Fyodor Dostoevsky Facts 📝

Fyodor Dostoevsky is a great writer that lived an equally interesting life. Take a look at some of the most interesting facts about him.

Fyodor Dostoevsky

Russian Novelist, (1821 - 1881)

By all accounts, Fyodor Dostoevsky lived an interesting life. He survived a mock execution, endured years in prison, served as a military officer, and became one of the greatest writers the world has ever seen. An adventurous man, Dostoevsky lived life precariously at times.

Fyodor Dostoevsky Facts 📝 1

He had a severe Gambling addiction

Fyodor Dostoevsky was known for his incessant gambling. His first taste of gambling came around as early as 1844 when he lost the over 1,000 roubles he inherited from his father’s estate at the tables. During the time of his military service in Siberia, he would watch the soldiers gamble with great interest but did not participate simply because he did not have enough money then. 

While living in Semipalatinsk in 1859, he came across an article, ‘From the Notes of a Gambler‘, contained within an edition of the ‘Russian Herald’, that gave detailed descriptions of how to gamble effectively. Dostoevsky would use the techniques contained in this book in his numerous gambling sprees during his time abroad. On Dostoevsky’s first trip abroad in 1862, he gambled at the Casino in Wiesbaden, where he won around 11,000 francs. 

The next summer on his way to meeting his mistress in Paris, he stopped at Wiesbaden to gamble again, and this time won around 10,400 francs. Unable to restrain himself, he continued gambling until he lost half of his winnings. In a letter to his brother about the incident, Dostoevsky credited his employment of a certain unidentified strategy as the reason for his winnings, and the subsequent abandonment of the strategy as the reason for his losses. 

He transferred part of the remainder of the remaining money to his brother and wife at home and continued onwards to Paris to see his mistress. When he returned, he subsequently lost the remaining money to gambling and had to write to his wife to send him money for the fare back home to Russia from the money he had initially transferred to her. 

Dostoevsky’s gambling sprees always continued whenever he traveled out of Russia, and he often had to pawn both his and his wife’s valuable items to finance his gambling. Being riddled with debts, Dostoevsky was unable to keep away from the gambling houses, which he saw as a way out of his financial troubles. Also, Dostoevsky saw gambling as a welcome distraction whenever he got exhausted from prolonged periods of creative exertions. 

When in 1871 he got depressed while writing ‘The Devils’, his wife Anna decided to allow him to risk about half their savings on Roulette as a way to keep him reenergized. Dostoevsky would go on to lose all the money, but the incident marked the end of his chronic gambling. With the improved financial and familial situation caused by his permanent return to Russia, Dostoevsky’s gambling issues soon evaporated. 

He suffered from extremely poor health for most of his life

Fyodor Dostoevsky might have produced great literary works and had a prolific career, but he managed to do all these despite suffering from a variety of debilitating health conditions over his lifetime. As early as 1843, Dostoevsky was suffering from chronic cough and hoarseness due to swollen submaxillary glands and routinely refused treatment or ceased to smoke the tobacco that his then-roommate who was a medical doctor, Aleksandr Rizenkampf, believed exacerbated the symptoms. Rizenkampf also noticed other issues like frequent Insomnia and nervousness. 

By May 1846, Dostoevsky was also complaining of high blood pressure and irregular heartbeat and general irritation of the nervous system. Not long after receiving treatment for this, Dostoevsky also began complaining of fits of dizziness and fainting spells, which experts now understand to be the onset of a regular and debilitating struggle with epilepsy. 

These fainting episodes and general excitement of the nervous system would escalate into full-blown seizures over time.  Dostoevsky’s first confirmed epileptic fit occurred while he was still in prison in 1850. Dostoevsky suffered epileptic seizures at least once every three months while serving his exile in Semipalatinsk. He usually described his episodes as being preceded by a euphoric feeling, although the episodes usually left him unable to work for several days. He would continue to suffer the fits for the rest of his life, suffering an average of one fit at least every three weeks by his own calculations.

The regularity of the fits would reduce during the last five years of his life, but they’ll be replaced by pulmonary problems, eventually diagnosed as emphysema. Although he sought remedies for this ailment through visits to Spas in Germany at different periods, a pulmonary hemorrhage possibly exacerbated by his tuberculosis would eventually lead to his death.

He had financial problems for much of his life

Although a renowned writer who wrote successful books, Dostoevsky often had financial troubles for much of his adult life. Some of Dostoevsky’s earliest letters contained urgent pleas to his father for money. During the 1830s and 1840s, Dostoevsky was routinely the victim of theft from his orderly who allegedly maintained his family and friends from the money he stole from Dostoevsky, while Dostoevsky himself lived in constant need. 

During his mature years, Dostoevsky and his wife were burdened with debts, which were made worse when he had to assume the debts his brother Mikhail accrued after he died. Dostoevsky was also responsible for the upkeep of his brother’s family, and this put a strain on an already precarious financial situation. As a result, Dostoevsky often found himself depending quite literally on the meager income from his books

A constant frustration of his was the fact that he made far less than contemporary writers like Turgenev, despite not being that much worse as a writer. He often sought advance payment from his publishers for books he had been commissioned to write and was always in a hurry to complete books, so he could get an advance payment on another he was to begin. Because he was often in a hurry to complete his books, the quality of his writing suffered as a result.  

He kept a mistress while married to his first wife

Dostoevsky might be associated with conservative values, but he was certainly not above keeping a mistress while being married to his first wife. Dostoevsky was engaged in a tempestuous and inconsistent relationship with a young student named Suslova Apollinaria (Polina) Prokofievna. Although there was a significant difference in their ages when they met, with Dostoevsky 40 and Polina 22, Polina was reportedly attracted to Dostoevsky’s then liberal ideas for which he had just returned from prison. 

Dostoevsky on his part was likely attracted to her beauty and sensuality, as he considered her a much-needed escape from worries over his mounting debts, his failing journal, and the torments of his dying wife. Their affair however was often a rocky one. Once, when Dostoevsky was late to meet her for their planned rendezvous in Paris in the summer of 1863, she told him cruelly that she had taken another lover in his absence and indicated her relationship with Dostoevsky was over.

However, within a week she had quarreled with her new lover and made up with Dostoevsky, although their new relationship lacked intensity and satisfaction for Dostoevsky, who became tortured by Polina’s evasiveness. Although still in love with Polina, Dostoevsky saw the relationship gradually die off with time as he returned to Russia to focus on his dying wife and disarranged affairs. 

He almost lost the rights of all his works to a ruthless publisher

Dostoevsky once gambled the rights of all his past and future works on the bet that he would complete a new novel within 30 days. By 1866, Dostoevsky was considerably indebted to the publisher, Stellovski, and as a means to pay his debts, he bet that he would complete a new novel in 30 days. If he could not accomplish this, the rights to all his past and future works would go to Stellovski.

At around this time, Dostoevsky was also preoccupied with writing Crime and Punishment, so he devoted little time at first to the new work which was to be called ‘The Gambler’. However, with the deadline drawing close, Dostoevsky had to resort to dictating the work to his stenographer and would-be wife, Anna Grigorievna Snitkina, to hasten the pace. With her help, Dostoevsky was able to complete the work just a few hours before the deadline. However, Stellovski had made himself unavailable to be submitted to in the hopes that Dostoevsky would not be able to submit the work and win the bet. But upon Anna’s advice, Dostoyevsky registered the manuscript at the police station and obtained a receipt.


What was Fyodor Dostoevsky addicted to?

Fyodor Dostoevsky was severely addicted to gambling for long periods of his life. This brought financial ruin to him and increased his depression.

What makes Fyodor Dostoevsky a genius?

Fyodor Dostoevsky’s ability to explore the psychological state of the mind in relation to moral questions is unmatched. His characters appear quite realistic because he is able to demonstrate their motivations and passions on a great psychological and sociological level.

Who did Fyodor Dostoevsky admire?

Fyodor Dostoevsky held in the greatest regard the likes of William Shakespeare, Homer, Alexander Pushkin, and Nikolai Gogol, among others.

Israel Njoku
About Israel Njoku
Israel has a Bachelor's degree in Mass Communication. He loves entertainment, pop-culture and the arts and tries to extract themes with wider reaching implications from them through rigorous analysis.
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