Rebecca Panovka at Bookforum:
IN THE FALL OF 1866, FYODOR DOSTOYEVSKY FOUND HIMSELF barreling toward every writer’s worst nightmare: a deadline he couldn’t ignore. Having signed an ill-advised contract to avoid a trip to debtor’s prison, he now owed the publisher Fyodor Stellovsky a new novel of at least 160 pages by November 1. If he failed to deliver, Stellovsky would be entitled to publish whatever Dostoyevsky wrote over the next nine years free of charge. A more practical man might have spent his summer on the project for Stellovsky, but Dostoyevsky was simultaneously preparing segments of Crime and Punishment for serialization, and his plan to write one novel in the morning and another at night hadn’t panned out. By the beginning of October, he had not produced a single page of the promised novel. Staring down the literary equivalent of indentured servitude, he decided to try a new method to pick up the pace: hiring a stenographer and writing by dictation.