Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the author of The Brothers Karamazov, The Idiot and Crime and Punishment spent his childhood and adolescence in an apartment located near the former Mariinsky Hospital, which now houses the Dostoyevsky Museum. This is one of Moscow’s oldest literary museums, boasting a fully restored interior and an exhibition space displaying objects which used to belong to Dostoyevsky himself.
The Journey Starts
In the past, this area known as ‘Bozhedomka’ (meaning ‘God’s home’ in Russian) was on the remote outskirts of the city, notorious for its funeral home where unidentified bodies were brought for burial. Burying them in regular cemeteries was prohibited, so common graves called ‘bozhedomye’ were arranged for this purpose. In 1732, the funeral home was transferred to Maryina Roshcha, only to be definitely shut down in 1771 after an outbreak of the plague. The name ‘Bozhedomka’ is still associated with this place, however. A fine sample of late Russian Classic architecture designed by G. Quarenghi, The Mariinsky Hospital for the poor, was built here in the early 19th century by the celebrated architects G. B. Gilardi and A. Mikhailov. Its construction was funded by Empress Maria Feodorovna, the wife of Paul I of Russia. The hospital was locally known as ‘Mariinka’, and it provided free medical aid 24 hours a day. The Russian empress closely monitored the condition of the hospital rooms and the work of doctors and nurses. In 1811 a son, Fyodor, was born to one of the staff doctors, Mikhail Dostoevsky, in the right wing of the hospital. Two years later, the family moved to the left wing, which now houses the museum. Fyodor spent the first fifteen years of his life in this apartment at the Mariinsky Hospital before entering St. Petersburg’s Engineering School in 1837.
The name Dostoevsky is usually associated with St. Petersburg. He lived there for many years and so too did many of his literary characters. His first, most vivid memories, however, are related to Moscow and to his childhood. He recalled his loving mother, his friendship with his brothers and sisters, family reading sessions, leisurely walks around the city, his first books and visits to the theatre. It is no accident that, in the finale of The Brothers Karamazov, one of his favourite literary characters Alyosha Karamazov says: ‘You must know that there is nothing higher and stronger and more wholesome and good for life in the future than some good memory, especially a memory of childhood, of home…If one has only one good memory left in one’s heart, even that may sometimes be the means of saving us’.
The museum building has never been reconstructed and is still the way it was in Dostoyevsky’s time. The apartment’s interior has been restored according to the information provided by Dostoyevsky’ younger brother Andrei, who gave a highly detailed description of the apartment’s furnishings, including charts and diagrams, and of the events that took place there. “At that time our father, a family man, had already four or five children and used his rank of staff captain to occupy an apartment that consisted, basically, of two clean rooms, in addition to the entrance hall and a kitchen… That’s the apartment! Later, in the thirties, when even more children were born to our parents, one more room with three windows overlooking the backyard was added to this apartment”. The furnishings were rather modest, but it is worth a visit as some personal belongings of the Dostoevsky family are kept in the museum. The exhibition includes the hospital corridor, where Dostoevsky’s writing pen is on display, a symbol of his future literary path. His writing desk is also here, brought from his last apartment in St. Petersburg, where he wrote some chapters of The Brothers Karamazov and A Writer’s Diary. Other priceless exhibits include an inkstand, his spectacles, the Gospel presented to Dostoyevsky by the Decembrists’ wives in 1850, his visiting cards and much more.
A monument to Dostoevsky by Sergey Merkurov stands in the courtyard in front of the hospital. Built before the revolution, it has been moved several times. The sculpture was commissioned by a millionaire named Sharov and was completed between 1911 and 1914. Alexander Vertinsky, a popular Russian actor, posed for the sculpture.
The museum holds regular lectures on Dostoyevsky’s biography and literary heritage, round tables, meet-the-artist events and scholarly meetings. Once a month, the museum offers schoolchildren a variety of exciting activities – they are able to familiarise themselves with Dostoyevsky’s house, try to locate objects hidden among the exhibits, read, compose, draw book covers and even challenge each other to duels!© 2016-2018 moscovery.com