20. Snow, Woe, and Sorrow

A. E. Wrangel (1833–1915)
Vospominaniia o F. M. Dostoevskom v Sibiri, 1854–56 gg. / Recollections of F. M. Dostoevsky in Siberia, 1854–56
St Petersburg: Tipografiia A. S. Suvorina, 1912.

After Omsk, Dostoevsky spent 1854–56 completing compulsory military service in Semipalatinsk. According to Baron Wrangel (Vrangel’ in Russian), with whom Dostoevsky shared lodgings at this time, Semipalatinsk was a ‘half-city, half village’ located along the Irtysh River in northeastern Kazakhstan. It teemed with exiled political prisoners, ‘mostly idealists, educated, serious, and liberal people’.

In Semipalatinsk, the harsh conditions were a continued burden on Dostoevsky’s physical and mental health. Wrangel notes that Siberia was ‘a country of almost eternal snow, woe, and sorrow’. Dostoevsky’s struggles, however, did not stifle his humanitarian sympathies; Wrangel admiringly comments that Dostoevsky ‘loved people to such an extent that it seemed he was not of this world’. His ability to look past outward appearances, and glimpse a person’s inner sanctity, would become a fundamental theme in Crime and Punishment.

Baron Alexander Egorovich Wrangel was a Russian diplomat and archaeologist of Baltic-German nobility. A follower of Dostoevsky’s literary success and political troubles, Wrangel had witnessed his mock execution in 1849. In 1854, the Baron delivered letters and books to Dostoevsky from his brother Mikhail, and the pair subsequently established a close friendship through a shared love for social justice. Wrangel’s memoirs provide fascinating insight into Dostoevsky’s recuperation and rejuvenation.

Barnabas Kirk

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