Dostoevsky Studies     Volume 3, 1982



N. V. Pervushin, University of Montreal

While studying the rough drafts of Dostoevsky's "Diary of a Writer, " I came upon a passage that reveals a fact about the writer which I believe has been overlooked. In this particular passage, he expresses his opinion concerning a masterpiece of Turgenev's entitled "A Nest of Gentlefolk" in such glowing and unexpected terms that it invites comment.

The fact that this opinion remained unknown to researchers of Dostoevsky's and Turgenev's works can be easily explained: it remained in rough draft form and did not appear in the printed text of the "Diary. " It was published in the USSR quite recently in the 22nd volume of the "Collected works of Dostoevsky, " as part of the 30-volume edition. In the rough copy of the "Diary" Dostoevsky says:

Turgenev's "A Nest of Gentlefolk" is an immortal work that belongs to world literature because in it for the first time, and with extraordinary achievement and completeness, the prophetical dream of all our poets and of all Russians obsessed with the idea of reuniting Russian society with the soul and strength of the people, from which it had separated itself becomes reality, - at least in literature. Turgenev tried in all his works to present this character, but almost everywhere failed to do so, and finally succeeded in "A Nest of Gentlefolk. " The whole poetic idea of the work is personified in the image of an open-hearted man, strong of mind and body, gentle and quiet, honest and chaste, in conflict with everything morally offensive, affected by the truth of the people and yet alienated from it.

From this stems limitless suffering, but not revenge, as a gentle person does not seek vengeance; he goes on his way incapable of compromising with evil or of making any moral concessions even in his soul. His sufferings are not described, but eventually you feel them, and suffer with him. The scene in which these two unfortunate people meet in a far away monastery (6 or & lines only!) troubles the soul with all its suffering, and leaves a deep impression forever. No matter who you are, this immensely fruitful impression is bound to affect you, since the character himself and his truth come from the very depth of the people. You feel this in your heart and admire it


even unconsciously; you cannot but admire this truth. Herein lies the real benefit of art. More important still, this is prophetic of an opportunity to become united with the people. I consider this poem as the highest justification of truth and beauty in all Russian literature. (1) (Translation mine)

Why the writer confined his opinion of "A Nest of Gentlefolk" and its main character to the rough draft can be easily explained by the strained relations between the two great writers.

It is well known that, after a short period of close friendship in 1845-1846, this situation deteriorated, and after a new short period of normal relationship (1859-1866) it was spoiled again in 1867, following the publication of Turgenev's "Smoke. "

"A Nest of Gentlefolk" appeared in 1859. Dostoevsky had recently returned from Siberia and began devouring all the works of literature that were published at the time, as he describes himself:

I remember that in 1854, after I was discharged from prison in Siberia, I began to peruse all the literary works which appeared during the five years of my absence. I read at that time, and derived an enchanting impression from "The Sportman's Diary" - which had barely begun to appear in my young day, and Turgenev's early novels. True, then the sun of the steppes enchanted me; it was early spring, and with it an altogether new life was coming into being - the end of forced labor. I started reading, ... (2)

In his Siberian prison, he changed his ideology and became a Russian patriot, closer to Slavophiles than to Westernizers. When he read Turgenev's last novel, he became enthusiastic about it, and especially about its main characters Lavreckij and Liza. The evidence of this admiration is found in the rough copy of his 1876 "Diary of a Writer. " He considered Turgenev his ally, sharing the same views. His disappointment in 1867 was terrible. He decided not to publish this passage, still fuming about Turgenev's westernizing attitude revealed to him in 1867; he subsequently castigated and ridiculed Turgenev through the character of Karmazinov in his novel "The Possessed. "


  1. Collected works, vol. 22, L. 1981, p. 44.
  2. The Diary of a Writer 1877, Paris, YMCA PRESS, p. 402.
University of Toronto