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Fyodor Dostoevsky's 4 Greatest Influential Novels

Updated on March 25, 2020
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Prachi is a voracious reader and a bibliophile. She has her own library with a collection of more than thousands of books of different genre

If there's no God, everything's permitted.

— Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky was a Russian novelist, journalist, and short story writer. His work widely talks about philosophy and human psychology in the troubled atmosphere of 19th century Russia. He has produced more than 35 literary works in his life that include 11 novels, 3 short novels, 17 short stories and much more. He was seen more of a psychologist than a writer and also considered to be the greatest psychologist in the literature world by literary critics.

Amazing Facts about Dostoevsky

  • Dostoevsky started reading fairy tales and legends at an early age of three.
  • He was an engineering graduate and worked as a mechanical engineer in his early days of work.
  • His first novel was Poor Folk that helped him enter into the literary circles of St. Petersburg.
  • He was arrested in 1849 for criticizing Tsarist Russia, its politics and religion, along with members of his literary group.
  • He was declared to sentence to death, but, it was commuted at the last moment.
  • After spending four years in Katorga prison camp in Siberia, he published and edited magazines of his own and also worked as a journalist.
  • He even had to beg for money due to his gambling addiction.
  • He cleared his debt by writing stories and novels and from that onwards, Russia received its one of the highest influential writers.
  • He was praised several times by Russian literal committee.
  • He was even appointed by Tsar Alexander || of Russia to educate his sons about religion, politics, and ethics.
  • He was one of the most influential writers of the Golden Age of the Russian literature.

Most of his works are about poverty, suicide, and human manipulation. Out of these, here are the seven masterpieces that you’ll find relevant to today’s society as well as quite speakable of the 19th-century Russian world and his personal life.

1. The Idiot

The Idiot's Film adaptation Nastasja, 1994
The Idiot's Film adaptation Nastasja, 1994

It is better to know the worst and be unhappy, than to fake happiness in the fool’s paradise.

— The Idiot
  • The title is chosen in the contradiction with the main protagonist of the novel. His is open-heartedness, generosity and simplicity make people consider him to be an ignorant and lacking insight.
  • Dostoevsky’s main character Prince Myshkin is a handsome and nice man. Through this behavior of the character, he tries to detail the possible consequences that may result when such individual is placed at the center of the worldly desires and egoism.
  • The story perfectly demonstrates the true Christian love, much required during the situations of contemporary Russian society.
  • The beauty of the novel lies in its chaotic organization. According to the literary critics, it, possibly, violates all the critical norms and yet, survives as real greatness.
  • The story begins when the prince is returning to Russia after his treatment in the Swiss clinic.
  • While traveling in the train, he meets with other crucial characters of the story, who he befriends.
  • Prince Myshkin reaches Russia to do a business deal with his distant relative and also finds love in the society beauty Natasya Filippovna.
  • Natasya is a noble orphan, who is forced into the sex industry by her guardian.
  • Myshkin is deeply devoted to her and sympathizes with her sufferings.
  • On the other hand, she is torn between Myshkin’s dedication and his train companion Rogozhin’s obsession.
  • Dostoevsky covers several topics within this novel that ranges from an intense feeling of love to a social disgrace of an innocent woman.
  • Because of Myshkin’s genuineness and empathetic nature, he is often dubbed as an idiot by the people. But, in reality, he is mature, self-aware and very understanding of the situations.

2. Crime and Punishment

Crime and Punishment's TV Film adaptation, 2002
Crime and Punishment's TV Film adaptation, 2002

Pain and suffering are the most inevitable feelings for a deep heart and large intelligence. The really great men, certainly, must have great sadness on earth.

— Crime and Punishment
  • Dostoevsky wrote this novel after completing his prison years in Siberia. It is considered to be the first great novel of his matured writing.
  • The story revolves around a murder of pawnbroker committed by a poor ex-law student.
  • Planning to do great deals after the crime, the student eventually falls into the area of horror and disgust, ultimately dealing with the results of his hideous deed.
  • Through this novel, Dostoevsky explores the psychological and moral dangers of radicalism.
  • Written in the 19th century, the novel is still quite relevant to today’s social norms.
  • The protagonist, Raskolnikov, considers himself to be smart enough to deal with the ramification of his deeds, but becomes corrupt and loses his sense of purity and freshness, indeed.
  • The novel is divided into six parts, where first half deals with the Raskolnikov’s proudness and the last half elaborates his humbleness.
  • There’s also a dream section in the novel, which I found quite appalling when the pheasants beat a mare to death in their farms and laugh uncontrollably on their sins.
  • The dream plays a huge role in the protagonist’s bad deeds and his final transformation to a humanistic personality.

3. Demons

Demons' film adaptation Les possédés / The Possessed, 1988
Demons' film adaptation Les possédés / The Possessed, 1988

My friend, did you know that? The Truth is always unreasonable. To make it reasonable, it’s necessary to add a bit of fairness to it. People have always done so.

— Demons
  • The novel, Demons, is a psychological drama primarily focused on social and political stigmas and tragedy.
  • It is said to be one of the most violent novels and a supreme achievement of prose fiction.
  • It discusses the consequences of nihilism that was growing in Russia during the 1860s.
  • Dostoevsky’s primary focus is on the criminal ideas that possess the individuals, make them unconsciousness of humanity and distorts them towards catastrophe.
  • He took inspiration from the liberal and revolutionary student groups who caused political unrest in Russia during the late 1860s.
  • The main protagonist, Verkhovensky, is a refined individual with high intellectual abilities who unwillingly contributes to the uprising of nihilistic forces.
  • He becomes anxious when the government terms him as a dangerous thinker and decides to put him into exile.
  • Dostoevsky wrote that the main theme of the novel was the belief and non-belief of the existence of God.
  • As the story progresses, Verkovensky loses his true identity and gathers help from Western modes of thinking i.e. Catholicism, scientism and atheism.
  • Describing Russia’s growing faith in atheism, the novel considers suicide and self-destruction to be the real cause.

4. The Brothers Karamazov

The Brothers Karamazov's film adaptation, 1969
The Brothers Karamazov's film adaptation, 1969

Above all, never lie to yourself. The people who lie to themselves and listen to their own lies come to a situation that they can’t differentiate the truth within them, or around them, and thus, loses all respect for themselves and for others, as well. Having no respect, they cease to love.

— The Brothers Karamazov
  • The Brothers Karamazov is Dostoevsky’s last novel and took nearly two years for completion.
  • It is based on the philosophy and ethical debates of God.
  • It deals with the moral aspects of judgment, doubt, and faith, which started to vanish in modern Russia.
  • Fyodor Karamazov is a 55 years old father of three sons with his two marriages. He also has an illegitimate son, who works as a servant at his home.
  • The novel’s much attention lies between Karamazov and his adult sons.
  • Its most famous chapter is The Grand Inquisitor where Karamazov’s son Ivan narrates a poem to a girl named Alyosha. The poem is based on Jesus and his effects on mankind.
  • The poem further details about freedom, power, human nature, and authority. It is also referenced in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World Revisited and David Foster’s Infinite Jest.
  • The novel deeply influenced several important figures in the history including Albert Einstein, Virginal Woolf, Haruki Murakami, Ludwig Wittgenstein and many more.
  • Most of the literary critics considered it the most magnificent and influential novel ever written in history.
  • William Faulkner, a Noble Prize laureate, claimed this novel the greatest inspiration after Bible and Shakespeare’s works.
  • Many other famous writers of that time and today’s called it the perfect illustration of issues and trends prevalent in his time.

Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novels loudly speak of his personal life’s problems and tragic circumstances. His main theme was related to the changes in Russian society and people’s shift from faith in God to atheism. His extensive coverage of social and political trauma in his novels brought him into controversy multiple numbers of times.

Despite all these, no wonder, he is still considered one of the finest novelists in history and still appreciated for his spectacular and unique writing style.

© 2019 Prachi Sharma


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    • FelishiyaPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Prachi Sharma 

      15 months ago from India

      Yes, Alexander. Have you read his novel, The Brothers Karamazov? I recently completed it.

    • Guckenberger profile image

      Alexander James Guckenberger 

      15 months ago from Maryland, United States of America

      He is very well-known.


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