The stenographer who married Dostoyevsky and saved him from ruin

THE WOMAN PLAYER A true story of love, risk and the woman who saved Dostoyevsky By Andrew D. Kaufman In the spring of 1880, in the midst...


THE WOMAN PLAYER
A true story of love, risk and the woman who saved Dostoyevsky
By Andrew D. Kaufman

In the spring of 1880, in the midst of what appeared to be a political turning point, a new monument dedicated to the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin was unveiled in Moscow. The Great Reforms of Alexander II of the 1860s – including the emancipation of the serfs – had not satisfied the radicals’ appetites for change. Most alarming for moderate Russians were the women who had started to join the ranks of self-proclaimed nihilists. They smoked cigarettes, cut their hair short, preferred Feuerbach to romance novels, and rejected marriage in favor of scientific and medical careers (or, sometimes, terrorism).

Anyone could sense that Russia was on a collision course with itself, and few feared the potential outcome more than Fyodor Dostoyevsky. At the unveiling ceremony, he delivered a fiery speech, calling on Russians to regard new theories of social progress coming from the West as spiritually alien. He congratulated Tatiana, the heroine of “Eugene Onegin”, Pushkin’s 1833 verse novel, for having embodied a typically Russian spirit of self-sacrifice. A married woman who rejects the advances of her former lover, Tatiana was proof to Dostoyevsky that, as Andrew D. Kaufman puts it in “The Gambler Wife”, a true “Russian woman would always refuse to build her happiness on the unhappiness of others.” . “

A biography of the writer’s second wife, Anna Dostoyevskaya, Kaufman’s book suggests her husband’s readers would have heard her speech and remembered her own characters, such as Sonya in “Crime and Punishment,” “which follows the repentant Raskolnikov in a Siberian prison camp. “Yet Kaufman, a specialist in Slavic literature at the University of Virginia, was primarily interested in what this philosophy would mean for a woman who was not fictional. In the early years of her marriage, Anna was called to practicing superhuman levels of selflessness and forgiveness. She lived at the mercy of her husband’s gambling addiction, on the verge of financial ruin for years – at one point she had to pledge her own money -clothes. Dostoevsky did little to protect her from her domineering family, who tried to control her purse strings. When Anna wanted to go on her honeymoon to Germany, her stepson from her first marriage reproached him: “I do not authorize any travel to Europe.

Kaufman chronicles Anna’s agony in scenes as heart-wrenching as those we might encounter in her husband’s novels, and even the most ardent Dostoevsky fans will wonder if the relationship, although it did allow him to end. some of his most famous works, was worth it. Anna was not prepared for this fate, having grown up in a stately home in St. Petersburg, in a family, she later wrote, “without quarrels, dramas or catastrophes”. His father, a civil servant, was a great admirer of Dostoyevsky and spoke at length about the promising young author of “Poor Folk” (1846). “Unfortunately,” he told his daughter, “the man got involved in politics, landed in Siberia and disappeared there without a trace.

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