Who is Fyodor Dostoevsky?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881) was a well known Russian novelist who contributed his reflective, penetrating literature to 19th century Russia and the world. His work has been translated into numerous languages and is still popularly read and assigned in academic settings. Fyodor Dostoevsky had a rare talent for capturing the depths of the human soul, in times of darkness and happiness, brought about partially by his own difficult life. While his characters are often the Russian poor of the 19th century, many of the issues they struggle with resonate with readers from all cultures and classes.

Fyodor Dostoevsky was born in Moscow.
Fyodor Dostoevsky was born in Moscow.

Fyodor Dostoevsky lived most of his life in poverty. He was born in the Moscow Hospital for the Poor, where his father worked as a doctor. Later, his father acquired land and serfs, and he died under mysterious circumstances in 1839 — many biographers have suggested that he was murdered by his own servants, rather than dying of apoplexy as was widely reported. Fyodor Dostoevsky studied at the Military Academy in Saint Petersburg and was commissioned in 1842. While his interest in military engineering was minimal, the academy allowed him to expand his knowledge of Russian and French literature.

Fyodor Dostoevsky was imprisoned in Siberia in 1849 for his associations with socialists.
Fyodor Dostoevsky was imprisoned in Siberia in 1849 for his associations with socialists.

Fyodor Dostoevsky served in the military for only two years, resigning his commission in 1844 to pursue a career in writing and literature. In 1846, his first book, Poor Folk, was released. He also found work translating numerous works by French authors, including Balzac and Sand. Undoubtedly, these authors were heavy influences on Fyodor Dostoevsky's writing, which bears many similarities in style and subject matter.

Fyodor Dostoevsky was imprisoned in Siberia in 1849 for his associations with socialists. While in Siberia, he renewed his religious faith, and his writing took a different turn after his release and subsequent four years of service in the army. In 1860, Dostoevsky published The House of the Dead, a novel about prison life in the difficult extremes of Siberia.

Fyodor Dostoevsky also traveled, exploring much of Western Europe before marrying Maria Isaev in 1857. He continued to work as a writer and journalist, editing a socialist journal until it was suppressed. In 1864, Dostoevsky was struck by the tragedy of the dual deaths of his wife and brother. He found himself heavily saddled with his brother's debt and turned to gambling in an attempt to extricate himself, but instead went through a long period of depression and a hand to mouth existence.

Dostoevsky's books from this period, including Crime and Punishment (1866), The Idiot (1868), and The Possessed (1871), are dark explorations of the human soul, poverty, and the state of Russian society. Many of these novels deal with frustration and redemption and have heavy religious themes. During this time, Dostoevsky had a tempestuous marriage with his stenographer, Anna Snitkina, who remained married to him until his death in 1881.

In the later years of his life, Fyodor Dostoevsky began to gain recognition from Russian society for his work and the immense contribution he had made to the body of Russian literature. Thousands of Russians turned out to mourn him at his funeral, and he is still revered as one of Russia's finest writers. Fyodor Dostoevsky was probably one of the greatest writers of the 19th century, leaving a legacy of groundbreaking work behind him.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Speaking of Fyodor Dostoevsky's penchant for gambling, his short novel, "The Gambler," was actually dictated in haste to one of Russia's first stenographers so that he could meet a deadline and fulfill a gambling debt in 1866. He had about a month to write this novella or else lose publishing rights to his own works for a period of nine years.

Surprisingly, Dostoevsky didn't actually stop gambling until a few years later despite nearly bankrupting himself in that instance.

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