Fedor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky (1821-1881)
Russian novelist, journalist, short-story writer whose psychological penetration into the human soul had a profound influence on the 20th century novel. Dostoevsky's novels have much autobiographical elements, but ultimately they deal with moral and philosophical questions. He presented interacting characters with contrasting views or ideas about freedom of choice, Socialism, atheisms, good and evil, happiness and so forth. Dostoevsky's central obsession was God, whom his characters constantly search through painful errors humiliations.
Fyodor Dostoevsky was born in Moscow, as the second son of a staff doctor at the Hospital for the Poor - later he acquired an estate and serfs. Dostoevsky was educated at home and at a private school. Shortly after the death of his mother in 1837 he was sent to St. Petersburg, where he entered the Army Engineering College. In 1839 Dostoevsky's father died propably of apoplexy but there was strong rumors that he was murdered by his own serfs in a quarrel. Dostoevsky graduated as a military engineer, but resigned in 1844 his commission to devote himself to writing. His first novel, Poor Folk appeared in 1846, and gained a great success with the critics. It was followed by The Double, which depicted a man who was haunted by a look-alike who eventually usurps his position. The book was considered a failure.
In 1846 he joined a group of utopian socialists. He was arrested on April 23 in 1849 during a reading of Vissarion Belinsky's radical letter Selected Passages from Correspondence with Friends, and sentenced to death. With mock execution the sentence was commuted to imprisonment in Siberia. Dostoevsky spent four years in hard labor in a stockade, wearing fetters. On his release in 1854 he was assigned as a common soldier in Semipalatinsk. Eventually he became an ensign. These experiences provided subject matter for the author. His heroes and heroines reflected moral values which were vitally important for the author. They also were men and women of action, who shaped the moral character of the young in Russia. During the years in Siberia Dostoevsky became a monarchist and a devout follower of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Dostoevsky returned to St. Petersburg in 1859 as a writer with a religious mission and published three works that derive in different ways from his Siberia experiences: The House of the Dead, a fictional account of prison life, The Insulted and Injured, which reflects the author's refutation of naive Utopianism in the face of evil, and Winter Notes on Summer Impressions, his account of trip to Western Europe.
The Insulted and Injured was completed after Dostoevsky's penal service and exile and published on his return to Petersburg. The narrator is Ivan Petrovich, a young aspiring writer. His literary debut, working methods and social situation were taken from Dostoevsky's own life. The hero falls from the fame into poverty. When the book appeared it was coldly received by the critics. Dostoevsky defended the work in an open letter and wrote that he knew for certain that even though the novel should be a failure, there would be poetry in it and the two most important characters would be portrayed truthfully and even artistically.
In 1857 Dostoevsky married Maria Isaev, a 29-year old widow. He resigned from the army two years later. Between the years 1861 and 1863 he served as editor of the monthly periodical Time, which was later suppressed because of an article on the Polish uprising. In 1862 he went to abroad for the first time, traveling in France and England. He traveled Europe again in 1863 and 1865. During this period his wife and brother died, he was obsessed with gamblin and almost crushed by debts and frequent epileptic seizures.
By the time of The Brothers of Karamazov, which appeared in 1879-80, Dostoevsky was recognized in his own country as one of its great writers. Dostoevsky final novel culminated his lifelong obsession with patricide - the assumed murder of his father had left deep marks on the author's psyche in childhood. The novel is constructed around a simple plot, dealing with the murder of the father of the Karamazov family by his illegitimate son, Smerdiakov. One of the sons, Dmitri, is arrested. The brothers represent three aspects of man's being: reason (Ivan), emotion (Dmitri) and faith (Alesha). This material is transcended into a moral and spiritual statement of contemporary society.
An epileptic all his life, Dostoevsky died in St. Petersburg on February 9 (New Style), 1881. He was buried in the Aleksandr Nevsky monastery, St. Petersburg. Anna Grigoryevna devoted the rest of her life to cherish the literary heritage of the author.