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Dostoyevsky’s work has been translated into more than 150 languages, and his reputation as a literary genius is indisputable. In this lesson, you’ll learn more about the life and works of this prolific and insightful writer.

Not the Typical Novelist

Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novels and stories delve deep into the mysteries of the mind. Characters grapple with the most basic questions of existence, including what it means to be moral, what it means to love, and what it means to be human. His work was considered great in his own century and continues to fascinate readers and thinkers today.

Childhood and Early Works

On October 30, 1831, Fyodor Dostoyevsky was born in Moscow. He had six siblings, but he was closest to his brother, Mikhail.

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When he was 15, his mother died and his father sent him to preparatory school. He graduated as a lieutenant at St. Petersburg Academy of Military Engineers in 1843 but quickly retired to devote himself to writing.His first novel, Poor Folk, was met with enthusiasm from the St.

Petersburg literary scene of the time, and over the next couple of years, he published some of his well-known stories, including ‘White Nights’ and ‘The Double.’ During this period, he began associating with a group of utopian socialists known as the Petrashevsky Circle, which led to his arrest and a death sentence from Tsar Nicholas I.

Losses and Gains

Dostoyevsky was sentenced to death by firing squad, but at the last minute, Nicholas I commuted the sentence, and Dostoyevsky spent four years in prison in Siberia, and then five years in military service there. This brush with death and the years of imprisonment and hard work in terrible conditions had a lasting impact on Dostoyevsky. Before this, he had already shown an interest in difficult psychological questions in his short story, ‘The Double’, but his experiences in Siberia turned him into an even more introspective writer.Newly married during his exile, he stepped right back into the literary scene and back into close ties with his brother Mikhail. Together, they co-founded two literary journals, and Dostoyevsky published ‘Notes from the Underground’ and other stories there.

The death of his wife and his brother in a rapid succession took a toll on him, and he sunk into a gambling addiction. His story The Gambler was due to his publisher and he faced the possibility of losing his rights to his other works if he failed to meet his contractual deadline. He hired a stenographer, Anna Snitkina, and they finished the story on time, fell in love, and were married the next year.

Productivity ; Literary Greatness

Although he was recognized as one of Russia’s great writers even during his lifetime, Dostoyevsky continued to work paycheck to paycheck. He would give lectures, and then write through the night to deliver work on time to his publisher. His life was not easy; he faced the epileptic seizures that plagued him throughout his life, the death of two of his four children, and constant pressure from creditors. Despite illness and addiction, he wrote with insight and authenticity that was nearly unmatched in great writers the world over.Dostoyevsky published his first novel Poor Folk, and the short stories ‘White Nights’ and ‘The Double,’ before his arrest and imprisonment in Siberia. His work was well received, and when he returned from exile, he moved right back into literary esteem with the still famous story, ‘Notes from the Underground.

‘His best known novel, Crime and Punishment, was originally published as a serial, and his work on that book had to stop while he finished The Gambler for his publisher. The Idiot was published next, a novel with a main character who also suffered from epileptic fits. Next was his novel Demons, where a small town becomes the scene for an attempted revolution. The last novel he wrote was published as a serial in 1879, The Brothers Karamazov, and is considered by many to be his best work.

Lesson Summary

Dostoyevsky’s novels and short stories remain some of the most important literary achievements of all time.

Rather than keep him from writing, the difficulties he faced in his life inspired and added depth to his fiction. In his stories, characters struggle with the meaning of existence and the most basic questions of humanity. Dostoyevsky doesn’t try to answer unanswerable questions. Instead, he wonders with skill and honesty, in vivid scenes and honest dialogue, what it means to be human.


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