Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881)

Fyodor Mikhaylovich Dostoyevsky was born November 11, 1821 in Moscow, Russia to a stern, distant father and a kind, timid mother. Dostoyevsky was close with his older brother growing up. He was home-schooled until the age of 12 before eventually being sent to a boarding school when he was a teenager. When Dostoyevski was fifteen, his mother died. Two years later, his father also died unexpectedly. There are myths that he was killed by his own serfs (Morson). Dostoyevsky attended the Academy of Military Engineering and got his degree in that subject. Soon after becoming a sub- lieutenant, Dostoyevsky left the military to write (Toutonghi). Although he started out translating books into Russian, he soon published his first book Poor Folk in 1846, which important critics thought was a masterpiece. Dostoyevsky continued to write and also joined intellectual groups. One of these, a secret organization, discussed revolution and read banned material. Dostoyevsky was arrested in April of 1849 and sent to prison. After serving eight months, Dostoyevsky along with other prisoners were told they were being executed. They were brought to Semyonovsky Square where they endured a mock execution. The ordeal caused a fellow prisoner to go insane. Dostoyevsky then spent four years in a Siberian prison labor camp where he developed epilepsy (Morson). Dostoyevsky used these experiences in his books. Once he returned to Russia he wrote his most famous books. These included The House of the Dead, Crime and Punishment, and The Idiot (Toutonghi). Dostoyevsky married Mariyah Dmitriyevna Isayeva in 1857. The marriage was not particularly happy and ended seven years later with her death (Morson). Dostoyevsky developed a gambling addiction which left him poor. He traveled in Western Europe in the 1860s. To make money he wrote a book called The Gambler in 1866 on a tight deadline. He married his stenographer Anna Grigoryevna Snitkina in 1867 and had four kids, 2 of whom died in childhood (Morson). Dostoyevsky continued to write until he died in 1881 (Toutonghi).

Dostoyevsky used his novels to express ideas about psychology, existentialism, and theology. He explored ideas such as the perfect man, suicide, power, rage, humiliation, and reason (Morson). In addition, Dostoyevsky did not believe man was completely rational. His novels centered around extreme characters who highlighted specific traits or ideas. Examples include Kirillov in The Possessed who kills himself because psychology cannot explain such a self- destructive act (Morson). Dostoyevsky was very religious. Many of the views he expressed in his novels were ideas he did not actually agree with. For example, Dostoyevsky wrote a lot about existentialism but did not agree with that philosophy. Although Dostoyevsky believed murder was wrong he had a character defend it convincingly saying people such as Napoleon were allowed to do evil for the progress of humanity (Morson). Dostoyevsky specialized in making screwed up characters with bad ideas seem sympathetic and persuasive. He also often got very political. In one novel, The Possessed, Dostoyevsky successfully predicted methods and ideas of the future Russian Revolutions (Morson).

Dostoyevsky was a prolific writer. He expressed his ideas primarily in novels but also in shorter works such as short stories and articles. Occasionally he also gave speeches. Although originally considered a literary genius, Dostoyevsky lost some popularity with his later, more political writings (Morson). The Russian government was not a huge fan of him. Dostoyevsky’s writings were important because they introduced new ideas to the Russian people. However, their greatest significance is in the work they inspired. Dostoyevsky influenced many different fields. Freud credits Dostoyevsky for inspiring many of his theories. He created the dystopian novel genre which has become one of the most important modern genres. Many people such as George Orwell, Friedrich Nietzsche, Aldous Huxley, and Mikhail Bulgakov also drew inspiration from Dostoyevsky (Morson).Few authors, before or after Dostoyevsky have gone into the psychological and emotional depth that characterized his writing.


Morson, Gary Saul. "Fyodor Dostoyevsky." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 21 Sept. 2016. Web. 28 Mar. 2017. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Fyodor-Dostoyevsky>.

Toutonghi, Pauls. "Biography." Fyodor Dostoevsky. N.p., 2010. Web. 28 Mar. 2017. <http://www.fyodordostoevsky.com/biography.php>.


Created with images by Yale Law Library - "Juvenile 0058 tall" • lungstruck - "Fyodor Dostoevsky - Notes from Underground / The Grand Inquisitor"

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