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Blurring the Worlds of Fiction and Reality

October 14, 2013

The experience of reading literary diaries and letters can feel like an act of voyeurism. For the reader, the first few pages of revelations are guiltily tantalizing, as the inner life of a literary figure comes into focus and trips are made behind closed doors.

New Letters of Dostoevsky

Translated from the Russian and Edited by S.S. Koteliansky

The whole year of 1878 Dostoevsky spent in writing "The Brothers Karamasov." The serial publication of the novel and continuous work on it took him another two years, 1879 and 1880.

"The Brothers Karamasov" was published in the Russky Vestnik (NN. 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10 and 11 of 1879; NN. 1, 4, 7, 9,10 and 11 of 1880). These hitherto unpublished letters were written during the years 1879-1881 to N. A. Lin-bimov, the associate editor of the Russky Vestnik.

Staraia Roussa, May 10, 1879.

 . . . This book, "Pro and Contra," is in my view the culminating point of the novel, and it must be finished with particular care. Its idea, as you will see from the text I have sent you, is the presentation of extreme blasphemy and of the seeds of the idea of destruction at present in Russia among the young generation that has torn itself away from reality. 

More Letters of Dostoevsky

Translated from the Russian and Edited by S.S. Koteliansky

I

One of Dostoevsky's early letters has recently been published in Russia. It gives quite a clear picture of his state of mind during the first years of his literary activity.

With his "Poor Folk," completed by him in the spring of 1845 (when he was 24), and published in January, 1846, in Nekrasov's Peterburgsky Sbornik, Dostoevsky all at once became a literary celebrity. The manuscript of "Poor Folk" was taken by a friend of his to Belinsky, the leading critic, who was so enthusiastic over it that he declared that a new genius had arisen in Russian literature, and prophesied a brilliant future for Dostoevsky. Belinsky also published an article in the Otechestvennya Zapiski in 1845 praising Dostoevsky to the skies.

Shaw and the Sound Barrier

There seem very few subjects in which Shaw was not interested, and fewer still on which he was not prepared to express his opinion. Nevertheless, it may surprise most people to learn that towards the end of his life the ubiquitous playwright concerned himself with such advanced ideas as space-travel and supersonic flight. 

The Most Contemptible Moth: Lowell in Letters

A man’s letters have a different claim on privacy than his poems and therefore a different claim on truth. Letters lie in the uneasy realm between writing published (the words, if not anonymous, a writer must stand by) and writing meant for no one else’s eye (the best diaries are often those published from the grave). Letters are usually directed to one person alone, like a whisper, though in some centuries they have been passed around like dime novels (when Nelson captured letters in which Napoleon grumbled over Josephine’s infidelities, he published them). The inky page, the homely sheet of paper itself, becomes the property of the receiver (in this way letters follow a peculiar byway of property law, but the words remain the writer’s, not to be published except where leave is given).