"Dostoevsky is finished. He will no longer write anything important." -- Nekrasov (1859)
“a sick, cruel talent” -- Nikolay Mikhailovsky (1882)
“a prophet of God,” a “mystical seer.” -- Vladimir Solvyov (1883)
“He lived in literature.” -- Konstantin Mochulsky
“the Shakespeare of the lunatic asylum” -- Count Melchoir de Vogue (1848-1910)
“Dostoevsky preaches the morality of the pariah, the morality of the slave.” -- Georg Brandes (1889)
“Russia’s evil genius,” -- Maxim Gorky (1905)
Thomas Mann described Dostoyevsky as “an author whose Christian sympathy is ordinarily devoted to human misery, sin, vice, the depths of lust and crime, rather than to nobility of body and soul” and Notes from Underground as “an awe- and terror-inspiring example of this sympathy.”
Turgenev once described Dostoyevsky as “the nastiest Christian he had ever met”.
Nietzsche was scornful of Dostoyevsky’s Christian stand and held him in contempt for his “morbid moral tortures,” his rejection of “proper pride”. He accused him of “sinning to enjoy the luxury of confession,” which Nietzsche considered a “degrading prostration.” Dostoyevsky was, in Nietzsche’s words, one of the victims of the “conscience-vivisection and self-crucifixion of two thousand years” of Christianity.
However, Nietzsche also described Dostoevsky as “the only psychologist from whom he had anything to learn.” (1887)
Edwin Muir states that “Dostoyevsky wrote of the unconscious as if it were conscious; that is in reality the reason why his characters seem ‘pathological’, while they are only visualized more clearly than any other figures in imaginative literature... He was in the rank in which we set Dante, Shakespeare and Goethe.”
Henry James described Dostoevsky’s works as “baggy monsters” and “fluid puddings”, with a profound “lack of composition” and a “defiance of economy and architecture.
Joseph Conrad called The Brothers Karamazov “... an impossible lump of valuable matter. It’s terrifically bad and impressive and exasperating. Moreover, I don’t know what Dostoevsky stands for or reveals, but I do know that he is too Russian for me. It sounds like some fierce mouthings of prehistoric ages.”
Nikolay Berdyaev (Prague, 1923) states matter-of-factly: “So great is the worth of Dostoevsky that to have produced him is by itself sufficient justification for the existence of the Russian people in the world: and he will bear witness for his country-men at the last judgement of the nations.”
Kenneth Rexroth describes Dostoyevsky as a “man of many messages, a man in whom the flesh was always troubled and sick and whose head was full of dying ideologies--at last the sun in the sky, the hot smell of a woman, the grass on the earth, the human meat on the bone, the farce of death” -- from his book Classics Revisited.
Henry Miller writes “When it comes to Emerson, Dostoievsky, Maeterlinck, Knut Hamsun, G. A. Henty, I know I shall never say my last word about them. A subject like The Grand Inquisator, for example, or The Eternal Husband--my favorite of all Dostoievsky’s works--would seem to demand separate books in themselves.” -- from his book The Books in my Life
Miller goes on to say that “Dostoievsky was human in that “all too human” sense of Nietzsche. He wrings our withers when he unrolls his scroll of life.” and “Dostoievsky had virtually to create God-- and what a Herculean task that was! Dostoievsky rose from the depths and, reaching the summit, retained something of the depths about him still.” and “Dostoievsky is chaos and fecundity. Humanity, with him, is but a vortex in the bubbling maelstrom.”
D. H. Lawrence: “He who gets nearer the sun is leader, the aristocrat of aristocrats, or he who, like Dostoievsky, gets nearest the moon of our non-being.”
D. H. Lawrence: “I don’t like Dostoevsky. He is like the rat, slithering along in hate, in the shadows, and in order to belong to the light, professing love, all love.” He also thinks that Dostoevsky, “mixing God and Sadism,” is “foul.”
Hermann Hesse in 1920, professed his fear of Dostoevsky’s “slavic murkiness.”
Walter Kaufman refers to Notes From Underground, published in 1864, as one of the “most revolutionary and original works of world literature.” “The man whom Dostoevsky has created in this book [Notes From Underground] holds out for what traditional Christianity has called depravity; but he believes neither in original sin nor in God, and for him man’s self-will is not depravity: it is only perverse from the point of view of rationalists and others who value neat schemes above the rich texture of individuality.”
“To Dostoevsky belongs a place beside the Great Christian writers of world literature: Dante, Cervantes, Milton, Pascal. Like Dante, he passed through all the circles of human hell, one more terrible than the mediaeval hell of the Divine Comedy, and was not consumed in hell’s flame: his duca e maestro was not Virgil, but the “radiant image” of the Christ, love for whom was the greatest love of his whole life.” -- Konstantin Mochulsky
"Dostoevsky gives me more than any scientist, more than Gauss!" -- Einstein
"Notes from the Underground is the best overture for existentialism ever written." -- Walter Kaufmann, "Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre" (1956)
"Just as I have no ear for music, I have to my regret no ear for Dostoevsky the Prophet. The very best thing he ever wrote seems to me to be THE DOUBLE. It is [a] story... told very elaborately, in great, almost Joycean detail..., and in style intensely saturated with phonetic and rhythmical expressiveness... It is a perfect work of art, that story, but it hardly exists for the followers of Dostoevsky the Prophet, because it was written in the 1840s, long before his so-called great novels..." -- Vladimir Nabokov on "THE DOUBLE"
Some reactions to "THE DOUBLE" when it was first published...
"It is apparent at first glance that in The Double there is more creative talent and depth of thought than in Poor Folk. But meanwhile the consensus of St. Petersburg readers is that this novel is intolerably long-winded and therefore terribly boring..." -- Vissarion Belinsky
"In The Double, Dostoevsky's method and his love for psychological analysis are revealed in all their fullness and originality. In this work he has penetrated so deep into the human soul, has gazed so fearlessly and feelingly into the innermost workings of human emotions, thoughts, and affairs that the impression produced by reading The Double may be compared only with the experience of a man of inquiring mind who has penetrated into the chemical composition of matter." -- Valerian Maikov
"We do not understand how the author of Poor Folk, a tale that is nevertheless remarkable, could write The Double. It is a sin against artistic conscience, without which there cannot be true talent." -- S.P Shevyrev
"In this tale we now see not the influence of Gogol, but an imitation of him... In speaking of Mr. Dostoevsky's tale The Double, one can repeat the words which his Mr. Golyadkin often repeats: 'Dear, it's bad, bad! Dear, my case is pretty bad now! Oh, dear, so that's the turn my case has taken now!' Yes, indeed, it's bad and it's taken a bad turn." A.A. Grigor'ev: "The Double, in our humanly imperfect opinion, is a work that is pathological and therapeutic but by no means literary: it is a story of madness, analyzed, it is true, to the extreme, but, nevertheless, as repulsive as a dead body." -- K.S. Aksakov
And to "NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND" when it was first published...
"The hero tortures because he wants to, he likes to torture. There is neither reason nor purpose here, and, in the opinion of the author, they are not at all necessary, for absolute cruelty, cruelty an und fur sich (in and of itself) is interesting." -- Nikolai Mikhailovsky (on the underground man's treatment of Liza)
The underground man, through solitary observation of human nature and criticism of the utopian rationalists, attained a deep understanding of human imperfection as a law of nature and of history and became convinced that man, by his very essence, is an irrational, incomprehensible being, endowed in the act of creation with the capacity for suffering and rejoicing, and for profound emotional experience of his vicissitudes, but whose intellect has not been given the possibility of understanding and explaining the essence of man. In their reliance on reason, all rational sciences are equally powerless to unravel the secret of man. The understanding of man can come only through irrational, mystical penetration into the essence of things, that is, through religion. -- Vasily Rozanov (summary of views)
"[the author's very tormenting and barren... writing] clarifies nothing, does not exalt the positive in life, but, dwelling on the negative aspects only, fixes them in mind of man, always depicts him as helpless amid a chaos of dark forces, and can lead him to pessimism, mysticism, etc.... With the triumph of one who is insatiably taking vengeance for his personal misfortunes and sufferings and for the enthusiasms of his youth, Dostoevsky showed in the person of his hero to what lengths the individualists in the class of young people cut off from life in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries can go in their whining baseness..." -- Maxim Gorky
"Why part two is entitled 'Concerning Wet Snow' is a question that can be settled only in the light of journalistic innuendoes of the 1860s by writers who liked symbols, allusions to allusions, that kind of thing. The symbol perhaps is of purity becoming damp and dingy... After the great chapter 4... a false note is introduced with the appearance of that favorite figure of sentimental fiction, the noble prostitute, the fallen girl with the lofty heart. Liza, the young lady from Riga, is a literary dummy." -- Vladimir Nabokov
And to "CRIME & PUNISHMENT"...
"Raskolnikov lived his true life when he was lying on the sofa in his room, deliberating not at all about the old woman, nor even as to whether it is or is not permissible at the will of one man to wipe from the face of the earth another, unnecessary and harmful, man, but whether he ought to live in Petersburg or not, whether he ought to accept money from his mother or not, and on other questions not at all relating to the old woman. And then -- in that region quite independent of animal activities -- the question of whether he would or would not kill the old woman was decided. The question was decided... when he was doing nothing and was only thinking, when only his consciousness was active: and in that consciousness tiny, tiny alterations were taking place. It is at such times that one needs the greatest clearness to decide correctly the questions that have arisen, and it is just then that one glass of beer, or one cigarette, may prevent the solution of the question, may postpone the decision, stifle the voice of conscience and prompt a decision of the question in favor of the lower, animal nature -- as was the case with Raskolnikov. Tiny, tiny alterations -- but on them depend the most immense and terrible consequences." -- Leo Tolstoy on Dostoevsky's Raskolnikov