Writer's Diary, 1873-1876

Writer's Diary, 1873-1876

by Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Winner of the AATSEEL Outstanding Translation Award

This is the first paperback edition of the complete collection of writings that has been called Dostoevsky's boldest experiment with literary form; it is a uniquely encyclopedic forum of fictional and nonfictional genres. The Diary's radical format was matched by the extreme range of its contents.

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Winner of the AATSEEL Outstanding Translation Award

This is the first paperback edition of the complete collection of writings that has been called Dostoevsky's boldest experiment with literary form; it is a uniquely encyclopedic forum of fictional and nonfictional genres. The Diary's radical format was matched by the extreme range of its contents. In a single frame it incorporated an astonishing variety of material: short stories; humorous sketches; reports on sensational crimes; historical predictions; portraits of famous people; autobiographical pieces; and plans for stories, some of which were never written while others appeared in the Diary itself.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Was Dostoevsky's A Writer's Diary ``a daring experiment in form,'' an integral work of art, as Morson claims, or was this monthly periodical--with Dostoevsky its editor, publisher and sole contributor--a mere hodge-podge of articles, sketches, reportage and short stories? Readers pondering this question will gain uncanny insight into the inner conflicts that shaped Dostoevsky's character and thought as they confront a staggering diversity of genres--self-parody, utopian and anti-utopian sketches, autobiographical reminiscences, vignettes celebrating prosaic incidents in the lives of ordinary people, accounts of suicides and sensational trials, jingoistic polemics, essays on Tolstoy, Pushkin and George Sand. This forceful translation by Lantz, a Slavic professor at the University of Toronto, preserves the raw, rough edge of the Diary (whose last issue was in 1881). In his illuminating introduction, Morson, a Slavic professor at Northwestern, shows how the Diary embodies Dostoevsky's belief that salvation or social uplift can only occur gradually through individual self-betterment. (July)
Library Journal
Dostoevsky's unorthodox work, which began as a series of columns in 1873, is a pastiche of genres--fiction, journalism, political and cultural criticism, and autobiography. Intended as a vehicle for his artistic ruminations about his times, it was first translated into English in 1949 (by Boris Brasol) and published under the title The Diary of a Writer ( LJ 5/15/49). An outstanding feature of this new translation is Gary Saul Morson's introduction. Morson masterfully places this groundbreaking work in its proper literary and historical context while acknowledging the unevenness of Dostoevsky's prose. The more memorable ``entries'' grapple with familial relationships; the best of these pieces form the basis for parts of The Brothers Karamazov . Though it is probably too long and disjointed for the general reader, this book provides fascinating insight into the workings of Dostoevsky's genius. Recommended for Russian literature collections.-- Diane Gardner Premo, SILS, SUNY-Buffalo
Finally English-language readers get the translation they deserve (by Kenneth Lantz) of Dostoevsky's most radical literary undertaking. A Writer's Diary was intended to be the first example of an entirely new genre, one which would encompass every facet of the writer's experience of life in every mode of literary presentation. It was published initially as a column in a literary journal, and from 1876 until Dostoevsky's death in 1881 as a complete monthly periodical. Thorough annotations make the work accessible to a wide range of readers, while Gary Saul Morson's 117-page introductory study provides both basic information and a new interpretation of the work's form and content. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

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Northwestern University Press
Publication date:
Series in Russian Literature and Theory, #1
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5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.81(d)

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A Writer's Diary

Volume One 1873â"1876

By Fyodor Dostoevsky, Kenneth Lantz

Northwestern University Press

Copyright © 1994 Northwestern University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8101-1516-3



On the twentieth of December I learned that everything had been settled and that I was the editor of The Citizen. This extraordinary event — extraordinary for me at least (I don't wish to offend anyone) — came about in a rather simple fashion, however. On the twentieth of December I had just read in the Moscow News the account of the wedding of the Chinese emperor; it left a strong impression on me. This magnificent and, apparently, extremely complex event also came about in a remarkably simple fashion: every last detail of the affair had been provided for and decreed a thousand years ago in nearly two hundred volumes of ceremonial. Comparing the enormity of the events in China with my own appointment as editor, I felt a sudden sense of ingratitude to our Russian practices, despite the ease with which my appointment had been confirmed. And I thought that we, that is, Prince Meshchersky and I, would have found it incomparably more advantageous to publish The Citizen in China. Everything is so clear over there. ... On the appointed day we both would have presented ourselves at China's Main Administration for Press Affairs. After kowtowing and licking the floor, we would rise, raise our index fingers, and respectfully bow our heads. The Plenipotentiary-in-Chief for Press Affairs would, of course, pretend to take no more notice of us than he would of an errant fly. But the Third Assistant to the Third Secretary would rise, holding the warrant of my appointment as editor, and would pronounce in an impressive but gentle voice the admonition prescribed by the ceremonial. It would be so clear and so comprehensible that we both would be immensely pleased to hear it. Were I in China and were I stupid and honest enough, when taking on the editorship and acknowledging my own limited abilities, to experience fear and pangs of conscience, someone would at once prove to me that I was doubly stupid to entertain such feelings and that from that very moment I would have no need of intelligence at all, assuming I had had any in the first place; on the contrary, it would be far better if I had none at all. And without a doubt, this would be a most pleasant thing to hear. Concluding with the fine words: "Go thou, Editor; henceforth thou mayest eat rice and drink tea with thy conscience newly set at rest," the Third Assistant to the Third Secretary would hand me a beautiful warrant printed in gold letters on red silk. Prince Meshchersky would pass over a substantial bribe, and the two of us would go home and immediately put out such a magnificent edition of The Citizen as we could never publish here. In China we would put out an excellent publication.

I suspect, however, that in China Prince Meshchersky would certainly have tricked me by inviting me to be editor; he would have done it mainly so that I could stand in for him at the Main Administration of Press Affairs whenever he was summoned to have his heels beaten with bamboo sticks. But I would outsmart him: I would at once stop publication of Bismarck and would myself commence writing articles so excellent that I would be summoned to the bamboo sticks only after every other issue. I would learn to write, however.

I would be an excellent writer in China; here, that sort of thing is much more difficult. There, everything has been anticipated and planned for a thousand years ahead, while here everything is topsyturvy for a thousand years. There I would have no choice but to write clearly, so that I'm not sure who would read me. Here, if you want people to read you it's better to write so that no one understands. Only in the Moscow News do they write column-and-a- half editorials and — to my astonishment — they are written clearly, even if they are the products of a well-known pen. In The Voice such editorials go on for eight, ten, twelve, and even thirteen columns. And so you see how many columns you must use up in order to win respect.

In Russia, talking to other people is a science; at first glance, at least, it seems just the same as in China. Here, as there, there are a few very simplified and purely scientific techniques. Formerly, for instance, the words "I don't understand a thing" meant only that the person who uttered them was ignorant; now they bring great honor. One need only say, proudly and with a frank air, "I don't understand religion; I don't understand anything about Russia; I don't understand anything about art," and immediately you place yourself above the crowd. And it's especially good if you really don't understand anything.

But this simplified technique proves nothing. In essence, each one of us in Russia, without thinking much about it, suspects that everyone else is ignorant and never asks, conversely, "What if I'm the one who's ignorant, in fact?" It's a situation that ought to please us all, and yet no one is pleased and everyone gets angry. Indeed, sober thought in our time is all but impossible: it costs too much. It is true that people buy ready-made ideas. They are sold everywhere, and even given away; but the ones that come free of charge prove to be even more expensive, and people are already beginning to realize that. The result is benefit to none and the same old disorder.

We are, if you like, the same as China, but without her sense of order. We are barely beginning the process that is already coming to an end in China. No doubt we will reach that same end, but when? In order to get a thousand volumes of ceremonial so as at last to win the right not to think deeply about anything, we must experience at least another thousand years of sober thought. And there you have it — no one wants to hasten this term because no one wants to think.

Something else that is true: if no one wants to think, then, it would seem, so much the easier for the Russian writer. Indeed, it really is easier; and woe to the writer and publisher who in our time begins to think soberly. It's even worse for one who decides to study and to understand things on his own, and still worse for one who makes a sincere declaration of his intention. And if he declares that he has already managed to understand a tiny smidgen and wants to express his ideas, then everyone quickly drops him. The only thing he can do is to seek out some suitable individual, or even hire one, and simply talk to him and to him alone. Perhaps he could publish a magazine for that one individual. It's a loathsome situation, because it amounts to talking to yourself and publishing a magazine only for your own amusement. I strongly suspect that for a long time yet The Citizen will have to talk to itself and appear only for its own amusement. Remember that medical science considers talking to oneself a sign of predisposition to insanity. The Citizen certainly must speak to citizens, and that is precisely its whole dilemma!

And so this is the sort of publication with which I have become involved. My situation is as uncertain as it can be. But I shall talk to myself and for my own amusement, in the form of this diary, whatever may come of it. What shall I talk about? About everything that strikes me and sets me to thinking. If I should find a reader and, God forbid, an opponent, I realize that one must be able to carry on a conversation and know whom to address and how to address him. I shall try to master this skill because among us, that is to say, in literature, it is the most difficult one of all. Besides, there are different kinds of opponents: one cannot strike up a conversation with every one. I'll tell you a story I heard the other day. They say it is an ancient fable, perhaps even of Indian origin, and that's a very comforting thought.

Once upon a time the pig got into a quarrel with the lion and challenged him to a duel. When the pig came home he thought the matter over and lost his nerve. The whole herd assembled to consider the matter and announced their decision as follows: "Now then, brother pig, there is a wallow not far from here; go and have a good roll in it and then proceed to the duel. You'll see what happens."

The pig did just that. The lion arrived, took a sniff, wrinkled up his nose, and walked away. And for a long time thereafter the pig boasted that the lion had turned tail and fled the field of battle.

That's the fable. Of course we don't have any lions here — we don't have the climate for them and they're too grand a thing for us in any case. But in place of the lion put an honest person, such as each of us is obliged to be, and the moral comes out the same.

Apropos of that, I'll tell you another little story.

Once when speaking with the late Herzen I paid him many compliments on his book From the Other Shore. To my great pleasure, Mikhail Petrovich Pogodin heaped praise on this same book in his excellent and most curious article about his meeting abroad with Herzen. The book is written in the form of a dialogue between Herzen and his opponent.

"What I especially like," I remarked in passing, "is that your opponent is also very clever. You must agree that in many instances he backs you right to the wall."

"Why that's the essence of the whole piece," laughed Herzen. "I'll tell you a story. Once when I was in St. Petersburg, Belinsky dragged me off to his place and sat me down to listen to him read an article, 'A Conversation Between Mr. A and Mr. B,' that he had written in some heat. (You can find it in his Collected Works.) In this article, Mr. A., who is Belinsky himself, of course, is made out to be very clever, while his opponent, Mr. B., is rather shallow. When Belinsky had finished reading, he asked me with feverish anticipation:

"'Well, what do you think?'

"'Oh, it's fine, very fine, and it's obvious that you are very clever. But whatever made you waste your time talking to a fool like that?'

"Belinsky threw himself on the sofa, buried his face in a pillow, and shouted, laughing for all he was worth:

"'Oh, you've got me there, you really have!'"


Old People

That story about Belinsky put me in mind of my debut in literature, God knows how many years ago. It was a sad and fateful time for me. I recall Belinsky in particular, as he was when I knew him then and as he then knew me. I often recall these old people now because, of course, I'm encountering the new people. Belinsky was the most intense person I have ever met. Herzen was something else altogether: he was a product of our aristocracy, gentilhomme russe et citoyen du monde above all, a type that appeared only in Russia and which could appear only in Russia. Herzen did not emigrate and he did not lay the foundation for other Russian emigrés; no, he was simply born an emigré. They all, those people like him, were just born emigres, even though the majority of them never left Russia. In one hundred and fifty years of the life of the Russian gentry that preceded him, with only a few exceptions, the last roots rotted and the last links with the Russian soil and the Russian truth were shaken loose. History itself seemed to predestine Herzen as its most vivid illustration of how the huge majority of our educated classes split themselves off from the People. In that sense he is a historical type. When they broke with the People, they naturally lost God as well. The restless ones among them became atheists; the listless and quiescent ones became indifferent. They bore only contempt for the Russian People, all the while imagining and believing that they loved the People and wished the best for them. They loved the People negatively, imagining in their stead some sort of ideal, a Russian People as they ought to be according to their conceptions. This ideal people, through an involuntary process in the minds of certain leading representatives of the majority, took the form of the Paris mob of 1793. This was the most alluring ideal of a people at that time. Herzen, of course, had to become a socialist and to become one exactly in the manner of a young Russian nobleman, that is, without any need or aim but simply out of the "logical progression of ideas" and the emptiness he felt in his heart when in Russia. He renounced the very foundations of the old society; he denied the family, and was, it seems, a good husband and father. He denied private property but, pending the new order, contrived to put his own affairs in good order and was pleased to enjoy financial independence while abroad. He worked to foment revolutions and incited others to them, and at the same time he loved comfort and family peace. He was an artist, a thinker, a brilliant writer, a remarkably erudite man, a wit, a marvelous conversationalist (he spoke even better than he wrote), and had a superb capacity for self-reflection. Self-reflection — the ability to make of his own deepest feelings an object which he could set before him, pay it tribute and, in the next breath perhaps, ridicule it — was a thing he had developed to the highest degree. Certainly, he was an unusual man; but whatever he was — whether he wrote his memoirs or published a journal with Proudhon or went out to the barricades of Paris (which he described so amusingly in his memoirs); whether he suffered or rejoiced or doubted; whether, to please the Poles, he sent to Russia, in 1863, his appeal to Russian revolutionaries, even though he did not trust the Poles and knew that they had deceived him, knew that his appeal would be the doom of hundreds of these unhappy young people; whether he, with incredible naivete, admitted this himself in one of his last articles, not even suspecting in what light his admission cast him — always, everywhere, throughout his life, he was above all a gentilhomme russe et citoyen du monde, simply a product of the old system of serfdom which he hated and from which he emerged, not just by his birth but by his very rupture with his native land and its ideals. Belinsky, on the contrary, was no gentilhomme at all — oh, no. (God knows what his origins were. I think his father was an army doctor.)

For the most part, Belinsky was not a self-reflective person; he was always, throughout his life, a wholehearted enthusiast. He was delighted with my first work, Poor People (subsequently, a year later, we went our separate ways for various reasons which, however, were altogether trivial); but at the time of our first acquaintance he attached himself to me with all his heart, and at once, with the most straightforward rashness, he threw himself into converting me to his faith. I am by no means exaggerating his ardent attraction to me, at least in the first months of our acquaintance. I found him to be a passionate socialist, and in speaking to me he began directly with atheism. That was very significant, I thought, and revealed his amazing intuition and his unusual capacity to become totally inspired by an idea. The Internationale, in one of its proclamations about two years ago, began directly with the significant declaration: "We are above all an atheistic society," i.e., they began with the very essence of the matter. Belinsky began in the same way. While cherishing reason, science, and realism above all, he also understood better than anyone that reason, science, and realism alone could only create an antheap and not the social "harmony" in which man could create a life for himself. He knew that moral principles are the basis of everything. He believed in the new moral principles of socialism (which to date, however, have shown nothing but vile distortions of nature and common sense) to the point of folly and with no reflection at all; here there was only enthusiasm. But as a socialist he first had to dethrone Christianity. He knew that the revolution must necessarily begin with atheism. He had to dethrone the religion that provided the moral foundation of the society he was rejecting. He radically rejected the family, private property, and the moral responsibility of the individual. (I would note that he, like Herzen, was also a good husband and father). Certainly he understood that in denying individual moral responsibility he was also denying personal freedom; but he believed with all his being (much more blindly than Herzen, of course, who, it seems, had his doubts near the end) that socialism not only would not destroy personal freedom but would, to the contrary, restore it to unheard-of grandeur, but on a new and adamantine foundation.


Excerpted from A Writer's Diary by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Kenneth Lantz. Copyright © 1994 Northwestern University Press. Excerpted by permission of Northwestern University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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