Portrait by Vasily Perov (1872)
|Born||Fyodor Mikhaylovich Dostoyevsky
November 11, 1821
Moscow, Russian Empire
|Died||February 9, 1881
Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire
|Occupation||Novelist, short story writer, essayist|
|Notable works||Notes from Underground
Crime and Punishment
The Brothers Karamazov
Mariya Dmitriyevna Isayeva (1857–64) [her death]Anna Grigoryevna Snitkina (1867–1881) [his death]
|Children||Sofiya (1868), Lyubov (1869—1926), Fyodor (1871–1922), Alexei (1875—1878)|
The event of his life
In his 20s he joined a group of radicals in St Petersburg They were into French socialist ideas. A police agent reported the group to the authorities. On 22 April 1849, Dostoyevsky was arrested and imprisoned with the other members. After months of questioning and investigation they were tried. They were found guilty of planning to distribute subversive propaganda and condemned to death by firing squad.
The punishment was changed to a sentence of exile and hard labour, but not before they were forced to go through a mock execution. In 1859 a new tsar allowed Dostoyevsky to end his Siberian exile. A year later he was back in St Petersburg. The experience had cost him ten years of his life. It is the root of all his writing.
- "Dostoyevsky's experience had altered him profoundly... He was particularly scornful of the ideas he found in St Petersburg when he returned from his decade of Siberian exile. The new generation of Russian intellectuals was gripped by European theories and philosophies [which] were melded together into a peculiarly Russian combination that came to be called 'nihilism' ".
Raised in an educated and religious family, Dostoyevsky's beliefs changed through his life. In prison, he focused intensely on the figure of Christ and on the New Testament, the only book allowed in prison. In a letter to the woman who had sent him the New Testament, Dostoyevsky wrote that he was a "child of unbelief and doubt up to this moment, and I am certain that I shall remain so to the grave". He also wrote that "even if someone were to prove to me that the truth lay outside Christ, I should choose to remain with Christ rather than with the truth".
From an analysis of religious ideas in Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, The Demons (The Possessed), and The Brothers Karamazov, James Townsend thinks Dostoyevsky held orthodox Christian beliefs except for his view of salvation from sin. According to Townsend, "Dostoevsky almost seemed to embrace an in-this-life purgatory", in which people suffer to pay for their sins, rather than the Christian doctrine of salvation through Christ. Malcolm Jones sees elements of Islam and Buddhism in Dostoyevsky's religious convictions. Colin Wilson in The Outsider describes him as a "tormented half-atheist-half-Christian".
Many scholars see Dostoyevsky as one of the greatest psychologists in literature. His works have had a big effect on twentieth-century fiction. Very often, he wrote about characters who live in poor conditions. Those characters are sometimes in extreme states of mind. They might show both a strange grasp of human psychology as well as good analyses of the political, social and spiritual states of Russia of Dostoevsky's time. Many of his best-known works are prophetic. He is sometimes considered to be a founder of existentialism, most frequently for Notes from Underground, which has been described as "the best overture for existentialism ever written". He is also famous for writing The Brothers Karamazov, which many critics, such as Sigmund Freud, have said was one of the best novels ever written.
His attack on nihilism is in his great novel Demons, or The Possessed. Published in 1872, it is a "dark comedy, cruelly funny in its depiction of high-minded intellectuals toying with revolutionary notions without understanding anything of what revolution means in practice".
The plot is a version of actual events at the time. A former teacher of divinity turned terrorist, Sergei Nechaev, had written a pamphlet, The Catechism of a Revolutionary, which argued that any means (including blackmail and murder) could be used to advance the cause of revolution. Nechaev planned to kill a student who questioned his ideas.
One of the characters in Demons confesses: "I got entangled in my own data, and my conclusion contradicts the original idea from which I start. From unlimited freedom, I conclude with unlimited despotism". This suggests that the result of abandoning morality for the sake of an idea will be tyranny more extreme than any in the past.
List of works
English versions of titles come after the Russian title.
- 1846 - Bednye lyudi (Бедные люди); Poor Folk
- 1846 - Dvojnik (Двойник. Петербургская поэма); The Double: A Petersburg Poem
- 1849 - Netochka Nezvanova (Неточка Незванова); Netochka Nezvanova (this is a feminine name)(Unfinished)
- 1859 - Dyadushkin son (Дядюшкин сон); The Uncle's Dream
- 1859 - Selo Steanchikovo i ego obitateli (Село Степанчиково и его обитатели); The Village of Stepanchikovo
- 1861 - Unizhennye i oskorblennye (Униженные и оскорбленные); The Insulted and Humiliated
- 1862 - Zapiski iz mertvogo doma (Записки из мертвого дома); The House of the Dead
- 1864 - Zapiski iz podpolya (Записки из подполья); Notes from Underground
- 1866 - Prestuplenie i nakazanie (Преступление и наказание); Crime and Punishment
- 1867 - Igrok (Игрок); The Gambler
- 1869 - Idiot (Идиот); The Idiot
- 1870 - Vechnyj muzh (Вечный муж); The Eternal Husband
- 1872 - Besy (Бесы); various English titles: The Possessed; The Devils; Demons
- 1875 - Podrostok (Подросток); The Raw Youth
- 1881 - Brat'ya Karamazovy (Братья Карамазовы); The Brothers Karamazov
Novellas and short stories
- 1846 - Gospodin Prokharchin (Господин Прохарчин); Mr. Prokharchin
- 1847 - Roman v devyati pis'mah (Роман в девяти письмах); Novel in Nine Letters
- 1847 - Hozyajka (Хозяйка); The Landlady
- 1848 - Polzunkov (Ползунков); Polzunkov
- 1848 - Slaboe serdze (Слабое сердце); A Weak Heart
- 1848 - Chestnyj vor (Честный вор); An Honest Thief
- 1848 - Elka i svad'ba (Елка и свадьба); A Christmas Tree and a Wedding
- 1848 - Chuzhaya zhena i muzh pod krovat'yu (Чужая жена и муж под кроватью); The Jealous Husband
- 1848 - Belye nochi (Белые ночи); White nights
- 1849 - Malen'kij geroj (Маленький герой); A Little Hero
- 1862 - Skvernyj anekdot (Скверный анекдот); A Nasty Story
- 1865 - Krokodil (Крокодил); The Crocodile
- 1873 - Bobok (Бобок); Bobok
- 1876 - Krotkaja (Кроткая); A Gentle Creature
- 1876 - Muzhik Marej (Мужик Марей); The Peasant Marey
- 1876 - Mal'chik u Hrista na elke (Мальчик у Христа на ёлке); The Heavenly Christmas Tree
- 1877 - Son smeshnogo cheloveka (Сон смешного человека); The Dream of a Ridiculous Man
The last five stories (1873-1877) are included in A Writer's Diary.
- Winter Notes on Summer Impressions (1863)
- A Writer's Diary (Дневник писателя) (1873–1881)
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