Michael Hollington on Dickens and Dostoevsky

naiman at BERKELEY.EDU naiman at BERKELEY.EDU
Sun Nov 6 02:18:03 UTC 2011


With his permission, I forward a message from Michael Hollington, 
Professor of English at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.  He
has published and edited many books on Dickens, including the forthcoming
edition on Dickens in Europe mentioned below.

I have now reached Australia and have a chance to deal with various
questions that have arisen during my travels. I was interested to learn
about the NY Times disclaimer concerning the putative D and Dos meeting.
You yourselves may or may not know about a similar one that is about to
appear in the Dickensian.

It seems that others might also be interested in the note I have appended
to an essay of mine on Dickens and Dostoevsky (part of a three pronged
survey, including Emily's work and that of Tatiana Diakonova as well) that
will be appearing in the Dickens in Europe volumes to be published by
Continuum Press.

Mention has been made of the fact that several of us, including myself,
have been very cautious about trumpeting our findings abroad. This is quite
true, and I think for good reason. From the start we were worried about the
person who may have cooked up this story, if it turns out to be a
fabrication. Latterly, we have learnt that she has since been involved in a
serious car crash which has left her in a fragile state, with more or less
complete memory loss. On these grounds I would urge you and relevant
colleagues who might investigate the matter further, to exercise all
reasonable restraint in references to Stephanie Harvey. On the one hand
there is the need to set the record straight - like many  now, I believe
that no such meeting took place - but on the other, I hope you will agree,
there is no need to cause unnecessary distress to anyone involved.

Yours sincerely, Michael Hollington


*In its Winter 2002 issue the venerable journal The Dickensian published an
article entitled ‘Dickens’s Villains: A Confession and a Suggestion’ (D
98, 3.
233-35). It includes a lengthy extract from a letter supposedly written by
Dostoevsky to his
doctor and friend Stephan Dmitriyevich Yanovsky in July 1878, giving an
account of a meeting with
Dickens in the offices of All the Year Round in July 1862, with striking
details of their
conversation. Part of this letter is quoted by Michael Slater in his
magisterial 2009 biography of Dickens (Slater 502).*
It was in some of the early reviews and publicity material for this book
that I first came across reference to the presumed meeting. Slater’s
reference to it was
singled out by more than one commentator as a high point of his book: Bill
Tipper, for instance,
writing in the Barnes and Noble Review, describes what is given there as
Dostoevsky’s testimony of the occasion, in which Dickens confesses to
having two identities inside him, one evil, one good, as “a marvellous
quotation,” declaring it “the most illuminating moment in Michael Slater's
revelatory Charles Dickens.” Such responses seemed to me at the time
entirely appropriate:
how exciting it was to think that two of the greatest novelists of the
19th century actually met
and discussed their fiction with each other! So I included a reference to
it in my own review,
published in the Journal of the Australasian Victorian Studies Association.*
At the same time I was a little puzzled by the fact that no one else prior
to Slater seemed to have seized on this meeting, or given it the attention
it deserves.
Doubts began to form: I wondered first what had motivated Dostoevsky
apparently to delay writing about the meeting until sixteen years after
its occurrence. I noticed too that Malcolm
Andrews, the editor of The Dickensian who had accepted the article for
publication, adopted a
slightly more cautious stance, putting the conditional ‘if’ in front of
his reference to the
meeting in his book Dickens's Performing Selves. These uncertainties
naturally increased when, upon inquiry, the author declined to answer
questions about the article, citing lost notes and a
defective memory, the consequence of having since moved on to different
I then turned to a young Cambridge Russianist of my acquaintance for help.
Would he be kind enough to look up the rather obscure source for the
letter – an
article in a learned journal published in Kazakhstan? Early in 2010 he
reported his findings. He could find no reference, firstly, to any
Kazakhstan journal bearing the title given in the article.
Moreover, the publication date given is prior to that of the relevant
volume of the letters in the
authoritative edition of Dostoevsky's Complete Works, which should have
enabled the editors to
include it: they do not. A further puzzle is that the 2003 Dostoevsky
Encyclopaedia (published
sixteen years after the letter’s first publication in Kazakhstan) lists
all extant letters from
Dostoevsky to his doctor: they are five in number, and date from 1867 to
1877. None is as late as
1878, the supposed date of the letter in question.*
Finally, the ongoing Russian Academy publication, Dostoevsky Materials and
Research, available online, contains no reference at all to this supposed
The inevitable conclusion to be drawn, alas, was that there was a clear
likelihood that either the
article or its source, or both, were unreliable.*
At this stage I contacted Michael Slater with this information, which he
found rather alarming. He very quickly changed his mind about the
likelihood of the
meeting having taken place at all, and particular about Dickens having
said to Dostoevsky what
the article attributes to him in the letter it quotes. As a result, the
reference has been
withdrawn from the paperback edition of the biography published in 2011.*
My own conclusion, too, is that the bulk of the evidence thus far
available seems to make it unlikely that the meeting actually took place.
But the possibility of
it still tantalises. Though Dostoevsky declares roundly in Winter Notes on
Summer Impressions, the account of his 1862 European travels, that he knew
no English when he went to London, it is
interesting that during his week long stay there he is known to have
visited Alexander Herzen, who had been resident there for several years
and spoke good English (see Ashton). Herzen was a
Dickens admirer himself, who also wrote valuable critical commentaries on
his work (see
Diakonova above).  It is just possible that – rooted as he was in the
community of Russian
and German refugees in London at that time, with whom Dickens had some
contact because of his
sympathies with European liberation struggles – Herzen was able to effect
a meeting
between the two writers. But in the end it doesn’t so much matter – the
evidence for the close
relationship between Dostoevsky’s writing and Dickens’s is incontrovertible.*

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