Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky
Birth Date1821CE Nov 11th
Birth PlaceMoscow, MOW, Russia
Death PlaceSaint Petersburg, SPE, Russia
Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky was a Russian novelist whose primary interest in the human condition render him at once a philosopher, psychologist, religious thinker, and writer. Born in Moscow on November 11, 1821 to Dr. Mikhail Andreevich Dostoevsky and Marya Feodorovna, Dostoevsky’s origins and early life were fairly unremarkable. Dostoevsky, the second oldest of eight children, grew up in an apartment next to the hospital where his father worked. He was especially close with his older brother Mikhail, as both shared a love for literature.
Marya Feodorovna died from tuberculosis when young Fyodor was 15. Worried about what would happen to his sons after his own death, Dr. Dostoevsky sent Mikhail and Fyodor to The Academy of Engineers later that year to secure careers for the boys in the military. The boys were furious, as they dreamed of being writers. Yet here began a lifetime of turmoil and tragedy that was a source for so much of his writing.
At the Academy, the young writer showed a great propensity for the humanities, and, although he struggled to get through the sciences, he graduated in 1841. After graduation, Dostoevsky left the military as soon as he could to pursue his dreams to be a writer. He completed a translation of Eugénie Grandit by Honoré de Balzac in 1843, and his first novel Poor Folk, was published in 1846. It was received with high critical acclaim. Vissarion Belinsky, Russia’s foremost critic of the day, declared that Dostoevsky was positioned to become one of the great Russian writers.
While living in St. Petersburg, Dostoevsky became involved with the Petrashevsky circle, a group of socialist political thinkers. Apart from their advocacy for the emancipation of the serfs, he was not very aligned with the position that this circle took. He was nevertheless arrested in 1849 by Tsar Nicolas I for his involvement with the group, as the Tsar was beginning to feel more threatened by the possibility of revolution. He spent seven months in prison. In November 1849, Dostoevsky and his fellow prisoners were brought to the execution site to hear their sentence. After their last rites were read, and surrounded by the execution squad, the men heard the verdict that they were to be sent to Siberia for ten years.
With no worldly possessions but his life, Dostoevsky made the journey north. In Siberia, he spent his days at hard physical labour and at examining the state of the human condition. In 1854, he was sent to Semipalatinsk to serve as a private in the Russian Army, where he met and married his first wife, Maria Dmitriyevna. The two lived unhappily together until her death in 1864, the romance having died shortly after their marriage. Dostoevsky’s works from this period include the novellas The Village of Stepanchikovo (1859) and Uncle’s Dream (1859), which were published after his release.
After his release and marriage, Dostoevsky returned to St. Petersburg. Here, he and Mikhail founded the journal Time, which the government disbanded in 1863. The Insulted and Injured (1861) and The House of the Dead (1862) both appeared in this journal. His most notable work from this period is Notes from Underground (1864), published in Epoch, the journal the Dostoevsky brothers founded as a successor to Time. This novel reflects Dostoevsky’s post-Siberian existential confusion. While unpopular when first published, it has become one of the most-read books in modern literature (Frank 413).
His wife and brother died in the same year, and after their deaths Dostoevsky found himself broke with the collapse of Epoch. In 1865 he made a trip to Germany to attempt to save his financial state through gambling, and when he returned to Russia, he returned to writing. He wrote a letter to a friend, making a bet with him that he could “write thirty printed sheets within the space of four months, forming two separate novels” (Bloom 13). Out of this project came Crime and Punishment, a psychological mystery that is regarded as the first of his great novels, The Gambler, and his second wife Anna Grigoryevna, who transcribed his oral dictation of Crime and Punishment.
Shortly after their marriage, the couple departed to the continent for their honeymoon. They planned for the trip to last only three months, but it was four years before they would return to Russia. After traveling for a time they landed in Baden-Baden, Germany, and there their first daughter Sonya was born, and three months later passed away. According to his wife, Dostoevsky “wept and sobbed like a woman in despair” (Kjetsaa 218) at her death. While on the continent, and to Anna’s dismay, her husband’s gambling problem kept the pair in constant poverty. His writing continued to be their main support, however. Notable writings from this period includes The Idiot (1869), Dostoevsky’s most autobiographical novel which is formed around the development of “a perfectly beautiful man” and which discusses through Prince Myshkin the author’s lifelong struggle with epilepsy, and The Eternal Husband (1870).
The family, now with baby Lyubov (or Aimée), returned to St. Petersburg in 1871, and remained here until Dostoevsky’s death. Two more children were born: Fyodor immediately upon their return in 1871 and Alexey in 1875. The author spent his days as an editor at The Citizen, from which he took time off to write Demons (1872) and A Raw Youth (1875). He also published personal musings in The Diary of a Writer between 1873-1881. His culminating work appeared in installments in The Russian Journal prior to being published in 1880. The Brothers Karamazov explores the dialectic between rationality and Christianity (Frank 848), was received with great regard by critics and populous alike.
In 1881, shortly after the release of his greatest novel, pulmonary hemorrhaging took the great writer’s life. A national celebrity, Dostoevsky was mourned by at least 40 000 people at a massive funeral. He was buried in St. Petersburg, next to the famous poet Zhukovsky.
Dostoevsky’s fame grew posthumously. European obsession with Russian literature, which was “at its height between 1912 and the early 1920’s” (Mills 157) was called the Dostoevsky cult. In 1922, the Hogarth Press published Stavrogin’s Confessions and The Plan of The Life of a Great Sinner, a translation of his writings by S. S. Kotelianskii and Virginia Woolf. Nietzsche and Kafka both acknowledged Dostoevsky’s influence on their writings (Bloom 14), and his works continue to instruct philosophers and writers today.
Selected Further Reading
Dostoevsky, Aimée. Fyodor Dostoevsky: A Study. New Haven: Yale Unversity Press, 1922.
Dostoevsky Portrayed By His Wife: The Diary and Reminiscences of Mme. Dostoevsky. Ed. Trans. Koteliansky S. S. New York: E. P. Dutton & Company, 1926.
Kjetsaa, Geir. Fyodor Dostoevsky: A Writer’s Life. Trans. Hustvedt, Siri; and McDuff, David. New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1989.
Bloom, Harold. Fyodor Dostoevsky. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2003.
Frank, Joseph. Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time. Ed. Petrusewicz, Mary. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010
Mills, Jean. “The Writer, the Prince and the Scholar: Virginia Woolf, D. S. Mirsky, and Jane Harrison’s Translation from Russian of The Life of the Archpriest Avvakum, by Himself – a Revaluation of the Radical Politics of the Hogarth Press.” Ed. Southworth, Helen. Leonard and Virginia Woolf, the Hogarth Press and the Networks of Modernism. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010. 150-178.
Amoia, Alba Della Fazia. Feodor Dostoevsky. New York: Continuum International Publishing, 1993.
Bird, Robert. Fyodor Dostoevsky. London: Reaktion Books, 2012.
Carr, Edward Hallet. Dostoevsky (1821-1881): A New Biography. Boston: H Mifflin, 1931.
Freeborn, Richard. Dostoevsky. London: Haus Publishing, 2003.
Grossman, Leonid. Dostoevsky: A Biography. Translated by Mary Mackler. London: Allen Lane, 1974.
Hingley, Robert. Dostoevsky: His Life and Work. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 978.
Lantz, K. A. The Dostoevsky Encyclopedia. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2004.
Leithart, Peter. Fyodor Dostoevsky. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011.
Mochulskii, K. Dostoevsky: His Life and Work. Translated, with an intro., by Michael A. Minihan [Princeton, N.J.] Princeton University Press, 1967.
Yarmolinsky, Avrahm. Dostoevsky: His Life and Art. New York: Criterion Books, c1957.
Bakhtin, Mikhail. Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics. Edited and translated by Caryl Emerson. Introduction by Wayne C. Booth. Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, 1984.
Cox, Gary. Tyrant and Victim in Dostoevsky. Columbus, Ohio: Slavica Publishers, 1984.
Curle, Richard. Characters of Dostoevsky: Studies from Four Novels. New York: Russell & Russell, 1966.
Girard, René. Resurrection from the Underground: Feodor Dostoevsky. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2012.
Gibson, A. Boyce. The Religion of Dostoevsky. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1974.
Holquist, Michael. Dostoevsky and the Novel. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1977.
Ivanov, Viacheslav Ivanovich. Freedom and the Tragic Life: A Study in Dostoevsky. Forward by Sir Maurice Bowra. Translated by Norma Cameron. Edited by S. Konovalov. New York: Noonday Press, 1952.
Jackson, Robert Louis. The Art of Dostoevsky: Deliriums and Nocturnes. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981.
Knapp, Liza. Annihilation of Inertia: Dostoevsky and Metaphysics. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1996.
Leatherbarrow, William J. Fedor Dostoevsky: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1990.
Linner, Sven. Stavets Zosima in the Brothers Karamazov: A Study in the Mimesis of Virtue. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International, 1975.
Lord, Robert. Dosteovsky: Essays and Perspectives. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970.
Miller, Robin Feuer. The Brothers Karamazov: Worlds of the Novel. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1992.
Rubenstein, Rebecca. Virginia Woolf and the Russian Point of View. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2009.
Pearce, Richard. Stages of the Clown: Perspectives on Modern Fiction from Dostoevsky to Beckett. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1970.
Straus, Nina Pelikan. Dostoevsky and the Woman Question: Rereadings at the End of a Century. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994.
Terras, Victor. A Karamazov Companion. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1981.
Wellek, René, ed. Dostoevsky: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1962.
The Russian State Library holds various Dostoevsky manuscripts. http://www.rsl.ru/ru/s1/s11/s104/s188/d53/
The Institute of Russian Literature (Pushkinskij Dom) holds a large number of Dostoevsky manuscripts from The Devils, The Brothers Karamazov, The Gambler, The Adolescent, and The Diary of a Writer. It also holds letters to and from Dostoevsky. http://www.pushkinskijdom.ru/Default.aspx?tabid=1251
Bibliography of Dostoevsky Publications
The Idiot. 1869. Trans. Garnett, Constance. London: William Heinemann, 1913.
The House of the Dead. 1862. Trans. H. S. Edwards. New York: E.P. Dutton and Co. 1911.
The Insulted and the Humiliated. 1861.Trans. Garnett, Constance. New York: William Heinemann, 1915
A Raw Youth. 1875. Trans. Garnett, Constance. New York: William Heinemann, 1916.
The Possessed. 1872. Trans. Garnett, Constance. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1923
Crime and Punishment. 1866. Trans. Garnett, Constance. New York: Limited Editions Club, 1948.
The Brothers Kamamazov. 1880. Trans. Garnett, Constance. New York: Limited Editions Club, 1949.
The House of the Dead. Published as Buried Alive, or Ten Years of Penal Servitude in Siberia. Trans. Marie von Thilo. London: Longman’s, Green, and Co, 1881
Poor Folk. 1846. Trans. Lena Milman. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1894
The Grand Inquisitor. 1880. Trans. Kotelianskii, S. S. UK: Elkin Mthews, 1930.
The Short Novels of Dostoevsky: The Gambler; Notes from Underground; Uncle's Dream; The Eternal Husband; The Double; The Friend of the Family. 1867, 1864, 1859, 1870,1846, 1859.Trans. Garnett, Constance. New York: Dial Press, 1945.
Short Story Collections
The Gambler and Other Stories. 1867. Trans. Garnett, Constance. London: William Heinemann, 1914
The Eternal Husband and Other Stories.1870. Trans. Garnett, Constance. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1917.
White Nights and Other Stories. 1848. Trans. Garnett, Constance. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1918.
An Honest Thief and Other Stories. 1848. Trans. Garnett, Constance. London: Heinemann, 1919.
Stavrogin’s Confessions and The Plan of The Life of a Great Sinner: Trans. Kotelianskii, S.S; and Woolf, Virginia. Richmond: The Hogarth Press, 1922.
“The Friend of the Family, or, Stepantchikovo and Its Inhabitants”. 1859. Trans. Garnett, Constance. New York: Macmillan/Ballantyne and Co, 1923.
“A Gentle Spirit”. 1876. Trans. Garnett, Constance. New York: Harrison of Paris, 1931.
The Short Stories of Dostoevsky. Trans. Garnett, Constance. New York: The Dial Press, 1946
Stories. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1971.
Pages from the Journal of an Author. 1873-1881. Trans. Kotelianskii, S. S; and Murray, J. Middleton. Boston: John W. Luce & Co, 1916.
Dostoevsky: Letters and Reminiscences. Trans. Kotelianskii, S. S; and Murray, J. Middleton. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1923.
The Notebooks for the Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Ed. trans. Wasiolek, Edward.Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971.
The Unpublished Dostoevsky Vol I. Trans. Boyer, Arlene; and Proffer, Carl; Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1975
The Unpublished Dostoevsky Vol II. Trans. Boyer, Arlene; and Proffer, Carl; Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1975
The Unpublished Dostoevsky Vol III. Trans. Boyer, Arlene; and Proffer, Carl; Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1975
The Brothers Karamazov: Backgrounds and Sources – Essays in Criticism. Trans. Garnett, Constance.Ed. Ralph E. Matlaw. New York: Norton, 1976.