WHAT THEY TRADED: Fyodor Dostoevsky

At the moment of his birth, Fyodor Dostoevsky's life seemed as if it was on a fairly comfortable path, mimicking that of his noble contemporary, Tolstoy. His father was a wealthy landowner, he was able to go to school and procure a nice education, and he could actually afford books and other luxuries. But this was not to last.

In an event that was perhaps a catalyst for his later reactionary politics, Dostoevsky was forced to witness the gruesome death of his own father by the servants who killed him. Dostoevsky Senior was drowned in vodka while his son watched and begged for him to be spared.

Alone but not yet ruined, Fyodor Dostoevsky shifted his focus towards his budding writing career, with much initial success. His first novel, "Poor Folk," was met with widespread acclaim and he was hailed as "the next Gogol." This would prove to be terribly, terribly true.

The success was short-lived. While critics loved his first novel, they panned his second and third, rendering him incapable of finding further publication. Less than thirty years old, he had already faced the same too-eager-acceptance followed by harsh rejection that had destroyed Gogol. Ultimately, however, he had little time to contemplate the untimely destruction of his literary reputation.

Due to his associations with certain politically active friends, Dostoevsky was soon arrested on false charges and sentenced to death. After waiting in a dungeon for an interminable length of time, he was placed in front of a firing squad and told he had but moments to live. However, it was all an elaborate trick staged by the wacky Czar. At the last moment, right before the bullets flew, one of the Czar's improv-comedy-trained messengers rode up on a white horse and announced that Dostoevsky's death sentence had been commuted to four years of hard labor in Siberia.

He went; chuckling perhaps.

After he was released from prison, Dostoevsky's life can best be summarized as a series of meetings with people who tried their best to destroy him. There was an evil stepson who tried to murder him and steal all of his money on several occasions, and a wicked publisher who tricked him into a contract that would essentially make Dostoevsky his literary slave (forced to write for the rest of his life for no pay) unless he was able to produce a novel in one week. He succeeded at that task, but only barely.

After Dostoevsky finally got a handle on his enemies, his loved ones started dropping like flies. His first wife and brother died a month apart from one another. The death of his brother was particularly crippling, since the two had been involved in a successful magazine that was allowing Dostoevsky to slowly work his way out of debt. Unable to pay off his many debts through that venture, he developed a desperate gambling addiction that would keep him and his second wife penniless throughout the rest of their days.

In the last few years of his life, Dostoevsky witnessed the deaths of two of his own children, which sent him into paroxysms of despair. He produced his masterwork "The Brothers Karamazov" in the aftermath of this incident and then died a month after it was finished. While walking down the street, he was smitten at random by a massive seizure, fell into a gutter, and breathed his last ragged breath.

During the trying times that were ahead for Russia, Dostoevsky's surviving wife found herself penniless and starving. One day, a visiting nobleman recognized her in a crowd of the homeless as "the great author's wife" and ordered his servant to throw her a loaf of fresh baked bread from the many he had just purchased.

Famished, Dostoevsky's wife devoured the whole loaf in a matter of seconds. Her stomach, withered and shrunken by the effects of starvation, was unable to handle the expansion of the still-hot bread. Her stomach exploded under the strain of nourishment, killing her.


Posted by harlock on Thu, 01 May 2008 06:59:11 -0400 -- permanent link

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