The Gambler Wife
Title: The Gambler Wife: A True Story of Love, Risk, and the Woman Who Saved Dostoyevsky
Published by: Riverhead Books
Release Date: August 31, 2021
A revelatory new portrait of the courageous woman who saved Dostoyevsky’s life—and became a pioneer in Russian literary history
In the fall of 1866, a twenty-year-old stenographer named Anna Snitkina applied for a position with a writer she idolized: Fyodor Dostoyevsky. A self-described “emancipated girl of the sixties,” Snitkina had come of age during Russia’s first feminist movement, and Dostoyevsky—a notorious radical turned acclaimed novelist—had impressed the young woman with his enlightened and visionary fiction. Yet in person she found the writer “terribly unhappy, broken, tormented,” weakened by epilepsy, and yoked to a ruinous gambling addiction. Alarmed by his condition, Anna became his trusted first reader and confidante, then his wife, and finally his business manager—launching one of literature’s most turbulent and fascinating marriages.
The Gambler Wife offers a fresh and captivating portrait of Anna Dostoyevskaya, who reversed her husband’s freefall and cleared the way for two of the most notable careers in Russian letters—her husband’s and her own. Drawing on diaries, letters, and other little-known archival sources, Andrew Kaufman reveals how Anna warded off creditors, family members, and her greatest romantic rival, keeping their young family afloat through years of penury and exile. In a series of dramatic setpieces, we watch as she navigates the writer’s self-destructive binges in the casinos of Europe—even hazarding an audacious turn at roulette herself—until his addiction is conquered. And, finally, we watch as Anna frees her husband from predatory publishers by founding her own publishing house, making Anna the first solo female publisher in Russian history.
The result is a story that challenges ideas of empowerment, sacrifice, and female agency in nineteenth-century Russia—and a welcome new appraisal of an indomitable woman whose legacy has been nearly lost to literary history.
“A riveting tale—a true literary love story that defies and compels the imagination at once, brilliantly told by Andrew Kaufman . . . A fine and formidable book.”
—Jay Parini, author of Borges and Me and The Last Station
“Dostoevsky called her ‘the little diamond,’ and Anna Snitkina was just that—at once brilliant and entrancing, yet rock-hard and indestructible. With her fierce intelligence and ambition, she was far more important, not only to the success of the great writer but to the literary life of Russia, than has previously been known. Andrew D. Kaufman’s captivating book restores Anna to her rightful place and opens a window onto a dizzyingly complex relationship that helped to give us some of the world’s greatest novels.”
—Douglas Smith, author of The Russian Job and Rasputin
“With enlightening research and engaging prose, The Gambler Wife recounts the improbable and profoundly influential partnership that lay at the heart of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s literary enterprise: his relationship with Anna Snitkina. Hers is an inspiring, unexpectedly modern story of partnership, ambition, and achievement, and Andrew Kaufman tells it brilliantly.”
—Caroline Weber, author of Proust’s Duchess
“With access to recently discovered sources, rich historical context, and deep psychological insight, Andrew Kaufman reveals Anna Dostoyevskaya as not only Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s wife but also his editor and inspiration, critic and enabler—an innovative publisher, pioneering feminist, and every bit as much a gambler as her husband. And The Gambler Wife, while rigorously grounded in the sources, itself reads like a Dostoevsky novel.”
—William Mills Todd III, Professor of Literature Emeritus, Harvard University