The Stenographer Who Married Dostoyevsky — and Saved Him From Ruin (Published 2021) (2022)


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By Jennifer Wilson

(Video) Amherst Reads - "The Gambler Wife" by Andrew Kaufman

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 felt like a political tipping point, a new monument dedicated to the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin was unveiled in Moscow. Alexander II’s Great Reforms of the 1860s — including the emancipation of the serfs — had not satisfied the appetites of radicals for change. Most alarming to moderate Russians were the women who had begun joining the ranks of the self-described Nihilists. They smoked cigarettes, cut their hair short, preferred Feuerbach to romance novels and spurned marriage in favor of careers in science and medicine (or, occasionally, terrorism).

Everyone 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 praised Tatyana, the heroine of “Eugene Onegin,” Pushkin’s 1833 novel in verse, for embodying a uniquely Russian spirit of self-sacrifice. A married woman who rejects the advances of her erstwhile lover, Tatyana 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 spouse, Anna Dostoyevskaya, Kaufman’s book suggests that her husband’s readers would have heard his speech and recalled his own characters, like Sonya in “Crime and Punishment,” “who follows the repentant Raskolnikov to a Siberian prison camp.” Yet Kaufman, a specialist in Slavic literature at the University of Virginia, is principally concerned with what this philosophy would mean for a woman who was not fictional. In the early years of her marriage, Anna was called on to practice superhuman levels of selflessness and forgiveness. She lived at the mercy of her husband’s gambling addiction, teetering on financial ruin for years — at one point having to pawn her own underwear. Dostoyevsky did little to shield her from his domineering family, who tried to control his purse strings. When Anna wanted to go on a honeymoon to Germany, his stepson from his first marriage reproached her: “I don’t allow any European trips.”

Kaufman recounts Anna’s agony in scenes as gut-wrenching as any we might encounter in her husband’s novels, and even Dostoyevsky’s most ardent fans will find themselves asking if the relationship, despite making it possible for him to finish some of his most celebrated works, was worth it. Anna was unprepared for this fate, having grown up in a stately home in St. Petersburg, in a family, she later wrote, “without quarrels, dramas or catastrophes.” Her 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 mixed up in politics, landed in Siberia and vanished there without a trace.”

In his youth, Dostoyevsky had joined the Petrashevsky Circle — a relatively tame underground organization of progressive men interested in French utopian socialism. When it was uncovered, Dostoyevsky was sentenced to four years of hard labor in Siberia, followed by five of mandatory military service. By the time he returned to the Russian capital, he was spiritually and politically transformed. His experience in Siberia “convinced him that the radical intelligentsia not only failed to understand the Russian people but were in many cases ruthless egoists posing as social crusaders,” Kaufman writes. Yet it was precisely the radical spirit of the age that brought his future wife into his orbit.

Anna, an “emancipated girl of the Sixties,” Kaufman writes, was eager to forge her own path rather than rely on a husband. Like many women of her generation and political persuasion, she decided to study science. (Initially she went to school for zoology, but dropped out after fainting at the sight of a cat cadaver.) She then enrolled in a stenography course whose instructor, Kaufman notes, “emphasized that stenography was more than a profession; it was also a way for young people to develop the essential life skills of patience and perseverance.”

(Video) Andrew Kaufman in conversation with Therese Ann Fowler: The Gambler Wife


It would need to be. In October 1866, when Anna arrived at the Dostoyevsky home for an interview, the writer was facing an impossible deadline and had written nothing save for some notes for a “story of a wanton Russian gambler lost in a European resort town called Roulettenburg.” The situation was so dire that a friend of Dostoyevsky’s suggested gathering a group to ghostwrite the story for him.

(Video) WorldCanvass : Dostoevsky: From Revolutionary Outcast to Man of God

Dostoyevsky decided to hire a stenographer to speed up the process, but Anna almost did not last. After her first day, she later recalled, “I didn’t like him; he made me feel depressed.” It’s unclear what attracted Dostoyevsky to Anna: her eventual intense devotion and ability to weather his moods, or the fact that she was more than 24 years his junior — probably both. After their swift completion of “The Gambler,” the final installment of “Crime and Punishment” was due. He decided to propose.

A sizable portion of Kaufman’s biography is devoted to the couple’s “honeymoon,” a three-month trip to Germany — Anna ultimately got her way, despite the stepson’s objections — that ended up lasting four years. Dostoyevsky’s gambling habit had become so acute that they could not return to Russia without fear that he would be arrested at the border and sent to debtors’ prison. Daily trips to the pawnbroker took their toll, and the two composed light verse mocking their unhappiness, including this one by Anna: “Your last money / you blew at roulette, / and now you don’t have / a three-kopeck piece, you numbskull.”

What finally put a stop to Dostoyevsky’s addiction was a particularly ruinous night of gambling in Wiesbaden, where he became so distraught that he ran through the streets looking for a priest and to his horror wound up in front of a synagogue — proof, he believed, that gambling was the work of “some dark force.” (Dostoyevsky was ferociously antisemitic, as Kaufman, refreshingly, makes no attempt to downplay.)

The final third of the book is devoted to Anna’s second act: as Dostoyevsky’s principal publisher. Realizing that setting up an imprint was the only way to avoid predatory agreements like the one that brought her and her husband together in the first place, Anna began printing his work — previously released in serialization — as stand-alone books. According to Kaufman, Anna was the first solo woman publisher in Russia. Sofya Tolstaya, the wife of Leo Tolstoy, sought her advice when she decided to set up a similar operation. It was against this less pressured financial backdrop that Dostoyevsky was able to compose his magnum opus, “The Brothers Karamazov” (1880), in the year before his death.

Dostoyevsky has since faced condemnation for his virulent antisemitism and Christian nationalism. Now, with this new biography, and the extent of his misogyny on full view, readers will likely have more to say about his treatment of women as well. Anna balked at criticism of her husband, believing that, as Kaufman paraphrases it from a letter she wrote, Dostoyevsky “was to literature what the physicist Röntgen, who discovered the X-ray, was to the human body — the inventor of a wholly new means of peering inside the human soul.” To judge his novels against his politics, she felt, would be tantamount to reading a radiology report with Röntgen’s social opinions in mind.

Kaufman is sympathetic to both his subjects. He does not want to judge Anna for her choices, especially because women then had so few. (Russian women would not be able to secure divorces easily until the Bolshevik Revolution.) He affirms that being the partner of a great Russian writer would have been meaningful to her in multiple ways, including as a patriot. Perhaps we should regard Anna’s life itself as an X-ray, a high-energy beam that illuminates a stark truth: that for a woman marriage — then and even now — is always a bit of a gamble.


Who did Dostoevsky marry? ›

Fyodor Dostoevsky

Who was Dostoevsky's first wife? ›

Anna Dostoevskaya

How old was Dostoevsky when he married Anna? ›

As early as February 15, 1867, the forty-five-year-old Dostoevsky married the twenty-year-old Anna Grigorievna, who was to support him as an equal partner for the rest of his life.

Who was Dostoevsky's second wife? ›

Fyodor Dostoevsky

Did Dostoevsky marry Fyodor? ›

Born in Moscow in 1821, Dostoevsky was introduced to literature at an early age through fairy tales and legends, and through books by Russian and foreign authors.
Fyodor Dostoevsky
Years active1846–1880
SpouseMaria Dmitriyevna Isaeva ​ ​ ( m. 1857; died 1864)​ Anna Grigoryevna Snitkina ​ ​ ( m. 1867)​
12 more rows

Who killed Karamazov father? ›

Answer and Explanation: None of his three acknowledged sons killed Fyodor Karamazov; instead, Fyodor's unacknowledged illegitimate son Smerdyakov committed the murder. Fyodor's eldest son, Dmitri, is arrested and eventually convicted of his murder.

Who Killed old Karamazov? ›

It is in this book that Ivan meets three times with Smerdyakov, the final meeting culminating in Smerdyakov's dramatic confession that he had faked the fit, murdered Fyodor Karamazov, and stolen the money, which he presents to Ivan. Smerdyakov expresses disbelief at Ivan's professed ignorance and surprise.

Who is the youngest Karamazov Brother? ›

Alexei Fyodorovich Karamazov

Alexei Fyodorovich (often referred to as Alyosha) is, at age 20, the youngest of the brothers. He is the second child of Fyodor Pavlovich's second wife, Sofya Ivanovna, and is thus Ivan's full brother.

What did Dostoevsky say about Anna Karenina? ›

Anna Karenina is sheer perfection as a work of art. No European work of fiction of our present day comes anywhere near it. Furthermore, the idea underlying it shows that it is ours, ours, something that belongs to us alone and that is our own property, our own national 'new word'or, at any rate, the beginning of it.”

How old is Raskolnikov? ›

A 23-year-old man and former student, now destitute, Raskolnikov is described in the novel as "exceptionally handsome, taller than average in height, slim, well built, with beautiful dark eyes and dark brown hair." On the one hand, he is cold, apathetic, and antisocial; on the other, he can be surprisingly warm and ...

Is The Brothers Karamazov a religious book? ›

“Dostoevsky was a devout Christian and The Brothers Karamazov, his last and possibly greatest novel, was a heartfelt plea for the necessity of faith. The phrase 'If God does not exist, everything is permitted' is often attributed to Dostoevsky.

What is Dostoevsky's power? ›

Description. Fyodor kills Karma with a single touch. Little is known of Fyodor's ability; thus far, it was able to kill someone with a single touch. Moreover, it is not restricted to skin-to-skin contact.

What was Dostoevsky's religion? ›

Dostoevsky claims to have considered himself a devout Orthodox Christian, but through his writing he shows that there may not be any real way to ultimately recompense the suffering of mankind. By leaving the question unanswered, he emphasizes the fact that suffering is a mystery that may not be cosmically resolved.

What are the three temptations mentioned by the Grand Inquisitor in Dostoevsky's story? ›

Matthew; the Grand Inquisitor designated them as temptations by miracle, mystery, and authority (čudo, taina i avtoritet), which, in my opinion, can be applied to all three.

What is Fyodor Dostoevsky best book? ›

Fyodor Dostoevsky

What Dostoevsky said about love? ›

To love someone means to see them as God intended them.”

Does Dmitri Karamazov believe in God? ›

Dmitri, for example, declares that he will love God forever, even if God sends him to hell.

Who actually killed Fyodor Karamazov? ›

Summary—Chapter 8: The Third and Last Meeting with Smerdyakov. On Ivan's third visit to Smerdyakov, Smerdyakov openly confesses that he murdered Fyodor Pavlovich.

Is Dmitri Karamazov guilty? ›

Dmitri is not only innocent of the crime, he undergoes an ardent spiritual conversion in prison and emerges from his trial a stronger, better person, prepared to live a life of goodness and to do penance for his sins.

Why is The Brothers Karamazov so famous? ›

The Brothers Karamazov is Dostoevsky's deepest and most complex examination of crucial philosophical questions of human existence. In it, he addresses the conflict between faith and doubt, the problem of free will, and the question of moral responsibility.

Who is the villain in The Brothers Karamazov? ›

Before he is killed, Fyodor Karamazov is one of the primary antagonists in The Brothers Karamazov. An unapologetic sinner, he takes a perverse pleasure in flouting his sons' dreams and aspirations.

Is the Karamazov Brothers hard to read? ›

The Brothers Karamazov is a hard read. It is a hard read because Dostoevsky is certainly intellectually above me. It is a hard read because the story is halted for long periods of time by hardcore philosophy. But most of all it is a hard read because it is one of the most realistic pieces of literary art.

Is Dmitri Karamazov an atheist? ›

Fyodor's first son, Dmitri, is in the midst of a dispute with his father. Dmitri is much like his father regarding how he perceives the world. He is a hedonist and believes life is all about enjoying himself. Dmitri sought to take his share of the Karamazov family inheritance to enable him to marry his heart, rob.

How old is Alyosha? ›

His full name is given as Alexei Fyodorovich Karamazov and he is also referred to as Alyosha, Alyoshka, Alyoshenka, Alyoshechka, Alexeichik, Lyosha, and Lyoshenka. He is the youngest of the Karamazov brothers, being nineteen years old at the start of the novel.

Who married Alyosha? ›

This understanding of human nature proves Alyosha much more than a simple person of simple faith. Zossima, remember, has commanded Alyosha to marry. Because of the elder, Alyosha has chosen Lise; no one, he believes, will make him a better wife. But for all of Zossima's influence, he is not a puppet-master.

Is Alyosha a boy name? ›

The name Alyosha is boy's name meaning "defender". Russian diminutive of Alexei, borne by the protagonist in Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov.

What mental illness did Anna Karenina have? ›

Anna Karenina clearly has borderline personality disorder, Holden Caulfield seems to have been abused as a child, Raymond Carver's characters wouldn't have these problems if they'd just go to AA. Perhaps it's an obvious direction for students to take, given the information society provides them.

Is Anna Karenina about cheating? ›

Anna's situation is her affair with Count Vronsky. Her husband is a old, boring, and largely ignores her. This doesn't justify her actions, but she falls in love with a younger, handsomer, and more fun man. The affair is joyful until it isn't.

Why was Anna Karenina so jealous? ›

Anna, the leading lady of Anna Karenina goes mad with jealousy as a result of isolation and guilt: having committed adultery, she can't seem to believe that anyone would be faithful to her. She becomes absolutely incapable of trusting her lover, Vronsky, which in turn drives him further away.

Is Sonya in love with Raskolnikov? ›

Sonya follows Raskolnikov to Siberia, where he realizes, after almost a year in prison, his love for her as she has always loved him. This realization allows him to rejoin the rest of humanity.

Is Raskolnikov a psychopath? ›

It's easy to dismiss Raskolnikov as a psychopath, but this is not an insight: it is an admission of failure to understand his psychology. Beneath the silence, the battle within Raskolnikov's mind rages on, though his dejection and his nearness to confession mark its final stages.

Is Raskolnikov a narcissist? ›

As intelligent, and capable, as Raskolnikov is, he's also very arrogant, and narcissistic, so he doesn't quite understand nearly as much as he thinks. After Raskolnikov commits his murders, Dostoevsky uses the next 300 pages to outline Raskolnikov's descent into madness, and psychological deterioration.

Should Christians read Brothers Karamazov? ›

As a novel, The Brothers Karamazov makes the list of 25 Books Every Christian Should Read, with the declaration, The Brothers Karamazov “one of the greatest works of literature ever written . . . not least because of the dizzying number of theological questions it tackles – the quest for God, the problem of human ...

What is the moral of The Brothers Karamazov? ›

One of the central lessons of the novel is that people should not judge one another, should forgive one another's sins, and should pray for the redemption of criminals rather than their punishment.

What does the onion mean in The Brothers Karamazov? ›

The anecdote is meant to demonstrate the possibility of God's forgiveness, and its teller, Grushenka, says of herself in one of the book's climactic scenes, “Though I am bad, I did give away an onion,” indicating her readiness to be saved.

Who was Raskolnikov in love with? ›

The love story between the main character Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, the intelligent and poor but failed student and a later a murderer, and Sonia Marmeladova, a shy, innocent and self-scarifying eighteen year old girl driven to prostitution by poverty, is one one of my favourites in literature.

Who married Raskolnikov? ›

He tells of his marriage to Katerina Ivanovna, a widow of a higher social class and a mother of three young children who married him out of destitution.

Are Sonya and Raskolnikov in love? ›

It takes quite some time for Rodion Raskolnikov to realize that there is something special about Sonya. However, he does fall deeply in love with her.

Does Raskolnikov have a wife? ›

Summary: Chapter II

Despite the jeers of the tavern's patrons and staff, the man proceeds to tell his life story to Raskolnikov. He is a self-professed drunkard married to a proud woman of noble background, Katerina Ivanovna.

Who is the most admirable character in Crime and Punishment? ›

Lesson Summary

Rodion Raskolnikov is one of the most famous characters in Western fiction. He is the antihero of Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel Crime and Punishment and remains an example of criminal psychology in fiction.

Is Raskolnikov a narcissist? ›

As intelligent, and capable, as Raskolnikov is, he's also very arrogant, and narcissistic, so he doesn't quite understand nearly as much as he thinks. After Raskolnikov commits his murders, Dostoevsky uses the next 300 pages to outline Raskolnikov's descent into madness, and psychological deterioration.

Who is Raskolnikov's sister? ›

Svidrigailov (Arkady Ivanovitch) A sensualist and vulgarian who asserts his own will in order to achieve his personal goals. Dunya (Avdotya Romanovna Raskolnikov) Raskolnikov's devoted sister who was previously Svidrigailov's employee and who was propositioned by him.

Who is Andrey Semyonovitch? ›

Andrei Semyonovich Lukanchenkov (Russian: Андрей Семёнович Луканченков; born 7 February 1986) is a Russian professional footballer. He plays for FC Luki-Energiya Velikiye Luki.

Why is Raskolnikov's sister marrying? ›

She is a dedicated sister to Raskolnikov and daughter of Pulcheria Alexandrovna Raskolnikov, planning to marry Luzhin, a wealthy attorney who she despises, so her family will no longer be impoverished.

How old is Sonya in Crime and Punishment? ›

Answer and Explanation: Sonya is nineteen during the main events of Crime and Punishment.

Does Sonya forgive marmeladov? ›

She says she cannot forgive Marmeladov for his drunkenness; the priest argues that this lack of forgiveness is “a great sin.” Marmeladov sees Sonya, asks her for forgiveness, then dies; Katerina asks who will provide for the funeral expenses.

What does Sonya symbolize? ›

Sonia's character represents human hardship through her own misery; however, her trials are overcome by sheer will and determination. Sonia is a survivor, an aspect of her character that Raskolnikov does not seem to see.

What do Sonya and Raskolnikov realize at the end of the epilogue? ›

They both realize that he truly loves her. They resolve to wait out the remaining seven years of his prison term. That evening, Raskolnikov thinks about Sonya and experiences the ecstasy of love.

What does Raskolnikov mean in English? ›

The name Raskolnikov derives from the Russian raskolnik meaning "schismatic" (traditionally referring to a member of the Old Believer movement).

Is Raskolnikov a Superman? ›

At the beginning of the novel, Raskolnikov sees himself as a “superman,” a person who is extraordinary and thus above the moral rules that govern the rest of humanity. His vaunted estimation of himself compels him to separate himself from society.

How old was Raskolnikov? ›

A 23-year-old man and former student, now destitute, Raskolnikov is described in the novel as "exceptionally handsome, taller than average in height, slim, well built, with beautiful dark eyes and dark brown hair." On the one hand, he is cold, apathetic, and antisocial; on the other, he can be surprisingly warm and ...


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