Saturday, June 9, 2018

Quarrelling with Fyodor

‘I was thankful when this miserable day came to an end, for I detest quarrelling. Fyodor never waked me to give me my good-night kiss, and that is a bad sign. But perhaps it was better so; we should only have started quarrelling again.’ This is Anna Snitkina, the very young second wife of the great Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky, confiding in a diary which she considered as ‘the friend’ to whom she could ‘entrust my hopes, my thoughts, and all my fears’. Anna died a century ago today, but in her later years transcribed some of her diary (written only for a few years, and in shorthand) into Russian; and she also prepared a manuscript of reminiscences about her husband.

Anna Grigoryevna Snitkina was born in 1846 in St Petersburg. On leaving school she trained to be a stenographer. She was engaged by 
Dostoevsky to work on a novel, The Gamblers. By this time, Dostoevsky, in his mid-40s, had completed several novels, including Crime and Punishment. He had also spent four years in a prison camp for subversive writings, travelled much in Europe, developed a gambling addiction, and been married (to Maria Dmitrievna Isaeva, who died in 1864). Within months of meeting Anna, and despite a 25 year age gap, the two were married, in February 1867. Dostoevsky’s gambling debts were such that Anna had to sell her jewellery before the couple could embark on an extended honeymoon in Europe. They remained abroad, in Germany, Switzerland and Italy, for four years, during which time Dostoevsky wrote The Idiot and began work on Demons, and Anna gave birth to two children, though the first died aged three months.

Anna proved to be a steadying influence on her husband, sharing his poverty, enduring his gambling sprees, nursing him through illnesses (he suffered from epilepsy), and helping to manage his finances. On returning to Russia in 1871, the family’s money problems were ongoing, but Anna gave birth to a third child. In 1873, however, they successfully formed their own publishing company, and published Dostoevsky’s Demons. On the back of this success, Dostoevsky launched a periodical, A Writer’s Diary. In 1875, a fourth child was born to the couple in the mineral spa town of Staraya Russa, where they sometimes went for Dostoevsky’s health, and where they eventually bought a house. It was here that Dostoevsky wrote most of his last and most feted book, The Brothers Karamazov. He died in 1881. Thereafter, Anna worked on the archive of literary material and photographs left behind by her husband; and she designed a room in the Historical Museum in Moscow dedicated to him. She also attended to her hobby of stamp-collecting. She died on 9 June 1918. There is a little further information (though not much) about Anna at Wikipedia (as well as within Dostoevsky’s own entry), Russkiy Mir, and

During the first year or two of her marriage, Anna kept a detailed diary in shorthand, filling at least seven notebooks. She only began transcribing this into Russian in the 1890s as an aid to writing her memoirs, and, in fact, only transcribed a small part of the diary, notably six months in 1867. Most of the notebooks no longer seem to be extant, and were possibly destroyed by Anna herself. However, the 1867 diary was published for the first time in Russian in 1923; and Anna’s memoir followed in 1925. The memoir (with extracts from the diary) appeared first in English (Routledge, 1926) and the diary itself appeared two years later. Published as The Diary of Dostoyevsky’s Wife it was edited by René Fülöp-Miller & Dr. Fr. Eckstein, and translated from the German edition by Madge Pemberton (Victor Gollancz, 1928). The memoir - Dostoevsky Portrayed by his Wife - is still in print - see Googlebooks for a preview.

Fülöp-Miller, in his preface, gives Anna’s own explanation
 (as found in the memoir) for why she decided to keep a diary: ‘For the first eighteen months of our married life I kept my diary exclusively in the form of shorthand notes, with occasional gaps of small importance during the time of my illness. I kept this journal for a variety of reasons; for one thing I feared lest, in the rush of new impressions, many small incidents would fade entirely out of my memory; the writing of it, moreover, was an excellent way for me to keep up my shorthand, and help to perfect it into the bargain. But my principal reason was of quite a different nature; my husband was to me such an interesting and wholly enigmatical being, that it seemed to me as though I should find it easier to understand him if I noted down his every thought and expression. Added to which, there was no single soul abroad to whom I could confide either my doubts or my observations, and I came to regard my diary as the friend to whom I could entrust my hopes, my thoughts, and all my fears.’

The following (rather banal) extracts are taken from the 1928 edition of the diary.

2 May 1867
‘I got up at nine, and remembered I must send my letter to Mama, to whom I write every week, and that I simply must ask them about sending money. I enclosed a little note in this letter for Masha, to whom so far I have not written much. Fyodor woke up while I was finishing the letter; and I told him I was going to the post, and went out quickly. I really was back in a few moments, but Fyodor said he would have to keep a fast hold of me, as I was “slippery as a piece of silk.” After tea Fyodor declared he must go to the chemist’s to get some medicine. I was seized with a dreadful fit of jealousy, and thought he was going to meet some other woman. I sat by the window, leaning out as far as I could till I nearly fell out, looking through a pair of field glasses at the way lie went and mum come hack by. Already my heart was filled with all the torment of a deserted wife; my eyes, staring in front of me, were full of tears, and still no Fyodor came. At last I saw my darling strolling along another way home, all unconscious. I went to him at once, and told him what I had been through. (It would have been interesting to know the precise object of my jealousy, for it really could only have been old Ida, or even Frau Zimmermann!) The walk had tired him so much that he sat down and went fast to sleep, after asking me to wake him in half an hour. Suddenly the idiotic thought came into my head that he was dead; full of fear I crept up to him, and saw as I looked at him that he was as alive as could be. I waked him up at a quarter to six; he dressed, and we went through a rather sharp shower out to the Terrace to eat. But there we were to meet with a strange happening, that made it impossible for us to go there for meals in future. Four of the waiters were sitting in the room and playing cards as we went in, and in the room next to it where were only two other customers besides ourselves, only the “Diplomat” was on duty. A Saxon officer came in, and the “Diplomat” flew to serve him. Fyodor knocked, but the “Diplomat” took no notice. Fyodor knocked again, and then the “Diplomat” came up, but made no attempt to listen to us, excused himself, and went back again to the officer. We meant to eat only a la carte, and ordered some soup; the waiter scarcely heard us out, and then brought it to us. Long after we had finished it, he never came near us again, but continued to attend to the officer. Once again Fyodor knocked, and then the waiter spoke very rudely, saying he heard and would be with us presently, and that there was no need to keep on knocking. Then he brought some wine. Fyodor ordered a veal cutlet and two portions of roast fowl. After a while up came the waiter, bringing one portion only of roast chicken. We asked what he meant by it and he declared we had ordered one chicken only. Fyodor put him right and the man went away again saying he would soon bring all we wanted. Fyodor got into a terrible rage. He was all for going away immediately, saying he would not be treated like that by servants, but I took their part as best as I could, as I so wanted to go on dining. Fyodor declared he could wish himself alone. The waiter came back bringing with him one veal cutlet. Obviously he had made this mistake on purpose. Fyodor then completely lost his temper. He asked for the bill which the waiter said came to twenty-two silver groschcn. Fyodor paid him a thaler and wouldn’t take the change up from the table. We left the place, furious. I was really not so furious as Fyodor as to me it had a comic side, our not eating there. I implored him to calm himself, but he wouldn’t, and began to scold. So I told him if he insisted going on like that I would rather go home. Then he began to shout at me and I got so cross I began to go home, but on the way I thought how lonely it would be sitting there all alone, and went to the post instead, to see if there were any letters. But there was nothing, so I bought some cigarettes and went home. Ida told me Fyodor had been back already, walking up and down and then going out again. That made me feel dreadfully upset, for I couldn’t imagine where he had got to. Then I looked out of the window and saw him coming along. I was ever so glad and received him as if nothing had happened. He was pale and agitated, and obviously depressed by our quarrel. He told me how he had hurried after me at once, and not finding me at home thought I must have gone on to the Terrace, to show my independence by eating there. We dressed then and went out in the pouring rain. But where to go we knew not for one can hardly get lunch at eight in the evening. We passed the Hotel Victoria on our way, so we went in. Everything there was very nice and well ordered; newspapers and writing material lying on the tables. We asked for the menu and chose three dishes, and this little meal came to two thalers, ten silver groschen. Certainly everything was beautifully done, but the price is fearfully high. Actually twelve silver groschen for one chop - who ever heard of such a price! We also had ices, and I must say we had never seen such beautiful pink ices as those they brought us, and not really so very dear, either. At nine o’clock, when we had finished our meal we went on our way home again; but to-day was to be a day of disagreements. I had opened my umbrella; but as I do not know how to handle it so beautifully as do these immaculate Germans, I got it all tangled up with some worthy German gentleman. Fyodor started positively yelling at me and for very rage I started to tremble all over. We had to go to the locksmith to get our trunk, but the shop had been closed long ago and all our knocking was in vain. We started quarrelling again once we were at home, drinking tea - oh, what a miserable day! I wanted to talk quite calmly to Fyodor about his journey the next day; but he misunderstood me and started shouting again; that was too much for me; I started shouting myself, and then went into the bedroom. Repentance followed, moaning over my misery, doubts as to whether we were suited to one another, and so on and so forth. How foolish are all these heart storms and all this unhappiness over something that is not really even there! I was thankful when this miserable day came to an end, for I detest quarrelling. Fyodor never waked me to give me my good-night kiss, and that is a bad sign. But perhaps it was better so; we should only have started quarrelling again. Fyodor is going away, not to-morrow, but the day after.’

29 July 1867
‘Early this morning, the weather was perfectly lovely, but towards ten it clouded over and rain began to fall. More boredom, and I simply do not know what to do with myself. I suppose I should go along to the Reading Room, but I don’t like turning up there in my shabby gloves. So I stayed in again all day, and was most dreadfully at a loose end. For sheer lack of occupation I started translating a French book. It would be a good thing to get used to it, and then I should be able to translate something good. The weather was as dismal as my state of mind, and I could hardly wait for our dinner to be brought in, which was better to-day. Afterwards, Fyodor lay down for an hour’s sleep, and I read. When he got up again we went to the post and then on to the Reading Room, where we found a great many people, including ladies. But for some reason or other there was a heavy smell of cabbage, and at the reading table there was no room. We sat down by the window. The man in charge handed Fyodor some Russian papers at once, and we started reading; when it got dark we moved to the table, on which a lamp was burning. An Englishman was wandering around, also wanting to read, but he couldn’t find a proper place, and created quite a disturbance in the room that is usually so silent. It annoyed me very much. I read the “Moscow News” and the “Northern Bee.” At last the fidgety Englishman changed his place, and I was duly glad of it. A Russian lady, fairly elderly, sat herself down next to us and demanded Russian papers. She was probably beautiful in her day, but now is so no more. Like all the Russian women here, she was dressed in Russian fashion, and very badly at that. Then came in a charming girl, whom I, had I been a man, should have fallen in love with. A dear little nose, blue eyes, sable eye-brows, but unfortunately her face so made up that, for all she could not have been more than three and twenty, she appeared quite wrinkled. Finally we went home; on the way, I went into a baker’s shop and bought “Lenten Buns,” which I did not much care for at first, but afterwards continued to eat the whole evening. I was fearfully cold, and shivering all over my body, so that I almost began to think I was sickening for nettle rash. After drinking some tea I lay down on Fyodor’s bed and went to sleep, while he worked and wrote. He told me to-day he was going to start dictating his article to me to-morrow. I am delighted about it as that means I shall have something to do and time will not hang so heavy on my hands. I lay there for a couple of hours, then went to bed, and to sleep again. Fyodor was very sweet when he came to bed later, and said a multitude of nice things.’

The Diary Junction

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