Impact of Prison on Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Poor Folk, The Double, and The IdiotFyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky is perhaps one of the most well known but least understood authors from the nineteenth century. His life was one full of misfortune and suffering; his works filled with religious pondering and philosophical discussions. Dostoevsky’s life experiences were integrated into the characters in his pieces, both in terms of personality and ideology. An especially important turning point in his life was his arrest and imprisonment at the age of twenty-seven, shortly after the beginning of his writing career. This prison sentence and time in exile served to shape his perceptions and beliefs towards life, which were then incorporated into his literary works.
Dostoevsky entered the Chief Engineering Academy in Saint Petersburg in 1838, at the age of 17. Upon his graduation, he served in the civil service, but gave it up to pursue writing full-time. 1846 saw the publishing of his first books, Poor Folk, and The Double. In Poor Folk, he explores some of the social issues of the day, and the work has even been dubbed of a “socialist character.” During this time, he had joined forces with other young intellectuals, and began attending meetings headed by Petrashevsky. These young “social realists” would meet and discuss current political issues — most importantly, the idea of the liberation of the serfs. This issue was especially of interest to Fyodor, who had been exposed to the cruelties of serfdom early in his life. He had a deep hatred of the institution of serfdom, which was perhaps rooted in his guilt towards the murder of his father. It was thought that Mikhail Andreevich was murdered by his own serfs during a particularly violent bout of anger towards them. Fyodor, while he was in no way associated with the death (he was in school in Saint Petersburg at the time), none the less felt guilt. Part of this may have been due to his incessant nagging for more money from his father during his last few years.
This group of idealists was influenced by the changing political status in Europe during the middle of the nineteenth century. This was a time of a new social awareness — new rights and liberties were being fought for and won, governments were transforming, and a series of “utopian socialist” books were quickly becoming popular. Dostoevsky had been an avid reader of such authors as Hugo, Sand, Sue, and others in this field.