Every Minute Could Have Been an Eternity of Happiness
Post #1500 • January 20, 2012, 10:58 AM • 8 Comments
From The 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene:
Finally, in 1857, still serving the army period of his sentence, [Dostoyevsky] was allowed to start publishing his work. Where before he would torture himself over a page, spend half a day idling it away in thought, now he wrote and wrote. Friends would see him walking the streets of St. Petersburg mumbling bits of dialogue to himself, lost in his characters and plots. His new motto was "Try to get as much done as possible in the shortest time."
Some pitied Dostoyevsky his time in prison. That made him angry; he was grateful for the experience and felt no bitterness. But for that December day in 1849 [when he was placed before a firing squad only to be pardoned at the last moment], he felt, he would have wasted his life. Right up until his death, in 1881, he continued writing at a frantic pace, churning out novel after novel—Crime and Punishment, The Possessed, The Brothers Karamazov—as if each one were his last.
Czar Nicholas had decided to sentence the Petrashevsky radicals to hard labor soon after their arrest. But he wanted to teach them a harsher lesson as well, so he dreamed up the cruel theater of the death sentence, with its careful details—the priest, the hoods, the coffins, the last-second pardon. This, he thought, would really humble and humiliate them. In fact some of the prisoners were driven insane by the events of that day. But the effect on Dostoyevsky was different: he had been afflicted for years with a sense of wandering, of feeling lost, of not knowing what to do with his time. An extremely sensitive man, that day he literally felt his own death deep in his bones. And he experienced his "pardon" as a rebirth.
The effect was permanent. For the rest of his life, Dostoyevsky would consciously bring himself back to that day, remembering his pledge never to waste another moment. Or, if he felt he had grown too comfortable and complacent, he would go to a casino and gamble away all his money. Poverty and debt were for him a kind of symbolic death, throwing him back on the possible nothingness of his life. In either case he would have to write, and not the way other novelists wrote—as if it were a pleasant little artistic career, with all its attendant delights of salons, lectures, and other frills. Dostoyevsky wrote as if his life were at stake, with an intense feeling of urgency and seriousness.