Mikhail Andreevich Dostoevsky (epilepsy and parricide)

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Fyodor Dostoevsky’s father, Mikhail Andreevich Dostoevsky, died in 1839 while Fyodor was away at St. Petersburg’s military engineering college.[1] There were three conflicting accounts of the cause of his death and the true cause remains unknown.[2] The first explanation is that he was killed by his serfs, the second is that he began drinking heavily after his wife's death and lost his life to alcoholism, and the third, and official cause, is that he had a heart attack.[3] Although his death is shrouded in mystery, it is clear from his son Andrey’s writing that Mikhail began to quickly deteriorate after the death of his wife Maria.

Mikhail Andreevich Dostoevsky

Mikhail was a doctor at Moscow’s Marriinskaya Hospital for the poor and after the birth of his two eldest sons (Mikhail and Fyodor) he was promoted to collegiate assessor, which raised his legal status to that of nobility.[4] He was a devoted parent and a well-educated and caring man, but he had a hot temper and could be stern and distrustful.[5] [6] Mikhail was also an extremely religious man and he and Maria raised their children in the traditional orthodox way, which was characterized by fear, rigidity, and obedience.[7]

In 1837 Maria died of tuberculosis and it was after this that Fyodor’s younger brother, Andrey, noted how his father began to change. He states that when Mikhail became a widower he began to speak out loud to himself, as if he were imagining that he was having a conversation with his wife.[8] Andrey cites a letter that his father sent to Fyodor several days before his death as well, in which Mikhail's writing was filled with the anguish and sadness that festered, then grew after his wife's death.[9] He states that Mikhail’s loneliness nearly drove him mad and that he started to drink, and his drinking eventually became alcoholism.[10] Of the three possible causes for death, Andrey makes it clear that he believes that Mikhail's serfs murdered him. He claims that Mikhail, being ill-tempered, lost control and shouted at his serfs in such a way that one of the serfs rallied a group together and they attacked and killed him.[11] Andrey then goes onto say that when the police came to the scene they were bribed by the group and the serfs went unpunished, while the official cause of Mikhail’s death was determined to be a heart attack.[12]

The true cause of Mikhail’s death has never been identified, but it is evident that the mystery surrounding it and the loss of his father had a profound effect on Fyodor’s worldview and writing. Freud argues that the way in which Dostoevsky’s epilepsy developed is directly related to how he internalized and understood the death of his father.[13] Epilepsy is a theme in his work and it is particularly important to The Idiot. Parricide and the relationship between fathers and sons are also important themes for Dostoevsky, especially in The Brothers Karamazov, in which the guilt for the death of their father is marked by conflict between his sons.[14]


  1. Bondarenko, Aleksandr. “Prominent Russians: Fyodor Dostoevsky,” http://russiapedia.rt.com/prominent-russians/literature/fyodor-dostoevsky/.
  2. Sekirin, Peter. The Dostoevsky Archive, 58. McFarland & Company, 1997.
  3. The Dostoevsky Archive, 58.
  4. Morson, Gary Saul. “Fyodor Dostoyevsky,” last modified September 21, 2016, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Fyodor-Dostoyevsky.
  5. Prominent Russians: Fyodor Dostoevsky.
  6. Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
  7. Prominent Russians: Fyodor Dostoevsky.
  8. The Dostoevsky Archive, 61.
  9. The Dostoevsky Archive, 61.
  10. The Dostoevsky Archive, 61.
  11. The Dostoevsky Archive, 61.
  12. The Dostoevsky Archive, 58.
  13. Freud, Sigmund. “"Dostoevsky and Parricide.” 1928.
  14. The Dostoevsky Archive, 59.