Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Image:Dostoevsky 1872.jpg Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky (Фёдор Миха́йлович Достое́вский, sometimes transliterated Dostoyevsky Template:Audio) (Template:OldStyleDateTemplate:OldStyleDate) was one of the greatest of Russian writers, whose works have had a profound and lasting effect on twentieth-century fiction. Often featuring characters with disparate and extreme states of the mind, his works exhibit both an uncanny grasp of human psychology as well as penetrating analyses in the political, social and spiritual state of Russia of his time. Many of his best-known works are prophetic as precursors of modern-day thought and preoccupations. He is sometimes said to be a founder of existentialism, most notably in Notes from Underground, which has been described by Walter Kaufmann as "the best overture for existentialism ever written".



Fyodor was the second of seven children born to Mikhail and Maria Dostoevsky. Shortly after his mother died of tuberculosis in 1837, he and his brother Mikhail were sent to the Military Engineering Academy at St. Petersburg, and they lost their father, a retired military surgeon who served as a doctor at the Mariinsky Hospital for the Poor in Moscow, in 1839. While not known for certain, it is believed that Mikhail Dostoevsky was murdered by his own serfs, who reportedly became enraged during one of Mikhail's drunken fits of violence, restrained him, and poured vodka into his mouth until he drowned. Another story was that Mikhail died of natural causes, and a neighboring landowner invented this story of a peasant rebellion so he could buy the estate inexpensively.

Dostoevsky was sent to the St. Petersburg Academy of Military Engineering and since he was not very good at mathematics, a subject he despised, he did not do very well. Instead, he focused on literature. His literary idol was Honore de Balzac and in 1843 even translated one of Balzac's greatest works, Eugenie Grandet, into Russian. Dostoevsky started to write his own fiction around this time and in 1846, his first work, the epistolary short novel, Poor Folk, was met with great acclaim especially by the liberal critic Vissarion Belinsky with his famous exclamation, "A new Gogol has arisen!"

Dostoevsky was arrested and imprisoned on April 23rd of 1849 for engaging in revolutionary activity against Tsar Nikolai I. On November 16 that year he was sentenced to death for anti-government activities linked to a liberal intellectual group, the Petrashevsky Circle. After a mock execution in which he was blindfolded and ordered to stand outside in freezing weather waiting to be shot by a firing squad, Dostoevsky's sentence was commuted to a number of years of exile performing hard labor at a katorga prison camp in Omsk, Siberia. The incidence of epileptic seizures, to which he was predisposed, increased during this period. He was released from prison in 1854, and was required to serve in the Siberian Regiment. Dostoevsky spent the following five years as a corporal (and latterly lieutenant) in the Regiment's Seventh Line Battalion stationed at the fortress of Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan.

This was a turning point in the author's life. Dostoevsky abandoned his earlier ideals and became deeply conservative and extremely religious. He later formed a peculiar friendship with the conservative statesman Konstantin Pobedonostsev. He began an affair with, and later married, Maria Dmitrievna Isaeva, the widow of an acquaintance in Siberia.

In 1860, he returned to St. Petersburg, where he ran a series of unsuccessful literary journals with his older brother Mikhail. Dostoevsky was devastated by his wife's death in 1864, followed shortly thereafter by his brother's death. He was financially crippled by business debts and the need to provide for his brother's widow and children. Dostoevsky sank into a deep depression, frequenting gambling parlors and accumulating massive losses at the tables.

Dostoevsky suffered from an acute gambling compulsion as well as from its consequences. By one account Crime and Punishment, possibly his best known novel, was completed in a mad hurry because Dostoevsky was in urgent need of an advance from his publisher. He had been left practically penniless after a gambling spree. Dostoevsky 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 writing.

Motivated by the dual wish to escape his creditors at home and to visit the casinos abroad, Dostoevsky traveled to Western Europe. There, he attempted to rekindle a love affair with Apollinaria (Polina) Suslova, a young university student with whom he had had an affair several years prior, but she refused his marriage proposal. Dostoevsky was heartbroken, but soon met Anna Grigorevna, a twenty-year-old stenographer whom he married in 1867. This period resulted in the writing of his greatest books. From 1873 to 1881 he vindicated his earlier journalistic failures by publishing a monthly journal full of short stories, sketches, and articles on current events — the Writer's Diary. The journal was an enormous success. Dostoevsky is also known to have influenced and been influenced by famous Russian Philosopher Vladimir Sergeyevich Solovyov. Some state Solovyov was the prototype of the character Alyosha Karamazov.

In 1877 Dostoevsky gave the keynote eulogy at the funeral of his friend, the poet Nekrasov, to much controversy. In 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 Dostoevsky lived for a long time at the resort of Staraya Russa which was closer to St Petersburg and less expensive than German resorts. He died on January 28 (O.S.), 1881 of a lung hemorrhage associated with emphysema and an epileptic seizure and was interred in Tikhvin Cemetery at the Alexander Nevsky Monastery, St. Petersburg, Russia. Forty thousand mourning Russians attended his funeral. Template:Rf

Works and influence


Dostoevsky's influence cannot be overemphasized—from Herman Hesse to Marcel Proust, William Faulkner, Albert Camus, Ayn Rand, Franz Kafka, Friedrich Nietzsche, Henry Miller, Yukio Mishima, Gabriel García Márquez and Joseph Heller—virtually no great twentieth century writer escaped his long shadow (rare dissenting voices include Vladimir Nabokov, Henry James, Joseph Conrad and, more ambiguously, D.H. Lawrence). American novelist Ernest Hemingway also cited Dostoevsky in his autobiographic books, as a major influence on his work. Essentially a writer of myth (and in this respect sometimes compared to Herman Melville), Dostoevsky has created an opus of immense vitality and almost hypnotic power characterized by the following traits: feverishly dramatized scenes (conclaves) where his characters are, frequently in scandalous and explosive atmosphere, passionately engaged in Socratic dialogues à la Russe; the quest for God, the problem of Evil and suffering of the innocents haunt the majority of his novels; characters fall into a few distinct categories: humble and self-effacing Christians (prince Myshkin, Sonya Marmeladova, Alyosha Karamazov), self-destructive nihilists (Svidrigailov, Smerdyakov, Stavrogin, the underground man), cynical debauchers (Fyodor Karamazov), rebellious intellectuals (Raskolnikov, Ivan Karamazov); also, his characters are driven by ideas rather than by ordinary biological or social imperatives.

Dostoevsky's novels are compressed in time (many cover only a few days) and this enables the author 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 obsessive themes include suicide, wounded pride, collapsed family values, spiritual regeneration through suffering (the most important motif), rejection of the West and affirmation of Russian Orthodoxy and Tsarism. Literary scholars such as Bakhtin have characterized his work as 'polyphonic': unlike other novelists, Dostoevsky does not appear to aim for a 'single vision', and beyond simply describing situations from various angles, Dostoevsky engendered fully dramatic novels of ideas where conflicting views and characters are left to develop unevenly into unbearable crescendo.

By common critical consensus one among the handful of universal world authors, along with Dante, Shakespeare, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Miguel de Cervantes, Victor Hugo and a few others, Dostoevsky has decisively influenced twentieth century literature, existentialism and expressionism in particular.


Template:Ent Dostoevsky,Fyodor; Introduction- The Idiot, Wordsworth Ed. Ltd, 1996.

Major works

Short stories


  • Interestingly, Fyodor Dostoevsky and the other giant of 19th Century Russian literature, Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, never met in person, even though each praised and influenced the other. There was, however, a meeting arranged, but there was a confusion about where the meeting place was and they never rescheduled. Tolstoy reportedly burst into tears when he learnt of Dostoevsky's death. In their time, the two were considered by the Russian critics and public as the greatest novelists produced by their homeland.

Cultural references

  • The rock band British Sea Power directly references Dostoevsky in the song "Apologies to Insect Life", which is loosely based on Notes from Underground.
  • The single, "This is just a Modern Rock Song" by Scottish band Belle and Sebastian contains the lines "I'm not as sad as Dostoevsky/I'm not as clever as Mark Twain".
  • The band Protest the Hero has stated that Dostoevesky was the main influence for their concept album Kezia. They have also written and performed a song entitled "I am Dimitri Karamazov and the World Is My Father" on their EP A Calculated Use of Sound.
  • Brian Griffin reads Crime and Punishment in an episode of Family Guy.
  • Sam Weir reads Crime and Punishment in the episode "Tricks and Treats" on the TV show Freaks and Geeks.
  • The Machinist also seems to be influenced by Dostovsky's The Double, in that the main character of the story is both the antagonist and the protagonist. The DVD commentary for The Machinist names The Double as a source of inspiration. The main character in The Machinist is also depicted at one point reading Dostoevsky's The Idiot.
  • In the British television series The Office, season 1 episode 3, David Brent attempts to boost his ego by displaying a knowledge of Dostoevsky's life and works.
  • In Woody Allen's feature film Match Point, the lead character is depicted reading Dostoevsky and often discusses him.
  • Indie band Kind of Like Spitting recorded the song "Dostoyevsky Gets Mugged Outside a Donut Shop in Jersey" for their album Old Moon in the Arms of the New.
  • American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis begins with a quote from Notes from Underground.
  • In The X-Files episode "Talitha Cumi," much of the dialogue between the Cigarette Smoking Man and Jeremiah Smith is based on passages from The Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov. This episode also mentions Dostoevsky Syndrome.
  • The British post-punk band Magazine references Dostoyevsky in "Philadelphia" and "Song from Under the Floorboards" on their album The Correct Use of Soap.
  • Nietzsche said of Jesus: "it is regrettable that no Dostoevsky lived near him." He also stated "Dostoevsky was the only psychologist from whom I had anything to learn: he belongs to the happiest windfalls of my life, happier even than the discovery of Stendhal". He said that Notes from the Underground "cried truth from the blood".
  • Martin Scorsese drew from Dostoevsky's body of work in specifically Crime and Punishment and Notes from the Underground to create the movie Taxi Driver. [1]
  • In Woody Allen's comedy Love and Death, Allen and friend casually use the titles of each major Dostoevsky novel to discuss the local news.
  • In episode 39 of the tv show Lost Locke hands the prisoner Brothers Karamazov for reading and says that Hemingway lived in his shadow.
  • In the British claymation Wallace and Gromit short A Close Shave the silent canine Gromit reads Crime and Punishment by Fido Dogstoevsky while he is in prison for rustling sheep.
  • Technical metal band Ion Dissonance allude to Crime and Punishment in their song "Lecturing Raskolnikov (Or How to Properly Stab an Old Widow)"
  • In Kerouac's On the Road, Dostoyevsky is mentioned several times.
  • In the film The Pianist by Roman Polanski, Dostoevsky's The Idiot is quoted as being the only book sold by Henryk Szpilman one day on his stall in the Warsaw Ghetto.
  • In the film Balto, Boris says to Muk and Luk, "Between you and Balto it's like Dostoevsky novel around here."
  • In the film Con Air, John Cusack remarks, "The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by observing its prisoners" and declares, "Dostoevsky said that after doing a little time."

See also

External links and references

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