Staraya Russa


Address: 175200, Staraya Russa, Dostoevsky Embankment, 42
Phone: (+7-816) 52-5-14-77
Fax: (+7-816) 52-3-72-85
Date of opening: May 4, 1981

The small, old, provincial city of Staraya Russa, in the Novgorod Province, left its own mark upon the biography and works of F.M.Dostoevsky.

Staraya Russa is picturesquely situated on the Polist River, which flows into the Pererytitsa and Porus Rivers in the center of the city. The city has long been famous for its mineral springs, which have attracted a diverse population from Moscow and Petersburg. This was the place the Dostoevsky family chose for summer vacations with their children.

On April 20, 1872, Dostoevsky wrote his sister, V.M.Ivanova: "And since the question of a dacha is very important for us, we, upon the advice of the Vladislavlevs, have instructed them to rent a dacha in Staraya Russa. The Vladislavlevs praise the place, praise the waters, the cheapness and the comfort. True, it's a lake area and damp, that's well known, but what can be done... I'll just say that it seems that most likely we'll be renting in Staraya Russa, the more so as there are many conveniences there - the cheapness, the speed and ease of travel there, and, finally, a house with furniture, even with kitchen wares, a train stations with newspapers and magazines and son on and so forth." The Dostoevskys first came to Staraya Russa on May 18, 1872. The writer's daughter Liuba was not yet three years old, and his son Fedya was not yet one. The city, with the lush greenery of its gardens and the tolling bells of its many churches, was very comforting. From that time onward the family would come to Staraya Russa every summer.

Their first summer the Dostoevskys lived in the house of Father Johann Rumiantsev, the senior priest of the Saint George Church who became the writer's confessor. "Father Rumiantsev is my old and true friend, "- Dostoevsky would write afterwards in a letter. During the summer at Father Johann's house, Dostoevsky worked on the conclusion to his novel The Devils. Several physical features of the city and observations about and physical features of Staraya Russa found their way into the novel.

Despite the fact that the first summer was not a great success (Liuba and Anna Grigorievna were ill and the summer was cold), the next year the Dostoevskys again decided to rent a house in Staraya Russa. This time they moved into a two-story wooden house on the banks of the Pererytitsa River which belonged to a retired lieutenant colonel, A.K.Gribbe. The Dostoevskys so came to love life in Staraya Russa that they even decided to spend the winter of 1874/75 there (although they moved for the winter to another, warmer house, closer to the city center). Here, in solitude, Fyodor Mikhailovich worked intensely on his novel The Adolescent, in which the sketch of the provincial city Afimevsk and the image of the merchant Skotobojnikov are connected to Staraya Russa.

In May of 1876, Dostoevsky acquiredthe house on the banks of the Pererytitsa River from the heirs of the late A.K.Gribbe. For the first time the writer, who had migrated all his life from apartment to apartment and had never owned any property, had a home of his own. Three Dostoevsky children lived in this house - on August 10, 1875, their son Aleksei was born in Staraya Russa. Anna later remembered, "Thanks to this purchase, we had, in my husband's words, our own nest, where we went joyfully in early spring and which we hated to leave in late autumn. Fyodor thought of our house in Staraya Russa as the place for his physical and moral rest; I remember that he always put off reading interesting and beloved books until our arrival in Staraya Russa, where idle visitors rarely disturbed the solitude he desired... Mr. Gribbe's house was not a city house, but, rather, a landowner's estate, with a large shady grove, a kitcgen garden, sheds, a cellar, etc. Fyodor especially appreciated its excellent Russian bath, located in the grove... My husband also liked our shady grove and the large paved yard, on which he would take... walks on rainy days, when the whole city was drowning in mud... But we both especially liked the small but comfortably placed rooms of the house, with their old, heavy red wood furniture; and the entire setup, where we lived so warmly and cozily."

Dostoevsky worked long and hard in Staraya Russa. A large part of his final novel, The Brothers Karamazov, was written here. The small provincial town of Skotoprigonevsk, where the action of the novel takes place, is reminiscent of Staraya Russa in many ways, and the inhabitants of the city would find several of the characters and situations in the novel recognizable. Staraya Russa became the city of The Brothers Karamazov for good. For Dostoevsky Russia was not only Petersburg and Moscow but, and maybe above all, the provinces, the country backwoods, the small cities like Staraya Russa. It is no accident that Dostoevsky decided to unfold the action of his novel, which he conceived of as a vast artistic survey of the lives and fates of past, present, and future generations of Russia against the backdrop of the kind of provincial city he had come to know well in Staraya Russa.

The summer of 1880, spent in Staraya Russa, was extraordinarily full of creative work. It was here, in May, that Dostoevsky wrote the Pushkin Speech within a period of two weeks. On May 22, he left Staraya Russa for Moscow to participate in the celebrations surrounding the unveiling of the Pushkin monument on Tverskoy (Strastnoy) Boulevard. The unveiling took place on June 6, and on June 8 Dostoevsky gave his speech at a formal meeting of the Society of Russian Literature Lovers. His success was enormous. The audience saw Dostoevsky as a spiritual teacher and prophet. He returned to Staraya Russa at the zenith of his fame and recognition by society.

In the quiet of the Staraya Russa house, work was awaiting him: "... literally worn out, I came back to Staraya Russa. Here I got down to work immediately on The Karamazovs, wrote three signatures, sent them off, and then right away, without taking a  break, I wrote an issue of The Diary of a Writer (that my speech will be part of), so as to publish it separately as the only issue this year." Periods of intense work were interspersed with short breaks and time spent with his children. In August, Fyodor wrote to his wife, who had gone to Petersburg for a short time on business, "Fedya and I set off in a cab to the municipal garden that's on the Red Shore, next to the Palace Garden. There were a lot of people there, they were releasing a balloon, and the military choristers were singing".

In 1880 the family enjoyed an extended stay in Staraya Russa. The family left from Petersburg on October 6. The summer had been unusually productive. However, it would be the last summer of the writer's life. On January 28, 1881, F.M.Dostoevsky passed away.

After Dostoevsky's death, Anna Grigorievna continued to come to Staraya Russa, carefully keeping the memory of their life together in the house. She stayed there for the last time in 1914. The house survived the events of the Revolution and subsequent wars, and has been preserved to the present day. In 1931 a commemorative plaque was mounted on it, and in 1971, for the 150th anniversary of Dostoevsky's birth, an exhibit, which became the basis for a museum was opened. The exhibit's designer, G.I.Smirnov, became the Museum's first director.

The F.M.Dostoevsky Memorial House-Museum was opened on May 4, 1981. On the second floor of the house, in the six rooms where the writer's family lived, the original arrangements and decor have been recreated. In the display of the commemorative exhibit are genuine items belonging to the writer and to members of his family; documents; editions of Dostoevsky's works published during his lifetime; and furniture of his era. Administrative offices are located on the first floor and the lower sitting room is host to exhibits, yearly scholarly conferences, and evenings of literary readings and music. In Staraya Russa's schools, children study the works of their great countryman in a special, enriched program. Guests of Staraya Russa can become acquainted with the places reflected in the novel The Brothers Karamazov.

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