No, I am not calling you an idiot. The Idiot was one of the novels that were written by arguably one of the most influential Russian writers of the 19th century. His name was Fyodor Dostoevsky and in this issue of Pub Convos, we explore this fascinating writer and his tumultuous life that led to works questioning morality and the socio-economic background of Russia at the time.
- Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky was born on 11th of November 1821. His father was a doctor at the Mariinsky Hospital for the Poor. Dostoevsky grew up in the grounds of the hospital.
- Dostoevsky’s first encounter with literature when fairy tales and sagas were read to him by his nanny at the age of 3. His love for literature was further fostered by his parents throughout his childhood as they introduced him to writers such as Pushkin, Goethe, Cervantes, and Scott.
- Dostoevsky was sent to a boarding school by his father but felt extremely out of place with his wealthy aristocratic classmates and was subsequently sent to a military engineering institute where he graduated and became a lieutenant engineer.
- Despite his training and profession, Dostoevsky had kept his profound interest in literature and would submerge himself in a literary world and came across as a recluse to many around him.
- Dostoevsky lived an extravagant lifestyle, travelling around western Europe and eventually developing a gambling addiction. He faced financial difficulties due to this and decided to write a novel. His first novel was titled Poor Folk and depicts the life of poor people and their interactions with wealthy folk.
- Dostoevsky then joined multiple groups that were calling for social reform in Russia and this landed him in trouble. He was accused of reading and distributing material that criticised the regime and was sentenced to death by firing squad.
- Ding ding ding, Dostoevsky was saved by the bell. Just before the firing squad were due to discharge their weapons, a letter from the Tsar commuted his death sentence and he was exiled to Siberia and forced to work in a prison camp. This near-death experience was later depicted in his novel The Idiot and introduced discussions on capital punishment.
- In 1857, Dostoevsky married his first wife Maria Isaeva while on forced military duty, however their marriage never amounted to anything and she died in 1864. The same year his brother died. This left him with more financial ruin as he had to support his stepson and his brother’s family, coupled with his ongoing gambling and failed magazine, Dostoevsky only managed to hang on with help from friends and relatives.
- In 1867, Dostoevsky married his second wife Anna Snitkina, a stenographer who helped him complete one of his works, The Gambler in 26 days. They left Russia and departed for Germany using money from his magnum opus Crime and Punishment and sale of Anna’s personal belongings. Their first child was born in 1868 but she died of pneumonia at infancy. Their second child was born in 1869 and this reportedly stopped Dostoevsky’s gambling addiction.
- Dostoevsky returned to Russia with his family 4 years later and continued to work on novels and other publications gaining popularity and positive reviews. He even got invited by Tsar Alexander II to present one of his works and educate his sons.
- Dostoevsky died in 1881 after a series of pulmonary haemorrhages and on his deathbed, he requested the parable of the Prodigal Son to be read to his children. He is buried in Tikhvin Cemetery in St Petersburg.
Dostoevsky lived an eventful life from his epilepsy to this near execution and exile. Dostoevsky channelled a lot of this into his writings and they can be seen when reading his novels. His most famous novel Crime and Punishment continues to be one of the most read novels in Russian literature worldwide. If you would like to delve into Russian literature why not start with Dostoevsky, I assure you that you will neither be met by crime or punishment when picking up one of his novels just questions on morality and the anguish that we find when confronting our daily actions.