-Dostoyevsky was born in Moscow, the second of seven children born to Mikhail and Maria Dostoyevsky.
-Dostoyevsky's father Mikhail was a retired military surgeon and a violent alcoholic, who had practiced at the Mariinsky Hospital for the Poor in Moscow. The family lived in a small apartment in the hospital grounds, and it wasn't until he was 16 years old, that Dostoyevsky moved to St Petersburg to attend a military academy.
-The hospital was located in one of the city's worst areas; local landmarks included a cemetery for criminals, a lunatic asylum, and an orphanage for abandoned infants.
-This urban landscape made a lasting impression on the young Dostoyevsky, whose interest in and compassion for the poor, oppressed and tormented was apparent in his life and works. Although it was forbidden by his parents, Dostoyevsky liked to wander out to the hospital garden, where the patients sat to catch a glimpse of the sun. The young Dostoyevsky loved to spend time with these patients and listen to their stories
-At the Saint Petersburg Institute of Military Engineering Dostoyevsky was taught mathematics, a subject he despised. However, he also studied literature by Shakespeare, Pascal, Victor Hugo and E.T.A. Hoffmann. Though he focused on areas different from mathematics, he did well in the exams and received a commission in 1841. That year, influenced by the German poet/playwright Friedrich Schiller, he wrote two romantic plays: Mary Stuart and Boris Godunov. The plays have not been preserved.
-Dostoyevsky described himself as a "dreamer" when he was a young man. He also revered Schiller at that age. However, in the years during which he wrote his great masterpieces, his opinions changed and he sometimes made fun of Schiller
-In his writings, Dostoyevsky started to extol the virtues of humility, submission, and suffering.
He now displayed a much more critical stance on contemporary European philosophy and turned with intellectual rigour against the Nihilist and Socialist movements; and much of his post-prison work—particularly the novel, The Possessed, and the essays, The Diary of a Writer—contains both criticism of socialist and nihilist ideas, as well as thinly veiled parodies of contemporary Western-influenced Russian intellectuals (Timofey Granovskiy), revolutionaries (Sergey Nyechayev), and even fellow novelists (Ivan Turgyenyev).
-In social circles, Dostoyevsky allied himself with well-known conservatives, such as the statesman Konstantin Pobyedonostsyev. His post-prison essays praised the tenets of the Pochvyennichyestvo movement, a late-19th century Russian nativist ideology closely aligned with Slavophilism.
-Dostoyevsky's post-prison fiction abandoned the West-European-style domestic melodramas and quaint character studies of his youthful work in favor of dark, more complex story-lines and situations, played-out by brooding, tortured characters—often styled partly on Dostoyevsky himself—who agonized over existential themes of spiritual torment, religious awakening, and the psychological confusion caused by the conflict between traditional Russian culture and the influx of modern, Western philosophy.
- However, Dostoyevsky's major novels focused on the idea that utopia and positivist ideas were unrealistic and unobtainable.
-Dostoyevsky was devastated by his wife's death in 1864, which was followed shortly thereafter by his brother's death.
-He was financially crippled by business debts; furthermore, he decided to assume the responsibility of his deceased brother's outstanding debts, as well providing for his wife's son from her earlier marriage and his brother's widow and children. Dostoyevsky sank into a deep depression, frequenting gambling parlors and accumulating massive losses at the tables.
Dostoyevsky suffered from an acute gambling compulsion and its consequences
In a book of interviews with Arthur Power (Conversations with James Joyce), Joyce praised Dostoyevsky's prose:
...he is the man more than any other who has created modern prose, and intensified it to its present-day pitch. It was his explosive power which shattered the Victorian novel with its simpering maidens and ordered commonplaces; books which were without imagination or violence.
In her essay The Russian Point of View, Virginia Woolf said:
The novels of Dostoevsky are seething whirlpools, gyrating sandstorms, waterspouts which hiss and boil and suck us in. They are composed purely and wholly of the stuff of the soul. Against our wills we are drawn in, whirled round, blinded, suffocated, and at the same time filled with a giddy rapture. Out of Shakespeare there is no more exciting reading.
-Dostoyevsky displayed a nuanced understanding of human psychology in his major works.
-He created an opus of vitality and almost hypnotic power, characterized by feverishly dramatized scenes where his characters are frequently in scandalous and explosive atmospheres, passionately engaged in Socratic dialogues.
-The quest for God, the problem of Evil and suffering of the innocents haunt the majority of his novels.
His characters fall into a few distinct categories: humble and self-effacing Christians (Prince Myshkin, Sonya Marmeladova, Alyosha Karamazov, Starets Zosima), self-destructive nihilists (Svidrigailov, Smerdyakov, Stavrogin, the underground man), cynical debauchees (Fyodor Karamazov, Dmitri Karamazov), and rebellious intellectuals (Raskolnikov, Ivan Karamazov, Ippolit); also, his characters are driven by ideas rather than by ordinary biological or social imperatives.
-In comparison with Tolstoy, whose characters are realistic, the characters of Dostoyevsky are usually more symbolic of the ideas they represent, thus Dostoyevsky is often cited as one of the forerunners of Literary Symbolism, especially Russian Symbolism (see Alexander Blok).
- Dostoyevsky's novels are compressed in time (many cover only a few days) and this enables him to get rid of one of the dominant traits of realist prose, the corrosion of human life in the process of the time flux; his characters primarily embody spiritual values, and these are, by definition, timeless. Other themes include suicide, wounded pride, collapsed family values, spiritual regeneration through suffering, rejection of the West and affirmation of Russian Orthodoxy and Tsarism.
-Literary scholars such as Bakhtin have characterized his work as "polyphonic": Dostoyevsky does not appear to aim for a "single vision", and beyond simply describing situations from various angles, Dostoyevsky engendered fully dramatic novels of ideas where conflicting views and characters are left to develop unevenly into unbearable crescendo
Frank, in his foreword for the book Dostoevsky and the Jews, attempts to place Dostoyevsky as a product of his time.
Frank notes that Dostoyevsky did make antisemitic remarks, but that Dostoyevsky's writing and stance by and large was one where Dostoyevsky held a great deal of guilt for his comments and positions that were antisemitic.
Steven Cassedy, for example, alleges in his book, Dostoevsky's Religion, that much of the depiction of Dostoyevsky’s views as antisemitic omits that Dostoyevsky expressed support for the equal rights of the Russian Jewish population, a position that was not widely supported in Russia at the time.
Cassedy also notes that this criticism of Dostoyevsky also appears to deny his sincerity when he said that he was for equal rights for the Russian Jewish populace and the Serfs of his own country (since neither group at that point in history had equal rights).
Cassedy again notes when Dostoyevsky stated that he did not hate Jewish people and was not antisemitic.
Even though Dostoyevsky spoke of the potential negative influence of Jewish people, Dostoyevsky advised Czar Alexander II to give them rights to positions of influence in Russian society, such as allowing them access to Professorships at Universities.
According to Cassedy, labeling Dostoyevsky antisemitic does not take into consideration Dostoyevsky's expressed desire to peacefully reconcile Jews and Christians into a single universal brotherhood of all mankind
Born in Moscow in 1821 to a family of "impoverished nobility," he was raised in a largely content though hardly affluent and quite strict household .
By the time he was 19 years of age, however, both his parents were in the grave. His much-beloved mother died of illness in 1836 (37), and three years later while Dostoevsky was attending the Academy of Engineers in St. Petersburg his father died, many say killed by his own peasants. Whether he was actually murdered or simply died of a stroke or seizure is still a subject of debate among biographers; the important fact here is that Dostoevsky himself believed throughout his life that his father had, in fact, been murdered (86-7). Guilt feelings of partial responsibility for his father's death tormented the young student for some time after.
It may well have been this incident and its accompanying torments that led Dostoevsky to be such a vociferous proponent of the liberation of the serfs when he began to frequent the gatherings of the Utopian Socialist political circles of St. Petersburg in the mid- to late-1840's. Dostoevsky reasoned that it was the dissatisfaction of their oppressed position in society that caused his father's peasants to revolt, so it is not surprising that the abolishment of serfdom was a principal issue which seemed to obsess him in discussions among his political comrades..
A will to action eventually led Dostoevsky to associate with a more radical satellite of the Socialists the entire circle of which was arrested by the Tsar Nicholas I's police on April 22, 1849 (290).
The alleged conspirators were all sentenced to hard labor in Siberia (Dostoevsky for four years), but the Tsar made the highly unusual order that they were to be first taken to Semenovsky Square and a mock execution staged, without the prisoners' knowing that their lives had been spared until the last possible second . This action was performed in the bitter cold of December 22, 1849; the first group of prisoners was actually tied to the post and even blindfolded, while the remaining prisoners awaited their own turns, before the drums finally signaled retreat. The terrible ceremony caused one of the prisoners to go insane .. It had a profound effect on Dostoevsky, who left vivid accounts of the event in a letter to his brother Mikhail that same day and, twenty years later, in his novel The Idiot, told through the mouth of the hero Prince Myshkin.
Four years of hard labor in the penal colony at Omsk in Siberia followed for Dostoevsky, years of nearly unimaginable tribulation. To the duress of having his freedom stripped away and the awful living conditions he was forced to tolerate was added the incessant persecution of the convict-nobility like himself by the peasant criminals, who reveled in their superiors' humiliation. Later he wrote to his brother Andrey:
"I consider those four years as a time in which I was buried alive and closed in a coffin. How horrible that time was I have not the strength to tell you, dear friend. It was unspeakable, interminable suffering because every hour, every minute weighed upon my soul like a stone"
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