The Writer as a Young Liar

Letter From Albion

Recently, someone asked me to review Selected Letters of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, but so far nothing has come of it. The book, published by Rutgers University Press, is the fruit of many years' work under the direction of Joseph Frank, author of the voluminous Dostoyevsky biography. It contains a selection of 152 letters, culled from the four-volume Soviet edition of 935.

I have now read the selection, together with all the letters in the original Russian, and I am starting on the Diary. So far, however, I have been unable to form any original impression of the writer, save one: in his youth, Dostoyevsky was a pathological liar. But more of this later, perhaps.

For the time being, I invite the reader to join me and the 23-year-old Fyodor in St. Petersburg. It is September 1844. For the past six years, since he became a student at the Academy of Military Engineering, almost every letter Dostoyevsky has written has to do with money, an interest that would remain with him for the rest of his life. July 3, 1837: 30 rubles, 12 rubles. September 6: 14 rubles. October 8: 950. December 3: 70, 300. February 4, 1838: 50, 300. June 5: 25. August 9: 40. March 23, 1839: 60, 100. Well, perhaps it is reasonable for a student, far from his parents' house, to write home asking for money, even despite the fact that the old man, recently widowed, was barely able to make the ends meet. But what for? June 5, 1838: "Absolutely...

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