Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881) was a Russian novelist, journalist, short-story writer whose psychological penetration into the human soul had a profound influence on the 20th century novel.
Dostoevsky was born in Moscow, as the second son of a former army doctor. He 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 probably of apoplexy but there were strong rumors that he was murdered by his own serfs. Dostoevsky graduated as a military engineer, but resigned in 1844 to devote himself to writing. His first novel, Poor Folk appeared in 1846. It was followed by The Double, which depicted a man who was haunted by a look-alike who eventually usurps his position.
In 1846 he joined a group of utopian socialists. He was arrested in 1849 and sentenced to death. The sentence was commuted to imprisonment in Siberia. Dostoevsky spent four years in hard labor and four years as a soldier in Semipalatinsk.
Dostoevsky returned to St. Petersburg in 1854 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, (1860) 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 a trip to Western Europe.
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 1864-65 his wife and brother died and he was burdened with debts, and his situation was made even worse by gambling. From the turmoil of the 1860s emerged Notes from the Underground, psychological study of an outsider, which marked a watershed in Dostoevsky’s artistic development. The novel starts with the confessions of a mentally ill narrator and continues with the promise of spiritual rebirth. It was followed by Crime and Punishment, (1866) an account of an individual’s fall and redemption, The Idiot, (1868) depicting a Christ-like figure, Prince Myshkin, and The Possessed, (1871) an exploration of philosophical nihilism.
In 1867 Dostoevsky married Anna Snitkin, his 22-year old stenographer, who seems to have understood her husband’s manias and rages. They traveled abroad and returned in 1871. By the time of The Brothers Karamazov, which appeared in 1879-80, Dostoevsky was recognized in his own country as one of its great writers.
An epileptic all his life, Dostoevsky died in St. Petersburg on February 9, 1881. He was buried in the Aleksandr Nevsky monastery, St. Petersburg.