"[Dostoevsky is] the only psychologist from whom I have something to learn." "What terrible tragedies realism inflicts on people."
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:
- Author Tract: Liable to appear at any given time in his books.
- 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: 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.
- Downer Ending: The Idiot, to a certain degree Demons as well.
- Dystopia Justifies the Means: "Shigalyovism", the philosophy of the terrorist group from Demons.
- The Gambling Addict: Most of the characters in "The Gambler", as well as Dostoevsky himself.
- 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". (Alternately, the relationship between any given Dostoevsky character and any other given Dostoevsky character.)
- Misaimed Fandom: 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 thing that might perplex the Great Russian is the fact that Dostoevsky influenced Franz Kafka and Sigmund Freud 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: Many, including pretty much all the young radicals in Demons (although Stavrogin and Verkhovensky stand out), and Arkady in The Adolescent.
- Reign of Terror: Dostoevsky saw this as the inevitable outcome of radical movements, as he illustrates in Demons.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Wife Husbandry: Taken to a nasty extreme in the short story "A Christmas Tree and a Wedding".