I came up with an idea for an article earlier this week. I shared the idea with Alex, my press officer at Faber, and she seemed to think there might be something in it, though it was a little too Dostoevsky-focused, perhaps.
I was going to write something about the theme of child rape as it occurs in Dostoevsky. There’s no doubt he was preoccupied by the crime, some of his critics said in a morbid way, leading even to accusations from his enemies that this was something he had engaged in. I don’t for one minute believe that, but I thought that the subject might have resonance at the moment because of the Polanski affair.
I’d just finished re-reading The Devils (aka Demons or The Possessed) which has a crucial missing chapter, often called Stavrogin’s Confession, in which Dostoevsky’s main character does in fact confess to this crime. (It gets worse because as a result of the rape, the girl in question – whose age fluctuates in the excised chapter between 14 and 10 – committed suicide.) The chapter was rejected by the book’s first publisher, despite the fact that Dostoevsky felt that it was essential to the development of his character, and the reader’s understanding of him. And therefore central to the story too.
Despite Dostoevsky’s offered revisions, the chapter was steadfastly refused, and he had to rework the rest of the book around its absence. The book was being published as a serial, so he could do nothing about the episodes that had already appeared hinting at this terrible crime which lay behind all Stavrogin’s erratic behaviour. It’s interesting that when Dostoevsky published the novel as a book, he did not restore this chapter, and it never appeared during his lifetime, only coming to light amongst his papers in 1922 (I think, going from memory here!).
The character of Svidrigailov in Crime and Punishment is guilty of the same offence. And the storyline of The Insulted and the Injured revolves around a child being rescued from a life of prostitution. So no doubt it is an issue that Dostoevsky came back to again and again. You could even say it haunted him.
So, I thought it would make quite an interesting article, but unfortunately no-one was interested. I say, unfortunately, but actually I was slightly relieved. For one thing, I really need to get on with my new book at the moment and can’t afford to take the time out to write an article. And for another, well, let’s just say it would have been a difficult one to write.
Makes you wonder why I pitched it in the first place, doesn’t it? Masochists, us writers.