“To study the meaning of man and of life" - Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky

11 November 1821, Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky was born in Moscow

“To study the meaning of man and of life — I am making significant progress here. I have faith in myself. Man is a mystery: if you spend your entire life trying to puzzle it out, then do not say that you have wasted your time. I occupy myself with this mystery, because I want to be a man.” (Fyodor Dostoevsky)

Vasily Perov’s (1833 – 1882) “Portrait of Fedor Dostoyevsky“ showing the author at the age of 51,
 shortly after his return from western Europe to St Petersburg,
after the author had finally overcome his pathological gambling.

Tsar Nicholas himself had written on the draft judgement of the secret police court: ”Four years hard labour. A common soldier afterwards”. It was the death sentence that had been commuted to eight years banishment to Siberia and delivered literally at the last minute while the firing squad already took aim on lieutenant engineer F.M. Dostoevsky on 23 December 1849, tied to a post with two others on the cobblestone yard of the Peter and Paul fortress in St Petersburg. It was an intricately staged drama to show the dangerously idealistic and Pro-western young litterateurs what was what. Young Dostoevsky’s crime was to read a previously censored essay aloud in a literary circle already under surveillance of the Okhrana, the Tsar’s infamous secret police, and goaded on by an agent provocateur. Bakunin, a rather professional revolutionary, later mentioned that the socio-Christian Petrashevsky Circle, as the group was called, was "the most innocent and harmless company" and its members were "systematic opponents of all revolutionary goals and means". Nevertheless, to the Katorga they went after having just gotten away with their lives, and young Dostoevsky, by then an aspiring author of social romantic novels, was in for one of the most hellish times of his life. He returned from Siberia in 1854 to become one of the greatest writers in world literature. After reading his memoirs about the Katorga, “The House of the Dead”, Tsar Nicholas’ successor Alexander II allegedly wept and Nietzsche called Dostoevsky "the only psychologist ... from whom I had something to learn; he ranks among the most beautiful strokes of fortune in my life".

Defying simplistic explanations - Dostoevsky's notes for Chapter 5 of the "Brothers Karamazov"

Dostoevsky’s whole biography reads like one of his novels and his novels are a wondrous synthesis of pan-European and All-Russian streams of thought, philosophies and ideas, arranged in a polyphonic chorus of neurasthenic voices that characterise the condition humaine far beyond the spirit of the 19th century. In fact, very few authors have achieved a psychological depth and narrative bravura as Dostoevsky did throughout the history of literature. And even the Procrustean beds of various ideologies critics and readers tried to place his works on could not negate their supratemporal omnitude. Usually, the perusal of Dostoevsky is tainted, though, not so much by his "excessive psychologising" as critics from Turgenev to Nabokov felt compelled to attest, but by the author’s personal submission under the authority of state and church of the bygone Russian Empire. Freud himself, who would not suffer any gods beside him anyway, admired the work but described its author basically as a fruitcake in his essay “Dostoevsky and Parricide”. And the Freudian verdict that the author threw away “the chance of becoming a great teacher and liberator of humanity and made himself one with their jailors” is certainly one of the most obvious accusations and yet only a part of a rather complex, novel-like psychic life that defies simplistic explanations.

And more about Dostoevsky on: