Dostoevsky in Saint Petersburg

Dostoevsky's name has inextricable ties to Saint Petersburg. It is the city where he lived the greater part of his life, where he developed as a writer, and where his fictional characters existed. Together with them he would walk down fantastically real streets, mysterious embankments, and endless squares. Petersburg became a character in his novels: no other city on the face of the earth has acquired such a Dostoevskian appearance as this "intentional" and "insane" city in the world. Here Dostoevsky created such novels as Poor Folk, The Insulted and the Injured, Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, and The Adolescent, in which the city itself became the real hero of the work.

His first encounter with Saint Petersburg occurred in May of 1837, at the very beginning of "white nights", the city's most poetic time of year. Petersburg stood before the future writer as a beautiful, romantic city: "There is something inexpressibly touching in nature around Petersburg, when at the approach of spring, she puts forth all her might, all the powers bestowed on her by Heaven, when she breaks into leaf, decks herself out and spangles herself with flowers". However, his joyful perception of the city was darkened by the necessity of studying at the Military Engineering Academy. There his dreams and reality began to diverge. The young romantic began to study at an academy, which was located in the most mysterious building in Petersburg, the MIkhailovsky Castle. Petersburg surrounded him with its secrets. The dream city became a ghost city, where everything was unreal and artificial. To the young Dostoevsky, Petersburg seemed like a puppet theatre: "Concealed behind this whole fantastic crowd, someone was making faces at me and pulling the strings: the wires and puppets moved while he laughed and laughed".

Dostoevsky's father had chosen the sensible profession of military engineer for his son. The son, however, after graduation, did not serve even half a year in the Drafting Department. Rather than a stable position and a regular salary he preferred a disordered life, constant dependence on his publishers, endless work, and agonizing writer's doubts: "I retired because  I retired, that is, I swear to you that I couldn't serve any longer. You hate life when the best time is taken away from you for naught I'll work like the devil". Later he often compared his work to prison labor. In 1880 he wrote: "I was at hard labor in Siberia for four years, but the work and life there were more bearable than my present one". Dostoevsky wrote constantly, without stopping to rest: "I am convinced that not one of our writers, past or living, wrote under the conditions in which I constantly write".

When he resigned from the service, Dostoevsky the new writer needed to make himself known, and this he did with vigor and talent; in 1846 his first novel, Poor Folk, appeared, bringing him brilliant success. All of Petersburg began to talk about Dostoevsky. He became well-known, continued to write, and published several more works: The Double, The Landlady, Netochka Nezvanova and White Nights.

But on the night of April 22/23, 1849, Dostoevsky was arrested for his participation in the "revolutionary" Petrashevsky Circle. After the trial he and other members of the circle were exiled to Siberia. The writer was torn away from the literary process for ten years. Upon returning to Petersburg at the end of 1859, Dostoevsky was obliged to start all over again.

Renting apartments in inexpensive parts of town, he would move frequently and never stayed at one address for more than three years. Friends who visited him in various apartments noticed the ascetism of their décor, the simplicity and restraint of the interiors. The main room in Dostoevsky's apartment was always his study. A desk, often placed in the middle of the room always occupied the principal place there: "Fyodor Mikhailovich's study was a large room with two windows. In the back of the room stood a soft couch covered with a brown, fairly worn material; in front of it was a round table with a red cloth napkin. On the table were a lamp and two or three albums; all around stood soft chairs and armchairs. The windows were decorated with two large Chinese vases of a beautiful shape. Along the wall stood a large couch made of green morocco leather, and near it was a little table with a decanter of water. On the opposite side, across the length of the room, a writing desk had been pulled out". Thus Anna Dostoevskaya, the writer's second wife, described the study in the apartment where Dostoevsky created his novel Crime and Punishment.

V.Soloviev recalled another of the writer's studies (at 11, Second Company Izmailovsky Regiment): "Straight ahead, by the window, stood a simple old table which held two burning candles, several newspapers and books, an old, cheap inkwell, a little tin box with tobacco and rolling papers. Next to the table was a small cupboard, on the other wall was a cheap couch upholstered in a poor reddish cloth; this couch served also as Fyodor MIkhailovich's bed. Then there were a few hard chairs, another table, and nothing else".

The study in Dostoevsky's apartment on Greek Avenue is reproduced in the memoirs of M.Aleksandrov: "Fyodor Mikhailovich's study was unique in its extreme simplicity. There was not even a hint in it of the banal modern arrangement of studies, from the looks of which you usually can't even tell the profession of the person who uses it. Fyodor Mikhailovich's study at the time I am describing it (1876) was simply his room, his studio, his cell. He spent most of his time at home in this room, briefly received his acquaintances and worked and slept in it. The area of the room was about 6,5 square meters. In it were: a small Turkish sofa fitted with oilcloth, which also served Fyodor Mikhailovich as a bed; two simple tables, the kind which can be seen in government offices, the smaller one of which was completely covered with books, journals, and newspapers lying in order over the whole table; on the other, larger one, were an inkwell with a pen, a fairly thick notebook with writing paper in quarters, in which Fyodor Mikhailovich wrote down individual thoughts and facts for his future writings, a pack of small-sized postal pape, a box with tobacco and one with rolling papers and cotton - there was nothing else on this table; everything else necessary for writing was located inside the table, that is to say, in a little low drawer placed, according to old tradition, below the top slab of the table. On the wall above this table was an armchair, old, like all the rest of the furniture, with no soft seat. In the corner stood a small bookcase. Simple smooth shades hung on the windows".

The writer's last study in his apartment on Kuznechny Lane, while preserving the simplicity and modesty of the previous ones, was, however, more roomy and comfortable. The Dostoevskys' financial position had become more stable, Dostoevsky's popularity had grown, and in the course of the day he would receive a wide variety of guests. With some he spent time in the sitting-room, while close friends came into his study. His family remembered that he didn't like things to be disturbed in his study - for manuscripts or books to be moved, or a chair moved from the place where he had left it. This was his creative workshop, and no one was to disturb its special atmosphere. "On his writing desk, - wrote Dostoevsky's daughter Liuba, - the greatest order reigned. Newspapers, pack of cigarettes, letters he received, books he was consulting, - everything had to be in its own place. The slightest disorder irritated my father".

On November 12, 1971, the F.M.Dostoevsky Literary-Memorial Museum opened in the house at 5/2 Kuznechny Lane. Dostoevsky had rented an apartment in this building twice, once for a very short time in 1846, and then from October 1878 until his death, on January 28, 1881. The beginning and end of his writing career turned out to be joined together in one spot. Here he had worked on his early story The Double, and here he wrote his last novel, The Brothers Karamazov. The Dostoevskys' apartment was recreated for the most part from the memoirs of his wife Anna:

"Our second-floor apartment consisted of six rooms, an enormous storeroom for books, an entry hall, and a kitchen. Seven windows faced Kuznechny Lane, and my husband's study was in the place where a marble plaque is now mounted".

The writer's study was reconstructed from a photograph taken by the photographer V.Taube after Dostoevsky's death. Several personal items are on display here: atop the desk are a feather pen, a medicine box, a billfold, and a holder for letters and papers; on the wall in the right-hand corner hangs a silver-framed icon entitled "Divine Mother, Joy of All the Sorrowful". From the study windows one can see the cupolas of Vladimir Church, where Dostoevsky attended services in the last years of his life. The old bookcases contain books that Dostoevsky had in his personal library. The Museum collects these books based on lists compiled by the writer's second wife, Anna Grigorievna. In the rear of the room is a couch, above which hangs a photograph of Raphael's Sistine Madonna, Dostoevsky's favourite painting. On the little table next to the windows is a clock which was stopped on the day and hour of Dostoevsky's death: January 28, 1881, 8:36 p.m. Adjoining Dostoevsky's apartment are two rooms housing a literary exhibit dedicated to the writer's life and works.

Saint Petersburg also serves as the writer's final resting-place. He is buried in the Tikhvinskoe Cemetery at the Alexander Nevsky Monastery.