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Qwiz5 Quizbowl Essentials - Fyodor Dostoevsky

Fyodor Mikhaylovich Dostoevsky was a Russian writer who lived from 1821-1881. He was trained as a military engineer, but by age 24 he had abandoned that job to concentrate completely on his writing. He was arrested and eventually exiled to a labor camp in Siberia, but would return to Russia some ten years later. By the time of his death, he was back in favor, and was even asked to become tutor to the Tsar’s children. Best known for his psychological portraits of characters set in his native country, his works were influential both in literature and philosophy. Franz Kafka called Dostoevsky a “blood relative” because he felt so much akin to the novelist’s way of thinking.

By analyzing questions, you can see patterns emerge, patterns that will help you answer questions. Qwiz5 is all about those patterns. In each installment of Qwiz5, we take an answer line and look at its five most common clues. Here we explore five clues that will help you answer a tossup on Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Crime and Punishment

One of Dostoevsky’s most notable novels, Crime and Punishment focuses on the murder of the pawnbroker Alyona by Rodion Roskolnikov, a poor and destitute man. He believes the murder to be justifiable because he will do great things for humanity once he is free of poverty, but he is torn by his guilt following the murder, and with the support of the prostitute Sonya decides to confess to his crime.

The Idiot

Like Dostoevsky himself, the main character of The Idiot, Prince Myshkin, is an epileptic. Although he is often mocked and taken advantage of, he remains steady as “the positively good and beautiful man”, never losing his kindness, decency, and empathy. Myshkin is in love with Natasya Filippovna, a woman who is beautiful but whose immorality is decried by society. His great rival in pursuit of Natasya is Roghozin, a violent and jealous man who eventually murders Natasya.

The Brothers Karamazov:

The title brothers, Dmitri, Ivan, and Alexei (Alyosha), and their father Fyodor are the subject of this novel, which covers a great deal of religious and philosophical ground in the course of following events in the lives of the family members. A love triangle between Dmitri, Fyodor, and Grushenka adds to conflict between the father and son over an inheritance, and the eventual murder of Fyodor. A poem titled “The Grand Inquisitor”, written by Alyosha, is a common clue as well.

Notes From Underground:

Considered by many to be the first “existential” novel, this work is a “confession” - a first person work where the speaker claims to be telling us a secret truth. The speaker claims to be an ugly, hateful person living “underground” because he cannot justify acting on anything. If anything, though, he thinks the world outside is even worse, though; he’s just smart enough to realize what other people haven’t. He opens by saying “I am a sick man...I am a wicked man”, and spends much of the first part of the book arguing about free will, determinism, and unhappiness. The second part of the book, “Apropos of the Wet Snow”, is a set of vignettes about the narrator, his encounters with a prostitute named Liza, and his obsession with vengeance against an officer who slighted him.

Other Notable Works:

Dostoevsky was a prolific writer, so there’s plenty of material for a tossup to be drawn from. There are, however, a few other works that frequently appear early in Dostoevsky toss-ups.

These include The Gambler, whose main character Alexei suffers from the same addiction that Dostoevsky himself battled. Poor Folk was Dostoevsky’s first novel, a depiction of the lives of two impoverished relatives and their struggles. The House of the Dead is a journal based on Dostoevsky’s experience living in a Siberian prison camp.


Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out:

* Dostoevsky’s impact in philosophy was pretty significant. Walter Kauffman even wrote a book titled Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre that discusses the author’s ideas. You can read a little more about whether Dostoevsky was really an existentialist, plus find several good sources for further exploration, on this page from the University of British Columbia’s UBC Wiki.

* Want some bite-sized Dostoevsky bits to get started on? Check out this collection of Dostoevsky short stories courtesy of Project Gutenberg.

* You can always count on the good folks at Mental Floss to have something interesting to say. Here’s their list of 12 Facts about Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment.

* Sergei Prokofiev, in tribute to his fellow Russian artist, created the opera The Gambler based on the novel. Due to the February Revolution, its scheduled premiere was delayed over ten years. If you have two hours to kill, you can watch The Gambler as performed in the Marlinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia. You can even take a virtual tour of this historic theater!


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