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Literary Moscow

Fyodor Dostoevsky Apartment Museum
Text and photos by Marina Kashpar

The Dostoevsky Apartment Museum in Moscow was the world’s first museum that was dedicated to Dostoevsky. It was opened on the 11th of November 1928, the anniversary of Dostoevsky’s birth, and till the late 1970s was the only museum devoted to the great Russian writer.

Perpetuation of the memory of Fyodor Dostoevsky was started by his widow, Anna Grigorevna Dostoevskaya. She wrote: “I am not living in the 20th century, I still exist in the ‘70s of 19th century. My friends are the friends of Fyodor Mikhailovich, my company is the society of people who were close to Dostoevsky. Everyone who studies Dostoevsky’s life and works seems to me to be a close person.”

She published all Dostoevsky’s works, gathered and saved more than one thousand things connected with her husband’s life. These artefacts formed the basis of the Fyodor Dostoevsky Museum.

The museum itself is located in one of the side wings of the former Mariinsky hospital for poor people, in the house where Fyodor Dostoevsky spent almost 15 years of his childhood. The hospital was established at the beginning of the 19th century by the Empress Maria Fedorovna. It was designed by architects I. Zhilyardi and A. Mihailov, according to working drawings made by D. Kvarnagi, who constructed a similar hospital in St. Petersburg at about the same time.

In the spring of 1821, an ex-military doctor, Mikhail Andreevich Dostoevsky, the writer’s father, came to work there. On the 11th of November that year, in the right wing of the hospital in the doctor’s family quarters, his second son, Fyodor was born. In 1823 the Dostoevsky family moved to the other side of the building and occupied an apartment there on the ground floor, which is where the present museum is situated.

The Mariinsky hospital was founded as a charity hospital for the poor. It was one of the first medical organizations in the city where everyone who asked could get medical help regardless whether rich or poor, male or female, Russian or foreign. Right in front of the main entrance to the building a large line of poor Muscovites used to wait every morning waiting for help.

The hospital was located in one of the city’s worst areas. Local landmarks included a cemetery for criminals, a lunatic asylum, and an orphanage for abandoned infants. This urban landscape made a lasting impression on the young Dostoyevsky, whose interest in and compassion for the poor, oppressed and tormented was apparent in his life and works. Although it was forbidden by his parents, Dostoyevsky liked to wander out to the hospital garden, where the patients sat to catch a glimpse of the sun. The young Dostoyevsky appreciated spending time with these people and listening to their stories. The themes of “poor folk” and the “humiliated and insulted” in his novels were first encountered here, at Bozhedomka, in the hospital yard.

The exposition inside the museum starts with the St. Peter and Pavel hospital church book opened on the note: “In October a baby, named Fyodor, was born in the family of ex-military doctor Mihail Andreevich Dostoevsky.”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky never had a family home; he never lived in his own house. Only at the end of his life did he buy an estate in Staraya Rusa. And at the beginning of his life, all he had was a small government flat at the hospital, “for working but not rich people”.

From the memories of Dostoyevsky’s younger brother: “Our father resigned from military service, and in March 1821 was appointed doctor to the Mariinsky hospital for the poor… He retired in 1837 …being already head of a family he occupied a flat of two rooms with an antechamber and a kitchen. In the vestibule under the main staircase there was a large storeroom. Those were all the rooms and conveniences of our flat.”

The room for brothers Mihhail and Fyodor was separated from the vestibule with a wooden screen. There were two trunks, where the brothers slept. The room was dark, because the only window looked into the baby-sitter’s room and light came only from the vestibule. The vestibule leads to the living room—a spacious room with two windows overlooking the street and three windows looking the hospital yard. Among the original furniture there was an oval mahogany table which Dostoyevsky’s father used to work by night, and the family bookcase (they called it “the library”).

They took a great interest in literature in this house. In the family book-case one can see the books written by Russian and European authors: Vasikli Zhukovsky, Nikolai Karamzin, Alexsandr Pushkin, Walter Scott, Ann Radcliffe, plus copies of The Library for Readers, a literary periodical of the time with the novels by Balzac and others.

The family portraits are of special interest. Here are the parents, the ancestors and the relatives on Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s side who took care of the children after their parents’ death. Dostoyevsky’s mother, Mariya Fyodorovna, died here after a long and difficult illness. After her death, the family broke up. The young children were taken under their relatives’ guardianship. Mikhail Andreevich, the writer’s father, moved to the country estate, Darovoe, where he died (according to an unofficial version, he was killed by peasants).

Before that, in 1837,

Museum address:
Ul. Dostoevskogo, 2 (Metro Dostoevskaya)
Working hours:
Thursdays, Saturdays, Sundays from
11 a.m. till 6 p.m.
Wednesdays and Fridays -
from 2 p.m. till 7 p.m.
Тел.: (495) 681 10 85

he decided to send his sons to St. Petersburg to study in the engineers college. After that, nobody from the Dostoyevsky family returned to the Moscow apartment. The Moscow flat has remained the same as it was at the time of family stayed there, hence the museum’s authenticity. The restoration works in 1982 were based on the memories of Andrei Dostoyevsky and according to the detailed 19th century plans of the building.

The main purpose of the museum is to convey the atmosphere that shaped the views and talent of the great Russian writer, Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The museum does a great job.

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