Fyodor Dostoevsky: More than a Novelist

Diana Severance, Ph.D. edited by Dan Graves, MSL

Fyodor Dostoevsky: More than a Novelist

The famous Russian novelist and Christian, Fyodor Dostoyevsky was born on this day, November 11, 1821. From earliest childhood Dostoyevsky knew the gospels and learned Bible stories from the deacon at the hospital where his father was a doctor. As he looked back in later years, he rejoiced that as a child he was brought up in a home that knew Christ, and that his mother and father had given him something holy and precious to carry him through the rest of his life.

As a young man, Dostoyevsky was an activist promoting the social ideals of his day. In 1849, at age 26, he was charged with conspiracy against Tsar Nicholas' government and sentenced to death. Standing before a firing squad, he was reprieved at the last moment (the dramatic moment turned out to be an act staged as a terrifying warning), and sent to prison in Siberia for four years. On his way, a group of women gave him a New Testament which he treasured the rest of his life. The underlining in his New Testament shows that he emphasized two themes: persecution of the just and the coming Day of Judgment. He believed that man's road to salvation must be through suffering.

However, his view of suffering was not pessimistic. In his writings, the darkness was always lighted, however indistinctly, by the sufferings of Christ. The most degenerate person still retains a spark of God's image and must be loved as our neighbor.

He also believed in God's Providence. Once, when a friend remarked that his Siberian punishment had been unjust, Dostoyevsky disagreed, pointing out that God had sent him to Siberia to teach him important lessons. Dostoyevsky's best known novels--The Idiot, Memoirs from Underground, Crime and Punishment, and The Brothers Karamazov--explore man's sinful soul and show that suffering has a purifying effect upon an individual.

Dostoyevsky, an epileptic, struggled all his life with powerful compulsions, such as gambling. Although he saw Christ as embodying freedom for men (a freedom that the Grand Inquisitor he invented in The Brothers Karamazov considers cruel, because most people can't bear it), Dostoyevsky never seemed to understand how to experience that freedom himself.

He died in 1881. The epitaph on his grave is from John l2:24: "Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."

Bibliography:

  1. Adapted from an earlier Christian History Institute story.
  2. Berdyaev, Nicholas. Dostoevsky. Cleveland: World Publishing, 1962.
  3. Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov. Various editions.
  4. Kaus, Otto. Dostojewski zur Kritik der Personlichkeit. Munchen, 1916. Source of the image.
  5. Wintle, Justin. Makers of Nineteenth Century Culture, 1800-1914. London; Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982; p. 175.

Last updated July, 2007.

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