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Fyodor Mikhaylovich Dostoyevsky ( , Fёdor Mihajlovič Dostoevskij, , sometimes transliterated Dostoevsky, Dostoievsky, Dostojevskij, Dostoevski, Dostojevski or Dostoevskij ( – ) was a Russian writer, essayist and philosopher, known for his novels Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov.

Dostoyevsky's literary output explores human psychology in the troubled political, social and spiritual context of 19th-century Russian society. Considered by many as a founder or precursor of 20th-century existentialism, his Notes from Underground (1864), written in the embittered voice of the anonymous "underground man", was called by Walter Kaufmann the "best overture for existentialism ever written." A prominent figure in world literature, Dostoyevsky is often acknowledged by critics as one of the greatest psychologists in world literature.


Family origins

Dostoyevsky's mother was Russian. His paternal ancestors were from a village called Dostoyev in Belarusmarker, in the guberniya (province) of Minskmarker, not far from Pinskmarker; the stress on the family name was originally on the second syllable, matching that of the town (Dostóev), but in the nineteenth century was shifted to the third syllable. According to one account, Dostoyevsky's paternal ancestors were Polonized nobles (szlachta) of Russian origin and went to war bearing Polish Radwan Coat of Arms. Dostoyevsky (Polish "Dostojewski") Radwan armorial bearings were drawn for the Dostoyevsky Museum in Moscowmarker.

Early life

Dostoyevsky was the second of six children born to Mikhail and Maria Dostoyevsky. Dostoyevsky's father Mikhail was a retired military surgeon and a violent alcoholic, who had practiced at the Mariinsky Hospital for the Poor in Moscowmarker. The hospital was located in one of the city's worst areas; local landmarks included a cemetery for criminals, a lunatic asylum, and an orphanage for abandoned infants. This urban landscape made a lasting impression on the young Dostoyevsky, whose interest in and compassion for the poor, oppressed and tormented was apparent. Though his parents forbade it, Dostoyevsky liked to wander out to the hospital garden, where the suffering patients sat to catch a glimpse of sun. The young Dostoyevsky loved to spend time with these patients and hear their stories.

There are many stories of Dostoyevsky's father's despotic treatment of his children. After returning home from work, he would take a nap while his children, ordered to keep absolutely silent, stood by their slumbering father in shifts and swatted at any flies that came near his head. However, it is the opinion of Joseph Frank, a biographer of Dostoyevsky, that the father figure in The Brothers Karamazov is not based on Dostoyevsky's own father. Letters and personal accounts demonstrate that they had a fairly loving relationship.

Shortly after his mother died of tuberculosis in 1837, Dostoyevsky and his brother were sent to the Military Engineering Academy at Saint Petersburgmarker. Fyodor's father died in 1839. Though it has never been proven, it is believed by some that he was murdered by his own serfs. According to one account, they became enraged during one of his drunken fits of violence, restrained him, and poured vodka into his mouth until he drowned. A similar account appears in Notes from Underground. Another story holds that Mikhail died of natural causes, and a neighboring landowner invented the story of his murder so that he might buy the estate inexpensively. Some have argued that his father's personality had influenced the character of Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, the "wicked and sentimental buffoon", father of the main characters in his 1880 novel The Brothers Karamazov, but such claims fail to withstand the scrutiny of many critics .

Dostoyevsky had epilepsy and his first seizure occurred when he was nine years old. Epileptic seizures recurred sporadically throughout his life, and Dostoyevsky's experiences are thought to have formed the basis for his description of Prince Myshkin's epilepsy in his novel The Idiot and that of Smerdyakov in The Brothers Karamazov, among others.

At the Saint Petersburg Academy of Military Engineering, Dostoyevsky was taught mathematics, a subject he despised. However, he also studied literature by Shakespeare, Pascal, Victor Hugo and E.T.A. Hoffmann. Though he focused on areas different from mathematics, he did well on the exams and received a commission in 1841. That year, he wrote two romantic plays, influenced by the German Romantic poet/playwright Friedrich Schiller: Mary Stuart and Boris Godunov. The plays have not been preserved. Dostoyevsky described himself as a "dreamer" when he was a young man, and at that time revered Schiller. However, in the years during which he yielded his great masterpieces, his opinions changed and he sometimes poked fun at Schiller.

Beginnings of a literary career

Dostoyevsky was made a lieutenant in 1842, and left the Engineering Academy the following year. He completed a translation into Russian of Balzac's novel Eugénie Grandet in 1843, but it brought him little or no attention. Dostoyevsky started to write his own fiction in late 1844 after leaving the army. In 1845, his first work, the epistolary short novel, Poor Folk, published in the periodical The Contemporary (Sovremennik), was met with great acclaim. As legend has it, the editor of the magazine, poet Nikolai Nekrasov, walked into the office of liberal critic Vissarion Belinsky and announced, "A new Gogol has arisen!" Belinsky, his followers, and many others agreed. After the novel was fully published in book form at the beginning of the next year, Dostoyevsky became a literary celebrity at the age of 24.

In 1846, Belinsky and many others reacted negatively to his novella, The Double, a psychological study of a bureaucrat whose alter ego overtakes his life. Dostoyevsky's fame began to fade. Much of his work after Poor Folk received ambivalent reviews and it seemed that Belinsky's prediction that Dostoyevsky would be one of the greatest writers of Russia was mistaken.

Exile in Siberia

Dostoyevsky was incarcerated on April 23, 1849, for being part of the liberal intellectual group, the Petrashevsky Circle. Tsar Nicholas I after seeing the Revolutions of 1848 in Europe was harsh on any sort of underground organization which he felt could put autocracy into jeopardy. On November 16 that year Dostoyevsky, along with the other members of the Petrashevsky Circle, was sentenced to death. After a mock execution, in which he and other members of the group stood outside in freezing weather waiting to be shot by a firing squad, Dostoyevsky's sentence was commuted to four years of exile with hard labor at a katorga prison camp in Omskmarker, Siberiamarker. Dostoyevsky described later to his brother the sufferings he went through as the years in which he was "shut up in a coffin." Describing the dilapidated barracks which, as his view, "should have been torn down years ago," he wrote:

He was released from prison in 1854, and was required to serve in the Siberian Regiment. Dostoyevsky spent the following five years as a private (and later lieutenant) in the Regiment's Seventh Line Battalion, stationed at the fortress of Semipalatinskmarker, now in Kazakhstanmarker. While there, he began a relationship with Maria Dmitrievna Isayeva, the wife of an acquaintance in Siberia. They married in February 1857, after her husband's death.

Post-prison maturation as a writer

Dostoyevsky's experiences in prison and the army resulted in major changes in his political and religious convictions. First, his ordeal somehow caused him to become disillusioned with "Western" ideas; he repudiated the contemporary Western European philosophical movements, and instead paid greater tribute in his writing to traditional, rustic Russian values exemplified in the Slavophile concept of sobornost. But even more significantly, he had what his biographer Joseph Frank describes as a conversion experience in prison, which greatly strengthened his Christian, and specifically Orthodox, faith (Dostoyevsky would later depict his conversion experience in the short story, The Peasant Marey (1876)).

In his writings, Dostoyevsky started to extol the virtues of humility, submission, and suffering. He now displayed a much more critical stance on contemporary European philosophy and turned with intellectual rigour against the Nihilist and Socialist movements; and much of his post-prison work—particularly the novel, The Possessed, and the essays, The Diary of a Writer—contains both criticism of socialist and nihilist ideas, as well as thinly-veiled parodies of contemporary Western-influenced Russian intellectuals (Timofey Granovsky), revolutionaries (Sergey Nechayev), and even fellow novelists (Ivan Turgenev). In social circles, Dostoyevsky allied himself with well-known conservatives, such as the statesman Konstantin Pobedonostsev. His post-prison essays praised the tenets of the Pochvennichestvo movement, a late-19th century Russian nativist ideology closely aligned with Slavophilism.

Dostoyevsky's post-prison fiction abandoned the European-style domestic melodramas and quaint character studies of his youthful work in favor of dark, more complex story-lines and situations, played-out by brooding, tortured characters—often styled partly on Dostoyevsky himself—who agonized over existential themes of spiritual torment, religious awakening, and the psychological confusion caused by the conflict between traditional Russian culture and the influx of modern, Western philosophy. This, nonetheless, does not take from the debt which Dostoyevsky owed to earlier Western influenced writers such as Gogol whose work grew from out of the irrational and anti-authoritarian spiritualist ideas contained within the Romantic movement which had immediately preceded Dostoyevsky in Europe. However, Dostoyevsky's major novels focused on the idea that utopias and positivist ideas being utilitarian were unrealistic and unobtainable.

Later literary career

Dostoyevsky in 1863
In December 1859, Dostoyevsky returned to Saint Petersburgmarker, where he ran a series of unsuccessful literary journals, Vremya (Time) and Epokha (Epoch), with his older brother Mikhail. The latter was shut down as a consequence of its coverage of the Polish Uprising of 1863. That year Dostoyevsky traveled to Europe and frequented the gambling casinos. There he met Apollinaria Suslova, the model for Dostoyevsky's "proud women", such as the two characters named Katerina Ivanovna, in Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov.

Dostoyevsky was devastated by his wife's death in 1864, which was followed shortly thereafter by his brother's death. He was financially crippled by business debts; furthermore, he decided to assume the responsibility of his deceased brother's outstanding debts, and he also provided for his wife's son from her earlier marriage and his brother's widow and children. Dostoyevsky sank into a deep depression, frequenting gambling parlors and accumulating massive losses at the tables.

Dostoyevsky suffered from an acute gambling compulsion and its consequences. By one account he completed Crime and Punishment, possibly his best known novel, in a mad hurry because he was in urgent need of an advance from his publisher. He had been left practically penniless after a gambling spree. Dostoyevsky wrote The Gambler simultaneously in order to satisfy an agreement with his publisher Stellovsky who, if he did not receive a new work, would have claimed the copyrights to all of Dostoyevsky's writings.

Motivated by the dual wish to escape his creditors at home and to visit the casinos abroad, Dostoyevsky traveled to Western Europe. There, he attempted to rekindle a love affair with Suslova, but she refused his marriage proposal. Dostoyevsky was heartbroken, but soon met Anna Grigorevna Snitkina, a twenty-year-old stenographer. Shortly before marrying her in 1867, he dictated The Gambler to her. From 1873 to 1881 he published the Writer's Diary, a monthly journal of short stories, sketches, and articles on current events. The journal was an enormous success.

Dostoyevsky influenced and was influenced by the philosopher Vladimir Sergeyevich Solovyov. Solovyov was the inspiration for the characters Ivan Karamazov and Alyosha Karamazov.

In 1877, Dostoyevsky gave the keynote eulogy at the funeral of his friend, the poet Nekrasov, to much controversy . On June 8, 1880, shortly before he died, he gave his famous Pushkin speech at the unveiling of the Pushkin monument in Moscow.

In his later years, Fyodor Dostoyevsky lived for a long time at the resort of Staraya Russamarker in northwestern Russia, which was closer to Saint Petersburgmarker and less expensive than German resorts. He died on of a lung hemorrhage associated with emphysema and an epileptic seizure. He was interred in Tikhvin Cemeterymarker at the Alexander Nevsky Monasterymarker in Saint Petersburgmarker. Forty thousand mourners attended his funeral. His tombstone reads "Verily, Verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit." from John 12:24, which is also the epigraph of his final novel, The Brothers Karamazov.

Works and influence

Dostoyevsky in 1879
Some like journalist Otto Friedrich, consider Dostoyevsky to be one of Europe's major novelists, while others like Vladimir Nabokov maintain that from point of view of enduring art and individual genius, he is a rather mediocre writer who produced wastelands of literary platitudes. Dostoyevsky promoted in his novels religious moralities, particularly those of Orthodox Christianity. Nabokov argued in his University courses at Cornellmarker, that such religious propaganda, rather than artistic qualities, was the main reason Dostoyevsky was praised and regarded as a 'Prophet' in Soviet Russia.

Dostoyevsky influenced American novelist Ernest Hemingway, and James Joyce and Virginia Woolf praised his prose. Hemingway cited Dostoyevsky as a major influence on his work, in his posthumous collection of sketches A Moveable Feast. In a book of interviews with Arthur Power (Conversations with James Joyce), Joyce praised Dostoyevsky's prose:

In her essay The Russian Point of View, Virginia Woolf said:

Dostoyevsky beside the Library Moscow

Dostoyevsky displayed a nuanced understanding of human psychology in his major works. He created an opus of vitality and almost hypnotic power, characterized by feverishly dramatized scenes where his characters are frequently in scandalous and explosive atmospheres, passionately engaged in Socratic dialogues. The quest for God, the problem of Evil and suffering of the innocents haunt the majority of his novels.

His characters fall into a few distinct categories: humble and self-effacing Christians (Prince Myshkin, Sonya Marmeladova, Alyosha Karamazov, Starets Zosima), self-destructive nihilists (Svidrigailov, Smerdyakov, Stavrogin, the underground man) , cynical debauchees (Fyodor Karamazov, Dmitri Karamazov), and rebellious intellectuals (Raskolnikov, Ivan Karamazov, Ippolit); also, his characters are driven by ideas rather than by ordinary biological or social imperatives. In comparison with Tolstoy, whose characters are realistic, the characters of Dostoyevsky are usually more symbolic of the ideas they represent, thus Dostoyevsky is often cited as one of the forerunners of Literary Symbolism, especially Russian Symbolism (see Alexander Blok).
Dostoyevsky beside the birthplace Moscow

Dostoyevsky's novels are compressed in time (many cover only a few days) and this enables him to get rid of one of the dominant traits of realist prose, the corrosion of human life in the process of the time flux; his characters primarily embody spiritual values, and these are, by definition, timeless. Other themes include suicide, wounded pride, collapsed family values, spiritual regeneration through suffering, rejection of the West and affirmation of Russian Orthodoxy and Tsarism. Literary scholars such as Bakhtin have characterized his work as "polyphonic": Dostoyevsky does not appear to aim for a "single vision", and beyond simply describing situations from various angles, Dostoyevsky engendered fully dramatic novels of ideas where conflicting views and characters are left to develop unevenly into unbearable crescendo.

Dostoyevsky and the other giant of late 19th century Russian literature, Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, never met in person, even though each praised, criticized, and influenced the other (Dostoyevsky remarked of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina that it was a "flawless work of art"; Henri Troyat reports that Tolstoy once remarked of Crime and Punishment that, "Once you read the first few chapters you know pretty much how the novel will end up"). There was a meeting arranged, but there was a confusion about where the meeting place was to take place and they never rescheduled. Tolstoy reportedly burst into tears when he learned of Dostoyevsky's death. A copy of The Brothers Karamazov was found on the nightstand next to Tolstoy's deathbed at the Astapovomarker railway station.

Dostoyevsky on Jews in Russia

Notable writers, e.g. Joseph N. Frank, Stephen Cassady, David I. Goldstein, Gary Saul Morson, and Felix Dreizin, have offered various insights and unique suppositions regarding Dostoyevsky’s views on Jews and organized Jewry in Russia – specifically, that Dostoyevsky perceived Jewish ethnocentrism and Jewish influence to be directly threatening the Russian peasantry in the border regions. For example, in A Writer's Diary, Dostoyevsky wrote:

"Thus, Jewry is thriving precisely there where the people are still ignorant, or not free, or economically backward. It is there that Jewry has a champ libre. And instead of raising, by its influence, the level of education, instead of increasing knowledge, generating economic fitness in the native population—instead of this the Jew, wherever he has settled, has still more humiliated and debauched the people; there humaneness was still more debased and the educational level fell still lower; there inescapable, inhuman misery, and with it despair, spread still more disgustingly. Ask the native population in our border regions: What is propelling the Jew—and has been propelling him for centuries? You will receive a unanimous answer: mercilessness. He has been prompted so many centuries only by pitilessness to us, only by the thirst for our sweat and blood."

"And, in truth, the whole activity of the Jews in these border regions of ours consisted of rendering the native population as much as possible inescapably dependent on them, taking advantage of the local laws. They have always managed to be on friendly terms with those upon whom the people were dependent. Point to any other tribe from among Russian aliens which could rival the Jew by his dreadful influence in this connection! You will find no such tribe. In this respect the Jew preserves all his originality as compared with other Russian aliens, and of course, the reason therefore is that status of status of his, that spirit of which specifically breathes pitilessness for everything that is not Jew, with disrespect for any people and tribe, for every human creature who is not a Jew...."

Dostoyevsky has been noted as having expressed anti-Semitic sentiments. In the recent biography by Joseph Frank, The Mantle of the Prophet, Frank spent much time on A Writer's Diary — a regular column which Dostoyevsky wrote in the periodical The Citizen from 1873 to the year before his death in 1881. Frank notes that the Diary is "filled with politics, literary criticism, and pan-Slav diatribes about the virtues of the Russian Empire, [and] represents a major challenge to the Dostoyevsky fan, not least on account of its frequent expressions of antisemitism." Frank, in his foreword for the book Dostoevsky and the Jews, attempts to place Dostoyevsky as a product of his time. Frank notes that Dostoyevsky did make antisemitic remarks, but that Dostoyevsky's writing and stance by and large was one where Dostoyevsky held a great deal of guilt for his comments and positions that were antisemitic. Steven Cassedy, for example, alleges in his book, Dostoevsky's Religion, that much of the depiction of Dostoyevsky’s views as anti-Semitic omits that Dostoyevsky expressed support for the equal rights of the Russian Jewish population, a position that was not widely supported in Russia at the time. Cassedy also notes that this criticism of Dostoyevsky also appears to deny his sincerity when he said that he was for equal rights for the Russian Jewish populace and the Serf of his own country (since neither group at that point in history had equal rights). Cassidy again notes when Dostoevsky stated that he did not hate Jewish people and was not an Anti-Semite. Even though Dostoevsky spoke of the potential negative influence of Jewish people, Dostoevsky advised Czar Alexander II to give them rights to positions of influence in Russian society. For example allowing them access to Professorships at Universities. According to Cassedy, labeling Dostoevsky anti-semitic does not take into consideration Dostoyevsky's expressed desire to peacefully reconcile Jews and Christians into a single universal brotherhood of all mankind.

Dostoyevsky and Existentialism

With the publication of Crime and Punishment in 1866, Dostoyevsky became one of Russia's most prominent authors. Will Durant, in The Pleasures of Philosophy, called Dostoyevsky one of the founding fathers of the philosophical movement known as existentialism, and cited Notes from Underground in particular as a founding work of existentialism. For Dostoyevsky, war is the people's rebellion against the idea that reason guides everything, and thus, reason is the ultimate guiding principle for neither history nor mankind. After his 1849 exile to the city of Omskmarker, Siberia, Dostoyevsky focused heavily on notions of suffering and despair in many of his works.

Nietzsche referred to Dostoyevsky as "the only psychologist from whom I have something to learn: he belongs to the happiest windfalls of my life, happier even than the discovery of Stendhal." He said that Notes from Underground "cried truth from the blood." According to Mihajlo Mihajlov's "The Great Catalyzer: Nietzsche and Russian Neo-Idealism", Nietzsche constantly refers to Dostoyevsky in his notes and drafts throughout the winter of 1886–1887. Nietzsche also wrote abstracts of several Dostoyevsky works.

Freud wrote an article titled "Dostoevsky and Parricide", asserting that the greatest works in world literature are all about parricide; though he is critical of Dostoyevsky's work overall, his inclusion of The Brothers Karamazov among the three greatest works of literature is remarkable.

List of works


  • (1846) Bednye lyudi (Бедные люди); English translation: Poor Folk
  • (1846) Dvojnik (Двойник. Петербургская поэма); English translation: The Double: A Petersburg Poem
  • (1849) Netochka Nezvanova (Неточка Незванова); a proper feminine name, English transliteration: Netochka Nezvanova (Unfinished)
  • (1859) Dyadyushkin son (Дядюшкин сон); English translation: The Uncle's Dream
  • (1859) Selo Stepanchikovo i ego obitateli (Село Степанчиково и его обитатели); English translation: The Village of Stepanchikovo
  • (1861) Unizhennye i oskorblennye (Униженные и оскорбленные); English translation: The Insulted and Humiliated
  • (1862) Zapiski iz mertvogo doma (Записки из мертвого дома); English translation: Notes from the House of the Dead
  • (1864) Zapiski iz podpolya (Записки из подполья); English translation: Notes from Underground
  • (1866) Prestuplenie i nakazanie (Преступление и наказание); English translation: Crime and Punishment
  • (1867) Igrok (Игрок); English translation: The Gambler
  • (1869) Idiot (Идиот); English translation: The Idiot
  • (1870) Vechnyj muzh (Вечный муж); English translation: The Eternal Husband
  • (1872) Besy (Бесы); English translation: The Possessed
  • (1875) Podrostok (Подросток); English translation: The Raw Youth
  • (1881) Brat'ya Karamazovy (Братья Карамазовы); English translation: The Brothers Karamazov

Novellas and short stories

  • (1846) Gospodin Prokharchin (Господин Прохарчин); English translation: Mr. Prokharchin
  • (1847) Roman v devyati pis'mah (Роман в девяти письмах); English translation: Novel in Nine Letters
  • (1847) Hozyajka (Хозяйка); English translation: The Landlady
  • (1848) Polzunkov (Ползунков); English translation: Polzunkov
  • (1848) Slaboe serdze (Слабое сердце); English translation: A Weak Heart
  • (1848) Chestnyj vor (Честный вор); English translation:) An Honest Thief
  • (1848) Elka i svad'ba (Елка и свадьба); English translation: A Christmas Tree and a Wedding
  • (1848) Chuzhaya zhena i muzh pod krovat'yu (Чужая жена и муж под кроватью); English translation: The Jealous Husband
  • (1848) Belye nochi (Белые ночи); English translation: White Nights
  • (1849) Malen'kij geroj (Маленький герой); English translation: A Little Hero
  • (1862) Skvernyj anekdot (Скверный анекдот); English translation: A Nasty Story
  • (1865) Krokodil (Крокодил); English translation: The Crocodile
  • (1873) Bobok (Бобок); English translation: Bobok
  • (1876) Krotkaja (Кроткая); English translation: A Gentle Creature
  • (1876) Muzhik Marej (Мужик Марей); English translation: The Peasant Marey
  • (1876) Mal'chik u Hrista na elke (Мальчик у Христа на ёлке); English translation: The Heavenly Christmas Tree
  • (1877) Son smeshnogo cheloveka (Сон смешного человека); English translation: The Dream of a Ridiculous Man
The last five stories (1873-1877) are included in A Writer's Diary.


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