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. He was famous for his rather dark stories, filled with violent, self-destructive characters driven by ideas and strong passions, his intense, psychologically driven character studies, as well as the rich philosophical and religious themes of his works, which is credited by many for anticipating modernist, existentialist and post-modernist ideas and narratives. Popular in Russia during his lifetime, his works found a global audience after his death, becoming one of the most widely-translated and widely-read great authors, and an influence and inspiration for an endless list of great writers from the late 19th to the early 21st Century.
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. These early stories do anticipate some of his later work, but they are also more humorous, idealistic, and realistic compared to his later works. The Double, his most controversial early story, is now seen as the work that really anticipates his later style. 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, as well as featuring some of the most original and archetypal characters in literary history, such as Raskolnikov, Sonya, Prince Myshkin, Stavrogin and Dimitri and Ivan Karamazov.
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. A dramatic miniseries about his life aired in 2011 on the Russian television channel Rossiya-1.
Works by Fyodor Dostoevsky with their own trope pages include:
Notable adaptations of his works include:
- White Nights was adapted into La Notti bianche by Luchino Visconti, Four nights of a dreamer by Robert Bresson, and loosely adapted into Two Lovers by James Gray.
- The Double was adapted by Bernardo Bertolucci as Partner and The Double by Richard Ayoade, starring Jesse Eisenberg.
- The Gambler was adapted as The Great Sinner (A MGM adaptation by Robert Siodmak, with a screenplay by Christopher Isherwood, and Gregory Peck). Loose modern-day adaptations include Alex & Emma and Martin Scorsese's Life Lessons.
- Notes from Underground has few direct adaptations, but it's most famous influence was on Taxi Driver to the point that Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader consider it a Spiritual Adaptation.
- The Idiot was adapted into a notable film by Akira Kurosawa and an obscure Indian film by Mani Kaul starring Shah Rukh Khan.
- The Brothers Karamazov was loosely adapted as Der Mörder Dimitri Karamasoff a Soviet-German co-production by Feodor Osep, starring Fritz Rasp (of Metropolis fame) and Anna Sten (who appeared in some MGM films). It's more well known for the 1950s Hollywood adaptation by Richard Brooks starring Yul Brynner.
Other works by Fyodor Dostoevsky provide examples of:
- Biography à Clef: J. M. Coetzee's The Master of Petersburg is a fictional account of the process by which the author came to write Demons.
- 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.
- 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 though it inspired the Trope Maker. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn author of The Gulag Archipelago saw himself, and was later seen by other writers in Russia and abroad, as Dostoevsky's Spiritual Successor whose own life resembled his precursor in many ways.
- Historical Domain Character: For an artist with such a colorful life, Dostoevsky has been fictionalized in books like Summer 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. It's actually a lot funnier than Stevenson's surprisingly enough.
- The Masochism Tango: The marriage in the short story "A Gentle Creature".
- Nice Guys Finish Last: The protagonist in the story "White Nights" though unlike other examples, the "nice guy" here is grateful and happy to have been friends with the girl and wishes her a happy life, and takes his rejection in a stride. This makes him the only Dostoevsky protagonist to have a happy ending.
- 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:
- 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".