maintained a warm relationship with the Milyutin family.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Kovalevskaya’s manuscript contains the following notation: “Distant relative: a colonel of the General Staff, Andrey Ivanovich Kosich. Not for publication.” In the published text all the passages in which Kosich is mentioned were changed, and in print he was transformed into “a German.” Kosich was Chief of Staff of the Kiev Military District for some years and was very prominent in public affairs throughout his life. After Kovalevskaya was awarded the Prix Bordin of the Paris Academy of Sciences in December of 1888 and was already internationally recognized, Kosich used his influence with Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich to facilitate her return to her homeland by having her elected to the Russian Academy of Sciences. She was denied full membership but was elected “Corresponding Member,” an honor which carried with it no professorial position nor means of earning a livelihood in Russia.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    There is an interesting section in a rough draft intended for the Swedish edition and later deleted, in which Kovalevskaya struggles to analyze her adolescent love for Dostoevsky. The passage begins and ends in mid-phrase: in her imagination she elaborated and fleshed out many of those episodes in his life with other episodes which he had only mentioned in passing, and in her thoughts she relived them together with him. But she never thought about the future. The present was so beautiful, so rich and full. There is no doubt that if Dostoevsky could have looked into her soul and read her thoughts there, could have guessed, even by half, the depth of her feeling for him, he would have been touched by her boundless adoration. But it was not easy to see—that was the problem. To all appearances, Tanja was still a child. If Dostoevsky could have looked into Tanja’s soul, he would undoubtedly have been deeply moved by what he saw there. But that is precisely the problem of the transitional phase of development that Tanja was going through: one’s feelings run deep, almost like an adult’s, but the way in which the feelings are expressed is comical, childish, and it is hard for an adult to guess what is taking place inside the psyche of a fourteen-year-old girl. Tanja understood Dostoevsky. Intuitively she comprehended the marvelous transports of tenderness buried in him. She venerated not only his genius, but also the suffering he had endured. Her own lonely childhood, her ever-present awareness that she was loved less than the other members of her family, had developed her inner world with much greater force than is usual with young girls of her years. From a very early age, she had felt a craving for some powerful, exclusive, all-encompassing attachment, and now, with the intensity which was the essence of her nature, she focused all her thoughts, all the capacity of her soul for ecstatic worship, on the first great man who crossed her path. She thought incessantly about Dostoevsky. When she was alone she would review in her mind everything he had said during their last [every word of his, every random idea casually presented by him acquired a special significance in her eyes, she tried to understand the secret . . .] she endowed every word of his with profound meaning, strove to grasp [to penetrate], to elaborate every idea he had thrown out at random. What captivated her above all was precisely the originality of these ideas, the richness and novelty of the scenes and conjectures they conjured up in her imagination. There were also times when she abandoned herself to the wildest fantasies in connection with Dostoevsky. But strange to relate, these fantasies always concerned the past and not the future. Thus, for example, she would sit for hours on end and imagine herself at hard labor together with Dostoevsky. She relived in her th . . .Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    A very different report of the story was given by Dostoevsky in Anna Dostoevskaya’s Reminiscences, according to which Dostoevsky had actually been engaged to Anyuta. When I asked why their marriage plans had come to nothing he replied, “Anna Vasilievna was one of the finest women I ever met in my life. . . . But her convictions were diametrically opposed to mine and she wasn’t capable of giving in—she was too inflexible. And under such circumstances our marriage could hardly have been happy. I released her from her promise . . .” (op. cit., p. 56). All available evidence suggests that Kovalevskaya’s and not Dostoevsky’s version is the correct one.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Kovalevskaya is mistaken on the date of Dostoevsky’s engagement to Anna Grigorievna Snitkina. The Korvin-Krukovskys left Petersburg for Palibino in the spring of 1865. Dostoevsky’s first meeting with the young woman who was to become his second wife took place on October 4, 1866. He proposed to her on November 8, and they were married on February 15, 1867. Both Sofya and Anyuta maintained awarm continuing relationship with Dostoevsky and his wife after all of them were married, as their letters testify; and this despite the fact that the sisters had married political radicals of whom the Dostoevskys could not but strongly disapprove. Anyuta and her husband, the French Communist Victor Jaclard, even spent the summer of 1878 in Staraya Russia, where the Dostoevskys had a summer home. Of that summer Anna Dostoevsky remarks, “Almost every day after his walk my husband would go to have a talk with this fine, intelligent woman who had been so important in his life.” (op. cit., p. 305) Long after Dostoevsky’s death Anna Dostoevskaya performed a very important service for Anyuta, who was then seriously ill. In March of 1887 Jaclard, suspected by the Russian police of underground political activity in connection with the attempted assassination of Alexander III, was ordered by the Minister of Internal Affairs to leave Russia within two days. This news brought Anyuta to the verge of emotional as well as physical collapse. Thereupon, Anna Dostoevskaya used her influence with the all-powerful Konstantin Pobedonostsev, Procurator of the Holy Synod, to have the deportation postponed for ten days, until such time as the Jaclards could pack their possessions and leave for Paris together. (Anyuta died in Paris that September.)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Beatrice Stillman 1978

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  • Sofya Kovalevskaya

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