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Thursday, 30 October 2014

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The second of seven children in Moscow, Fydor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881) was born at the Mariinsky Hospital for the Poor in Moscow on November 11, 1881 where his father was an army doctor.

 Portrait of Dostoyevsky by Vasily Perov, 1872  Google Art Project {{PD-US}} 
Fyodor's cruel and despotic father, Mikhail, was a military surgeon in a Moscow hospital and also a musician.

Fyodor's mother, Maris. died of an illness in 1837 and his father two years later. Mikhail Dostoevsky was murdered by his own serfs, who reportedly became enraged during one of his drunken fits of violence, restrained him, and poured vodka into his mouth until he drowned.

Fyodor and his brother Mikhail were sent to the Military Engineering Academy at St. Petersburg Technical studies bored Fyodor and on graduation in 1843 (as a lieutenant) he decided to become a writer.

Dostoyevsky's first published work was a 1844 translation of Balzak's Eugene Grandet.

Dostoyevsky's first novel 1846's Poor Folk made him famous overnight. It was a short story about the life of a humble government clerk who loved amongst oppressed folk.

In 1848 Dostoyevsky joined a group of young intellectuals who read and debated French socialist theories and other forbidden circulated texts from the west. The Liberal Petrashevsky Circle also voiced their opposition to serfdom and censorship.

Dostoyevsky was arrested with 33 others on April 1, 1849 as a Social Revolutionary, after a police informer had slipped into his socialist discussion groups. Originally he was sentenced to be executed on December 22, 1849. At the stake in front of the squad he was told his sentence was a joke and he was to be sent to Siberia for four years instead.  Dostoyevsky was incarcerated at a penal settlement where they were packed in "like herrings in a barrel".

A sketch of the Petrashevsky Circle mock execution

As a child Dostoyevsky had suffered from slight epilepsy but it worsened during his time in prison. There his jumbled nerves gave him epilepsy so severe that his seizures would hurl him howling to the ground foaming at the mouth. Frequently he ended up in the prison hospital tormented by agonizing rheumatism as well as the epilepsy.

In 1853  Dostoyevsky was exiled to a Siberian military camp. He spent five years as a corporal (and latterly lieutenant) in the Regiment's Seventh Line Battalion stationed at the fortress of Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan. Dostoyevsky was pardoned in 1859.

In his 1861 book Memoirs of the House of Dead Dostoyevsky described his time in prison humorously. It revealed how he changed his outlook to a more spiritual one.

Dostoyevsky's experience in Siberia, closeted with murderers and other hardened criminals, where the New Testament was the only book he possessed, made him realize people can only become redeemed after a change inside. He consequently threw out his Western influenced atheistic socialist beliefs and became a novelist with a religious mission and a lover of the Russian Orthodox Church.

In 1860 Dostoyevsky founded the journal Time with his brother Mikhail. It serialised several of his works.

When Time was suppressed in 1864 because of a supposedly subversive article, the brothers started The Epoch, another short-lived review.

In 1857 Dostoyevsky met and married a consumptive young widow named Marie Isaeva with a young son. They returned to St Petersburg together but Dostoyevsky’s epilepsy and general slovenliness repulsed Marie.

In 1862 Dostoyevsky travelled to England, France, Germany and Italy. It was his first trip abroad, fulfilling a long-held ambition. His feelings about the trip recorded in the essay Winter Notes on Summer Impressions (1863), emphasized the soullessness of Western European culture.

To escape creditors in Saint Petersburg, Dostoevsky made a second trip to Western Europe. in 1863 There, he attempted to rekindle a love affair with Polina Suslova, a young university student with whom he had had an affair several years prior, but she refused his marriage proposal.

In 1864 Marie died of tuberculosis. They'd been separated for several years,

By the middle of 1864 Dostoyevsky was losing heavily at gambling and Epoch had been closed by the authorities. He sold all the rights of present and future writings to his publisher, Stellovsky and set off for Wiesbaden with his "can't lose" system for winning at roulette. He lost everything.

Dostoyevsky started his novel about a law student haunted by a murder, Crime and Punishment, in a hotel room at Wiesbaden. It was originally serialised in the Russian Herald.

Dostoyevsky's unscrupulous publisher Stellovsky would obtain copyrights to all his past work if he did not produce a new novel by a certain date. He started working on The Gambler, inspired by his own gambling experiences but suffered from writer’s block and procrastinated until three weeks before the deadline.

Dostoyevsky hired a nineteen-year-old stenographer Anna Grigorieva Snitkina (1846-1918) to write out The Gambler as he dictated it. She wrote down every word, worked through the night, then went home to copy it out and returned with an edited manuscript the next day. The Gambler was delivered two hours before the deadline.

Dostoyevsky married Anna on February 15, 1867 in Trinity Cathedral, Saint Petersburg.

The 7,000 rubles Dostoyevsky had earned from Crime and Punishment did not cover their debts, forcing Anna to sell her valuables. On April 14, 1867 they began a delayed honeymoon in Western Europe with the money gained from the sale.

Their honeymoon lasted for four years. They lived in Geneva for a time, then Florence, Vienna, Prague and finally Dresden. Originally it was supposed to last only a few short months, but the trip continued until 1871 after Dostoevsky gambled away most of the couples' money and possessions.

Anna is credited with making her husband's life more serene by relieving him of the day to day chores. She felt no physical attraction to Dostoyevsky who was 25 years her senior and an unkempt widower, with a weakness for alcohol and gambling however their marriage was happy and fulfilling.

Anna Grigoryevna Snitkina-Dostoevskaya's portrait (1846-1918), spouse of the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Anna on her husband: "It seems to me that he has never loved that he has only imagined that he has loved, that there has been no real love on his part. I even think that he is incapable of love."

When Dostoyevsky was writing his novel The Devils in 1872, he returned secretly to St Petersburg in order to retrieve the papers of his murdered stepson Pavel. Pavel had been a member of the anarchist group, Nechaev Gang, and elements of this were included in the book.

In 1880 Dostoyevsky wrote The Brothers Karamazov, a religious novel, which is about how the death of a dominating father affects his sons and their differing responses to their ensuring guilt.

During his later years,  Dostoyevsky lived much of the time at the resort of Staraya Russa which was closer to St Petersburg and less expensive than German resorts.

Dostoyevsky was terrified of being buried alive, presumed dead and would often leave a note to his hosts to double check he was dead before burying him when away from home.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky died for proper of a lung hemorrhage in Saint Petersburg on February 9, 1881. His last words were a quotation of Matthew 3:14–15: "But John forbade him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness", He then said: "Hear now—permit it. Do not restrain me!"

Dostoyevsky was buried in Alexander Nevsky Monastery Graveyard, St. Petersburg.

Constance Garnett made the first major English translation of Dostoyevsky’s novels between 1912 and 1920.

Sources Enarta Encyclopedia,, Soul Survivor by Philip Yancey

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