Today In History: Dostoevsky Given Death Sentence

Today In History |

November 16, 1849

Today in 1849, Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky is issued a death sentence by a Russian court for affiliation with a politically radical group of intellectuals and supposed antigovernment agitation. Thankfully, the sentence was revoked just before he was murdered.


The group in question was the Petrashevsky Circle, organized by Mikhail Petrashevsky and organized around the ideas of Charles Fourier, a utopian socialist. It was a politically diverse milieu, that was united by a shared distaste for the Tsar and the Russian system of serfdom. They frequently read and discussed literature and philosophy that had been banned by the Tsarist government.

In 1849, Dostoevsky was arrested for his involvement in the group and on December 22 he was led before a firing squad. Just before he was shot, he got a reprieve. Instead of death, he faced four years at a labor camp in Siberia. Upon his release in 1854, he became a soldier and was married. He returned from the Mongolian frontier in 1859.


Dostoevsky's wife and brother died, and then the magazine he founded went under. Dostevsky was then severely in debt, a problem made much worse by a gambling habit. He was rescued from certain financial ruin with the serialized publication of his novelĀ Crime and Punishment in 1866. The following year, he married again and traveled to Europe, fleeing his debts. In 1872, he published his novelĀ The Possessed. Dostoevsky and his wife returned to St. Petsersburg, where he wrote and published his masterpieceĀ The Brothers Karamazov in 1880. He died in 1881.

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Matt lives in Southern California. He is interested in politics, history, literature and the natural world.