Dostoyevsky (Moscow, 1821; St. Petersburg, 1881)
Perhaps the secret of Dostoyevsky’s creative genius was his life on the edge. The most universal Russian writer in history was born on November 11, 1821, and his early years were decisive for the creation of his personality, his vocation and his obsessive desire to unravel the mystery of human beings.
He spent part of his childhood in a farm that his family acquired in Tula. But the death of his mother when he was still a teenager left him without any emotional support. His father sent him along with his brother Mikhail to the School of Military Engineers of St. Petersburg and it is there where they receive the news that his father was cruelly murdered.
That was a new blow for an eighteen-year-old boy, who by then had discovered literature and was beginning to think about dedicating himself to it. His first book came in 1846, the first Russian social novel, after flirting with the theater. By that time he was already already afflicted by epilepsy something that would always accompany him.
He entered a spiral that would take him to know the limits of human existence. His ephemeral interest in socialism puts him in front of a firing squad, but instead of dying he was sent to a stifling prison in Siberia where he learnt to see the human side of the worst criminals.
Reintegrated into society, his debts make him a gambler and this deviation from his behavior kept him always fleeing from his creditors, to live economic hardships, and a feeling of privation of liberty. Bearing that in mind he wrote without rest, and created a psychological novel, the great legacy of this Christian convert who saw suffering as a vehicle to achieve clairvoyance.
His second marriage gave him some stability, but he would face the loss of two of his children, depression, alcoholism, exile, aggravation of the incomprehensible disease he had. His vast production received the applause of his countrymen, although death found him without having finished the second part of The Brothers Karamazov. He was fifty-nine years old when he died.
10 famous works of Dostoyevsky
1. Poor folk. St. Petersburg, 1846
An epistolary novel that reflects how the life of the countryside marked him during his first years, the way in which poverty could predestinate people. The protagonists engage in a platonic relationship through letters, in which they console each other for the way in which Tsarist Russia treats them because of their economic position. In those years, the young Dostoyevsky would take some false steps by believing that he found in socialism a way of thinking in keeping with his interest in claiming the lower classes. In 1865 the author launched the revised and corrected edition that has arrived to us.
2. The double. St. Petersburg, 1846
Dostoyevski went ahead of existentialism with his second novel. He shows a man tormented by the dilemma between what he wants and what he must do. Goliadkin is a bureaucrat full of contradictions, that will become evident when his “double” appears. This highlights the internal struggle with that “demon” that tries to dominate him, which the writer will develop more masterfully in his future and more famous characters.
3. Humiliated and Insulted. Saint Petersburg, 1861
Dostoyevsky’s first novel upon his return from Siberia was published in the newspaper he founded with his beloved brother Mikhail. A young narrator tells us his last months of life. Almost always as a witness, his luck is linked to the family that raised him and the problems that afflict them. The lack of money and the impossibility to realize the love he feels for Natasha, who flees with a perfidious prince, will not be enough to break his spirit. Of a crude realism, in its pages there is room for the demand of Vania thanks to its moral integrity.
4. The house of the dead. St. Petersburg, 1861-1862.
This is a novel about memory, in this case, the one that returns to the eight years that the writer spent doing forced labor in Siberia. It was the penalty that replaced the death because of their political ideas. Then he presents an alter ego that recounts everything he saw and experienced in that inhuman confinement. He does not hesitate to compare inmates with animals, but also in affirming that people are more complex than their actions. A revealing social criticism that exposes the way in which the State separates the bad seeds without being interested in the reasons that lead them to commit their crimes.
5. Subsoil Memories. St. Petersburg, 1864.
It is related to two fateful events of his life, the deaths of his first wife and his brother Mikhail. It is in times of great darkness that Dostoevsky finds the light that makes him a superior artist. Divided into two parts, the narrator and protagonist we know from the first line that is alienated, is a marginal and an unhappy. Although in his delirious monologue the lucidity prevails, what ends up being an expiation for him and the readers. Story of philosophical tone that opposed the criticism but that became a success among the public.
6. Crime and punishment. Moscow, 1866.
It appeared in installments in the magazine The Russian Messenger and one of his great merits is the way in which he manages to introduce us to the disturbed mind of the protagonist, to put ourselves in his place, to identify us with his actions. Here it is not murder what matters, not even the motives, but the consequences of having fallen to that hole in which Raskolnikov rushes after “punishing” the usurer. Then it will be his conscience who punishes him, guilt will confess his crime and finally understand that there are no superior or inferior men, that we all wage the same war inside us.
7. The Gambler. St. Petersburg, 1866
According to his biographers, Dostoyevski’s gambling problems began when he tried to “afford” his relationship with Polina, an upstart and calculating woman for whom he lost his head during his first marriage. In this way, the plot includes a female character of the same name and a man who does not hesitate to fulfill his wishes, and turns the casinos and gambling into a love as irrational as he did not finally find in it. But he is not the only character who is immersed in the vice of betting in this novel he wrote in less than a month because he needed money.
8. The idiot. Moscow, 1868-1869.
The author takes a bit of his seriousness to tell us the story of Prince Myshkin, a young misunderstood and treated “idiot” because of the simplicity and lack of malice with which he lives. What contrasts with the values that represent the other characters, who prefer to ignore it rather than learn something from it. The characterization of the protagonist is a success of the novel, a man who, because he is an epileptic, is restrained from traveling along normal paths, but finds a great catalyst in human relations. He would not be the only Dostoyevsky character with his same disease as a distinctive feature.
9. Demons. Moscow, 1871-1872.
From 1873 until the year of his death, in a writer’s journal, Dostoyevski reaffirmed his journalistic vein by directing a monthly publication in which he leaves space for his personal opinions. The situation of the country, what happened in Europe or anything that disturbed his mood became a pretext to expose his ideas. This novel is perhaps the direct antecedent, because it is also the most political of all. The murder of a man because of his ideology is the leitmotiv of this story in which the author criticizes the growing nihilism in Russian society and warns about the terrible threat of fanaticism.
10. The brothers Karamazov. Moscow, 1879-1880.
His latest novel is also the most ambitious of all and, and for many, the best. It took him two years to finish it and in the process he faced the death of his little son Aleksey, which defined the mournful tone of the story and gave name to the hero of the story. As in most of his fictions, his biography is useful for the creation of some of his characters and also to what happen to them. The murder of the plot is inspired by the man accused of parricide he met in Siberia, but the memory of his father explains the relationship between Fiódor Karamazov and his children. This is the literary maturity of Dostoevsky, in which he records his own contradictions, his faltering faith and explains how freedom can become a burden for men.