It came as a surprise to me that Fyodor Dostoevsky had a brother who he describes as "a gifted writer, an expert on European literatures, a poet, a translator" and the founder and publisher of journals like The Epoch and Time. Mikhail Mikhailovich Dostoevsky had died by the time Dostoevsky wrote this feuilleton piece in his diary, defending his brother's name against allegations of financial impropriety. Called On behalf of one deceased, Dostoevsky's tone is that of an offended brother, eager to clear his brother's name, worried that such allegations might tarnish Mikhail's name.
It follows that one Shchapov, a writer presumably and a contributor to Mikhail Dostoevsky's journal was refused financial payment as promised, especially that Shchapov was in dire financial need. According to Shchapov's obituary, the man was desperate for warm clothes as the winter was severe and to his surprise, Mikhail said....."I know a tailor who will give you what you need on credit." He was given very dubious clothes to wear, for which he was billed dearly. It seems he never got his promised roubles.
Dostoevsky goes on to suggest that the incident was fabricated, the whole affair ridiculous and in this piece he goes on to prove otherwise. Dostoevsky distances himself from the financial dealings of his brother, even though the literary journals were co-founded by the brothers themselves. Dostoevsky goes on to claim how large hearted his brother was, sending cheques in advance for scripts not yet sent to the journals, citing evidence in a case when his late brother's family had to claim back an advance through a law suit. Dostoevsky is also upset in this piece about the tone his brother is depicted as spoken in, saying that his brother was "extremely decent and a gentleman".
It also transpires from this piece that Mikhail Dostoevsky too was a member of The Petrachevsky Circle, having spent a few months in prison like his famous brother. However, Dostoevsky says that his brother was innocent, even though he knew Petrachevsky, attended his evenings and borrowed books from him. Towards the end of the case, Mikhail was released, without incriminating others, though Dostoevsky claims his brother "knew a great deal". This proves the high ideals of his brother and Dostoevsky rubbishes any claim otherwise. How could Mikhail have allowed the poor writer to die of the winter cold!
The reason I wrote this post was that I found this piece quite amusing and funny, for one expects the great writer, any great writer to have risen above the foibles and other delirious desires of this life and yet how ordinary everyone actually is. I do not doubt that Dostoevsky was writing the truth about his brother but was also surprised by the vehemence of his defense. At the same time, it reveals his affection for his deceased brother which is quite natural. The whole incident reveals the jealous attitude of various publishers at that time and this attack on Mikhail could well have been fabricated, as Dostoevsky claims.
What I felt was more interesting is that of two Dostoevsky's writing at the same time, what a luxury of riches, considering that Dostoevsky claims that Mikhail was gifted. Even if Mikhail was only half as good as the great writer himself and even if Dostoevsky was being a bit carefree with praise, it will still take something to beat Mikhail. I wonder if there are any published pieces from Mikhail Dostoevsky? Did he write a great masterpiece that lies hidden, that is lost? How much did Fyodor borrow from Mikhail, how much did Mikhail contribute to the Dostoevsky canon? Did Mikhail approve of Fyodor's writing? All these are questions, one thinks however that two Dostoevskys might have been two much!