Fedor Dostoevsky (1821-1881)
The Russian writer Dostoevski is regarded as one of the world's great novelists. In Russia he was surpassed only by Leo Tolstoi.
Fedor Mikhailovich Dostoevski was born on Nov. 11, 1821, in a Moscow hospital where his father was a physician. At 13 Fedor was sent to a Moscow boarding school, then to a military engineering school in St. Petersburg. Shortly after graduating he resigned his commission in order to devote his time to writing.
Dostoevski had published two novels and several sketches and short stories when he was arrested along with a group of about 20 others with whom he had been studying French socialist theories. After the 1848 revolutions in Western Europe, Russia's Czar Nicholas I decided to round up all of that country's revolutionaries, and in April 1849 Dostoevski's group was imprisoned. Dostoevski and several others were sentenced to be shot, but at the last minute their sentence was changed to four years of hard labor in a prison in Omsk, Siberia. There, Dostoevski said, they were "packed in like herrings in a barrel" with murderers and other criminals. He read and reread the New Testament, the only book he had, and built a mystical creed, identifying Christ with the common people of Russia. He had great sympathy for the criminals.
As a child Dostoevski suffered from mild epilepsy, and it grew worse in prison. After four years in prison, he was sent as a private to a military station in Siberia. There in 1857 he met and married a widow named Marie Isaeva.
In 1860 Dostoevski was back in St. Petersburg. The next year he began to publish a literary journal that was soon suppressed, though he had by now lost interest in socialism. In 1862 he visited Western Europe and hated the industrialism he saw there. Dostoevski had been separated from his wife but visited her in Moscow before her death in 1864. In 1867 he married his young stenographer, Anna Snitkina. He died on Feb. 9, 1881, in St. Petersburg.