On this day in 1849, a Russian court sentences Fyodor Dostoevsky to death for his allegedly antigovernment activities linked to a radical intellectual group. His execution is stayed at the last minute.
Dostoevsky’s father was a doctor at Moscow’s Hospital for the Poor, where he grew rich enough to buy land and serfs. After his father’s death, Dostoevsky, who suffered from epilepsy, studied military engineering and became a civil servant while secretly writing novels. His first, Poor People, and his second, The Double, were both published in 1846-the first was a hit, the second a failure.
Dostoevsky began participating in a radical intellectual discussion group called the Petrashevsky Circle. The group was suspected of subversive activites, which led to Dostoevsky’s arrest in 1849, and his sentencing to death.
On December 22, 1849, Dostoevsky was led before the firing squad but received a last-minute reprieve and was sent to a Siberian labor camp, where he worked for four years. He was released in 1854 and worked as a soldier on the Mongolian frontier. He married a widow and finally returned to Russia in 1859. The following year, he founded a magazine and two years after that journeyed to Europe for the first time.
In 1864 and 1865, his wife and his brother died, the magazine folded, and Dostoevsky found himself deeply in debt, which he exacerbated by gambling.
In 1866, he published Crime and Punishment, one of his most popular works. In 1867, he married a stenographer, and the couple fled to Europe to escape his creditors. His novel The Possessed (1872) was successful, and the couple returned to St. Petersburg. He published The Brothers Karamazov in 1880 to immediate success, but he died a year later.