Alexander Pushkin, 1799 – 1837. Alexander Pushkin is considered Russia’s greatest and most influential poet. Pushkin is most admired for his exquisite use of language. His use of the vernacular challenged the formal constraints of Russian poetry and broke new ground. Pushkin drew his influences from Russian history and folklore – which lent his work a Russian feel. His influence
extends to Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Chekov. His most beloved work is the long poem, Eugene Onegin. Pushkin died in the same year as Dostoevsky’s mother, and Dostoevsky is said to have declared that if he weren’t already wearing mourning clothes, he would put them on, to mark the poet’s passing.
Link: The Pushkin Page
Nikolai Gogol, 1809 – 1852. Nikolai Gogol is one of Russia’s great satirists and social commentators. Gogol explored new possibilities for the novel, using his bizarre comic vision to craft social protest. In many ways he predates the modern absurdist writers. Gogol’s most important work is his novel, Dead, which satirizes the institution of serfdom. Dostoevsky admired Gogol, and considered him one of his literary teachers.
Link: Gogol Biography
Leo Tolstoy, 1828 – 1910. Leo Tolstoy is perhaps Dostoevsky’s rival for the titles of “Russia’s Greatest Novelist” and “Russia’s Greatest Moral Philosopher.”
Tolstoy was interested in developing through his literature a doctrine of pacifism, renunciation of wealth, and a belief in self-improvement. Tolstoy is best known for his epic work, War and Peace, which challenged the view that war was glamorous. Tolstoy’s success with War and Peace perhaps inspired Dostoevsky to plan an epic novel of his own – Brothers Karamazov.
Link: Tolstoy Website
Link: Images of Tolstoy
Nikolai, 1821 – 1887. In the nineteenth century, Nikolai was perhaps Russia’s best-known civic poet. His works were popular with revolutionaries and were often quoted as a means of rallying support. was also an important publisher, introducing Dostoevsky and other writers to the literary world. Dostoevsky and would have many philosophies in common – including their sympathy for the life of the poor, especially the rural peasant.
Vissarion Belinsky, 1811 – 1848. Belinsky was the most important literary critic of his day. He believed that literature should serve political ends, and that social values were more important than aesthetic values. He admired Dostoevsky’s first novel, Poor Folk, but was very critical of his later works. However, Belinsky’s favorable review of Poor Folk was enough to launch Dostoevsky’s literary career.
Link: Belinsky Biography
Ivan Turgenev, 1818 – 1883. Turgenev, along with Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, was one of the most influential of the nineteenth century Russian novelists. Like Dostoevsky, Turgenev opposed serfdom. Also like Dostoevsky, he devoted his work to an exploration of nihilism. (He is, in fact, credited with having coined the term.) However, unlike Dostoevsky, Turgenev believed that the answer to Russia’s problems would come not from Russia, but from the West. In short, in the debate between the Slavophiles and the Westerners, Turgenev sided with the West. For this, Dostoevsky would condemn him. Turgenev’s greatest novel is Fathers and Sons.
Link: Turgenev Biography
Friedrich Schiller, 1759 – 1805. Along with Goethe, Schiller is one of Germany’s most significant poets, dramatists, and philosophers. In his work, Schiller developed a theory of “The Beautiful Soul,” in which all the conflicts
of the human heart might be reconciled through the will. A great believer in man’s freedom and dignity, Schiller was one of the great German Romantic Idealists. Dostoevsky admired his poetry.
Link: Schiller Website
Link: German Romanticism
Charles Fourier, 1772 – 1837. Fourier was a French social utopian philosopher whose vision of utopia was centered on the phalanx, or artist’s co-op, where people would learn to live together by celebrating art together. Fourier’s idea that social change might be achieved non-violently, through art, interested Dostoevsky in his youth.
Link: Fourier in Context
Link: Selected Writings
Mikhail Petrashevsky, 1821 – 1866. Petrashevsky was the charismatic leader of a secret socialist revolutionary circle that Dostoevsky joined in the 1840s. Dostoevsky and the other members of the circle were arrested in 1849 and sent to Siberia. Dostoevsky would not return from exile until 1859.
Link: The Petrashevsky Circle
Tsar Nicholas I, 1796 – 1855. Nicholas I was the emperor of Russia from 1825 – 1855. Throughout his thirty-year reign, Nicholas was a repressive leader who believed in the triumvirate of “Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nation.” Nicholas believed that the tsar’s rule of Russia was absolute, and he was strongly opposed to calls for reform. It was Nicholas who sentenced Dostoevsky to death for his participation in the Petrashevsky Circle. It was also Nicholas who provided his reprieve and then sent him into exile in Siberia.
Link: Nicholas I Biography
Tsar Alexander II, 1818 – 1881. Alexander succeeded Nicholas I in 1855 and ruled Russia until his death in 1881. Alexander’s reign was an era of reforms, the most important of which was the emancipation of the in 1861. This reform was followed by the overhaul of the justice system and a lifting of censorship. Dostoevsky was received in the court of Alexander II in the 1870s – twenty years after Alexander’s father had sent the writer into exile.
Link: Alexander II
The Decembrists. The Decembrists were Russia’s first revolutionary movement. They attempted in December 1825 to overthrow the newly established reign of Nicholas I in favor of a representative form of government. Many of the Decembrists also supported the abolition of serfdom. They were discovered, tried, and sentenced to exile in Siberia. Their wives went with them. The wives of the Decembrists met with Dostoevsky on his way into exile and presented him with a copy of The New Testament.
The Nihilists. The term “Nihilist” was coined by Turgenev as “one who approves of nothing” in the existing order. The term came to refer to the group of revolutionaries who plotted against and eventually succeeded in killing Tsar Alexander II. The German writer Frederich Nietzsche would take nihilistic ideas to their fullest realization in his monumental work, Will to Power. Though we have no evidence that Dostoevsky read Nietzsche’s works, Nietzsche admired Dostoevsky’s writing – in particular, Notes from the Underground.
Mikhail Bakunin, 1814 – 1876. Bakunin was a Russian aristocrat-turned-rebel who was attracted to revolutionary socialism. Bakunin believed in the essential goodness of man, but he also argued that man was corrupted by existing institutions. He supported violent overthrow of the tsar – though he was also a strong critic of Karl Marx.
Karl Marx, 1818 – 1883. Karl Marx was Germany’s most influential economical philosopher. As the founder of modern socialism, Marx believed in the abolition of private property. In Marx’s system, private property contributed to modern man’s sense of alienation. By abolishing private property and establishing communal ownership, man could break the chains of his alienation and establish an economic and spiritual brotherhood. Though Dostoevsky would have shared Marx’s concern with the alienation of modern man, he was antagonistic to Marx’s solution. Particularly odious to Dostoevsky was Marx’s position on religion – i.e., that religion is the opiate of the people.
Link: Collected Writings
Socialism. Very simply stated, socialism is the belief that a classless society might be created if private property were replaced by public ownership, production, distribution, and exchange. In the nineteenth century, some socialists were also Christians. They observed the injustice of poverty and believed that the brotherhood of democratic socialism might be an answer. However, many other socialists were anarchists who hoped to bring down existing structures through violent revolution. In Russia, the revolution of 1917 did not establish democratic socialism but rather the totalitarian socialist state of the USSR.
Link: 19th Century Socialism