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On this Day – Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky is born!

11 November, 2014

On the 11th November 1821, a man was born whose works have been translated into 170 languages, significantly enhanced the popularity of Russian literature worldwide, was a big player in the debate between Westerners and Slavophiles throughout 19th-century Russia and influenced writers such as Anton Chekhov and Ernest Hemingway. Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky was born on this day almost 200 years ago!

Dostoevsky, as well as Lev Tolstoy, is seen as the greatest and most influential author of the Golden Age of Russian literature. Throughout his life, Dostoevsky was often fraught with financial difficulties, and most of his famous works are a direct response to needing money to pay for his constant debts. In youth, he was a fervent Westerniser (a group who wanted Russia to adhere to Western European principles in order to flourish as a society), and wrote his first novel ‘Poor Folk’, which Vissarion Belinsky, one of the most famous Westernisers, deemed the first ‘social novel’ produced in Russia!

Dostoevsky’s tale took a tragic twist in 1849. He was arrested and sentenced to death for being part of the Petrashevsky literary circle, a group of philosophers who discussed Western philosophical ideas, a practice that was banned in Russia by Tsar Alexander I. He was on the verge of being executed until he was saved at the last minute by a letter from the Tsar himself, who changed his punishment to labour in Siberia! This is where Dostoevsky, sticking true to his Russian Orthodox beliefs, underwent a change in his philosophical views and became more conservative than his young self. He returned to St Petersburg in 1857 and began to write the novels which have turned him into one of the world’s most famous writers. ‘Notes From the Underground’ in 1860 was one of the first of these books in which Dostoevsky used his new, more conservative and spiritual beliefs – It is considered one of the first ever books of existentialist literature!

Dostoevsky’s next famous work is ‘Winter Notes on Summer Impressions’, alluding to when he travelled around Western Europe and was not impressed by what he saw. In this text, Dostoevsky criticises capitalism, social modernization, Protestantism and Catholicism for allowing there to be a huge gap between the rich and the poor, as well as deviating from spirituality and the true basics of the Christian faith. Fyodor Mikhailovich developed a gambling problem while abroad, and his lack of funds forced him into writing a new novel, one which would capture the minds of the entire world right up until the present day! Crime and Punishment was published in 1866 and was very well received in Russia at the time(but it still did not generate enough money for him to pay off his debts!).

Dostoevsky left Russia again in 1868 in order to go on a three-month honeymoon with his wife, Anna Grigoryevna Smitkina. This ended up turning into a four year long break from his homeland, during which Dostoevsky wrote many other short stories and novels, including The Idiot and Demons. Upon return to Russia in 1876 and was still suffering from a lack of funds to sustainably live. With his health deteriorating, Dostoevsky still had one more fantastic work to give to the world. He completed ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ in 1880, before dying soon afterwards.

The works of Dostoevsky are still amazingly popular in today’s world, and there is still a lot of debate over the meaning behind his short stories and novels. If you are at all bored today, remember this article and indulge in a novel by Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky and commemorate his birthday with us!

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