Fyodor M. Dostoevsky in Copenhagen

This article was made as research undertaken as part of the grand exhibition “Dostoevsky in Copenhagen” celebrating the bicentennial of the famous authors birth in 2021, and is thus protected by Copyright ©

” … How glad I would be to see You in Copenhagen, not to mention the pleasant days we would be spending together …

Baron Aleksandr Wrangel to Fyodor Dostoevsky

Dostoevsky’s monumental authorship is more alive than ever. Dostoevsky’s unique literary work contain such a convincing veracity and power that, to this day, he is considered to be among the greatest observers of humanity in world literature. A universal authorship that revolves around the human compassion. Dostoevsky’s literary heritage will forever remind us of being human and what that is. In fact, he spent some time writing on his masterpiece “Crime and punishment” in Copenhagen in 1865.

Fyodor M. Dostoevsky

Fyodor Dostoevsky visited Copenhagen, the Capital of Denmark, in October 1865. He spent 10 days here, arriving on the 12th and departing the 22nd of October. He arrived by train, in the midst of stormy weather, a period of drought being followed by flooding rain as soon as he set foot in town. He possibly arrived in the same train as the crown prince of Sweden, traveling incognito on his way from Berlin, having had dealings with the chancellor Bismarck (none the less his arrival and incognito being mentioned in the newspapers). Oddly enough, the famous writer and storyteller Hans Christian Andersen arrived in Copenhagen at the very same time, arriving by boat from Sweden after a long journey. Dostoevsky stayed in the apartment of his good friend the Baron Aleksandr Wrangel, spending time writing letters, sightseeing and visiting his acquaintances in town. As he was ill, he also spent numerous time lying on a couch having long conversations with Wrangel, and occupied himself by playing with the two small Wrangel children. As a devout orthodox, he would probably have visited the Russian Church on sunday the 14th for prayers, the Service being practiced by Russian Imperial Legation priest Vossnessensky, an acquaintace of his.

” … Copenhagen will present You to many interesting things, the museums are wonderful, the coastline along the Sound is breathtakingly beautiful, Sweden is only a stones throw away. You will of course be staying with Me. Together, we will remember the past …

Aleksandr Wrangel to Fyodor Dostoevsky

In 1862, the novelist Dostoevsky had decided it was time to spend some time abroad. He wanted to see the great European cities that he had only read about, traveling the countryside by train. He had to ask permission by the Imperial authorities, requesting leave of absence due to illnes as a large fire had ravaged Petersburg and made his already failing health fragile. In the summer of 1865, Dostoevsky went on another European grand tour, this time frustrated by lack of finances and with several deadlines, he followed in the footsteps of his young acquaintance Apolinaria Suslova. As she left him and went on for Paris, Dostoevsky found himself at the German spa Wiesbaden. Within a few days, Dostoevsky had gambled and lost everything at the roulette-table. In a series of letters written in August and September, he amusingly jokes about his situation to Suslova, writing that he was compelled to trick his inn-keeper by “going out” to dinner, staying away for hours, later to return to his room being served only tea. The inn-keeper refused to serve Dostoevsky any meal, refusing him candles in the evening, meanwhile the hotel bill ran up. Dostoevsky was hungry, being unable to sleep or write, having no money to pay for his stay or a train ticket. As his situation became more serious, a series of desperate begging-notes was posted from Wiesbaden, Dostoevsky hoping to borrow money from his friends and his publishers. As the month of September ran out, he had had no answers. He then thought of his dear, old friend, the Baron Aleksander Wrangel, whom he had met earlier, some ten years before, at Semipalatinsk. Wrangel was stationed in a diplomatic mission in Copenhagen, being assigned to the Russian Imperial Legation as second secretary to the Imperial Minister the Baron von Nicolay.

In fact, Dostoevsky and Wrangel also seemed to have mutual friends. Staying and traveling abroad, the very orthodox Dostoevsky always visited, if possible, the orthodox church in town. As it happened, The town of Wiesbaden had a wonderful orthodox church due to the dynastic relations between imperial Russia and the ruling house of Nassau. And here, Dostoevsky met the orthodox priest I. Yanischev. In letters to Wrangel written in September 1865, Dostoevsky told Wrangel that he had met Yanischev, and that Yanischev was traveling back-and-forth between Copenhagen and Wiesbaden, and that Yanischev had told Dostoevsky that he knew Wrangel. Happy coincidence, since Wrangel now asked Dostoevsky to lend some money for a ticket to Denmark, even himself sending some money to settle Dostoevskys debts. Yanischev was to have a glorious career in front of him. During 1864-1866 he oversaw the education of the Danish princess Dagmar who was later to become empress of Russia and her transference to the orthodox faith. He then became overseer of the Imperial Household priests.

Late in September, Dostoevsky still had plans traveling to Paris, but as his financial situation now was as poor as his health, he decided to visit his friend in Copenhagen. Returning home to deliver his first draft on “Crime and punishment”, he made a stop-over in Copenhagen, his friend Aleksandr Wrangel advicing Dostoevsky that it would be faster and cheaper traveling by steamship from Copenhagen to Kronstadt. As it happened, that was exactly his plans, as Dostoevsky relied upon his friend to pay the ticket and traveling expences. Thus, Dostoevsky found himself on his way to Denmark mid October 1865.

Aleksander Egorovich Wrangel was stationed in Copenhagen in the years 1863 – 1867, a period of serious diplomatic struggle and war-time, following the change of royal dynasty in Denmark, the new king Christian IX not being supported by the mighty neighbour Prussia in a conflict concerning teritorial rights and international borders. This situation led to war and in 1864, Denmark was attacked by Prussian and Austrian troops. In letters written between Wrangel and Dostoevsky, Wrangel tells us about his years in Copenhagen, his family life and his hopes for the future. He was bored in Copenhagen, he missed the company of a great friend, a confidant sharing his thoughts. As Aleksander Wrangels wife Anna was frequently ill, plagued by her frequent miscarriages and childbirths, Wrangel found company elsewhere. In fact, in the very month of Dostoevskys visit, Wrangel was seeing a lady of poor reputation, the wife of the German spy Claus Molzen, the baron Wrangel himself being the subject of secret police investigation as a suspected and possible German spy.

Where did Dostoevsky stay? We know that Wrangel invited Dostoevsky to stay at his home in Copenhagen. Years later, he writes in his memoirs, that Dostoevsky arrived on the 12th of October. He Stayed with him, leaving on the 22nd of October. In the spring of 1865, the Wrangel family rented a flat in Norgesgade/Bredgade (Norway Street – later named Broad Street), the 1st floor in number 32. The house is still there. In July, Wrangel sent his family on summer holidays back in Petersburg, taking leave from the Russian Imperial Legation to return late september. Here he found the distressing notes from his pennyless friend. As Wrangel returned to Copenhagen, he was in fact moving. Earlier in the summer, he had made arrangements to rent a larger apartment, as his wife Anna was expecting the couples third child. In fact, Wrangel writes to Dostoevsky that he is moving and there is a lot to be done. Certainly, Dostoevsky would be arriving in the midst of large and incommodious moving arrangements. Happily, as the neigbouring house and courtyard at the old address housed a great steammill, with a boiler that exploded and caused the neigbouring houses great damage, the very same day Dostoevsky arrived. So from October, the Wrangel family could be found not far from their former house, a large palace apartment, the 1st floor of the so called Danneskiold-Laurvig palace, the former town-house of a count, Store Kongens gade (Large Kings street) no 68 (ill. right). The house is still there, being painted all white and enlarged by a fourth floor in 1890.

The apartment of the Wrangel family October 1865 – April 1867. A. Large staircase; B. small room. C. – D. Private rooms including dressing room with build-in cabinets and drawers. E – G. Main representational apartment with drawing room, large salon and diningroom, the latter decorated with a large painting on the ceiling. H. Small cabinet. From the main staircase (A) there ran a corridor (I) through the apartment, dividing the main apartment from a group of smaller rooms K. – M. followed by a second smaller staircase (The apartment had no kitchen or bathroom). The Apartment was heated by large ovens and decorated in every room with gilded woodwork, paneling, stuccowork, wallpaper and tapestries. The drawingroom E actually had a gilded and pyramid shaped oven, and other modern comodities where running tap-water and gas-lights. (Drawing right made by the editor © after descriptions in the Fire-insurance register, Insurance Policy, State Archives)

As Dostoevsky stayed with Wrangel for 10 days, he would possibly have met or passed other residents on the main staircase going in or out. Living (in the old kitchens) on the ground floor was surgeon Matthias Saxtorph. Living on the top floor was a larger family, the “pater familias” being the gynecologist and well known doctor of Cholera, professor of the Institute for medical gymnastics Andreas Georg Drachmann. As Anna Wrangel was in her final stage of pregnancy, it would have been practical with a doctor by hand. A.G. Drachman had recently remarried, sharing his apartment with his new wife Clara and his three children from the first mariage: Anders, Erna and Holger. Erna Drachmann would later be publishing Dostoevsky in Danish. Holger Drachmann began his art-studies at The Royal Danish Academy of Arts in 1865, later to become a famous poet and artist.

Illustration right: The parish register from the Russian Orthodox church, naming the christening of Wrangels and Annas daugther Jekaterina, born in October 1865 and christened early in 1866. She was born only a few days after Dostoevsky left Copenhagen.

Formal letter written to the Baron Wrangel from the Ordenskapitlet (Royal administrations office), apointing – by will of his Majesty the King – the baron to the knighthood of the danish order of the Dannebrog ( commander by second grade), requesting Wrangel to write a small autobiography and sending a drawing of his coat-of-arms, november third, 1866. RA (State Archives – the Foreign Ministry)

Actually several of the Russian Imperal Leagtion office diplomats where by gratitude of the Danish King apointed knighthoods and orders. Dispatches where sent by courier between the Legation office and The Imperial House of Romanov, since the diplomats had to ask permission from the Russian Emperor. Permission was granted, and the Legation notified the Royal house in Danmark, by a letter written by the first secretary, von Koskull, on behalf of the Legation Office.

Insurance Policy 3217 signed 1866, the fire insurance for the Wrangel familys rented apartment. RA (State Archives)

Archival letter apointing several russian employees, notably Dostoevskys friend the priest Yaschemsky and the Imperial Legation Priest Voznessensky as knights of the Dannebrog, 1866. RA (State Archives)

Page 2 of archival letter written by the Baron Wrangel, apointing several Danish nobles and officers with Imperial Russian orders following the engagement between the russian hereditary Grand-duke Aleksander and the Danish Princess Dagmar in 1866. RA (State Archives)