Life of Dostoevsky

Painting by Vasily Perov - “Portrait of Dostoevsky”

Life of Dostoevsky – Bibliography, Books and Philosophy

When analyzing the great figures of 19th century literature, Fyodor Dostoevsky will inevitably end up on the list. Over the course of his life, Dostoevsky produced many novels whose names resonate with the general public, even if they haven’t read them. Works such as Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, and The Brothers Karamazov earned him great contemporary acclaim and had a significant influence on the development of not only Russian literature, but European and American literature as a whole.

Fyodor Dostoevsky helped to pioneer a new style of literature, one that focused not on lofty, cerebral subjects but one that depicted the ignominy and grind of daily life. It is for this reason that his works have stood the test of time and have served as an inspiration for many Russian and non-Russian writers.

The Life of Fyodor Dostoevsky

Fyodor Dostoevsky was born on November 11, 1821 in Moscow, the son of a doctor. Introduced to literature at a young age by his parents, his mother died of tuberculosis in 1837, after which he was sent to a military academy in St. Petersburg. Following the death of his father in 1839, he is believed to have developed epilepsy, a condition that had a significant impact on his writing and health.

Dostoevsky published his first novel, Poor Folk, in 1846, bringing him immediate acclaim among Russian literary circles, allowing him to resign his military job and devote himself to writing. His second novel, The Double, was also published in 1846, but was less well received. Around this time, Dostoevsky joined the Petrashevsky Circle, a group of liberal, reform-minded Russian writers, which helped bring him further fame and fortune.

Painting by Vasily Perov - “Portrait of Dostoevsky”
Painting by Vasily Perov – “Portrait of Dostoevsky”

In 1849, Dostoevsky and the other members of the Petrashevsky Circle were arrested under suspicion of engaging in revolutionary activities. The Revolutions of 1848 were still fresh in everyone’s minds, and the Czar feared another liberal uprising. Initially sentenced to death, their sentences were commuted by the Czar, and Dostoevsky ultimately served four years of hard labor in Siberia. He would later write about his experiences in the 1861 novel The House of the Dead.

The 1860’s would see the release of three of Dostoevsky’s most celebrated works: Notes from Underground in 1864, Crime and Punishment in 1866, and The Idiot in 1869. Perhaps the most famous of the three, Crime and Punishment focused on the life of a Russian man who murders a pawnbroker under the belief that he can use her money to accomplish good deeds. The novel’s exploration of morality and mid-century Russian life reflects Dostoevsky’s experiences and Christian religious beliefs.

During this period of his life, Dostoevsky spent much time in Western Europe due to political and financial considerations. He was deeply in debt due to gambling losses and the failure of a magazine he had launched with his brother Mikhail, who died in 1864. During this period, he also saw his first marriage fail, though he would later remarry.

In the 1870’s, Dostoevsky continued to face severe financial problems, though his artistic output continued with novels such as Demons and The Adolescent. His final novel, The Brothers Karamazov, was published in 1880 and is regarded as one of his best works, returning to themes he explored in Crime and Punishment and Notes from Underground. Dostoevsky died in 1881 at the age of 59 after a series of pulmonary hemorrhages, less then four months after The Brothers Karamazov was published.

Fyodor Dostoevsky Quotes
Fyodor Dostoevsky Quotes

Dostoevsky’s works are defined by their intertwining of Christian morality with observations on the chaos of contemporary Russia. His emphasis on Christian themes increased following his release from prison. Heavy influences on his essay writing included the Bible, the gothic fiction of Ann Radcliffe, and other Russian and non-Russian writers such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Alexander Pushkin. Works such as Crime and Punishment and Notes from Underground, depicting protagonists on the edge of society, served as a major influence on later European and American writers such as Knut Hamsun, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Jack Kerouac, and many more.


While Fyodor Dostoevsky’s life was relatively short, his influence on world literature is unmistakable. His unique combination of Christian morality, naturalism, and romanticism helped define the character of Russian literature that came after him. In addition to this, his realistic protagonists and deft philosophizing served as an inspiration for many non-Russian writers, and his influence can be felt today in the works of contemporary novelists such as Michel Houellebecq. Dostoevsky’s influence will no doubt continue to be felt in the years to come.

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