Northern Illinois University Press

Dostoevsky’s Early Years

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Fyodor Dostoevsky—In the Beginning provides a diary-portrait of Dostoevsky’s early years and sheds light on many unexplored corners of Dostoevsky’s childhood, adolescence, and youth. Author Thomas Marullo offers insights into his research into Dostoevsky’s early life and what he learned from writing this book in this Q&A.

1. What’s your favorite anecdote from your research for this book?

As with all my books, I had no idea of what I was doing or looking for, my only certainties being the years 1846 and 1847. I was like a rock climber hanging on for dear life, hoping that there was a summit and commanding view somewhere, and, with slippery walls in front of me and the hard ground below, having no choice but to go on.   

2. What do you wish you had known when you started writing your book, that you know now?

Before I started the book, I was vaguely aware of the difficulties between Dostoevsky and the members of the Belinsky circle, but I was stunned by the actual dynamics of conflict, particularly how Belinsky and company regarded Dostoevsky after the publication of Poor Folk as a man-god – the messiah-savior of Russian literature – but how quickly and cruelly they abandoned him when he failed to meet their expectations with later works. This was a dynamic that Dostoevsky would use in his first novel, Netochka Nezvanova (1849), as well as in his major fiction twenty years later.   

3. How do you wish you could change the field of Russian and Eurasian Studies?

It is high time that teachers of Russian language and literature return to basics, and offer rigorous surveys and seminars that move beyond cute and catchy topics and themes, and that show the sheer majesty and brilliance of War and Peace, The Brothers Karamazov, and other classics of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Russian literature. 

*Featured photo by Mitya Ivanov.


Thomas Gaiton Marullo is Professor of Russian and Russian Literature at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author of numerous books, including, most recently, the first volume in this biography of Fyodor Dostoevsky.

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