Look at her, isn't she gorgeous? Just the kind of delicate beauty that would be attractive even today. She was also young, very young when they met. He was 40 and she was an aspiring writer at only 21. He was married too.
She had a personality to match her beauty. So much so that she will be the inspiration for many of Dostoyevsky's feminine characters. She will be Polina in "The gambler".Ketherina Ivanovna in "Crime and punishment" or Grushenka in "The brothers Karamazov", among others.
She was described as ambitious, manipulative, jealous, flirty, capricious and mercurial. Dostoyevsky, who himself was not an easy man, said of her that she was "a sick selfish woman". However, he could not get enough of her. He chased her as a wounded lover but she played hot and cold for a long time.
They agreed to meet in Paris in the summer of 1863. She would wait for him there and then they would travel together around Europe. However, while awaiting his arrival she became romantically involved with Salvador, a young Spanish student of medicine. When Dostoyevsky arrived she welcomed him with "You are a bit late". The following dialogue comes from a diary entry written by Polina Suslova in August 1863:
As soon as I wrote these lines in my diary, FM arrived. I saw him through the window…
“I thought that you wouldn’t come because I had written a letter to you,” I said.
“The letter in which I asked you not to come here.”
“Because it is all over.”
He lowered his head, “I must know everything. Let us go somewhere and you will tell me everything, otherwise I will die.” I suggested going to his place…
When we entered his room, he fell on his knees at my feet and started to cry, to embrace and to press my knees, screaming: “I have lost you, I knew it!” A bit later he became more quiet, and he started to ask me who the man was. “He may be young, handsome and a good speaker. But, nevertheless, you will never find a heart as true as mine.” I did not want to speak for a long time.
“Did you surrender to him completely?”
“Why do you ask this? It is not good to ask such things,” I said.
“Oh, Polina, I do not know what is good and what is bad. Who is he: a Russian? A Frenchman? Is he my doctor?”
“No, no.” I told him that I was deeply in love with this man.
“Are you happy?”
“How can this possibly be? You are in love and you are not happy. How can this be?”
“He does not love me.”
“He does not love you!” he cried out, clutching his head with both his hands in despair.
Despite everything, Dostoyevsky was unable to stay away from her and they continued with their plan to travel together. As far as we know, Polina was usually cold towards him but from time to time she gave some show of affection. In addition, it must be recognized that during that trip Dostoyevsky entered a furious episode of gambling and lost all his money, but Polina Suslova helped him materially on more than one occasion.
When Dostoyevsky returned to Russia the affair was clearly finished, but they continued to maintain an epistolary relationship for a long time afterward. On another occasion Dostoyevsky wrote that Polina would never be happy, something that would later be prophetic: She is a person who demands everything of others but recognises no obligation for her own. But later he confesses: I still love her, I love her very much, but already I wish not to love her. She does not deserve such love. Finally, he complained: She has no humanity at all in her relations with me. She knows that I still love her. Why does she torture me? Don't love, but also do not torture me.
Polina Suslova has been described on numerous occasions as a femme fatale; however, it must not be forgotten that she was a woman of her time and condition. At that time, Russia was undergoing numerous social changes: serfdom was abolished, women acquired more social rights, new socialist and anarchist currents fully infiltrated some sectors of society, etc. Polina was totally a part of it. Coupled with her beauty, he made Dostoyevsky lose his mind over her. Dostoyevsky's daughter described Polina in this terms:
Her rich relatives were able to send her enough money to live comfortably in Saint Petersburg. Every Autumn she entered the University as a student, but she never actually studied or passed any exams. However, she attended lectures, flirted with the students, made them sign petitions, participated in all political demonstrations, sang La Marseillaise, scolded the Cossacks and behaved provocatively.
Polina Suslova's character and personality are complex and very interesting. As a simple corollary we will say that she did not soften with age. She married already turned 40 with a young man of 24 years. Her husband was Vasily Rozanoz and he would become one of the most controversial philosophers in Russia at the time. Curiously, he was a man totally captivated by the figure and the work of Dostoyevsky. However, the marriage was terribly difficult and did not last more than 6 years. Inevitably, she went off with another man since she didn't seem to respect her husband very much. According to Vasily Rozanov's daughter:
Suslova mocked him, saying that what he was writing were just some stupid books, she insulted him, and finally dumped him.
Interestingly, like Dostoevsky, Rozanov was deeply impressed by this woman and despite all the bad times, he continued to have words of admiration for her.