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Fyodor M. Dostoyevsky - Life and Work: a sketch

 

Dostoyevsky, born 1821 in Moscow, died 1881 in Petersburg, was the son of a doctor. After the death of his mother in 1837 he went to Petersburg to resume studies in engineering at the military academy. His father died in 1839 under unclear circumstances at his country estate. In 1844, Dostoyevsky decided to become a writer. His first novel, “Poor Folk”, was enthusiastically greeted by Vissarion Belinsky, the noted critic of his day. His second novel, “The Double” was less successful but anticipated the inner struggles of the later heroes of the great novels, to wit Raskolnikov,  Stavrogin, Versilov and Ivan Karamazov. In 1849, Dostoyevsky was arrested for participation in the liberal discussions of the Petrashevsky-Circle and sentenced to death by Tsar Nicholas I. After a mock execution, his sentence was commuted to four years imprisonment in Siberia, to be followed by military service in the Seventh Siberian Line Battalion in Semipalatinsk. In 1859, he was discharged from the army having petitioned Tsar Alexander II on the grounds of epilepsy. Return to literary life: The fictionalised prisoner’s account “The House of the Dead” (1862) is the report of a criminologist and missionary Christian, a type central to the five great novels written from 1866 onwards: “Crime and Punishment, “The Idiot”, “The Devils”, “The Raw Youth” and “The Brothers Karamazov”.  His story “Notes from the Underground”, (1864) which takes a polemic position against instrumental reason, represented by the Crystal Palace of London’s Great Exhibition, had its own reception history. In this journal “A Writer’s Diary”, (1873-1881) Dostoyevsky delivered ongoing commentary on current events. In the framework of the conflict between the “Slavophils” and the "Westerners”, Dostoyevsky stood on the side of the Slavophils. His fundamental criticism of Western Europe is given literary form in his travel journal “Winter Notes on Summer Impressions”. Dostoyevsky was twice married. First to Maria Isayeva (from 1857 onwards), who died in 1864, then to Anna Snitkina (from 1867 onwards), who survived him by many years and left her “Memoirs” and “Diary of the Year 1867” to posterity. His affair with Apollinaria Suslova (1861-1863) furnished Dostoyevsky with material for his short novel “The Gambler”.

Dostoyevsky is considered one of the world’s most influential novelists.

Horst-Jürgen Gerigk