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Crime and Punishment | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Fyodor Dostoevsky | Biography


Fyodor Dostoevsky (also spelled Dostoyevsky) was born in 1821 in Moscow, Russia. His mother was deeply religious. Dostoevsky's father sent Fyodor and his older brother, Mikhail, to military engineering school and hoped they would also follow careers in the military, but they chose literary careers instead. Dostoyevsky's first novel, Poor Folk (1846), examining the psychological effects of poverty, was an overnight success.

In 1847 Dostoevsky, who opposed wealthy Russian landowners who exploited peasants for labor, became involved in a utopian socialist group. He and other members of the group were arrested in 1849. They were subjected to a fake execution, and Dostoevsky believed he had only moments to live. Instead he was sent to a Siberian prison for four years. There he renewed his Christian faith. He also suffered his first epileptic seizure, an illness that plagued him for the rest of his life. These experiences had a profound impact on Dostoyevsky and his writing.

After his prison term, followed by several years of compulsory military service, Dostoevsky returned to Moscow. There he and his brother Mikhail published a series of journals, and Dostoevsky wrote The House of the Dead (1860–62) based on his experiences in prison.

By 1866 Dostoevsky was desperate. He and his brother's latest journal failed, and Mikhail died soon after. A gambling addict, Dostoevsky owed huge debts. He was forced to complete a novel, The Gambler, to satisfy a book contract, while still working on Crime and Punishment. To accomplish this he hired a young woman to transcribe the books as he dictated them. He later married her, and she provided a stabilizing influence for the rest of his life.

Crime and Punishment was a success upon its release. Dostoevsky went on to write what are considered his greatest novels in addition to Crime and Punishment: The Idiot (1869), Demons (1872), and The Brothers Karamazov (1880). When he died in 1881, thousands attended his funeral.

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