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Engineering College in St Petersburg. He launched his literary career in 1843, the year of his graduation, with a translation of Balzac’s then recent novel Eugénie Grandet. But it was not until two years later, having resigned his engineering lieutenant’s commission, that he made his own debut. Shepherded by the influential progressive critic Vissarion Belinsky, the publication of Poor Folk brought him instantly into the front ranks of Russian writers. Dostoevsky’s refusal to continue with that work’s humanitarian theme in The Double, published in 1846, coupled with an inability to moderate his highly strung temperament, led to his equally swift fall from grace. But social ostracism within the small confines of St Petersburg’s stiflingly small literary community was nothing compared to the Siberian exile which followed his arrest in April 1849 by the Secret Police.

Prodigiously well-read in the literature and thought of Romanticism, with a deep moral opposition to serfdom, Dostoevsky had naturally been drawn into the orbit of the Petrashevsky Circle, and the Charles ­Fourier-inspired discussions of French Utopian Socialism its members conducted behind closed doors. When these discussions became more heated as the 1848 ­Revolutions broke out across Europe, the paranoid Nicholas I took extreme action, determined to stamp out subversive activity in Russia at any cost. After enduring eight months of imprisonment in the notorious dungeon of the Peter and Paul xii

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