“Life everywhere is life”

“Brother, I am not depressed and haven’t lost spirit.  Life everywhere is life, life is in ourselves and not in the external.  There will be people near me, and to be a human being among human beings, and remain one forever, no matter what misfortunes befall, not to become depressed, and not to falter- this is what life is, herein lies its task.”

A letter from Fyodor Dostoevsky to his brother on December 22, 1849, hours after receiving a last-second reprieve from execution on charges of belonging to an underground utopian society

This philosophy rings true to me, even though it didn’t serve Dostoevsky well (he was by all accounts depressed and anxious his entire life).

“Life everywhere is life, life is in ourselves.” If there’s a lesson in this for Jay and Wally it’s this: Life is too complex to expect that if you fine tune this, or fix that, or buy more of this other thing, then you’ll be happy.  You’re never going to avoid being who you are, wherever you are, and one of the first tasks is to make peace with that.

This letter also expresses one of my biggest fears for them:  “To be a human being…and remain one forever, no matter what misfortunes befall, not to become depressed, and not to falter- this is what life is.”

Actually, I hope life is more than that for Jay and Wally.  I want them to flourish, to see all the uncertainty that surrounds being alive as an opportunity- their chance for a short while to participate in something sublime.

But sometimes, after a hard day, I think I’d be happy knowing that they’ll get through without losing their minds.


5 thoughts on ““Life everywhere is life”

  1. But one of the great things about Dostoevsky is that he had plenty of high-minded ideals about love and humanity, but then, doing some serious prison time, he was confronted with the reality that these people around him (officers and inmates) were rather unlikable and more than willing to rob him and leave him for dead in a snowpile. And still he found a way to love them and the world. I hope my son can do that too.
    Joseph Frank’s 1-volume Dostoevsky biography has some great stuff in it –fantastic stories of self-destructive gambling, etc. And love! And redemption! You might like it–

    • I’ve never been much of a reader of biographies. Probably because what biographies I have read haven’t been great. But I’ve been intrigued by Frank’s biography since reading David Foster Wallace’s essay about it. And now I’m intrigued even more. What you’re describing of his life sounds like maybe the genesis of the “we’re all guilty before all” sentiment running through Brothers K. Thanks for the recommendation!

  2. I would be very grateful if you could give me the name of the translator/publisher. The translation I have (which is from a 1923 publication of Dostoyevsky: Letters and Reminiscences) is not as good as the one you have. I wish to include the quote in a book that I am writing, but, to do that, I need information regarding the translator/publisher. Many thanks, Diane.

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