Fyodor Dostoevsky is a Russian novelist, journalist and short story writer from the 19th century. His works' importance have transcended through time as Crime and Punishment is still being read in schools through America; even I read Crime and Punishment as a requirement during my high school senior year. Incorporated in his works were philosophical and psychological insights which anticipated the important developments of psychoanalysis and existentialism (website). Dostoevsky is even thought by many as the founder of the existentialist movement; a philosophy, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, defined as the philosophical theory which holds that a further set of categories, governed by the norm of authenticity, is necessary to grasp human existence (Toutonghi).
Dostoevsky lived a difficult life with traumatic experiences that greatly influence the genesis of most, if not all, of his works. Dostoevsky joined a group of utopian socialists in 1846, who gathered at Mihail Petrachevsky’s home. Petrashevsky was an eccentric and socialist. During the gathering in front of Petrashevsky it was unknown to the group that the police had secretly placed an agent in the group (Liukkonen).
On April 23 in 1849 Dostoevsky was arrested while a reading of Vissarion Belinsky’s radical letter ‘Selected Passage from Correspondence with Friends” was being read. He was sentenced to death. In a manner almost as cruel as death, Dostoevsky was put through a mock execution before being sentenced to four years imprisonment in Siberia. During his four years of confinement, he was surrounded by many other convicts who had committed murder. Upon his release in 1854 he was assigned to be a common soldier in Semipalatinsk. It appears these experiences, along with living in the urban poor of Russia became centerpieces of his later work. In 1858, after release from imprisonment and service, he would begin one of the most impressive fourteen-year period of furious writing in which he published many significant texts. Among these are: The House of the Dead (1862), Notes From The Underground (1864), Crime and Punishment (1866), The Idiot (1868), and Devils (1871) (Toutonghi).
During the period leading up to and in the early going of his fourteen-year writing period a few more tragic events occurred. In 1857 Dostoevsky married Maria Isaez. During the next few years he would serve as editor of the monthly periodical Time from 1961 to 1963.Unfortunately the paper was suppressed because of an article about the Polish uprising. Dostoevsky then began going abroad including traveling to France and Europe periodically from 1862-1865. Sadly, during this time period his brother and wife died, while he was obsessed with gambling, and plagued by frequent epileptic seizures and debts (Liukkonen).
I believe that life experiences as stated above had an impact, even could be considered a catalyst, for themes, characters, and focus that were displayed in Dostoevsky works. To analyze this point a look at some of Dostoevsky most famous works will show how his works were deeply influence by his own life experiences.
During the same period of losing his wife and brother during the 1860s the work Notes from Undergound (1864) emerged. I believe in this work it is clear influence of Dostoevsky’s religious beliefs as demonstrated by the following quotes taken from the work in a conversation between a man and a humble prostitute, Liza. The man speaks to Liza, "What are you giving up here? What are you enslaving? Why, you're enslaving your soul; something you don't really own, together with your body! You're giving away your love to be defiled by any drunkard! Love! After all, that's all there is!" Here the philosophical idea of being able to enslave one’s own soul is being questioned. This is not possible as the statement, “…something you don’t really own, together with your body!” explains. One does not own the soul and cannot enslave it even with the body.
Also, I think it appears that Dostoevsky is referring to himself with a confession from the narrator in the beginning of the work. The narrator states "I am a sick man.... I am a spiteful man. I am a most unpleasant man. I think my liver is diseased." I believe this is a self-analysis that Dostoevsky is doing of himself. In retrospect to his own problems and life which almost seems like a disease at times with the turmoil he has face. He may be considering himself spiteful and sick man as he had gambling problems, debts and health problems with the epileptic seizures. Thus, in his works I believe Dostoevsky focal point is his own life, along with his views (religious and politically) along with the themes of sorrow, redemption, awakening, suffering among other terms closely related. This can be seen in one of his most famous works Crime and Punishment.
In the work of Crime and Punishment the themes of falling and redemption are definitely apparently. The main character is Raskolnikov who kills a pawnbroker, a greed old woman, and her step-sister. He attempts to justify the murders in terms of it bringing about advantageous social consequences. In his justification one may, even myself, believe he is delusional. He argues that he is a superior being. He argues that in each age of birth that there are these “superior” beings that are not constrained by ordinary morality. I would argue this insane, although it is possible and likely, that this comes from a religion view.
Dostoevsky employed a unique technique in this story, I believe, as it takes place from Raskolnikov, the murderer’s, point of view.The struggle, anxiety that the character went through in the story is felt through the description given by the main character and through his interactions with other characters. Essentially the dialogue between the main character and the other characters proved to be the plot line of the story.
I would argue, maybe against others views, that Dostoevsky used vivid details in the story also. I will not argue against that vivid detail is not given to the surroundings the story takes place in such as the stores or houses; for example a house is a house. The argument here is that through the language of the characters vivid detail arises, detailing the characters in the story so vividly that the background setting really is not important. I believe this to be true for at least Crime and Punishment.
One interesting point about Crime and Punishment is that when Raskolnikov is found to be the killer he is sent off to prison for 7 years. The place he is sent is Siberia. This is the same place that Dostoevsky was sent to serve his 4 year prison term, thus showing how he endows his writings from antidotes from his own life.
Another famous novel, and his last novel, was The Brothers Karamazov (1879-80). This story’s plot line centered on dealing with the murder of the father of the Karamazov family. This is another example of a major, tragic experience being woven into Dostoevsky’s work. His own father was killed when he was younger. This had obvious left a great stain on his psyche as his last novel dealt with patricide.
Once again the theme of redemption through suffering is set in this novel too. This redemption appears to be realized at the point when Dmitri thinks although he did not murder his father; his intemperate passions partly enabled the murder to take place. He even realizes that to some degree he is partly responsible for everyone else’s sins. Thus here the influence of religion is place into the writings by Dostoevsky. Lastly, Siberia is once again an important place as Dmitri envisions himself redeeming himself through the suffering of the hard labor in Siberia.
Relation to Myself
Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment is one of my all-time top 3 books I have read. In this book particularly I find the psychological nature of his writing to be thrilling. When I first read Crime and Punishment I was not sure what to expect but as soon as I started reading I became instantly hooked. The idea of telling a story from the viewpoint of a murderer was so “unreal” to me. I am a psychology and sociology double major with minor in philosophy so it does not come surprising that his works such as Crime and Punishment would be enjoyable for me to read.
I also am a fan of psychological thriller type movies and Dostoevsky’s writings are similar but much better. When reading his works I can visualize the interactions between the characters while feeling the pain and suffering of the main characters. For example, when reading Crime and Punishment I felt almost as if I was Raskolnikov and I was living his life through his eyes. What he saw was also what I saw and what he felt was what I felt. Being able to engage a reader into a story enough that they become almost part of the story is, I believe, an indication of excellent writing.
The writing style of Dostoevsky differs from my own in one big way. I am new to using dialogue in my writing while he uses dialogue to create plot which relates to plot being something built off of characters. I feel that my writing may builds more to being dialogue plot driven in the future as I develop into a better writer.
A few similarities that have occurred are with themes, style and voice of stories. The style of Dostoevsky involves incorporated his own real life experiences, ideology and politics into his stories. I have done this on multiple occasions this semester including writing about corruption and money greed in one of my poems. Also the “Back Alley Treatment” was my first attempt at writing something similar to a psychological thriller, with a darkness to it which is also relevant in many of Dostoevsky’s works.
Liukkonen, Petri. "Fyodor Dostoevsky." Www.kirjasto.sci.fi. Ari Pesonen. Kuusankosken
Kaupunginkirjasto, 2008. Web. 13 May 2011. <http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/fdosto.htm>.
Toutonghi, Pauls. "Fyodor Dostoevsky (Dostoyevsky) | Biography | Author of Crime and Punishment."
Fyodor Dostoevsky (Dostoyevsky) | Crime and Punishment | The Brothers Karamazov. Web. 13
May 2011. <http://fyodordostoevsky.com/biography.php>.