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The world of literature has hardly seen the likes of Fyodor Dostoevsky throughout its entire history. His extensive psychological prowess of digging deep into the complexities of one’s



mind and soul made him one of the most celebrated novelists on the planet. Dostoevsky’s works had a profound effect on a big group of the world’s biggest writers, including Sartre and Hemingway, who draw sustenance from the novels of the Russian genius. Although many of his novels did get a good deal of recognition during his life, a really huge appreciation descended on his works a century after he passed away. 


Unlike our previous post that celebrated Monet’s faculty for gambling and the huge success it generated for the writer, this article covers a less bright shade of game of chance that appeared to be inextricably intertwined with Dostoyevsky’s life.  



Fyodor Dostoyevsky: Early Years



1821 was the year when the family of an army doctor, Michail Dostoyevsky, had a new addition to their family – their second son, Fyodor. The little boy was growing up between two extremes embodied in the characters of his parents. His father was a dogmatic and very harsh personality whose biggest concern was status and wealth. His mother, Mariya, on the flip side of the coin, was a woman of the kindest, calmest and most generous nature. This fact most likely influenced Dostoyevsky’s future writing as he would later pack his novels with characters who had extremely opposite personalities. 


Being a very young boy, Fyodor took an interest in literature. He embraced the art of reading and writing at the age of 4 with the help of a Bible and the guidance of his mother. Subsequently, he was first introduced to fairy-tales, and later to the realm of the contemporary classics.


Although Dostoyevsky was educated in military engineering, he did not find his profession to be very exciting. On the contrary, he considered it terribly boring and mundane, which prompted the young man to seek refuge in reading. This is the time when he also translated books to make a few bucks and use them to try his luck in casinos. 




As we have mentioned above, his first money made on translation, took Dostoyevsky to the grounds of casinos where beginner’s luck led the man into one of the biggest delusions. He was actually sure of his capability of mastering the game of roulette and emerging victorious in this game all the time. 


Even though game success didn’t follow, Fyodor’s spirits were not dampened and he continued betting more up till the point when he squandered all of his funds. 


His cupboards were bare yet his passion for game caught fire. That said, Dostoevsky resorted to borrowing money which he would blow on roulette, and as a result, would gain nothing. This is how a young, impulsive and insanely talented writer was swept into the realm of gambling addiction that plagued him and his family almost throughout his entire life. 


The irony is that to repay his gambling debts, Dostoevsky penned ‘The Gambler’ – the novel inspired by his personal wretched experience. He narrated the story of a man, Alex, whose existence swung between his mania for gambling and his obsession with love. Coming from a middle-class family, he involved himself in the game of chance with the intent to become a man of repute. Doesn’t it remind you of someone?



The Sour Fruit of Addiction



Dostoyevsky had been a compulsive gambler for many years until he managed to rein in his unhealthy obsession in 1871. Before that time, the game addiction prompted Fyodor to descend to the appalling behaviour. He would constantly pawn the jewellery of his spouse, Anna, to bet the gained money on roulette and lose all of it in the blink of an eye. Moreover, for the same purpose, he even went as far as to pawn his wife’s and his own wedding ring. Not to mention, Anna was compelled to travel with her unsettled and anxious husband from country to country to dodge a whole bunch of angry creditors who demanded their money back. Here is the letter that Dostoyevsky wrote to Anna after yet another dry spell in his game:


I felt so ashamed about the 30 thalers I had robbed of you! … You had pawned all your possessions for me during these past 4 years and followed me in my wanderings with homesickness in your heart! Anya, Anya, bear in mind, too, that I am not a scoundrel but only a man with a passion for gambling… By half past nine, I had lost everything and I fled like a madman.”


Breaking Free



As we have already pointed out, late in his life, Dostoyevsky managed to break free from his gambling addiction. But, it remains a mystery as to what exactly helped the writer to stop. Some historians speculate that it was a ban of casinos in Germany in the early 70s, while others say that his children were the cure. As the writer himself put it: “The soul is healed by being with children”, we are inclined to think that the latter holds more water. 


Prior to his death, Fyodor Dostoevsky created the novels which immortalized the name of the genius in the field of literature. Apparently, he wanted people to worship his winnings at the gambling table: “No, it was not the money that I valued-what I wanted was to make all this mob of Heintzes, hotel proprietors, and fine ladies of Baden talk about me, recount my story, wonder at me, extol my doings, and worship my winnings.” (The Gambler). Instead, people worship his writing legacy. ‘The Idiot’, ‘The Possessed’ and ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ are the works that will never seize to excite, his novels touch our hearts and provoke us to spare a moment for deep thought.



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