Monday, November 26, 2012

Forgotten Wives

There was an interesting passage in Laimonas Briedas' City of Strangers in which he described Dostoevsky's brief visit to Vilnius on his way to Baden-Baden.  The passage was drawn from Anna Dostoevsky's diary, in which she describes her husband refusing to go out that night for fear his baggage might be stolen.  It seemed Fedya lived in a very agitated state, especially when confrontied with a strange place.

I was curious to find out more and did a search for her diary.  Unfortunately, I couldn't find any previews, but stumbled across Leonid Tsypkin's novel, Summer in Baden-Baden, which is drawn from Anna's diary.  He mentioned the Dostoevskys' layover in Vilnius, but described only their morbid fear of Jews, who dominated Vilna at the time.

Poking around some more, I found that Alexandra Popoff has written a new book on The Wives of Russia's Literary Giants, which looks very tempting.  We often take these wives for granted, but in recent years they have been brought to life in such books as The Last Station, in which Jay Parini focuses mainly on Sofya Andreyvna and her battle with Chertkov over Tolstoy's estate.  Largely fictional but no less compelling, the  book elevated Sofya into a major player in Tolstoy's life.  It was made into a film starring Helen Mirren.

Getting back to Anna Dostoevsky, she did play a major role in keeping Dostoevsky's works in print, and was very instrumental in getting Stanislavsky to stage his short novel, The Village of Stepanchikova, ten years after Fedya's death.  The play would prove very influential on subsequent writers like Samuel Beckett.

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