30 January 2012 § Leave a comment
I’m amusing myself at the moment by reading Anna Dostoevskaya’s Reminiscences. I’m tired, and on the edge of a cold, and she’s very easy on the brain! Her book reads like an old woman talking to her grandchildren, without much caring whether or not they’re listening. The style is gentle and distant; she’s telling the story for her own pleasure in recalling it. It’s not great literature, but it has a certain lazy charm.
I’ve written before about Anna’s immense practical abilities and common sense, but what comes across in her Reminiscences is her absolute, unfailing adoration of her husband. I’m reading about their terrible trip to Europe at the moment, while he’s doggedly gambling away every last penny she manages to obtain for them, and she’s cheerfully making excuses for his behaviour and even seems to have been complicit, to begin with, in encouraging his habit.
Her unswerving devotion presumably helped to make the marriage so happy, and made her the perfect partner for a literary genius: I’m reminded of the fictional Ellen Ash in A.S.Byatt’s Possession, fiercely protective and dedicating her life to her husband, and certainly no clash of artistic egos here. It does mean though that her memoirs definitely have to be taken with a pinch of salt, for she won’t hear a bad word said against her husband and some events are retold in a very selective way (she refuses, for example, to see that Dostoevsky may have been in any way responsible for the rift with Belinsky and his circle, even though this took place many years before she met him), and I wouldn’t advise reading her book without first reading a good biography.
On the other hand, it’s rather sweet to read about Dostoevsky as a tender, loving, warm-hearted husband, and other sources, including his letters, seem to suggest that Anna isn’t exaggerating too much here. He often came across in public as being rather gloomy, and the big falling-out with Belinsky et al was caused quite largely by his own pride and touchiness. The warmth and affection that he was capable of is evident in some of his more sympathetic characters, and even more so in his closely observed descriptions of children and animals, and when you read Anna’s book, you can see that side of him more clearly.
I was reading Mochulsky’s excellent biography, but my copy mysteriously disappeared at the weekend. That’ll serve me right for tidying up the living room. I hope I find it soon, I was really enjoying it, and he was giving me lots of interesting ideas. In the meantime, Anna is keeping me gently entertained.