Fyodor Dostoevsky: Great thinker, author of psychological novels

Fyodor Dostoevsky: This great 19th century novelist and philosopher produced works that delved into human psychology amid the socio-political conditions in his native land.
Updated on Nov 25, 2020 04:31 PM IST
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Fyodor Dostoevsky: This great 19th century novelist and philosopher produced works that delved into human psychology amid the socio-political conditions in his native land. He also incorporated philosophical and religious ideas to depict the extent to which human minds can be enveloped in darkness.

Early life

Born on November 11, 1821, Fyodor Dostoevsky was the second child of Dr. Mikhail Dostoevsky and Maria Dostoevskaya, who were both part of noble families. He was raised in the family home on the ground of the Mariinsky Hospital for the Poor located in a district on the edges of Moscow.

Academic years

Fyodor Dostoevsky remained deeply religious through life, which was a trait that his family had. First educated by parents and tutors, he was sent to a private school at the age of 13.

In 1837, his mother died of tuberculosis and his father passed away in June 1839 due to an apoplectic stroke. A neighbour, Pavel Khotiaintsev, however, accused the father’s serfs of murder.

Dostoevsky disliked school and loved literature. After his father’s death, he underwent

training to be a military engineer and in August 1843 became a lieutenant engineer. Gradually, he turned away from a prospective career in engineering to devote himself to writing, which became a passion with him.

Political activities and arrest

In 1846, he joined a somewhat subversive group called the Petrashevsky Circle which comprised intellectuals who discussed utopian socialism. Later, he joined a related, secret group devoted to revolution and illegal propaganda. It appears that Dostoyevsky did not sympathise (as others did) with egalitarian communism and terrorism but was motivated by a strong disapproval of serfdom. On April 23, 1849, he and the other members of the Petrashevsky Circle were arrested. Dostoyevsky was sentenced to spend four years at a Siberian prison labour camp, to be followed by an indefinite term as a soldier. After his return to Russia 10 years later, he wrote a novel based on his prison camp experiences, The House of the Dead.

His writing career

Dostoevsky’s works include 15 novels and novellas, 17 short stories and five translations.

Poor Folk, an epistolary work and also his first novel written in 1844-1845 was a major success. Notes from Underground is split into two stylistically different parts, the first essay-like, the second in narrative style. Written in 1864, it is considered by many to be one of the first existentialist novels. Crime and Punishment received both critical and popular acclaim and is often cited as Dostoevsky’s magnum opus. It was first published in the literary journal The Russian Messenger in 12 monthly installments during 1866. The Idiot was first published serially in the journal The Russian Messenger in 1868–69. The novel titled Demons was first published in 1871–72. The Brothers Karamazov, at nearly 800 pages is Dostoevsky’s largest work was published as a serial in 1879-1880. It received both critical and popular acclaim and is often one of his most important works.

Personal life and death

In 1857, Dostoyevsky married widow Mariya Dmitriyevna Isayeva who passed away seven years later. He later married Anna Grigoryevna Snitkina whose shorthand helped him complete The Gambler. He had four children. The author suffered a series of pulmonary haemorrhages and passed away on February 9, 1881.


1 Fyodor Dostoevsky’s parents introduced him to a wide range of literature, including Russian writers Karamzin, Pushkin and Derzhavin; Gothic fiction such as the works of writer Ann Radcliffe; romantic works by Schiller and Goethe; heroic tales by Miguel de Cervantes and Walter Scott; and Homer’s epics.

2 The auther showed bravery and a strong sense of justice, protected newcomers, aligned himself with teachers, criticised corruption among officers and helped poor farmers. Although he was solitary and inhabited his own literary world, he was respected by classmates. His reclusiveness and interest in religion earned him the nickname ‘Monk Photius’.

3 In his 15 months with The Citizen, he had been taken to court twice: In June 1873 for citing the words of Prince Meshchersky without permission, and again in March 1874.

4 Signs of Dostoevsky’s epilepsy may have first appeared when he learnt of his father’s death. After The Double received negative reviews, his health declined and he had more frequent seizures but continued writing. He also suffered several attacks of epilepsy while in prison.

SOURCE: Wikipedia, britannica.com, notablebiographies.com

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