Fyodor and his brother Michael were sent to the Military Engineering Academy at St. Petersburg shortly after their mother’s death, though these plans had begun even before she became ill.
It was not long before his father, a retired military surgeon who served as a doctor at the Mariinsky Hospital for the Poor in Moscow, also died in 1839. While not known for certain, it is believed that Mikhail Dostoevsky was murdered by his own serfs, who reportedly became enraged during one of Mikhail’s drunken fits of violence, restrained him, and poured vodka into his mouth until he drowned. Another story was that Mikhail died of natural causes, and a neighboring landowner cooked up this story of a peasant rebellion so he could buy the estate cheaply. Regardless of what may have actually happened, Sigmund Freud focused on this tale in his famous article, Dostoevsky and Parricide (1928).
Dostoevsky was arrested and imprisoned in 1849 for engaging in revolutionary activity against Tsar Nicholas I. On November 16 that year he was sentenced to death for anti-government activities linked to a radical intellectual group, the Petrashevsky Circle. After a mock execution in which he faced a staged firing squad, Dostoevsky’s sentence was commuted to a number of years of exile performing hard labor at a katorga prison camp in Siberia. The incidence of epileptic seizures, to which he was predisposed, increased during this period. He was released from prison in 1854, and was required to serve in the Siberian Regiment. Dostoevsky spent the following five years as a corporal (and latterly lieutenant) in the Regiment’s Seventh Line Battalion stationed at the fortress of Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan.
This was a turning point in the author’s life. Dostoevsky abandoned his earlier radical sentiments and became deeply conservative and extremely religious. He began an affair with, and later married, Maria Dmitrievna Isaeva, the widow of an acquaintance in Siberia.
In 1860, he returned to St. Petersburg, where he ran a series of unsuccessful literary journals with his older brother Mikhail. Dostoevsky was devastated by his wife’s death in 1864, followed shortly thereafter by his brother’s death. He was financially crippled by business debts and the need to provide for his brother’s widow and children. Dostoevsky sunk into a deep depression, frequenting gambling parlors and blithely accumulating massive losses at the tables.
To escape creditors in St. Petersburg, Dostoevsky traveled to Western Europe. There, he attempted to rekindle a love affair with Apollinaria (Polina) Suslova, a young university student with whom he had had an affair several years prior, but she refused his marriage proposal. Dostoevsky was heartbroken, but soon met Anna Snitkina, a nineteen-year-old stenographer whom he married in 1867. This period resulted in the writing of his greatest books. From 1873 to 1881 he vindicated his earlier journalistic failures by publishing a monthly journal full of short stories, sketches, and articles on current events — the Writer’s Diary. The journal was an enormous success.
In 1877 Dostoevsky gave the keynote eulogy at the funeral of his friend, the poet Nekrasov, to much controversy. In 1880, shortly before he died, he gave his famous Pushkin speech at the unveiling of the Pushkin monument in Moscow.
Fyodor Dostoevsky died on January 28 (O.S.), 1881 and was interred in Tikhvin Cemetery at the Alexander Nevsky Monastery, St. Petersburg, Russia.