If you see Dostoevsky, tell him that I love him.
L.N. Tolstoy, 1880

Today, November 11, marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky – the great Russian writer and philosopher, Corresponding Member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences (since 1877).

Not so long ago, the anniversary of the brilliant writer was discussed at a meeting of the Presidium of the Russian Academy of Sciences, where Vladimir Ilyich Tolstoy, the great-grandson of another great classic, Leo Tolstoy, spoke.

What was the relationship between the two geniuses? What did they think about each other’s work? Vladimir Tolstoy tells:

“You and I can be in the same hall and not communicate with each other. Fyodor Dostoevsky and Leo Tolstoy also found themselves in the same hall in 1877. It was a lecture of the philosopher Vladimir Solovyov. They were in the same hall but did not meet and did not talk. This was the only time when Dostoevsky and Tolstoy found themselves in the same space. Their mutual friend Nikolay Strakhov, with whom they actively corresponded, was in the same hall. But for some reason, he did not introduce Tolstoy and Dostoevsky to each other. Later, both great writers regretted it very much. Even though Tolstoy and Dostoevsky never met each other and did not write a single line to each other, they followed each other’s work very closely.

Dostoevsky in A Writer’s Diary published in 1877 dedicated several chapters to Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. He read this work very carefully. Tolstoy, in turn, also read Dostoevsky, and maybe one of the pleasant moments for Dostoevsky shortly before his passing away was a letter from Leo Tolstoy to the above-mentioned Nikolay Strakhov, who handed the paper to Dostoevsky. What was in this letter of September 26, 1880? Tolstoy wrote: “Just recently I was feeling unwell and read House of the Dead. I had forgotten a good bit, read it over again, and I do not know a better book in all our new literature, including Pushkin. It’s not the tone but the wonderful point of view – genuine, natural, and Christian. A splendid, instructive book. I enjoyed myself the whole day as I have not done for a long time. If you see Dostoevsky, tell him that I love him.” Strakhov ran with this letter to Dostoevsky. The great writer was even embarrassed by the fact that Tolstoy rated his work higher than Pushkin’s work. Tolstoy was really shocked by Dostoevsky’s House of the Dead.

Tolstoy and Dostoevsky had an age difference of only seven years. They were, one might say, almost the same age, people of the same generation. Today there are people in our hall who are seven years older or younger than each other, and there is no feeling that they are different generations. Unfortunately, Dostoevsky lived significantly less than Tolstoy. Many ideological changes with Tolstoy happened exactly after the 1880s, after the death of Dostoevsky. When Dostoevsky passed away, Tolstoy said these piercing words: “I wish I had the power to say all that I think of Dostoevsky. I never saw the man, had no sort of direct relations with him; but when he died, I suddenly realized that he had been to me the most precious, the dearest, and the most necessary of beings. It never entered my head to compare myself with him. Everything that he wrote (I mean only the good, the true things) was such that the more he did like that, the more I rejoiced. Artistic accomplishment and intellect can arouse my envy; but a work from the heart – only joy. I always regarded him as my friend and reckoned most confidently on seeing him at some time. And suddenly I read that he is dead. At first I was utterly confounded, and when later I realized how I had valued him, I began to weep – I am weeping even now.” Today we still feel that people like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky are needed by our culture, as they are in demand and of great relevance,” says Vladimir Tolstoy.

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