Creator: Fyodor Dostoevsky

"[Dostoevsky is] the only psychologist from whom I have something to learn."

"What terrible tragedies realism inflicts on people."

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky was a 19th century Russian author, famous for writing Notes from Underground, Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, and The Brothers Karamazov. A deeply philosophical writer with a nuanced understanding of human psychology, Dostoevsky is credited with being, depending on your view, either a forerunner or a founder of modern existentialism.

The funny thing about Dostoevsky is that he's really two different authors separated by a four year stretch of imprisonment and exile to Siberia in 1849. Pre-1849, Dostoevsky wrote two novels (Poor Folk and the incomplete Netochka Nezvanova) and several short stories, including the much filmed White Nights and novellas. His involvement with a circle of armchair revolutionaries and pamphleteers led him to be rounded up and imprisoned by the state and he was sentenced to be executed by firing squad. At the last moment, right when Dostoevsky was lining up to be killed with his friends, a message of pardon arrived and everyone was sent to prison instead. Biographers consider this a "mock execution", that is none of them were ever going to be killed in the first place but were put through the ringer of being on "Death Row" as a form of psychological torture. One of Dostoevsky's friends went insane as a result of this ordeal. This incident had a phenomenal influence on his life and worldview and the Dostoevsky who returned from prison was a changed man in every sense of the term. Formerly, a kind of liberal interested in applying Western ideas to Russia, he became an anti-Radical Orthodox Christian conservative whose works explored characters who are contradictory, divided and full of neurosis and trauma, much like the author himself.

He's really remembered for the work he turned out after he came back from exile. Having had a religious experience while in prison, he spent the rest of his life exploring themes such as free will, guilt, religious awakening, and the effects of nihilism. His most famous novels are all critically-acclaimed for being thought-provoking explorations of the human condition in the face of suffering and despair.

Dostoevsky is known as "the Mad Russian" for two reasons:
  • Something that tends to throw some readers off is that Dostoevsky's characters are all mad. Not literally mad, but they are all motivated by ideas instead of normal human drives. Because of this, several of the characters across his oeuvre tend to fall into molds or archetypes based on the ideas they represent (Sonya from Crime and Punishment and Alyosha from The Brothers Karamazov fall into a distinct category, as do Raskolnikov and Ivan Karamazov from the same books respectively), and his characters and their actions are symbolic of these ideas.
  • As a reaction against the European philosophies that were becoming popular in Russia in his time, Dostoevsky wrote in a rural, slavophilic/Russian style, emphasizing national unity and what would be the equivalent of "family values" in 19th century Russia.

Or maybe he was called "the Mad Russian" because the mindgames in his plots are so mind-bendingly complex one has to be mad to understand them. They devote university seminars to studying Dostoevsky's prose, and they can get away with it because the symbolism is real.

Dostoevsky is featured as a character in the novels Summer in Baden-Baden and The Master of Petersburg.

Works by Fyodor Dostoevsky with their own trope pages include:


Other works by Fyodor Dostoevsky provide examples of:

  • All Women Are Doms, All Men Are Subs: Though without sexual meaning, many, if not the most relationships in his books are female-led and man is submissive. Dmitri Karamazov even says "I believe that every good man must be kept under the heel of some woman!", which may be the view of Dostoyevsky himself (or not).
  • Author Tract: Liable to appear at any given time in his books. However several critics note that what appears to be Author Tract turns out to be different from Dostoevsky's own ideas.
  • Awesome Mc Cool Name: Pyotr Verkhovensky, whose family name is formed from "verkhovenstvo", which means "supremacy" in Russian.
  • Bomb-Throwing Anarchists: The gang of terrorists in Demons starts as one, but throughout the novel they change their goal form destroying the authorities and liberating everyone to installing a crueler regime and enslaving 90% of the population.
  • Byronic Hero: Stavrogin from Demons is a particularly nasty deconstruction; it's lampshaded early in the book that this character type was common in Russian literature (and society) at the time.
  • Character Filibuster: See Author Tract above.
  • Christianity Is Catholic: Averted. Although he was a devout Christian, Dostoevsky loathed Catholicism (especially the Jesuits), and he saw the raw, innocent spirituality of Russian Orthodoxy as an antidote to it. An Author Filibuster in The Idiot is devoted to this.
  • Deceased Fall-Guy Gambit: A important plot point in Demons.
  • Doorstopper: He wrote very thick novels.
    • There is actually a very good reason for this: Dostoevsky, like most Russian (and European in general) novelists of the time, had his work published in installments by literary magazines which paid by the page or word; the longer the work, the more money you made.
    • Also for most of Dostoevsky's career he wrote short stories and novellas — Poor Folk, The Gambler, The Double, White Nights, The Eternal Husband, Notes From Underground — he only wrote four major novel-length narratives, but those are among the best ever written.
  • Downer Ending: The Idiot. To a certain degree Demons as well.
  • Dystopia Justifies the Means: "Shigalyovism", the philosophy of the terrorist group from Demons.
  • Epilepsy: Dostoevsky was a famous real-life epileptic who often suffered periodic fits. His family and friends noted that his fits came suddenly without warning and that he would describe his trance-like state and visions in considerable detail. This eventually made its way into his books where many characters, notably Prince Myshkin and Smerdyakov are epileptics and a lot of Mind Screw comes from their descriptions of their fits.
  • Esoteric Happy Ending: The Beggar Boy at Christ's Christmas Tree, where titular beggar boy, who is abused by his alcoholic parents, freezes to death during during Christmas, but he dies happily, because he saw Christ in his Dying Dream and felt that he is beloved by God.
  • Face of an Angel, Mind of a Demon: Stavrogin is described as absolutely charming and beautiful, like a prince from a fairy tale, while in fact, he is a depraved murderer, pedophile and rapist.
  • Fallen Creator: In-Universe, Karamzinov from Demons, who had been one of the greatest Russian writers in the past, but then he Jumped the Shark.
  • The Gambling Addict: Most of the characters in "The Gambler", as well as Dostoevsky himself. Some of his books were published to dodge angry book-keepers.
  • The Gulag: Notes from the Dead House, which describe Dostoyevsky's imprisonment in Siberia. Also a rare non-Soviet example of this trope.
  • Henpecked Husband: Anton von Lembke from Demons is a spineless doormat for his wife and is generally a weak-willed person. The narrator says with total contempt that he was a virgin when he married his wife, while she wasn't.
  • Historical-Domain Character: For an artist with such a colorful life, Dostoevsky has been fictionalized in books like Sumer in Baden Baden by Leonid Tsypkin and The Master of Petersburg by J. M. Coetzee.
  • Jekyll & Hyde: The early novella "The Double", as you might have guessed from the title.
  • Loners Are Freaks: Dostoevsky's books feature characters who are loners, social rejects, the mentally ill and other freaks. His sympathetic portrayal of their alienation from society struck a chord with several modernist writers and made him highly popular among existential philosophers. What people often miss is that Dostoevsky doesn't romanticize this status at all, as seen in Notes from Underground. His works show how poverty, breakdown of family relations, genuine social dissatisfaction and callous cruelty makes such figures easy to indoctrinate into radical politics or other kinds of dangerous abstract ideas. About the only response to such alienation Dostoevsky can find is either authentic religious belief, The Power of Love, forgiveness and compassion.
  • The Masochism Tango: The marriage in the short story "A Gentle Creature". (Alternately, the relationship between any given Dostoevsky character and any other given Dostoevsky character.)
  • Misaimed Fandom: invoked
    • A posthumous example. Dostoevsky wrote about revolutionaries or aspiring radicals, social rejects, outsiders and featured characters who tend to scorn family values and religion. This made him influential on leftists, philosophers, freethinkers and young adolescents despite himself being a conservative Orthodox Christian Russian writer.
    • One delicious irony for the Great Russian is the fact that his books influenced Franz Kafka and Sigmund Freud and several other Jewish writers like Isaac Bashevis Singer despite being, unfortunately, an anti-Semite like many Russians of his time.
  • Mind Screw: Of course!
  • Nice Guys Finish Last: The protagonist in the story "White Nights".
  • Nietzsche Wannabe:
    • Dostoevsky codified these characters in many of his books. Raskolnikov is perhaps the archetypal example. Other examples include The Underground Man and pretty much all the young radicals in Demons (although Stavrogin and Verkhovensky stand out), and Arkady in The Adolescent.
    • Bear in mind that this is a case of Unbuilt Trope since Dostoevsky was a rough contemporary of Nietzche but did not read his books, while the latter read his books after formulating some of his beliefs and noted how Dostoevsky anticipated his ideas.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: If there is a Manipulative Bastard in his book, he will use this trick.
  • Psycho for Hire: Fedka The Convict, psychotic murderer and robber, who acts as paid muscle for Verkhovensky's gang in Demons.
  • Reign of Terror: Dostoevsky saw this as the inevitable outcome of radical movements, as he illustrates in Demons.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: Demons is a blatant fictionalization of Sergey Nechayev's case.
  • Schoolgirl Lesbians: Eponymous protagonist of Netochka Nezvanova. Probably the Ur-Example.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Dostoevsky's books tend to break the scale, as they have the entire range of behavior — from the most idealistic to the most cynical, with everything in between — existing at the same time, while being inconclusive as to what wins out.
  • Take That / No Celebrities Were Harmed: Karamzinov from Demons is widely seen as a caricature on fellow writer, Turgenev.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: "The Double", though it's narrated through third-person.
  • Tsundere/Sour Outside, Sad Inside: Many of Dostoevsky's female characters fit into one of these types (see the pages for more details). As did Dostoevsky's Real Life mistress Apollinaria Suslova, which may explain some things.
  • Western Terrorists: Demons' plot revolves around such a group. Though it must be noted that the Nihilists of 19th Century Russia were the original terrorists.
  • What Could Have Been: The Brothers Karamazov was intended to be the first part of a much longer series of books. Dostoevsky died before he could write any of the others.
    • Also, he never finished Netochka Nezvanova, one of his first works. He started it before his imprisonment and by the time he was released his pre-occupations had drifted far from the pre-Prison writer.
  • Wife Husbandry: Taken to a nasty extreme in the short story "A Christmas Tree and a Wedding".