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By Fyodor Dostoevsky, Alan Myers (trans)

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I was ready to leave with every load, with every worthy individual of respectable appearance hiring a cab; but absolutely nobody invited me, not one; it was as if they had forgotten me, as if I was actually something alien to them! I walked a great deal and for long periods at a time, contriving, as was my wont, to become totally oblivious to my surroundings. All of a sudden, I found myself at one of the city gates. On the instant, my spirits rose and I strode through the barrier, taking my way past cultivated fields and meadows.

In previous entries in the Diary Dostoevsky had been much exercised by what he considered to be an epidemic of suicides amongst Russians, including that of the daughter of the great Russian socialist Alexander Herzen. For Dostoevsky such suicides were extreme symptoms of a loss of meaning and spiritual bankruptcy in contemporary life. ‘The Russian land seems to have lost the force to hold people on it’, he wrote. ’ Central to the loss of meaning in contemporary society was the erosion of religious belief; modern scientific rationalism and materialism had based existence on a narrow positivism and stripped away the rich mysteries of the spirit.

The choice of such a new hero is not as fortuitous as it might seem: the young Dostoevsky knew only too well the seductive power of romantic dreaming. He too had been a dreamer, and as a student at the St Petersburg Academy of Military Engineering he had conceived a consuming passion for German Romanticism and the works of Friedrich Schiller. This and a sentimental friendship with an unworldly Romantic poet, Ivan Shidlovsky, had facilitated Dostoevsky’s withdrawal from real life into a gossamer world of the Romantic imagination.

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A Gentle Creature and Other Stories by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Alan Myers (trans)

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