Fyodor Dostoevsky

1821-1881. Russian writer. Born in Moscow, son of a doctor, he was educated as an engineer, but early turned to writing. His first novel, Poor Folk (1846), was highly acclaimed by the critics for its penetrating psychological study of the poor. Shortly thereafter, Dostoevsky became involved with an antigovernment socialist group. For this he was arrested and sentenced to death, but at the public execution he was given a last-minute reprieve. He was forced to spend ten years in Siberia in prison and military service instead. Returning to St. Petersburg in 1859, he began to write again. The House of the Dead (1861) offers a realistic account of his prison experiences. Notes from Underground (1864) is an extraordinary picture of a mentally disturbed and alienated man. For a time Dostoevsky was nearly overwhelmed by gambling debts, emotional tensions, and epileptic seizures. In 1866 he won wide acclaim for his superb novel Crime and Punishment, a tale of deep spiritual insights. For years he wandered over Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, often in abject poverty. The Idiot (1868) and The Possessed (1871) added to his stature as one of the greatest Russian novelists. His masterpiece is The Brothers Karamazov (1880), finished the year before his death. Dostoevsky's profound psychological insights have made him in the twentieth century the most influential and most widely read of the older novelists. His works are novels of ideas in which there is brilliant characterization, tense dramatic situations, and a struggle between good and evil. His Russian orthodoxy is represented by characters who seek salvation through suffering.