Dostoevsky: The Miraculous Years, 1865-1871 Dostoevsky - Essay

Joseph Frank


THE MIRACULOUS YEARS is the fourth volume in this biographical sequence, following THE SEEDS OF REVOLT, 1821-1849 (1976), THE YEARS OF ORDEAL, 1850-1859 (1983), and THE STIR OF LIBERATION, 1860-1865 (1986). Should Frank be able to complete the quintet, his achievement would be rivaled, in the annals of literary biography, only by Leon Edel’s equally comprehensive study of Henry James. The two biographers’ emphasis, however, differs considerably: Edel focuses on the aesthetics of James’ fiction and the psychology of its creator, while Frank’s primary interest is in intellectual and social history.

THE MIRACULOUS YEARS is aptly titled. Within a space of six years, Dostoevsky composed three of the world’s greatest novels: CRIME AND PUNISHMENT (1866), THE IDIOT (1868), and THE DEVILS, sometimes titled THE POSSESSED (1871); he also wrote two fine novellas: THE GAMBLER (1866) and THE ETERNAL HUSBAND (1870). Amazingly, Dostoevsky accomplished all this despite an existence filled with debts, illnesses that included frequent epileptic seizures, merciless financial pressures not only from publishers but also from a selfish horde of relatives, the death of a dearly beloved first child, his pathological addiction to gambling, and a nomadic life with four of these half-dozen years spent outside his beloved Russia, largely in Germany and Switzerland, whose people he detested.

Dostoevsky was fortunate in only one respect: his marriage to a much younger second wife, Anna. She turned out to be his savior by her practicality, devotion, intelligence and compassion for his many flaws.

Frank integrates the narrative of Dostoevsky’s troubled life with lucid and closely detailed interpretations of his work. His book is indispensable to students of modern literature.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist 98 (April 15, 2002): 1376.

Choice 40 (November, 2002): 475.

The Economist. CCCXXXV, April 15, 1995, p. 81.

London Review of Books. XVII, June 22, 1995, p. 19.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 26, 2002, p. 5.

The New Republic. CCXII, May 15, 1995, p. 35.

The New York Review of Books. XLII, March 2, 1995, p. 13.

The New York Times Book Review 107 (June 30, 2002): 11.

The New York Times Book Review. C, February 19, 1995, p. 18.

Publishers Weekly 249 (April 29, 2002): 53.

The Times Literary Supplement. July 21, 1995, p. 8.

The Wall Street Journal. March 28, 1995, p. A24.

The Washington Post Book World. XXV, February 12, 1995, p. 5.