3. The Writer’s Mind

Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821–1881)
Iz arkhiva F. M. Dostoevskogo / From the Archive of F. M. Dostoevsky
Moskva: Gosudarstvennoe izdatel’stvo khudozhestvennoi literatury, 1931

While a student at the Nikolayev Military Engineering Institute, the young Dostoevsky preferred drawing and architecture to mathematics and engineering. The ‘doodles’ here reflect Dostoevsky’s interest in neo-Gothic architecture, which was undergoing a revival in nineteenth-century Russia, continental Europe, and Britain, and they accompany his notes on the plot of Crime and Punishment. Walking through St Petersburg, the novel’s main character Raskolnikov would have seen many examples of neo-Gothic architecture including the Mikhailovsky Castle, which coincidently houses the engineering institute Dostoevsky attended.

In addition to doodles, pages from Dostoevsky’s notebooks are often adorned with calligraphy. These samples point to Dostoevsky’s interest in the art form, something he assigns to Prince Myshkin in his later novel The Idiot. Myshkin, like his creator, suffers from epilepsy, collects calligraphy specimens, and is masterful at handwriting. Some psychologists suggest samples such as this one, and others with meticulous writing filling the entire page, are examples of hypergraphia. Intriguingly, studies have shown that hypergraphia, compulsive writing, and hyper-religiosity may indicate that Dostoevsky’s condition could be retrospectively diagnosed as temporolimbic epilepsy. This diagnosis would also fit with Dostoevsky’s compulsive gambling, torment from frequent nightmares, and many bouts of depression.

Soma Barsen

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