Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4717
Fyodor Dostoevski’s creative development is roughly divided into two stages. The shorter pieces, preceding his imprisonment, reflect native and foreign literary influences, although certain topics and stylistic innovations that became Dostoevski’s trademarks were already apparent. The young author was fascinated by Gogol’s humiliated St. Petersburg clerks and their squalid surroundings, teeming with marginal, grotesque individuals. These elements are so abundant in all of Dostoevski’s fiction that he labeled himself a disciple of Gogol. Traces of E. T. A. Hoffmann’s fantastic tales are evident in the young Dostoevski’s preference for gothic and Romantic melodrama. What distinguishes Dostoevski from those influences is his carnivalistically exaggerated tone in describing or echoing the torments of members of the lower classes. He not only imbues them with frantic emotional passions and personality quirks in order to make them strangers to their own mediocre setting but also endows them with precisely the right balance between eccentricity and ordinariness to jar the reader into irritated alertness. While other writers strove to elicit public sympathy for the poor, Dostoevski subtly infused an element of ridiculousness into his portrayals, thereby reducing the social efficacy of the genre while enhancing the complexity of literary expression.
In Dostoevski’s later, post-Siberian novels, this delicate equilibrium between empathy and contempt for the downtrodden is honed to perfection. The author supplements his gallery of mistreated eccentrics with powerful, enigmatic, ethically neutral supermen—highly intelligent loners whose philosophies allow simultaneously for self-sacrifice and murder. Other favorite types are passionate females, aborting good impulses with vicious inclinations, and angelic prostitutes, curiously blending religious fanaticism with coarseness.
This multiplicity is the dominant characteristic of Dostoevski’s style. It is for the most part impossible to discern in his works an authorial point of view. By using a polyphonic approach, Dostoevski has characters arguing diametrically opposed concepts so convincingly and in such an intellectually appealing fashion that readers are prevented from forming simplistic judgments. Most readers are held spellbound by the detective quality of Dostoevski’s writing. On the surface, the novels appear to be thrillers, exhibiting the typical tricks of that genre, with generous doses of suspense, criminal activity, confession, and entrapment by police or detectives. While viewing the works from this angle alone will not yield a satisfactory reading, it eases the way into the psychologically complex subtext. Not the least of Dostoevski’s appeal lies in his original development of characters, prominent among them frantically driven types who bare their psyches in melodramatic confessions and diaries while at the same time confusing the reader’s expectations by performing entirely contradictory deeds. Superimposed on these psychological conflicts are other metaphysical quandaries, such as passionate discussions about good and evil, church and state, Russia and Western Europe, free will and determinism. These struggles often crowd the plot to the point of symbolic overload, thereby destroying any semblance of harmony.
That Dostoevski is avidly read by the general public and specialists alike attests his genius in fusing banalities with profound intellectual insights. Nevertheless, a certain unevenness in language and structure remains. The constant pressure under which Dostoevski worked resulted in incongruities and dead spots that are incompatible with expert literary craftsmanship, while the installment approach forced him to end segments with suspense artificially built up to ensure the reader’s continuing interest. Some of these rough spots were edited out in later single-volume editions, but the sense of rugged style persists, and reading Dostoevski is therefore not a relaxing experience. No reader, however, can easily forget the mental puzzles and nightmarish visions generated by Dostoevski’s work.
Notes from the Underground
Notes from the Underground, Dostoevski’s first successful longer work, already contained many elements found in the subsequent novels. The nameless underground man is a keenly conscious misogynist who masks excessive pride with pathological submissiveness. In his youth, his need for self-esteem led him into disastrous social encounters from which he usually emerged the loser. For example, his delusion of being ignored by a social superior, who is not even aware of him, has caused him to spend years planning a ridiculous, and in the end miscarried, revenge. Dostoevski liked to use noncausal patterning in his compositional arrangements to enhance a sense of discontinuity. Thus, Notes from the Underground begins with the forty-year-old protagonist already withdrawn from society, spewing hatred, bitter philosophy, and ridicule at the imaginary reader of his journals. Only in the second part of the novel, which contains the underground man’s actual confrontations, does it become clear that he has no choice but to hide himself away, because his twisted personality is incapable of even a casual positive human interaction. His very pronouncement is a contradiction, uttered in a continuous stream without developing a single argument, so that the overall effect is one of unordered dialectical listing.
On one level, Notes from the Underground was written to counter Nikolay Chernyshevsky’s Chto delat’? (1863; What Is to Be Done?, c. 1863), which stresses the benefits of scientific thinking and considers self-interest beneficial to all society. Through the underground man’s irrational behavior and reasoning, Dostoevski ridicules Chernyshevsky’s assumptions. He makes his hero a living refutation of scientific approaches. If human logic can be corrupted by the mind’s own illogic, no strictly logical conclusions are possible. By indulging in actions injurious to himself, the underground man proves that human beings do not act solely out of self-interest, that they are, in part at least, intrinsically madcap. Thus, any attempt to structure society along scientific lines, as suggested by Chernyshevsky, is doomed to failure. The duality of the hero is such, however, that rational assertions, too, receive ample exposure, as the underground man refutes his own illogic and spins mental webs around the imaginary listener. Notes from the Underground is difficult to read, especially for those unfamiliar with Chernyshevsky’s novel. The unprogressively flowing illogicalities, coupled with an elusive authorial voice, render the narrative undynamic and tax even the intellectually committed reader. Dostoevski himself realized an insufficiency in the work but blamed it partly on censorial editing of an obscure religious reference, according to which the hero saw a glimmer of hope for himself in Christianity. The deleted comments, however, do not carry such a weighty connotation, and Dostoevski made no effort to restore the cut text later, when he might have done so. In its emphasis on the dual qualities of human endeavor, Notes from the Underground is firmly linked to the subsequent novels, in which this theme is handled with more sophistication.
Crime and Punishment
The wide appeal of Crime and Punishment results partly from its detective-story elements of murder, criminal investigation, evasion, confession, and courtroom drama. Dostoevski immediately broadens the perspective of the genre, however. Readers not only know from the outset who the murderer is but also are at once made part of his thinking process, so that his reasoning, motivations, and inclinations are laid bare from the start. The enigmatic element enters when readers come to realize, along with the murderer, and as slowly and painfully as the murderer, that he cannot assign a purpose to the crime, that human motivation remains, in the end, an unsolved mystery.
The very name of the hero, Raskolnikov, is derived from the Russian word for “split,” and his entire existence is characterized by a swiftly alternating, unsettling duality. Raskolnikov is introduced as an intense former student who is about to put a carefully constructed theory into action. The opening chapters chronicle the confused state of his mental processes. He plans to rid the world of an evil by killing a pawnbroker who is gradually ruining her customers, Raskolnikov among them, and plans to use her hoarded wealth for philanthropical purposes in justification of the crime. Almost immediately, other motives call the first into question. Raskolnikov’s mother threatens to sacrifice her daughter to ensure his financial well-being. An encounter with a derelict drunkard, Marmeladov, strengthens Raskolnikov in his resolve to kill, for Marmeladov keeps himself in drink and out of work by drawing on the pitiful earnings of his young daughter, Sonia, whom he has sent into prostitution. Raskolnikov notes in horror that he may force his sister into a similar situation through the legal prostitution of a sacrificial marriage. The crime itself renders all of Raskolnikov’s musings invalid. He brutally murders a second, innocent victim, takes very little money, does not spend what he does steal, and will have nothing to do with his family.
From this point on, the novel focuses on Raskolnikov’s struggle within himself. His prominently present but long repressed humanity asserts itself against his will to demolish arguments against confession provided by the proud part of his personality. Dostoevski uses the device of multiple alter egos in projecting Raskolnikov’s dichotomy onto other characters. At one extreme pole stands the personification of Raskolnikov’s evil impulses, the suspected killer and seducer Svidrigaïlov. Time and again, Raskolnikov confronts the latter in attempts to develop a psychological affinity with him. Raskolnikov’s subconscious moral restraints, however, prevent such a union. Svidrigaïlov, and by extension Raskolnikov, cannot bring himself to perform planned abominations or live peacefully with already committed ones. Svidrigaïlov exits through suicide at about the same time that Raskolnikov is more urgently drawn to his other alter ego, the self-sacrificing, gentle prostitute Sonia.
Whereas Svidrigaïlov is a sensually vibrant figure, Sonia is basically colorless and unbelievable, but as a symbol of Raskolnikov’s Christian essence, she turns out to be the stronger influence on him. She is not able to effect a moral transformation, yet she subtly moves into the foreground the necessity of confession and expiation. Raskolnikov never truly repents. He has, however, been forced to take a journey into his psyche, has found there an unwillingness to accommodate murder, and, almost angrily, has been forced to acknowledge that each life has its own sacramental value and that transgression of this tenet brings about psychological self-destruction. The final pages hint at Raskolnikov’s potential for spiritual renewal, a conclusion that many critics find artistically unconvincing.
Intertwined with this primary drama are related Dostoevskian themes. Raskolnikov, in one of his guises, imagines himself a Napoleonic superman, acting on a worldwide stage on which individual killings disappear in the murk of historical necessity. On another plane, Dostoevski weaves Raskolnikov’s mother, his landlady, and the slain pawnbroker into a triangle that merges the figures in Raskolnikov’s confused deliberations, so that murderous impulses toward one are sublimated and redirected toward another. Similarly, the figures of Sonia, Raskolnikov’s sister Dounia, and the pawnbroker’s sister Lizaveta, also killed by Raskolnikov, are symbolically linked. Raskolnikov directs Dounia away from his lecherous alter ego Svidrigaïlov toward his proper, good-hearted embodiment and friend, Razumihin, while he himself, in expiation for killing Lizaveta, becomes a brotherly friend to Sonia. An important and cleverly presented role is reserved for the detective Porfiry, whose cunning leads Raskolnikov to confess a moral as well as a legal transgression. Crime and Punishment remains Dostoevski’s most popular novel.
The author’s narrative mode does not differ drastically in the remaining novels. Though each work is built on a different drama, all are developed along Dostoevski’s favorite lines of human duality, alter ego, and authorial ambiguity. These qualities find expression in a most controversial way in The Idiot, the incongruous, almost sacrilegious portrayal of a Christlike figure. While the devout and selfless Sonia of Crime and Punishment occupies a position secondary to that of the central hero and thus lacks extensive development, Dostoevski makes the similarly self-sacrificing Prince Myshkin into the pivotal character of The Idiot. Through him, the author unfolds the notion that compassion and goodness, no matter how commendable on a theological plane, are insufficient to counter the less desirable aspects of reality.
The manner of Myshkin’s presentation immediately challenges the reader’s expectation of a “perfectly beautiful human being,” as Dostoevski called his hero in preparatory notes. Myshkin—the name derives from the root of the Russian word for “mouse”—enters the novel as an insecure, epileptic, naïve young man, characterized by boundless goodwill, an immense capacity for humiliation, and a willingness to take the blame for the loathsome actions of others. He is a rather vapid personality, totally out of tune with existing human realities. Socially inept because of a long absence from Russia, ill at ease and inexperienced in confrontation with women, Myshkin is unable to establish satisfactory relationships. His kindness and empathy with suffering cause him to intervene repeatedly in other affairs, only to run afoul of the intense passions motivating his friends, and his interventions eventually lead to tragedy all around. Far from serving as counselor and redeemer, Myshkin is the cause of several calamities. Unversed in the intricacies of human interaction, created insufficiently incarnate by Dostoevski, the hapless protagonist leaves a path of misery and destruction before sinking totally into idiocy.
As he blunders his way through many unhappy encounters, several other themes emerge. The virginal hero actually has a sexually vicious and otherwise offensive double in Rogozhin, with whom he retains a close bond to the end, when both seemingly merge into one over the body of their mutual love, Nastasya Filipovna, freshly murdered by Rogozhin. Dostoevski assured outraged moralist critics that he had intended to create a perfect saint in Myshkin and implied that he had perhaps failed to create believable separate identities for Myshkin and Rogozhin, but Dostoevski’s public assertions often contradicted the thrust of his novels, and it is more likely that here, too, he employed his favorite device of embodying the multifaceted human psyche in diametrically opposed figures.
In most of Dostoevski’s novels, male characters are placed at center stage, leaving women to embody a given alter ego, highlight certain aspects of the protagonist, or echo other major concerns. The Idiot differs in presenting Nastasya Filipovna as Myshkin’s primary antagonist. She is given scope and complexity in bringing to the surface Myshkin’s temperamental inadequacy; in revenging herself for having been made concubine to the man appointed to be her guardian; in being torn by pride, guilt, and frustration; in vacillating between Myshkin and Rogozhin; and finally in orchestrating her own destruction. The other major female, Aglaya, receives less psychological expansion, but even here Dostoevski gives an interesting portrayal of a goodly woman unable to accept the humiliations associated with being Myshkin’s companion. Dostoevski favored females of devious intensity, as typified by Nastasya Filipovna. In Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, this type is marked by the identical name of “Katerina Ivanovna.” Analysts interested in linking biography to plot perceive in these women an echo of Dostoevski’s equally cruel and passionate friend, Apollinaria Suslova, as well as traits of his first wife, Maria Isayeva.
The preparatory notes to the novel reveal that Dostoevski changed perspective several times in shaping his guiding theme. In early drafts, Myshkin is a genuine double, possessed of many violent traits later transferred to Rogozhin. As Myshkin is stripped of negative features in later versions, he acquires the characteristics of a “holy fool,” a popular type in pre-nineteenth century Russian literature, the mental defective as sweet, innocent, and specially favored by God. In the end, however there emerges the idea that an overflow of goodwill cannot vouchsafe positive results and can easily have the opposite effect. A certain meandering in the second part of the novel still reflects the author’s hesitation in deciding on a direction. Earlier scholarship, unwilling to accept the fact that Dostoevski had depicted a failed saint in such a controversial manner, saw in The Idiot an unsuccessful attempt to portray a wholly Christian figure, but careful study of the text and background material reveals an intentional and original portrayal of a Christian dilemma. In succeeding works, too, Dostoevski’s integrity as novelist took precedence over personal theological convictions.
In The Possessed, Dostoevski centered his attention on a very different type, the emerging Russian nihilist-atheist generation of the latter half of the nineteenth century. While the political aspect of the work occupies the general background, metaphysical and moral issues soon find their way into the narrative, as do satiric portraits of prominent Russians, among them a caricature of Turgenev, depicted in the ridiculous figure of Karmazinov. On the political level, Dostoevski demonstrates that revolutionary nihilism inevitably turns into a greater despotism than the order it intends to replace. One unscrupulous gang member, Shigalev, advocates a dictatorship of select revolutionaries and absolute submission on the part of the governed. For this reason, The Possessed faced long censorial repression in the Soviet Union, and former Soviet critics still find it awkward to present credible analyses of the novel.
The novelistic conspiracy is headed by a bloodthirsty degenerate, Pyotr Verkhovensky. Like Raskolnikov’s murder in Crime and Punishment, Verkhovensky’s killing is based on an actual event, the extermination of a student by the political terrorist Sergey Nechayev in 1869. Dostoevski’s correspondence reveals that he was disturbed by the perverse publicity attending Nechayev’s notoriety and intended to incorporate the incident into The Possessed for the purpose of deglamorizing such nihilistic misdeeds. In this he succeeded without question. Verkhovensky is shown to manipulate followers whose brutality and narrow-mindedness easily fashion them into blindly obedient puppets.
The focus of the novel, however, is on an enigmatic atheist, Stavrogin, who is only passively interested in external events. Stavrogin has no plans, preferences, illusions, beliefs, or passions, and his actions are accordingly illogical. For example, he engages in duels although he does not believe in them; marries a mental defective on a wager; bites his host, the governor of the province, on the ear; and calmly accepts a slap in the face from a subordinate. His very indifference to everyone and everything has made him into a charismatic figure whom Verkhovensky and his revolutionaries revere as a deity.
Stavrogin is depicted in such a shadowy manner that no coherent portrait emerges. The notebooks for The Possessed record the author’s difficulties in creating the character: In early versions, Stavrogin is more fleshed out and clarified, but in the end Dostoevski chose to present him as a riddle, to demonstrate that an incorporeal image, by its very nature, exacts the deepest loyalties. Stavrogin’s disinterest in the world eventually leads to inner dissatisfaction and suicide. An interesting part of his portrayal, his confession to a priest that he is responsible for the death of a child whom he raped, was excised by the censors and never restored by Dostoevski. Omission of this episode strips Stavrogin of the feeling of regret implied in the confession and intensifies the impression of absolute ethical neutrality assigned to his personality. Stavrogin is the opposite of Prince Myshkin in every respect—uninvolved rather than concerned, bored rather than active, cruel and unpredictable rather than steadfastly compassionate—yet their endeavors lead to the same tragic end. Neither manages to cope with reality and both abandon the world, Myshkin through madness, Stavrogin through suicide.
Another major character carrying a symbolic burden is Kirillov, whose inner conflicts about the existence or nonexistence of God also drive him to self-extinction. Kirillov is Western-educated, influenced by the scientific discoveries of the age; an avowed atheist, he transfers godlike attributes to himself. As Dostoevski traces Kirillov’s inner reasoning, he reveals Kirillov to be a philosophical extremist. Because he no longer believes in an afterlife but is inexplicably afraid of death, he conquers that fear by annihilating himself. His opposite, Shatov, a believer in the Orthodox Church and in the special status of the Russian people, ends as a victim of the conspirators; once more, the author’s plot line follows two diametrically opposed figures to the same fatal end.
Both The Idiot and The Possessed lack a hopeful view of the future. The society and mores in which the major figures operate reflect moral confusion and material corruption, a Babylonian atmosphere that Dostoevski subtly ascribes to erosion of faith. As always, it is difficult to say exactly where the author stands. Clearly, he refutes the terrorism exercised by Verkhovensky and his gang. Their political intrigue assumes the metaphysical quality of biblical devils “possessed” by love of ruin and chaos. The grisly demise of the other major characters suggests that Dostoevski also considered their approaches inadequate. The philosophical arguments, however, are presented with such conviction and honesty that no point of view is totally annihilated.
For most of the 1870’s, Dostoevski was able to work at a leisurely pace, free from the material wants and deadline pressure of the preceding decades. It is all the more surprising, then, that A Raw Youth, composed in those tranquil years, is his least successful major novel. The reasons are painfully clear. The author overloaded the plot with poorly integrated, unrelated themes. What is worse, he let the rhetorical expression of his pet ideas overwhelm the artistic structure. The basic story deals with the illegitimate “raw youth” Arkady Dolgoruky, who is engaged in winning some recognition or affection from his biological father, Versilov. The narrative soon shifts to Versilov, a typical Dostoevskian dual type, motivated simultaneously by cruel passions and Christian meekness. Versilov carries additional symbolic burdens relating to Russia’s alleged spiritual superiority over Western Europe. While Dostoevski fails to tie the many strands into a believable or even interesting panorama, he does attempt a symbolic scheme. Arkady’s mother, Sofia, embodies “Mother Russia.” She is on one side linked by marriage to a traditional peasant, Makar Ivanitch. At the same time, Sofia has been seduced by and continues to be involved with Versilov, the representative of the Western-educated nobility. The hapless Arkady, the disoriented offspring of this unconsecrated union, is driven to drastic schemes in an effort to find his place in life.
The Brothers Karamazov
Together with Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov continues to be Dostoevski’s most widely read and discussed work. The author introduces no new concepts or literary devices in the novel, but this time he is successful in casting his themes into a brilliantly conceived construct. The conflict between a cruelly uncaring father and his vengeance-bound sons receives the artistic treatment missing in A Raw Youth. The metaphysical arguments, especially the dialectic between atheism and Christianity, are dealt with at length. Finally, the behavioral complexities of bipolar personalities are depicted in a most sophisticated manner.
The plot of the novel revolves around parricide. Four brothers, one illegitimate, have been criminally neglected by their wanton father, Fyodor Pavlovich, and subconsciously strive to avenge this transgression. The abominations of old Karamazov, some brutally indulged in the children’s presence and partly involving their respective mothers, settle in the brothers’ subconscious and motivate all of their later actions and behaviors. For most of the novel, none of the adult brothers is ever completely aware of the now-sublimated parricidal impulses, but all silently play their parts in seeing the old man murdered. The three legitimate brothers cope by nurturing father substitutes with whom they enter into complicated relationships. The oldest, Dmitri, fights his surrogates, almost murdering one, while the youngest, Alyosha, a novice, faces deep mental anguish in cultivating a father figure in his spiritual superior, Father Zossima. Ivan, the middle brother, has transferred his hatred of his father to a metaphysical plane, where he spars with a cruel God about the injustice of permitting mistreatment of children. In his prose poem “The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor,” Ivan creates a benevolent father figure who shields his human flock from such suffering. Only Smerdyakov, the illegitimate offspring, keeps his attention focused on the primary target and actually kills old Karamazov, though his inner understanding of the factors motivating him is equally fuzzy. In desperation at not being fraternally acknowledged by his brothers, even after murdering for them, Smerdyakov implicates them in the crime and removes himself through suicide. The other three undergo painful self-examination from which they emerge as better human beings but not victorious. Dmitri, officially convicted of the crime, faces long imprisonment; Ivan’s mind has given way as hallucinations plague him; and Alyosha seeks ways to combine his faith in a merciful God with the catastrophes of his actual experience.
Dostoevski has the major characters respond in different ways to their situation, developing each in terms of a specific psychological or metaphysical problem. Through Ivan, the author demonstrates the inadequacy of intellect where subconscious motivation is concerned. Ivan is educated, rational, atheistic, given to abstraction, loath to enter into close personal relationships, and proud of his intellectual superiority. Yet his wish to see his father dead is so powerful that it leads him into a silent conspiracy with Smerdyakov, whom he despises on a rational plane. The author attaches a higher moral value to Dmitri’s type of personality. Dmitri represents an emotionally explosive spirit, quick to engage in melodramatic outbursts and passionate displays of surface sentiment. He instinctively grasps the moral superiority of the earthy, morally lax Grushenka to the socially superior, moralizing Katerina Ivanovna. His reckless nature leads him into many transgressions and misjudgments, but at a crucial point, when he has sought after opportunity to murder his parent, a deeply embedded reverence for life stays his hand. Alyosha acts as Dostoevski’s representative of the Christian faith, and, like all other Dostoevskian Christian heroes, he is subjected to severe spiritual torments. His faith is tested as the externals and rituals of religion to which he clings prove elusive, if not false, and he is made to reach for a more profound Christian commitment within himself in order to survive the violence engendered by the Karamazov heritage. He is given the privilege, rare among Dostoevskian heroes, of affecting his environment in a wholesome fashion, especially at the end of the novel.
Each of the three brothers is rendered more complex in the course of his spiritual odyssey. The atheistic Ivan defends the cause of the Orthodox Church in his formal writings and in the end loses all pride and reason as he humbles himself in a futile attempt to save the innocent Dmitri from imprisonment. Dmitri acquires a measure of philosophical introspection as he learns to accept punishment for a murder he ardently desired but did not commit. Alyosha, too, despite largely positive patterning, is shown to let hidden desire neutralize religious conviction. Charged by Father Zossima with acting as Dmitri’s keeper, the otherwise conscientious and compassionate Alyosha simply “forgets” the obligation and thereby fails to prevent his father’s murder and his brother’s entrapment. Dostoevski envisioned a larger role for Alyosha in a sequel to The Brothers Karamazov that never materialized. For this reason, Alyosha exits the work somewhat incomplete, incongruously engaged to a cunning, cruel cripple, Liza, who serves as his own unholy alter ego in the parricidal scheme.
The work abounds in secondary plots and figures, all interconnected and echoing the primary drama in intricate ways. Prominent among these plots is the legend of the Grand Inquisitor and the refutation of the legend by Father Zossima. Through the Grand Inquisitor, Dostoevski argues that Christian ideals are set too high for ordinary mortals, who prefer security and comfort to difficult individual choices. The Grand Inquisitor, in a dramatic encounter with Christ, thoroughly defends a benign kingdom on earth as most suitable for the masses. This argument is countered by Zossima’s restatement of basic Christian theology, which does not answer the Grand Inquisitor’s charges but simply offers traditional belief and practice of Christian tenets as an alternative perspective. The very type of behavior that proved ruinous to Prince Myshkin is in Zossima’s actions converted into a richly beneficial model. By presenting the discourse in this fashion, Dostoevski cleverly juxtaposed humanistic and Christian arguments without resolving them. He thus once more implied that all so-called issues contain their own contradictions, that life and truth are indeed multiple.
By devoting his novels to the exploration of the mind, Dostoevski extended the intellectual horizons of his day. Although publicly a conservative of Russian Orthodox conviction, Dostoevski produced works that continuously challenge the notion that atheism inevitably engenders wanton amorality. It is this recognition of human complexity, coupled with a fascinating narrative style, that gives Dostoevski his modern flavor.