"SOMETHING OF ASTONISHING FORCE CAN BREAK LOOSE IN DOSTOEVSKY, AS IT SO FREQUENTLY DOES IN SHAKESPEARE": RARE FIRST EDITIONS IN ENGLISH OF DOSTOEVSKY'S FRIEND OF THE FAMILY AND THE GAMBLER, 1887
(DOSTOEVSKY, Fyodor) DOSTOIEFFSKY, Fedor. The Friend of the Family; and The Gambler. London: Vizetelly & Co, 1887. Octavo, original red- and black-stamped green cloth. Housed in a custom clamshell box. $6200.
First editions in English of Dostoevsky's Friend of the Family and The Gambler, two of his finest and most influential early novellas, with The Friend begun while imprisoned in Siberia—featuring "the direct precursor of Prince Myshikin in The Idiot"—and The Gambler written against a desperate three-week deadline, an electrifying tale of obsession that "rings true in part because it was true." Together as issued in Volume XXII of Vizetelly's One-Volume Novels with the translation of Frederick Whishaw.
"Something of astonishing force can break loose in Dostoevsky, as it so frequently does in Shakespeare" (Bloom, Fyodor Dostoevsky, 10). This rare volume contains the first editions in English of two major early novellas, The Friend of the Family (Selo Stepanchikovo, 1859) and The Gambler (Igrok, 1866). In Friend of the Family, also known as The Village of Stepanchikovo, we find Dostoevsky "poised to write the great fiction of his maturity… a striking, accomplished and highly entertaining story, uniquely combining abundant humor with the seeds of Dostoevsky's future concerns as a novelist. It contains in Foma Fomich Opiskin one of the most notorious characters in Russian literature" (Avery, Preface in Village of Stepanchikovo). The Gambler—viewed by Robert Louis Jackson as one of the "most brilliant and rewarding" of Dostoevsky's shorter works— is his "one and only contribution to the line of 'international' works in Russian literature (which includes… of course Tolstoy's War and Peace)" (Frank in Freedom and Responsibility, 73-4).
Begun while imprisoned in Siberia, Friend is "unique among Dostoevsky's works in that it is a sustained exercise in comedy… He attached great importance to this work, and hoped it would enable him to return to the literary scene after his enforced absence." In May 1859 he wrote of Friend as a turning point: "'I have put my soul, my flesh, my blood into it… It contains two colossal and typical characters that I've spent five years conceiving and recording… characters wholly Russian and poorly represented in Russian literature'… Gogol himself is the real-life model for its chief character, the despotic humbug Foma Fomich Opiskin… Dostoevsky injected all his pent-up gall against the artist turned false prophet and erring philosopher, parodying Gogol's 'revisionist' view of Russian despotism." Also inspired by Dickens, Opiskin is "the 'spiritual progeny' of Uriah Heep and Pecksniff… Dostoevsky has skillfully used the trappings of bucolic farce to weave a tight, dynamic story… a tour de farce of endless comic invention—of character, dialogue and plot—in which the principle of exaggeration is carried to glorious absurdity… Besides the dynamic principle of its action, Friend contains further prototypes… Rostanev is the direct precursor of Prince Myshikin in The Idiot… Vidoplyasov is an early version of the lackey Smerdyakov in Brothers Karamazov" (Avery, Introduction in Village of Stepanchikovo).
To E.M. Forster, "no English novelist has explored man's soul as deeply as Dostoevsky." This volume's first edition in English of The Gambler affirms that by allowing "us to catch a glimpse of how Dostoevsky may have rationalized his gambling addition to himself" (Frank, Dostoevsky, 528-9). Written under a deadline of only three weeks to pay off gambling debts against the threat of losing the rights to many of his works, The Gambler is itself a "story of cliffhangers." Nearly destroyed by that deadline, he finally agreed to the assistance of a stenographer, Anna Grigoryevna Snitkina. He met the deadline with only hours to spare, and the two soon married. The novel was truly "Dostoevsky's biggest gamble, and one that, unlike his attempt to win at roulette, paid off… The psychology of obsession and intoxicating humiliation described in this novel rings true in part because it was true" (Morson, Writing Like Roulette). "The unerring accuracy of his psychology of modern—and postmodern-man placed Dostoevsky far ahead of not only the artists but also the philosophers of his age" (Bloom, 14). With the translation of Russian-born British novelist Frederick Whishaw, one of the first translators of Dostoevsky. Publisher and journalist Henry Vizetelly "was a lively figure on the British literary scene. In addition to co-founding the Pictorial Times and the Illustrated Times he… set up the publishing firm of Vizetelly and Co., in 1882/4 with two of his sons, and one of their specialties consisted of translations of… Dostoevsky, Tolstoy," Zola and others (Heath, Purifying Empire, 67n). Volume XXII in Vizetelly's One-Volume Novels. Rear leaf of publisher's advertisements; page of advertisements to half title verso. Friend of the Family issued serially in the November and December 1859 issues of the journal Otechestvennyye zapiski. LEG, 17. Small owner inkstamps to title page and lower margins of several leaves not affecting text.
Text fresh with light scattered foxing mainly to preliminaries, light expert reinforcement to text block, faint rubbing to bright cloth.