Feodor Dostoievski

Dostoievski

Dostoyevsky’s literary works explore human psychology in the troubled political, social, and spiritual atmosphere of 19th century Russia, and engage with a variety of philosophical and religious themes.

Feodor was the second child out of seven of Michael and Maria Dostoievski. Immediately after his mother died of tuberculosis in 1837, he and his brother, Michael were sent to the Military Technical Academy in Sankt Petersburg. Their father, a retired military surgeon who worked at the poor people Hospital Mariinski (Saint Mary) in Moscow, died in 1839. Although not certain, it seems that he was killed by a servant who poured vodka down his throat to suffocate him. Whatever really happened, Sigmund Freud was curious about this episode and he even wrote an article “Dostoievski and the parricide” in 1928. Dostoievski was arrested and imprisoned in 1849 for anti-state activities against Tsar Nicholas I. On 16 November of that year, he was sentenced to death for links with a group of intellectual liberals from the Petrashevski Circle.

Together with other detainees, he was transported to the square where the executions took place and was passed through the whole procedure of announcing the death sentence by shooting. After four years spent in “katorga”, followed by other five years of compulsory military service, Feodor Dostoievski returned to Petersburg where he resumed his literary work. By the time of his arrest, he had been placed in the shadow of Gogol by the critics.

In 1860, he returned to Sankt Petersburg, where he started publishing a number of literary newspapers with his older brother, Michael, but without any great success. In 1864, his wife died, an event that left him severely affected. Soon, he lost his brother, who was very dear to him. As Dostoievski had no financial savings and all his endeavors hadn’t foresee any source of income, the writer fell into an accentuated depression accentuated and started to gamble, a habit from which he accumulated huge debts.

He suffered a lot from the passion of the game and from its effects. It seems that the novel “Crime and Punishment”, the writer’s best known novel, was completed in a hurry in order to give it for publication, which would have brought a cash advance from the publisher. Dostoievski wrote the novel at the same time as he wrote “The Gambler” to satisfy the pretensions of his publisher, Stellovski which according to the contract, unless he got a new opera, he would have acquired the copyright for all of Dostoievski’s works.

Dostoievski married Anna Snitkina in 1867, a woman of only 20 years old, a professional stenographer. In this period, he wrote his most important works. From 1873 to 1881, Feodor managed to avenge his journalistic failures and edited a monthly newspaper called “A Writer’s Diary”, containing stories, drawings and articles about current events. The newspaper was a phenomenal success.

The influence of Dostoievski was huge, practically there is no important novelist in the 20th century, from Herman Hesse to Marcel Proust, William Faulkner, Albert Camus, Franz Kafka, Henry Miller, Yukio Mishima, Gabriel García Márquez, Vladimir Nabokov, Henry James, Joseph Conrad and D.H. Lawrence, upon which Dostoievski hadn’t exercise his influence. American novelist Ernest Hemingway quoted Dostoievski as a source of major influence in his autobiography.

Dostoievski’s novels are compressed in time (the action takes only a few days) and this process helped the author to get rid of one of the important characteristics of realistic prose, the corrosion of human life in time. His characters are in fact translations of spiritual ideas and thus, are out of this plea of time, they are timeless. Other themes that obsessively recure are: suicide, wounded pride, the collapse of family values, spiritual regeneration by means of suffering (most important motive), rejection of the Western culture and affirmation of the Tsarist Russian Orthodoxy values. Russian literary critics like Mikhail Bakhtin have characterized his work as “polyphonic”: unlike other novelists, Dostoievski was not interested in a “single vision”, but he rather represented the situations as a suite of angles of very different forms. This is the reason why his novels are extremely dramatic, they are novels of ideas where conflicting views and characters often develop in an unbearable crescendo.

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