Dostoevsky in St Petersburg

posted in: Blog | 0

In 2011 we celebrate 190 years from the birthday of Fyodor Mikhaylovich Dostoyevsky, one of the most famous Russian writers. In spite of the fact that he was born in Moscow (on October 30th, 1821) all his life was inseparably linked with city of St Petersburg, where he lived for more than 28 years. His prose fiction consists of just over thirty titles, twenty of which feature St Petersburg as a part of his characters’ existence.

The early death of Dostoevsky’s mother left his father with 7 children on his hands and became the reason of his final decision to send Fyodor and his older brother Michael to the vocational Military Engineering Academy in St Petersburg (“in order to guarantee their future”). Even now, hiring a private guide in St Petersburg it is possible to find the windows of his room in Michaelovsky Castle which accommodated the Academy.

After completing his studies in 1843 Dostoevsky was assigned to the Corps of Engineers. Though dreaming of dedicating himself solely to literature he was forced to “Kill time in vain”, and at last resigned “just because honestly, I couldn’t work there any longer.” “They take away your best time for nothing, I can’t enjoy life.” While in St Petersburg Dostoevsky became (and remained all his life) an avid reader and theatre lover. His characters reveal their one inner world through the books they read.

The first novel of Dostoevsky “Poor people” which made his name famous was written by him in St Petersburg and was highly praised by literature critics. In St Petersburg Dostoevsky was introduced by his close friend to Michael Petrashevsky, who hosted gatherings of very well educated and brash young people who dreamed of a better future for Russia and were fascinated by ideas of the French revolution. All the participants of the meetings including Dostoevsky were arrested on the 23d of April 1849. For 8 months he was in a solitary cell in Peter and Paul Fortress, after which he was sentenced to death. However, at the very last moment, he was sentenced to 4 years of penal servitude followed by lifelong service in the guards. So for 4 years Dostoevsky lived in barracks with murderers and thieves in the Siberian city of Omsk. “During my four years in prison I finally learned how to discern the human in criminal. I at least came to know the Russian people well, to a degree that most people perhaps do not.” Later, basing on his experience,  Dostoevsky wrote “ The House of the Dead” (and people began to call him the new Virgil). He started writing “Crime and Punishment” 5 years after returning from his exile in Siberia to St Petersburg and in the period of his personal distress (his first wife Maria Isaeva (whom he married in exile) and his older brother Michael  had died, and although Dostoevsky had labored like a galley slave  to keep their journal “Epoch” afloat even after his brother demise, his efforts left him with huge debts).

He describes his most famous novel as a “psychological report of a crime.”  All events of which happened  in St Petersburg (“the most intentional and abstract city” according to Dostoevsky’s opinion).  Disarming the reader with a seemingly exact and faithful topography, he freely “moved” houses, changed owners, and displaced streets, but it is still possible to trace the routes of the main character Raskolnikov taking a Dancing Bear private tour in St Petersburg titled Crime and Punishment Literature Tour.

In 1867 Dostoevsky was married to Anna Snitkina in Trinity Cathedral in St Petersburg (the young bride was two hours late to their wedding ceremony making Dostoevsky very nervous). This is how Dostoevsky describes her – “ My stenographer, Anna Snitkina, was a young and fairly attractive woman, twenty years old, of a good family, and had finished her courses with honors. She has a heart and she knows how to love.“  All in all Dostoevsky lived in St Petersburg for 28 years. He didn’t have his own apartment – he always rented. During his life in St Petersburg he changed his address twenty times and never lived in any one house for more than three years. Usually his apartments were located at intersections and his characters were to live in the same kind of buildings. His last apartment where he died of an ailment of the lungs (from which he had long suffered) was turned into his museum (with the help of his grandson) and the funeral ceremony took place in the nearby Vladimir Cathedral. The Alexander Nevsky Monastery in St Petersburg offered to donate a plot in its cemetery and it was decided that the loved Russian writer would have his final resting place there. While having a private tour in St Petersburg at Tikhvin cemetery in  Alexander Nevsky Monastery,  don’t forget to read a quotation from the Bible on Dostoevsky’s  tombstone: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit “ John 12:24