Creator / Fyodor Dostoevsky

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

"What terrible tragedies realism inflicts on people."

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky (Russian: Фёдор Миха́йлович Достое́вский; 11 November 1821 – 9 February 1881) 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.

If Dostoevsky wasn't the clear "father" of the Psychological Thriller, he certainly set the standard for future practitioners of the genre. In addition, his thematic and philosophical emphases link him strongly to the roots of Film Noir—particularly the appropriately-named Crime And Punishment.

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:

Notable adaptations of his works include:


Other works by Fyodor Dostoevsky provide examples of:

  • Esoteric Happy Ending: invoked 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Masochism Tango: The marriage in the short story "A Gentle Creature".
  • Nice Guys Finish Last: The protagonist in the story "White Nights".
  • Schoolgirl Lesbians: Eponymous protagonist of Netochka Nezvanova. Probably the Ur-Example.
  • Straw Nihilist: Arkady in The Adolescent.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: "The Double", though it's narrated through third-person.
  • What Could Have Been: invoked
    • 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.
    • In The '80s, the short story writer Raymond Carver wrote a screenplay for a biopic of Dostoevsky with Michael Cimino as director. It never got made.
  • Wife Husbandry: Taken to a nasty extreme in the short story "A Christmas Tree and a Wedding".


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