Fyodor Dostoevsky

Fyodor Dostoevsky

1458_image2_sFyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky (1821-1881), who was the most prominent and world famous Russian writer, is associated with Saint-Petersburg in the first place. Nevertheless, Dostoyevsky is a native Muscovite. The building where the future writer was born and spent the first 16 years of his life now houses his memorial apartment with Dostoyevskys’ authentic interiors and personal objects. Some of the writer’s characters were “born” in Moscow. The city can also boast three unique monuments to Fyodor Mikhailovich. Monument to Alexander Pushkin reminds us of the brilliant speech made by Dostoyevsky to a large audience at the opening ceremony of the monument in 1880. It was a moment of special relevance in his life.


1461_image5_sFyodor Mikhailovich was born on 30 October (11 November) 1821 as a second son to the family of Mariya Fyodorovna and Mikhail Andreevich Dostoyevskys. The event took place in Moscow in the south wing of Mariinskaya hospital (Russian: Mariinskaya bolnitsa or Мариинская больница) affiliated with the Moscow orphanage, where his father worked as a doctor (2, Dostoyevsky str. (Russian: улица Достоевского)). The boy was baptised in the hospital of St. Peter and Paul’s Church. This hospital for destitute people was considered to be the poorest in Moscow. It was located in the district known as Bozhedomka (Russian: Божедомка) (derived from the phrase “ubogiye doma”, which means “mean houses”). It was on the outskirts of Moscow in an area with a rather high crime rate.

Every day in Bozhedomka little Fedya witnessed poverty, diseases and even terrifying events, for example, the story of nine-year-old hospital groom’s daughter’s death, who fell victim to a drunkard. Later these events were reflected in his famous works. He did not like the building of the hospital itself either: “the style of Napoleon I’s time – huge, pseudo-majestic and incredibly boring”.

Gostinaya01 MuseumThe name Bozhedomka has been changed to Dostoyevsky street; there is Dostoyevskaya metro station close by. The wing of the hospital itself houses F. Dostoyevsky Memorial Apartment. Fyodor Mikhailovich spent the first fifteen years of his life here. It is the place where his character took shape. The building of the hospital is a landmark of the epoch of classicism. It was constructed by architects I. Gilardi and A. Mikhailov in the early 19th century. The hospital wing was intended for its employees’ official living quarters. The Dostoyevskys lived in one of them. Dostoyevsky and his parents lived in the apartment which is now the museum from 1823 to 1837. The building inside has never been rebuilt: the walls, the stoves, and the floor structure have remained the way they used to be at the time when the writer lived there. The gate with lions on the arches in front of the entrance to the apartment has been preserved since Dostoyevsky’s time.

1462_image6_sLater the writer’s brother recalled: “Our Father… strictly speaking, at that time occupied an apartment consisting of two clean rooms, apart from the entrance hall and the kitchen. Entering the apartment from the cold seni[1]… you found yourself in an entrance hall with one window (overlooking the clean yard). In the rear part of this rather long entrance hall there was a half-dark space for the children, separated from the rest of the room with a partition wall made of glued board. Further on was the living room – a rather spacious place with two windows overlooking the street and three windows overlooking the clean yard. Then there was a drawing room with two windows looking onto the street with a half-lit space for the parents’ bedroom separated with a partition wall of the same kind”.

The museum holds authentic memorial furniture pieces of the Dostoyevskys’ family, portraits of his parents and relatives as well as books. The readings uniting the whole family usually took place in the living room. Books were taken out of the book case, the family members sat at the round table, wax candles were lit up. Most often they read works by Karamzin, Derzhavin, Zhukovsky, Zagoskin, and obviously the Bible. It is a well-known fact that Dostoyevsky remembered the Book of Job best of all while the New Testament became the book of his entire life.

The museum displays the “Dostoyevsky’s World” exhibition which gives an account of the writer’s work. In particular, you can see the writing desk from his last apartment where he wrote some chapters of “The Brothers Karamazov” and ‘The Writer’s Diary”, Dostoyevsky’s pen and ink set, his visiting cards; the New Testament, given to him by the Decembrists’[2] wives; and the book “One Hundred and Four Selected Stories of the Old and New Covenant”, which his mother used to teach him how to read. It is interesting that in “The Brothers Karamazov” Zosima says that he was taught to read with this book too.

The museum is not very big; however, it is here that you can understand the origin of Dostoyevsky’s worldview and creative work. As Alyosha Karamazov from “The Brothers Karamazov” would say later: “There is nothing higher, healthier, and more useful for life ahead than a good reminiscence, especially the one that stems from the paternal home. If a man collects many of these, he is safe for the rest of his life”.


1464_image8_sIn 1833-1834 the brothers were sent to the Drashusov (Sushard) half-boarding school to be taught maths and language arts. The school was close by in Seleznevskaya street (Russian: Селезневская улица); its building has not been preserved. This school is considered to be the prototype of the Tushar’s boarding school in the novel “The Raw Youth”. The disgusting character Tushar looks incredibly true-to-life. This is a “short, stout”, and “profoundly uneducated person”. In 1834-1837 the Dostoyevsky brothers went on studying in L. Chermak’s boarding school in 31, Novaya Basmannaya street (Russian: Новая Басманная) (the historical building has not been preserved).

In 1837 Dostoyevsky moved to Saint-Petersburg and went to study at the Main Engineering School. In the first half of the 1840s Dostoyevsky started writing and became a famous writer in the capital. He did not break contacts with Moscow. In the files of the “petrashevtsy”[3]case investigation it is stated that it was from Moscow from the nobleman Pleshcheyev that Dostoyevsky received a copy of Belinsky’s letter to Gogol, which was prohibited in Russia. After eight month of imprisonment in Petropavlovskaya fortress (Russia: Petropavlovskaya krepost or Петропавловская крепость) Dostoyevsky was sentenced to death, which was substituted with forced labour camp at the last moment.


1465_image9_sFrom Siberia Dostoyevsky returned to Saint-Petersburg. In the years from 1866 to 1880 (the “mature period”) he created his greatest works: “Crime and Punishment”, “Idiot”, “Demons”, “The Raw Youth”, “The Brothers Karamazov”, which reflected some of the plots related to Moscow. For example, in the second part of “Idiot” we find out that Prince Myshkin lived in Moscow for half a year and was in close relationship with the “femme fatal” Nastasiya Filippovna.

Dostoyevsky followed the Moscow crime news and some of the twists of plot in “Idiot” were borrowed from it. Thus, in the middle of the 1860s Dostoyevsky read about a grievous crime committed during a wedding in one of the houses in Bolshoi Zlatoustinsky side street (Russian: Bolshoi Zlatoustinsky pereulok or Большой Златоустинский переулок) (4, Bolshoi Zlatoustinsky pereulok). In the 1840s the house belonged to Moscow merchants the Mazurins. One of them committed a crime there: he murdered and burgled a jeweler he was familiar with. In the novel “Idiot” Nastasiya Filippovna says: “His house is gloomy, boring, and there is a secret in it. I am convinced that in some box he has a razor hidden, tied round with silk, just like the one that Moscow murderer had. This man also lived with his mother, and had a razor hidden away, tied round with white silk, and with this razor he intended to cut a throat”[4]. The crime chronicle reports that the murderer was sentenced to 15 years in forced labour camp. The building which occupies the site of that house at present was built in 1886 as a tenement building.


1453_image10_sOne of the few buildings in Moscow connected with Dostoyevsky’s name is the tenement building of the Moscow Supportive Society for Merchants’ Estate Managers (9, bld.1, Starosadsky side street) (Russian: Старосадский переулок). The present building was constructed in 1901 to B. Kozhevnikov’s design on the former Kumanins’ city estate. The Kumanins owned the estate from 1828 to 1868. Dostoyevsky’s mother’s blood sister Alexanrda Kumanina was all her sister’s children’s God mother. Dostoyevsky visited this house in his childhood. The Kumanins considered him to be their son as they had no children of their own. Dostoyevsky had the following recollections: “The aunt, deceased, played a very big part in our life from the early childhood until we were 16, and she put a lot of effort into our development”. Dostoyevsky’s sons owed her a good education while their sisters – good dowry. It was with his aunt’s money that Dostoyevsky went to study at the Engineering Shool. At present the building houses the State Public Historical Library.

ул. Знаменка, д. 9When F. Dostoyevsky stayed in Moscow in 1872, 1873, and 1877, he also visited E. Ivanova’s furnished rooms (9/12, bld. 2 Znamenka str. (Russian: Знаменка). The building, which has been preserved until the present day, was built in 1828 to architect E. Tyurin’s design. E. Ivanova was Dostoyevsky’s sister-in-law. At that time he was working on “Demons”, “The Raw Youth”, and keeping “The Writer’s Diary”. Later the fourth storey was added to the building and it became a tenement building.

Dostoyevsky knew Moscow quite well and loved it too. His wife A. Dostoyevskaya recalled that when they were staying in Moscow, she went sightseeing every morning together with her husband and “Fyodor Mikhailovich, a Muscovite by birth, was an excellent cicerone and told me many interesting things about the first capital city”.

In June 1866 Fyodor Mikhailovich went to the countryside to visit his sister Vera in Lyublino (Russian: Люблино) just outside Moscow. It was in Lyublino that Dostoyevsky worked on the chapter 5 of “Crime and Punishment’ and made an outline for “The Gambler”. His impressions of the summer spent in Lyublino were reflected in his short story ‘The Eternal Husband’.

Another address in Moscow linked to Dostoyevsky is the Assembly of the Nobility (Russian: Blagorodnoye Sobraniye or Благородное собрание) (the Pillar Hall of the House of the Unions, 1, B. Dmitrovka str. at present (Russian: Bolshaya Dmitrovka or Большая Дмитровка). In this building on 8 June 1880 Dostoyevsky made a landmark speech during the celebrations marking the unveiling of the Alexander Pushkin monument in Moscow. It made an indelible impression on those present, and the writer received a standing ovation. His contemporaries recalled that the people embraced and kissed each other, having taken to heart the writer’s words about brotherhood and unity on the worldwide and national scale. His words about Pushkin’s poetry as an expression of a specific character of Russian people common to all humanity became a matter of argument. This triumphant speech was the last one he made in his native city.


1454_image11_sThere are three monuments to F. Dostoyevsky in Moscow.

The first one, now located in the courtyard of the Dostoyevsky memorial apartment, was initially established in Tsvetnoi boulevard (Russian: Цветной бульвар) in 1918. It is interesting that the sculptor Sergei Merkulov worked on the writer’s image since 1905 having made more than twenty preliminary versions.   Alexander Vertinsky is thought to be one of the models for the monument. This explains Dostoyevsky’s weird posture, his helplessly clasped hands, which was obviously inspired by the image of Piero created by Vertinsky. Merkulov wrote: “He was an excellent artist’s model. He grasped my idea and took the right pose. So well did he hold his sculpturesque hands!” There is an opinion that Merkulov embodied new principles in this sculpture which gave the monument some dynamic tension. He wrote that it is a sculpture “… of two axes and a centre while the centre is outside the figure”. It was an innovative monument in the art of sculpture.

The statue did not stay long in the boulevard. It caused a lot of criticism at once. Thus, poet Ivan Pribludny wrote that “… Dostoyevsky stood still as if in stupor”. In 1936 the sculpture was moved to the courtyard of a hospital (2, Dostoyevsky str.), where you can see it today.

Another monument to F. Dostoyevsky was established in 2007 in the courtyard of school #1148 named after F. Dostoyevsky in Lyublino (2, bld. 4, Krasnodonskaya str. (Russian: Краснодонская). It was created by sculptor E. Shishkov.

1457_image14_sThe third monument is a creation of remarkable sculptor Alexander Rukavishnikov. It appeared opposite the State Russian Library (3/5, Vozdvizhenka str.) in 1997. The writer is depicted in a strange and awkward posture, sitting deep in thought on a draped socle. There is grief and pain on his face. On the back of the base you can see a bas-relief with a view of the Neva embankment. It is interesting that a similar monument by the same sculptor was established in 2006 in Dresden.

The ‘Dostoyevskaya’ Metro station of the Moscow Metro was opened in 2010. L. Popov and N. Rasstegnyaeva, and I. Nikolaev created its design. Its rather gloomy and full of contrasts interior reminds of the plots of the writer’s four novels: “Crime and Punishment”, “Idiot”, “Demons”, and “Brothers Karamazov”. The scenes illustrating Dostoyevsky’s works caused mixed feelings in Muscovites. On the walls you can see the scenes of murdering the old woman and Lizaveta, Svidrigailov’s suicide (“Crime and Punishment”), Nastasiya Filippovna’s murder (“Idiot”), Shatov’s murder and Stavrogin’s suicide (“Demons”).

© 2016-2018
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9, Znamenka Street
Seleznyovskaya Street today
Russian Armed Forces Cultural Centre
4, Bolshoy Zlatoustinsky Lane
Bozhedomka Street
Anna Grigoryevna Dostoyevskaya
Outbuilding of the former Mariinsky Hospital. An old photo
Fyodora Dostoyevskogo Street
Fyodor Dostoyevsky's father, Mikhail
Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Dostoyevskaya Metro Station
Dostoyevskaya Metro Station
Dostoyevskaya Metro Station
Fyodor Dostoyevsky's mother, Maria
Monument to Fyodor Dostoyevsky on Vozdvizhenka Street
Monument to Fyodor Dostoyevsky in Lyublino
Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Quill pen on view at the Fyodor Dostoyevsky Museum
Toys on view at the Fyodor Dostoyevsky Museum
Dostoyevsky Museum. Living Room
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