Fyodor Dostoevsky

Russian Novelist, (1821 - 1881)

Fyodor Dostoevsky is a Russian writer, essayist, and journalist famed for his novels and novellas. His books are known for their psychological insight, realism, and considerable philosophical value. Dostoevsky is considered to be among the greatest writers in the world and received considerable critical acclaim from his time till now even

Life Facts

  • Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky was born on October 30, 1821 in a Moscow hospital for the poor, where his father was a resident surgeon.
  • By 1838 Dostoevsky was enrolled in the military engineering school in St. Petersburg. His father wished for him to pursue a career as a military engineer.
  • Dostoevsky’s father was allegedly murdered in 1839 by disgruntled peasants.
  • Dostoevsky achieved rapid success as a writer, with his first book, Poor Folks, receiving great praise from the famous Russian critic, Belinsky.
  • Dostoevsky was sentenced to death for his part in propagating illegal propaganda criticizing government policies, but at the last minute, the sentence was commuted to four years of imprisonment in Siberia.
  • In 1857, Dostoevsky got married to his first wife, Maria Dmitrievna Isaeva, a widow.
  • In 1867 Dostoevsky married Anna Snitkina, who had come to his home just a year earlier seeking employment as a stenographer. The couple goes abroad to live for the next four years
  • Dostoevsky died on January 28, 1881.

Interesting Facts

  • Dostoevsky left a promising career as a military engineer which his father steered him into for an uncertain future as a writer
  • Dostoevsky was subjected to a mock execution as part of his punishment for his role in promoting antigovernmental propaganda.
  • Dostoevsky suffered the tragedy of burying two of his children
  • Dostoevsky maintained an affair with a young writer named Polina while his wife Isaeva lay dying.

Famous Books by Fyodor Dostoevsky

The Idiot’ was first published serially in the journal The Russian Messenger in 1868–69. It is counted among Dostoevsky’s most meaningful works and explores his attempt to create a Christ-like character. Prince Mushkin is that character and Dostoevsky’s main aim was to observe how such a character would far in worldly Russian society. The book continues Dostoevsky’s offensive against radical ideas that had infiltrated Russian society like Nihilism.

Notes from Underground is a novella written in 1864 and considered to be among the world’s first existentialist literature. The inspiration behind works from the likes of Franz Kafta and Albert Camus, the book features an unnamed bitter and isolated underground man’s brutal put-down of contemporary radical ideas and popular wisdom, such as the naivety behind optimism for a communist utopia as championed by Russian ideologues for example. It is a masterpiece of considerable influence.

Crime and Punishment was published serially in 1866. Possibly Dostoevsky’s most popular book, it explores a destitute but proud students murder of an old pawnbroker in service of supposedly noble aims. With razor-sharp sociological insight and psychological depth, the book explores the many dimensions in which this student’s punishment comes about as well as his eventual redemption.

The Brothers Karamazov is Dostoevsky’s last novel, and possibly his best. Representing a culmination of his thoughts and ideas in their most mature and final form, Dostoevsky weaves a complex web of themes based around patricide, with four children at the center of the drama. It explores issues like passion, responsibility, the justice of God, suffering, nihilism, and many others. Dostoevsky spent nearly two years writing The Brothers Karamazov, which was published as a serial in The Russian Messenger from January 1879 to November 1880.

Early Life

Dostoevsky was born into a conservative and pious home on November 11 1821. His father was a Doctor who maintained his practice at the Mariinsky Hospital for the Poor in Moscow. By 1828 due to the reforms of Peter I the Great, Dostoevsky’s father managed to climb the social ladder to attain the status of a noble. He bought an estate in 1831 in the countryside, where the young Dostoevsky spent his summers. Dostoevsky was educated at home up until 1833 when he was sent off to boarding school. He would lose his mother in 1837, and then his father a couple of years to what has been considered to be murder by disgruntled peasants. Dostoevsky and his brother Mikhail were enrolled in the Academy of Military Engineers by their father who had chosen a career of a military engineer for his two children although they were instead inclined towards writing. Dostoevsky had been exposed to Romantic and Gothic fiction as a child and a student. With his father no longer there to force him into a career path he disliked, Dostoevsky resigned his commission as a military engineer not long after finishing his studies to focus on a career as a writer.

Literary Career

Dostoevsky began his literary career with a Russian translation of Honoré de Balzac’s novel “Eugénie Grandet.” He followed that up with the Novella, “Poor Folks”, published in 1846 to critical acclaim. He went on to publish a couple of other stories within the next few years, including “White Nights” and  “The Double” published in 1846.

These later works would be received less warmly, with critics growing tired of his preference for psychology over social issues. By 1847, Dostoevsky had become part of a group of intellectuals who were committed to toppling of the present political order through the instrument of illegal propaganda. Dostoevsky himself joined because of his disdain for the oppressive institution of serfdom.

By April 1849, Dostoevsky and other members of the group would be arrested and detained for eight months in prison. Afterward, they were subjected to a mock execution that left a deep and indelible imprint upon Dostoevsky.

They were sentenced to four years of imprisonment in Siberia, plus an indefinable period in forced military service. Dostoevsky returned to Russian society after 10 years and continued his literary career. His works from this period adopted a realistic style and abandoned the romanticism of his earlier works.

By 1862, his first novel outside prison, “Notes from the House of the Dead” was published. He published “Notes from Underground in 1864, “The Gambler” and “Crime and Punishment” in 1866, “The Idiot’‘ between 1868-69, “The Possessed” by 1872. Within this period and after, he maintained numerous journals through which he produced literary criticisms, responses to a political movement, his thoughts on politics as well as the publication of several short stories.

He wrote his last novel, “The Brothers Karamazov,”  between 1879-1880 and it is often considered his best work. Although Dostoevsky found literary acclaim during his time, for most of his otherwise successful career, he barely got enough income to sustain himself and his family, not to talk of his responsibilities to his extended family. His works reflected his opposition to the radical liberal ideas of his age, such as rational egoism, utilitarianism, socialism, and nihilism. After finishing “Brothers Karamazov“, Dostoevsky would die of a hemorrhage on the 28th of January 1881.


Dostoevsky is renowned today for the psychological and social depth of his works. His capacity to create complex multi-dimensional characters and accurately portray the depth of human motivations and emotions have won him great plaudits. Heavyweights in the field of psychology have claimed him as a pioneer, while Philosophers like Nietzsche have showered him with praise. Dostoevsky has a pioneering role in the development of Dystopian and Psychological fiction and the prison yard genres respectively.

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