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03/02/92

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Dostoevsky would mourn breakup of Russian empire

STANFORD -- Although he foresaw many of the evils of Communism, 19th-century writer Fyodor Dostoevsky probably would be enormously unhappy at the breakup of the Russian empire, says one of the world's leading authorities on the author of Crime and Punishment.

Joseph Frank, professor emeritus of Slavic languages and literatures and of comparative literature, is finishing work on the fourth volume of his five-volume biography of Dostoevsky. The work already has received the National Book Critics Circle Award and two James Russell Lowell Prizes from the Modern Language Association.

Dostoevsky, Frank said, hated the ancestors of the Communist regime, the radical intelligentsia of his time. While living in Switzerland in 1867, he attended a meeting of the Congress of Peace and Freedom, which had drawn a number of noted Russian revolutionaries including Mikhail Bakunin.

Summing up his reaction, Dostoevsky wrote in a letter that he had never heard such nonsense in his life.

His novel The Possessed savagely satirizes the radical ideologies of his day. In it, one of the radical characters says: "I began with absolute liberty and ended with absolute despotism. It's confusing, but there is no other solution."

The Possessed and other Dostoevsky works "kept undermining the Communist point of view all through the Soviet regime," Frank said.

At the same time, though, Dostoevsky was an intense nationalist who believed in the greatness of the Russian empire and saw it as the salvation of the world, Frank said.

"He thought that only in Russian Orthodoxy had the true image of Christ been preserved, and that this would create a new civilization of the future," the Stanford scholar said.

The biography's fourth volume opens with a happy event - Dostoevsky's marriage to a woman 20 years his junior, Anna Grigorievna Snitkina. Their meeting, appropriately enough, had a novelistic quality, Frank said.

Dostoevsky had contracted with a publisher to write a novel by a certain date, in exchange for a loan he had earlier received. If the author didn't meet this obligation, he would lose the rights to all his works for many years, thereby effectively cutting off his income. Worried friends offered to get together and each write a section of a book that he could then turn in under his own name, but Dostoevsky absolutely refused to consider such a scheme.

Finally, a friend suggested that he hire a stenographer to get his work done faster. Although reluctant, he agreed, and thus met Anna Grigorievna. With her help, he wrote the novel The Gambler in a month - a month during which the two fell in love.

Practical and enterprising, Anna was the perfect wife for a writer, Frank said.

"The more I worked on this volume, the more I admired her," he said. "She was an extraordinary woman, intelligent and independent, and devoted to her husband, without being subservient to him."

Frank, 73, who expects to finish this volume by the end of 1992, said that the next volume, the fifth, will be the last.

"It will either be the end of the work or the end of me," he said, "I'm not sure which."

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