Fyodor Dostoyevsky: Biography, Books & Short Stories

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  • 0:03 Not the Typical Novelist
  • 0:27 Childhood and Early Works
  • 1:15 Losses and Gains
  • 2:27 Productivity &…
  • 3:49 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Robin Small

Robin has a BA/MAT in English Ed, and teaches 6th grade English and Writing Lab.

Dostoyevsky's work has been translated into more than 150 languages, and his reputation as a literary genius is indisputable. In this lesson, you'll learn more about the life and works of this prolific and insightful writer.

Not the Typical Novelist

Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novels and stories delve deep into the mysteries of the mind. Characters grapple with the most basic questions of existence, including what it means to be moral, what it means to love, and what it means to be human. His work was considered great in his own century and continues to fascinate readers and thinkers today.

Childhood and Early Works

On October 30, 1831, Fyodor Dostoyevsky was born in Moscow. He had six siblings, but he was closest to his brother, Mikhail. When he was 15, his mother died and his father sent him to preparatory school. He graduated as a lieutenant at St. Petersburg Academy of Military Engineers in 1843 but quickly retired to devote himself to writing.

His first novel, Poor Folk, was met with enthusiasm from the St. Petersburg literary scene of the time, and over the next couple of years, he published some of his well-known stories, including 'White Nights' and 'The Double.' During this period, he began associating with a group of utopian socialists known as the Petrashevsky Circle, which led to his arrest and a death sentence from Tsar Nicholas I.

Losses and Gains

Dostoyevsky was sentenced to death by firing squad, but at the last minute, Nicholas I commuted the sentence, and Dostoyevsky spent four years in prison in Siberia, and then five years in military service there. This brush with death and the years of imprisonment and hard work in terrible conditions had a lasting impact on Dostoyevsky. Before this, he had already shown an interest in difficult psychological questions in his short story, 'The Double', but his experiences in Siberia turned him into an even more introspective writer.

Newly married during his exile, he stepped right back into the literary scene and back into close ties with his brother Mikhail. Together, they co-founded two literary journals, and Dostoyevsky published 'Notes from the Underground' and other stories there.

The death of his wife and his brother in a rapid succession took a toll on him, and he sunk into a gambling addiction. His story The Gambler was due to his publisher and he faced the possibility of losing his rights to his other works if he failed to meet his contractual deadline. He hired a stenographer, Anna Snitkina, and they finished the story on time, fell in love, and were married the next year.

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