Dostoevskii, Fedor (Mikhailovich)

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DOSTOEVSKII, Fedor (Mikhailovich)

Nationality: Russian. Born: Moscow, 30 October 1821. Education: Educated at home to age 12; Chermak's School Moscow; Army Chief Engineering Academy, St. Petersburg, 1838-43; commissioned as ensign, 1839, as 2nd Lieutenant, 1842, graduated 1843 as War Ministry draftsman (resigned 1844). Family: Married 1) Mariia Dmitrievna Isaeva in 1857 (died 1864), one step-son; 2) Anna Grigorevna Snitkina in 1867, two daughters and two sons. Career: Writer; political involvement caused his arrest, and imprisonment in Omsk, 1849-1854; exiled as soldier at Semipalatinsk, 1854: corporal, 1855, ensign, 1856, resigned as 2nd Lieutenant for health reasons and exile ended, 1859; editor, Vremia (Time), 1861-63; took over Epokh on his brother's death, 1864-65. Lived in Western Europe, 1867-71. Editor, Grazhdanin [Citizen], 1873-74. Died: 28 January 1881.



Novels. 12 vols., 1912-20.

Sobranie Sochinenii, edited by Leonid Grossman. 10 vols., 1956-58.

Polnoe sobranie sochinenii. 1972—.

Short Stories

Bednye Liudi. 1846; as Poor Folk, 1887.

Zapiski iz podpol'ia. 1864; as Letters from the Underworld, 1915; as Notes from Underground, in Novels, 1918.


Dvoinik. 1846; as The Double, in Novels, 1917; as The Double: A Poem to St. Petersburg, 1958.

Igrok. 1866; as The Gambler, 1887.

Prestuplenie i nakazanie. 1867; as Crime and Punishment, 1886.

Idiot. 1869; as The Idiot, 1887.

Vechnyi muzh. 1870; as The Permanent Husband, 1888; as The Eternal Husband, 1917.

Besy. 1872; as The Possessed, 1913; as The Devils, 1953.

Podrostok. 1875; as A Raw Youth, 1916.

Brat'ia Karamazovy. 1880; as The Brothers Karamazov, 1912.


Zapiski iz mertvogo doma. 1861-62; as Buried Alive; or, Ten Years of Penal Servitude in Siberia, 1881; as The House of the Dead, 1911.

Dnevnik pisatelia. 1876-81; as The Diary of a Writer, 1949.

Pis'ma k zhene, edited by V.F. Pereverzev. 1926; as Letters to His Wife, 1930.

Occasional Writings. 1961.

The Notebooks for "The Idiot" ["Crime and Punishment," "The Possessed," "A Raw Youth," "The Brothers Karamazov"], edited by Edward Wasiolek. 5 vols., 1967-71.

The Unpublished Dostoevsky: Diaries and Notebooks 1860-1881, edited by Carl R. Proffer. 3 vols., 1973-76.

Selected Letters, edited by Joseph Frank and David Goldstein. 1987.

Complete Letters, edited by David Lowe and Ronald Meyer. 5 vols., 1988-91.



"Dostoevsky Studies in Great Britain: A Bibliographical Survey" by Garth M. Terry in New Essays on Dostoevsky edited by Malcolm V. Jones and Garth M. Terry, 1983.

Critical Studies:

Dostoevsky: His Life and Art by A. Yarmolinsky, 1957; Dostoevsky in Russian Literary Criticism 1846-1954 by Vladimir Seduro, 1957; Dostoevsky by David Magarshak, 1961; Dostoevsky: A Collection of Critical Essays edited by Rene Wellek, 1962; The Undiscovered Dostoevsky, 1962, and Dostoevsky: His Life and Work, 1978, both by Ronald Hingley; Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics by Mikhail M. Bakhtin, 1963; Dostoevsky: The Major Fiction by Edward Wasiolek, 1964; Dostoevsky's Quest for Form by Robert Louis Jackson, 1966; Dostoevsky: His Life and Work by Konstantin Mochulsky, 1967; Dostoevsky: An Examination of the Major Novels by Richard Peace, 1971; Dostoevsky: The Seeds of Revolt 1821-1848 and The Years of Ordeal 1850-1859 by Joseph Frank, 2 vols., 1976-83; Dostoevsky, 1976, and Dostoevsky After Bakhtin: Readings in Dostoevsky's Fantastic Realism, 1990, both by Malcolm V. Jones, and New Essays on Dostoevsky edited by Jones and Garth M. Terry, 1983; A Dostoevsky Dictionary by Richard Chapple, 1983; Dostoevsky: Myths of Quality by Roger B. Anderson, 1986; Dostoevsky: A Writer's Life by Geir Kjetsaa, 1988; Dostoevsky by Peter Conrad, 1988; The Political and Social Thoughts of Dostoevsky by Stephen Carter, 1991; Dosoevsky and the Woman Question: Rereadings at the End of a Century by Nina Pelikan Straus, 1994; Dostoevsky by Joseph Frank, 1995; Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment: An Aesthetic Interpretation by Henry Buchanan, 1996; The Annihilation of Inertia: Dostoevsky and Metaphysics by Liza Knapp, 1996; Dostoevsky and Soloviev: The Art of Integral Vision by Marina Kostalevsky, 1997.

* * *

In Fedor Dostoevskii Russian literature found the authentic confirmation of its destiny and a direction that pointed beyond the purely historical towards a genuinely universal vision of human-kind. Initially drawing his inspiration from Gogol, the young Dostoevskii sought to continue where his master had left off. His first work of short fiction, Bednye Liudi (Poor Folk), depicted a thoroughly Gogolian romance between a lowly civil servant and a young girl. The story, in epistolary form, does, however, break new ground by developing the personalities of the two principal characters in a way unknown to Gogol. The civil servant, Makar Devushkin, in particular, is seen in all his wretchedness as a human being, not as a demonic or caricature figure. The success of Poor Folk and its acceptance and approval by Nekrasov and Belinskii led Dostoevskii to believe that he was firmly launched on the way to becoming Gogol's heir. But the story's popularity and success were based on a misunderstanding of Dostoevskii's creative intentions. While Nekrasov and Belinskii saw the book as a work of social criticism, Dostoevskii's concerns were in fact moral and metaphysical. In his so-called St. Petersburg poem, "The Double" (1846), set in the Gogolian world of civil servants and government offices and departments, the writer explored levels of consciousness and reality not touched previously in Russian fiction. In the story of the civil servant Golyadkin and his double, it is possible to see a link with Gogol's "The Nose," but the nightmarish horror and underground claustrophobia of Dostoevskii's narrative are unprecedented in the writing of his time, and the public and critical reaction were predictably negative. The same negative judgment met his extraordinary depiction of a civil servant's fantasy world in the story "Mr. Prokharchin" (1847).

In 1847 Dostoevskii began to frequent the revolutionary circle of Petrashevskii, and this may have been brought about in part by his desire to identify more closely with the atheistic teaching of Belinskii, perhaps in the hope that this would enable him to write works that would be more acceptable to the Russian critical establishment. The works he wrote during this period were if anything, however, even more remote from the critical and artistic climate that prevailed. The story "The Landlady" (1849) is a study in inward reality that contains some very early allusions to themes that were later to be developed in Brat'ia Karamazovy (The Brothers Karamazov), and is entirely permeated by a Hoffmannesque romantic delirium. " Netochka Nezvanova " (1849), an unfinished novel, is also a Hoffmannesque narrative, concerning an artist whose talent is spent. In fact, however, the result of the writer's involvement with revolutionary politics was to propel him in a direction hitherto unknown, and produced the works of the mature Dostoevskii. The experience of being condemned to death, facing execution, and having the sentence commuted at the last moment to four years' exile and hard labor and reduction to the ranks stayed with the writer all the rest of his life and profoundly influenced the way he perceived existence and thought and wrote about it.

The immediate fruit of the period of exile was the prison narrative The House of the Dead. More than any other work of Dostoevskii's, this documentary-style narrative, closely based on the writer's own experience of penal servitude, represents a cataclysmic fall from a world of dreams and fantasy to the cold facts—and the human and animal warmth—of reality. The portrayal of the convicts, many of whom were dangerous murderers who had killed several times, leaves an unforgettable impression on the reader, as do the chapters that describe the prison bathhouse, the stage show, and the prison animals.

Perhaps the most striking and characteristic shorter narratives of Dostoevskii's later years are to be found contained within much longer works. "The Meek Girl" (1876), which is based on a newspaper report on the suicide of a seamstress who plunged from a garret window holding a religious icon in her hands, is in fact an extract from The Diary of a Writer, the one-man literary and polemical review that Dostoevskii issued between 1876 and 1877. It was initially connected with an episode from his projected novel "The Dreamer," and only gradually did it begin to emerge as an independent narrative work. Above all, the author was concerned to present to his readers a "fantastic story" that would tell the truth about reality as seen from within, from a psychological, spiritual perspective. Dostoevskii refers to this in his author's introduction; he writes of the story's form being "fantastic," claiming that "this is neither nor a set of diary notes, but a record of a man's inward thought-processes," one that involves the "hypothesis of a stenographer who has written everything down." The story is thus very modern in conception, and relates to techniques, such as stream-of-consciousness, that were developed in European fiction much later.

The other major work of short fiction from the latter part of Dostoevskii's career is "The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor," a chapter from book five of The Brothers Karamazov. The "Legend" is derived from a passage in the "The Landlady," published some 40 years earlier, where the old man Murin says:

You know, master, a weak man cannot control himself on his own.

Give him everything, and he'll come of his own accord and give it back to you; give him half the world, just try it, and what do you think he'll do? He'll hide himself in your shoe immediately, that small will he make himself. Give a weak man freedom and he'll fetter it himself and give it back to you. A foolish heart has no use for freedom!

In the story of the Savior's return to earth in Seville, at the time of the worst excesses of the Inquisition, Dostoevskii presents a sustained meditation of the meaning of freedom and power. The secret of the Grand Inquisitor is that he does not believe in God—and this is why he ultimately lets Christ go, telling him never to return to earth and interfere as he has done with the designs of those who would exercise power upon earth. The tale is given an ironic twist by the fact that it is the demented but intellectually brilliant Ivan, suffering from delirium tremens with hallucinations of the devil, who invents the story—even this great discussion of the ultimate themes of human history and destiny is somehow shadowy and suspect, a fever-dream. This is typical of Dostoevskii's art, and especially typical of the attitude towards reality that is developed in his short fiction.

—David McDuff

See the essays on Notes from Underground and "White Nights."