Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Man is a mystery: if you spend your entire life trying to puzzle it out, then do not say that you have wasted your time. I occupy myself with this mystery, because I want to be a man.

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky Фёдор Миха́йлович Достое́вский (born in Moscow on November 11, 1821); died in St. Petersburg on February 9 1881) was a Russian writer.

See also:
Crime and Punishment
Demons (The Possessed)

Quotes[edit]

It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt.
  • To study the meaning of man and of life — I am making significant progress here. I have faith in myself. Man is a mystery: if you spend your entire life trying to puzzle it out, then do not say that you have wasted your time. I occupy myself with this mystery, because I want to be a man.
    • Personal correspondence (1839), as quoted in Dostoevsky : His Life and Work (1971) by Konstantin Mochulski, as translated by Michael A. Minihan, p. 17.
  • I want to say to you, about myself, that I am a child of this age, a child of unfaith and scepticism, and probably (indeed I know it) shall remain so to the end of my life. How dreadfully has it tormented me (and torments me even now) this longing for faith, which is all the stronger for the proofs I have against it. And yet God gives me sometimes moments of perfect peace; in such moments I love and believe that I am loved; in such moments I have formulated my creed, wherein all is clear and holy to me. This creed is extremely simple; here it is: I believe that there is nothing lovelier, deeper, more sympathetic, more rational, more manly, and more perfect than the Saviour; I say to myself with jealous love that not only is there no one else like Him, but that there could be no one. I would even say more: If anyone could prove to me that Christ is outside the truth, and if the truth really did exclude Christ, I should prefer to stay with Christ and not with truth.
    • Letter To Mme. N. D. Fonvisin (1854), as published in Letters of Fyodor Michailovitch Dostoevsky to his Family and Friends (1914), translated by Ethel Golburn Mayne, Letter XXI, p. 71
  • Neither a person nor a nation can exist without some higher idea. And there is only one higher idea on earth, and it is the idea of the immortality of the human soul, for all other "higher" ideas of life by which humans might live derive from that idea alone.
    • Writer's Diary Volume 1: 1873-1876, p. 734 [[1]]
  • The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.
  • It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt.
    • As quoted in Kierkegaard, the Melancholy Dane (1950) by Harold Victor Martin.
    • Variant translation:
    • I believe in Christ and confess him not like some child; my hosanna has passed through an enormous furnace of doubt.
      • Last Notebook (1880–1881), Literaturnoe nasledstvo, 83: 696; as quoted in Kenneth Lantz, The Dostoevsky Encyclopedia (2004), p. 21, hdn ISBN 0-313-30384-3.
  • The second half of a man's life is made up of nothing but the habits he has acquired during the first half.
    • As quoted in Peter's Quotations : Ideas for Our Time (1979) by Laurence J. Peter, p. 299.
  • Russia was a slave in Europe but would be a master in Asia.
    • As quoted in "Dilemmas of Empire 1850-1918: Power, Territory, Identity" by Dominic Livien in Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 34, No.2 (April 1999), pp. 180.
If you want to be respected by others the great thing is to respect yourself. Only by that, only by self-respect will you compel others to respect you.

The Insulted and the Injured (1861)[edit]

  • If you want to be respected by others the great thing is to respect yourself. Only by that, only by self-respect will you compel others to respect you.

Notes from the Underground (1864)[edit]

The characteristics of our romantics are to understand everything, to see everything and to see it often incomparably more clearly than our most realistic minds see it...
  • I am a sick man… I am a wicked man. An unattractive man.
  • ...что слишком сознавать — это болезнь, настоящая, полная болезнь.
    • To be acutely conscious is a disease, a real, honest-to-goodness disease.
Above all, do not lie to yourself. A man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point where he does not discern any truth either in himself or anywhere around him, and thus falls into disrespect towards himself and others.
  • The best definition of man is: a being that goes on two legs and is ungrateful.
    • Variant translation: If I had to define man it would be: a biped, ungrateful.
  • When… in the course of all these thousands of years has man ever acted in accordance with his own interests?
  • The formula 'two plus two equals five' is not without its attractions.
  • Yes — you, you alone must pay for everything because you turned up like this, because I'm a scoundrel, because I'm the nastiest, most ridiculous, pettiest, stupidest, and most envious worm of all those living on earth who're no better than me in any way, but who, the devil knows why, never get embarrassed, while all my life I have to endure insults from every louse — that's my fate. What do I care that you do not understand any of this?
  • I could never stand more than three months of dreaming at a time without feeling an irresistible desire to plunge into society. To plunge into society meant to visit my superior, Anton Antonich Syetochkin. He was the the only permanent acquaintance I have had in my life, and I even wonder at the fact myself now. But I even went to see him only when that phase came over me, and when my dreams had reached such a point of bliss that it became essential to embrace my fellows and all mankind immediately. And for that purpose I needed at least one human being at hand who actually existed. I had to call on Anton Antonich, however, on Tuesday — his at-home day; so I always had to adjust my passionate desire to embrace humanity so that it might fall on a Tuesday.
  • Every man has some reminiscences which he would not tell to everyone, but only to his friends. He has others which he would not reveal even to his friends, but only to himself, and that in secret. But finally there are still others which a man is even afraid to tell himself, and every decent man has a considerable number of such things stored away. That is, one can even say that the more decent he is, the greater the number of such things in his mind.
  • The characteristics of our "romantics" are absolutely and directly opposed to the transcendental European type, and no European standard can be applied to them. (Allow me to make use of this word "romantic" — an old-fashioned and much respected word which has done good service and is familiar to all.) The characteristics of our romantics are to understand everything, to see everything and to see it often incomparably more clearly than our most realistic minds see it; to refuse to accept anyone or anything, but at the same time not to despise anything; to give way, to yield, from policy; never to lose sight of a useful practical object (such as rent-free quarters at the government expense, pensions, decorations), to keep their eye on that object through all the enthusiasms and volumes of lyrical poems, and at the same time to preserve "the sublime and the beautiful" inviolate within them to the hour of their death, and to preserve themselves also, incidentally, like some precious jewel wrapped in cotton wool if only for the benefit of "the sublime and the beautiful." Our "romantic" is a man of great breadth and the greatest rogue of all our rogues, I assure you .... I can assure you from experience, indeed. Of course, that is, if he is intelligent. But what am I saying! The romantic is always intelligent, and I only meant to observe that although we have had foolish romantics they don't count, and they were only so because in the flower of their youth they degenerated into Germans, and to preserve their precious jewel more comfortably, settled somewhere out there — by preference in Weimar or the Black Forest.
  • It was not only that I could not become spiteful, I did not know how to become anything; neither spiteful nor kind, neither a rascal nor an honest man, neither a hero nor an insect. Now, I am living out my life in my corner, taunting myself with the spiteful and useless consolation that an intelligent man cannot become anything seriously, and it is only the fool who becomes anything.
  • Granted I am a babbler, a harmless vexatious babbler, like all of us. But what is to be done if the direct and sole vocation of every intelligent man is babble, that is, the intentional pouring of water through a sieve?
  • To care only for well-being seems to me positively ill-bred. Whether it's good or bad, it is sometimes very pleasant, too, to smash things.
  • And what is it in us that is mellowed by civilization? All it does, I’d say, is to develop in man a capacity to feel a greater variety of sensations. And nothing, absolutely nothing else. And through this development, man will yet learn how to enjoy bloodshed. Why, it has already happened . . . . Civilization has made man, if not always more bloodthirsty, at least more viciously, more horribly bloodthirsty.
  • All writers, not ours alone but foreigners also, who have sought to represent Absolute Beauty, were unequal to the task, for it is an infinitely difficult one. The beautiful is the ideal ; but ideals, with us as in civilized Europe, have long been wavering. There is in the world only one figure of absolute beauty: Christ. That infinitely lovely figure is, as a matter of course, an infinite marvel.

The Gambler (1866)[edit]

  • And now once again I asked myself the question: do I love her? And once more I could not answer, that is to say, again, for the hundreth time, I answered that I hated her.
  • Is it really not possible to touch the gaming table without being instantly infected by superstition?

Crime and Punishment (1866)[edit]

These are just a few samples, for more quotes from this work see Crime and Punishment
  • Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most.
Accept suffering and achieve atonement through it — that is what you must do.
  • Man grows used to everything, the scoundrel.
  • Talking nonsense is man's only privilege that distinguishes him from all other organisms.
  • "You're a gentleman," they used to say to him. "You shouldn't have gone murdering people with a hatchet; that's no occupation for a gentleman."
  • Do a man dirt, yourself you hurt.
  • Nothing in this world is harder than speaking the truth, nothing easier than flattery.
  • Accept suffering and achieve atonement through it — that is what you must do.
  • If not reason, then the devil.
  • Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart. The really great men must, I think, have great sadness on Earth.

The Idiot (1868)[edit]

It's life that matters, nothing but life — the process of discovering, the everlasting and perpetual process, not the discovery itself, at all.
Inventors and geniuses have almost always been looked on as no better than fools at the beginning of their career, and very frequently at the end of it also.
  • A widow, the mother of a family, and from her heart she produces chords to which my whole being responds.
  • It wasn't the New World that mattered ... Columbus died almost without seeing it; and not really knowing what he had discovered. It's life that matters, nothing but life — the process of discovering, the everlasting and perpetual process, not the discovery itself, at all. But what's the use of talking! I suspect that all I'm saying now is so like the usual commonplaces that I shall certainly be taken for a lower-form schoolboy sending in his essay on "sunrise", or they'll say perhaps that I had something to say, but that I did not know how to "explain" it. But I'll add, that there is something at the bottom of every new human thought, every thought of genius, or even every earnest thought that springs up in any brain, which can never be communicated to others, even if one were to write volumes about it and were explaining one's idea for thirty-five years; there's something left which cannot be induced to emerge from your brain, and remains with you forever; and with it you will die, without communicating to anyone perhaps the most important of your ideas. But if I too have failed to convey all that has been tormenting me for the last six months, it will, anyway, be understood that I have paid very dearly for attaining my present "last conviction." This is what I felt necessary, for certain objects of my own, to put forward in my "Explanation". However, I will continue.
  • Lack of originality, everywhere, all over the world, from time immemorial, has always been considered the foremost quality and the recommendation of the active, efficient and practical man...
  • To kill someone for committing murder is a punishment incomparably worse than the crime itself. Murder by legal sentence is immeasurably more terrible than murder by brigands.
There are two sorts of mind: one that matters, and one that doesn't matter.
  • Roman Catholicism is even worse than Atheism itself, in my opinion! Yes, that's my opinion! Atheism only preaches a negation, but Catholicism goes further: it preaches a distorted Christ, a Christ calumniated and defamed by themselves, the opposite of Christ! It preaches the Antichrist, I declare it does, I assure you it does! This is the conviction I have long held, and it has distressed me, myself... Roman Catholicism cannot hold its position without universal political supremacy, and cries: 'Non possumus!' To my thinking Roman Catholicism is not even a religion, but simply the continuation of the Western Roman Empire, and everything in it is subordinated to that idea, faith to begin with. The Pope seized the earth, an earthly throne, and grasped the sword; everything has gone on in the same way since, only they have added to the sword lying, fraud, deceit, fanaticism, superstition, villainy. They have trifled with the most holy, truthful, sincere, fervent feelings of the people; they have bartered it all, all for money, for base earthly power. And isn't that the teaching of Antichrist? How could Atheism fail to come from them? Atheism has sprung from Roman Catholicism itself. It originated with them themselves. Can they have believed themselves? It has been strengthened by revulsion from them; it is begotten by their lying and their spiritual impotence! Atheism! Among us it is only the exceptional classes who don't believe, those who, as Yevgeny Pavlovitch splendidly expressed it the other day, have lost their roots. But over there, in Europe, a terrible mass of the people themselves are beginning to lose their faith — at first from darkness and lying, and now from fanaticism and hatred of the church and Christianity.
  • A fool with a heart and no sense is just as unhappy as a fool with sense and no heart.
  • It was evident that he revived by fits and starts. He would suddenly come to himself from actual delirium for a few minutes; he would remember and talk with complete consciousness, chiefly in disconnected phrases which he had perhaps thought out and learnt by heart in the long weary hours of his illness, in his bed, in sleepless solitude.
  • Inventors and geniuses have almost always been looked on as no better than fools at the beginning of their career, and very frequently at the end of it also.
To achieve perfection, one must first begin by not understanding many things! And if we understand too quickly, we may not understand well.
  • I consider you the most honest and truthful of men, more honest and truthful than anyone; and if they say that your mind . . . that is, that you're sometimes afflicted in your mind, it's unjust. I made up my mind about that, and disputed with others, because, though you really are mentally afflicted (you won't be angry with that, of course; I'm speaking from a higher point of view), yet the mind that matters is better in you than in any of them. It's something, in fact, they have never dreamed of. For there are two sorts of mind: one that matters, and one that doesn't matter.
The prince says that the world will be saved by beauty! And I maintain that the reason he has such playful ideas is that he is in love.
  • I have never in my life met a man like him for noble simplicity, and boundless truthfulness. I understood from the way he talked that anyone who chose could deceive him, and that he would forgive anyone afterwards who had deceived him, and that was why I grew to love him.
  • Humiliate the reason and distort the soul...
  • Nor is there any embarrassment in the fact that we're ridiculous, isn't it true? For it's actually so, we are ridiculous, light-minded, with bad habits, we're bored, we don't know how to look, how to understand, we're all like that, all, you, and I, and they! Now, you're not offended when I tell you to your face that you're ridiculous? And if so, aren't you material? You know, in my opinion it's sometimes even good to be ridiculous, if not better: we can the sooner forgive each other, the sooner humble ourselves; we can't understand everything at once, we cant start right out with perfection! To achieve perfection, one must first begin by not understanding many things! And if we understand too quickly, we may not understand well. This I tell you, you, who have already been able to understand. .. and not understand ... so much. I'm not afraid for you now;
  • Who consciously throws himself into the water or onto the knife?
  • The prince says that the world will be saved by beauty! And I maintain that the reason he has such playful ideas is that he is in love.
  • Pass by us, and forgive us our happiness.
  • It's easier for a Russian to become an atheist than for anyone else in the world.

The Possessed (1872)[edit]

Also known as The Demons and The Devils Text at Project Gutenberg

Main article: Demons (novel)
  • Man is unhappy because he doesn't know he's happy. It's only that.
    • Part II, ch. I
  • Hold your tongue; you won't understand anything. If there is no God, then I am God.
    • Kirilov, Part III, ch. VI, "A busy night"

The Dream of a Ridiculous Man (1877)[edit]

Using primarily the translation of Constance Garnett (1916) - Full text at Wikisource
I am a ridiculous man. They call me a madman now. That would be a distinct rise in my social position were it not that they still regard me as being as ridiculous as ever.
I learnt the truth last November — on the third of November, to be precise — and I remember every instant since.
  • I am a ridiculous person. Now they call me a madman. That would be a promotion if it were not that I remain as ridiculous in their eyes as before. But now I do not resent it, they are all dear to me now, even when they laugh at me — and, indeed, it is just then that they are particularly dear to me. I could join in their laughter — not exactly at myself, but through affection for them, if I did not feel so sad as I look at them. Sad because they do not know the truth and I do know it. Oh, how hard it is to be the only one who knows the truth! But they won't understand that. No, they won't understand it.
    • I
    • Variant translation: I am a ridiculous man. They call me a madman now. That would be a distinct rise in my social position were it not that they still regard me as being as ridiculous as ever. But that does not make me angry any more. They are all dear to me now even while they laugh at me — yes, even then they are for some reason particularly dear to me. I shouldn't have minded laughing with them — not at myself, of course, but because I love them — had I not felt so sad as I looked at them. I feel sad because they do not know the truth, whereas I know it. Oh, how hard it is to be the only man to know the truth! But they won't understand that. No, they will not understand.
  • I gave up caring about anything, and all the problems disappeared.
    And it was after that that I found out the truth. I learnt the truth last November — on the third of November, to be precise — and I remember every instant since.
    • I.
  • The sky was horribly dark, but one could distinctly see tattered clouds, and between them fathomless black patches. Suddenly I noticed in one of these patches a star, and began watching it intently. That was because that star had given me an idea: I decided to kill myself that night.
    • I.
Dreams, as we all know, are very queer things: some parts are presented with appalling vividness, with details worked up with the elaborate finish of jewellery, while others one gallops through, as it were, without noticing them at all...
  • It seemed clear to me that life and the world somehow depended upon me now. I may almost say that the world now seemed created for me alone: if I shot myself the world would cease to be at least for me. I say nothing of its being likely that nothing will exist for anyone when I am gone, and that as soon as my consciousness is extinguished the whole world will vanish too and become void like a phantom, as a mere appurtenance of my consciousness, for possibly all this world and all these people are only me myself.
    • II.
They tease me now, telling me it was only a dream. But does it matter whether it was a dream or reality, if the dream made known to me the truth?
  • Dreams, as we all know, are very queer things: some parts are presented with appalling vividness, with details worked up with the elaborate finish of jewellery, while others one gallops through, as it were, without noticing them at all, as, for instance, through space and time. Dreams seem to be spurred on not by reason but by desire, not by the head but by the heart, and yet what complicated tricks my reason has played sometimes in dreams, what utterly incomprehensible things happen to it!
    • II.
  • Yes, I dreamed a dream, my dream of the third of November. They tease me now, telling me it was only a dream. But does it matter whether it was a dream or reality, if the dream made known to me the truth? If once one has recognized the truth and seen it, you know that it is the truth and that there is no other and there cannot be, whether you are asleep or awake. Let it be a dream, so be it, but that real life of which you make so much I had meant to extinguish by suicide, and my dream, my dream — oh, it revealed to me a different life, renewed, grand and full of power!
    • II.
  • I suddenly dreamt that I picked up the revolver and aimed it straight at my heart — my heart, and not my head; and I had determined beforehand to fire at my head, at my right temple. After aiming at my chest I waited a second or two, and suddenly my candle, my table, and the wall in front of me began moving and heaving. I made haste to pull the trigger.
    • III.
  • In dreams you sometimes fall from a height, or are stabbed, or beaten, but you never feel pain unless, perhaps, you really bruise yourself against the bedstead, then you feel pain and almost always wake up from it. It was the same in my dream. I did not feel any pain, but it seemed as though with my shot everything within me was shaken and everything was suddenly dimmed, and it grew horribly black around me. I seemed to be blinded, and it benumbed, and I was lying on something hard, stretched on my back; I saw nothing, and could not make the slightest movement.
    • III.
The children of the sun, the children of their sun — oh, how beautiful they were!
  • On our earth we can only love with suffering and through suffering. We cannot love otherwise, and we know of no other sort of love. I want suffering in order to love. I long, I thirst, this very instant, to kiss with tears the earth that I have left, and I don't want, I won't accept life on any other!"
    • III.
  • The children of the sun, the children of their sun — oh, how beautiful they were! Never had I seen on our own earth such beauty in mankind. Only perhaps in our children, in their earliest years, one might find, some remote faint reflection of this beauty. The eyes of these happy people shone with a clear brightness. Their faces were radiant with the light of reason and fullness of a serenity that comes of perfect understanding, but those faces were gay; in their words and voices there was a note of childlike joy. Oh, from the first moment, from the first glance at them, I understood it all! It was the earth untarnished by the Fall; on it lived people who had not sinned. They lived just in such a paradise as that in which, according to all the legends of mankind, our first parents lived before they sinned; the only difference was that all this earth was the same paradise. These people, laughing joyfully, thronged round me and caressed me; they took me home with them, and each of them tried to reassure me. Oh, they asked me no questions, but they seemed, I fancied, to know everything without asking, and they wanted to make haste to smoothe away the signs of suffering from my face.
    • III.
They showed me their trees, and I could not understand the intense love with which they looked at them; it was as though they were talking with creatures like themselves.
  • Well, granted that it was only a dream, yet the sensation of the love of those innocent and beautiful people has remained with me for ever, and I feel as though their love is still flowing out to me from over there. I have seen them myself, have known them and been convinced; I loved them, I suffered for them afterwards. Oh, I understood at once even at the time that in many things I could not understand them at all ... But I soon realised that their knowledge was gained and fostered by intuitions different from those of us on earth, and that their aspirations, too, were quite different. They desired nothing and were at peace; they did not aspire to knowledge of life as we aspire to understand it, because their lives were full. But their knowledge was higher and deeper than ours; for our science seeks to explain what life is, aspires to understand it in order to teach others how to love, while they without science knew how to live; and that I understood, but I could not understand their knowledge.
    • IV.


  • They showed me their trees, and I could not understand the intense love with which they looked at them; it was as though they were talking with creatures like themselves. And perhaps I shall not be mistaken if I say that they conversed with them. Yes, they had found their language, and I am convinced that the trees understood them. They looked at all Nature like that — at the animals who lived in peace with them and did not attack them, but loved them, conquered by their love. They pointed to the stars and told me something about them which I could not understand, but I am convinced that they were somehow in touch with the stars, not only in thought, but by some living channel.
    • IV.
  • They had no temples, but they had a real living and uninterrupted sense of oneness with the whole of the universe; they had no creed, but they had a certain knowledge that when their earthly joy had reached the limits of earthly nature, then there would come for them, for the living and for the dead, a still greater fullness of contact with the whole of the universe. They looked forward to that moment with joy, but without haste, not pining for it, but seeming to have a foretaste of it in their hearts, of which they talked to one another.
    • IV.
The actual forms and images of my dream, that is, the very ones I really saw at the very time of my dream, were filled with such harmony, were so lovely and enchanting and were so actual, that on awakening I was, of course, incapable of clothing them in our poor language...
  • They sang the praises of nature, of the sea, of the woods. They liked making songs about one another, and praised each other like children; they were the simplest songs, but they sprang from their hearts and went to one's heart. And not only in their songs but in all their lives they seemed to do nothing but admire one another. It was like being in love with each other, but an all-embracing, universal feeling.
    • IV.
How it could come to pass I do not know, but I remember it clearly. The dream embraced thousands of years and left in me only a sense of the whole.
  • Oh, everyone laughs in my face now, and assures me that one cannot dream of such details as I am telling now, that I only dreamed or felt one sensation that arose in my heart in delirium and made up the details myself when I woke up. And when I told them that perhaps it really was so, my God, how they shouted with laughter in my face, and what mirth I caused! Oh, yes, of course I was overcome by the mere sensation of my dream, and that was all that was preserved in my cruelly wounded heart; but the actual forms and images of my dream, that is, the very ones I really saw at the very time of my dream, were filled with such harmony, were so lovely and enchanting and were so actual, that on awakening I was, of course, incapable of clothing them in our poor language, so that they were bound to become blurred in my mind; and so perhaps I really was forced afterwards to make up the details, and so of course to distort them in my passionate desire to convey some at least of them as quickly as I could. But on the other hand, how can I help believing that it was all true? It was perhaps a thousand times brighter, happier and more joyful than I describe it. Granted that I dreamed it, yet it must have been real. You know, I will tell you a secret: perhaps it was not a dream at all!
    • IV.
  • How it could come to pass I do not know, but I remember it clearly. The dream embraced thousands of years and left in me only a sense of the whole. I only know that I was the cause of their sin and downfall. Like a vile trichina, like a germ of the plague infecting whole kingdoms, so I contaminated all this earth, so happy and sinless before my coming. They learnt to lie, grew fond of lying, and discovered the charm of falsehood.
    • V.
  • All became so jealous of the rights of their own personality that they did their very utmost to curtail and destroy them in others, and made that the chief thing in their lives. Slavery followed, even voluntary slavery; the weak eagerly submitted to the strong, on condition that the latter aided them to subdue the still weaker. Then there were saints who came to these people, weeping, and talked to them of their pride, of their loss of harmony and due proportion, of their loss of shame. They were laughed at or pelted with stones.
    • V.
I have seen the truth; I have seen and I know that people can be beautiful and happy without losing the power of living on earth. I will not and cannot believe that evil is the normal condition of mankind. And it is just this faith of mine that they laugh at.
  • Alas! I always loved sorrow and tribulation, but only for myself, for myself; but I wept over them, pitying them. I stretched out my hands to them in despair, blaming, cursing and despising myself. I told them that all this was my doing, mine alone; that it was I had brought them corruption, contamination and falsity. I besought them to crucify me, I taught them how to make a cross. I could not kill myself, I had not the strength, but I wanted to suffer at their hands. I yearned for suffering, I longed that my blood should be drained to the last drop in these agonies. But they only laughed at me, and began at last to look upon me as crazy. They justified me, they declared that they had only got what they wanted themselves, and that all that now was could not have been otherwise. At last they declared to me that I was becoming dangerous and that they should lock me up in a madhouse if I did not hold my tongue. Then such grief took possession of my soul that my heart was wrung, and I felt as though I were dying; and then . . . then I awoke.
    • V.
  • I go to spread the tidings, I want to spread the tidings — of what? Of the truth, for I have seen it, have seen it with my own eyes, have seen it in all its glory.
    • V.
  • I have seen the truth; I have seen and I know that people can be beautiful and happy without losing the power of living on earth. I will not and cannot believe that evil is the normal condition of mankind. And it is just this faith of mine that they laugh at. But how can I help believing it? I have seen the truth — it is not as though I had invented it with my mind, I have seen it, seen it, and the living image of it has filled my soul for ever. I have seen it in such full perfection that I cannot believe that it is impossible for people to have it.
    • V.
  • A dream! What is a dream? And is not our life a dream? I will say more. Suppose that this paradise will never come to pass (that I understand), yet I shall go on preaching it. And yet how simple it is: in one day, in one hour everything could be arranged at once! The chief thing is to love others like yourself, that's the chief thing, and that's everything; nothing else is wanted — you will find out at once how to arrange it all. And yet it's an old truth which has been told and retold a billion times — but it has not formed part of our lives! The consciousness of life is higher than life, the knowledge of the laws of happiness is higher than happiness — that is what one must contend against. And I shall. If only everyone wants it, it can be arranged at once.
    • V.

The Brothers Karamazov (1879–1880)[edit]

Beauty is a terrible and awful thing! It is terrible because it has not been fathomed, for God sets us nothing but riddles.
Here the boundaries meet and all contradictions exist side by side.
In most cases, people, even the most vicious, are much more naive and simple-minded than we assume them to be. And this is true of ourselves too.
  • There is no sin, and there can be no sin on all the earth, which the Lord will not forgive to the truly repentant! Man cannot commit a sin so great as to exhaust the infinite love of God. Can there be a sin which could exceed the love of God?
    • Book II, ch. 3 (trans. Constance Garnett).
  • If you are penitent, you love. And if you love you are of God. All things are atoned for, all things are saved by love. If I, a sinner even as you are, am tender with you and have pity on you, how much more will God have pity upon you. Love is such a priceless treasure that you can redeem the whole world by it, and cleanse not only your own sins but the sins of others.
    • Book II, ch. 3 (trans. Constance Garnett).
  • If I seem happy to you . . . You could never say anything that would please me more. For men are made for happiness, and anyone who is completely happy has a right to say to himself, 'I am doing God's will on earth.' All the righteous, all the saints, all the holy martyrs were happy.
    • Book II, ch. 4 (trans. Constance Garnett).
  • "It's just the same story as a doctor once told me," observed the elder. "He was a man getting on in years, and undoubtedly clever. He spoke as frankly as you, though in jest, in bitter jest. 'I love humanity,' he said, 'but I wonder at myself. The more I love humanity in general, the less I love man in particular. In my dreams,' he said, 'I have often come to making enthusiastic schemes for the service of humanity, and perhaps I might actually have faced crucifixion if it had been suddenly necessary; and yet I am incapable of living in the same room with any one for two days together, as I know by experience. As soon as any one is near me, his personality disturbs my self-complacency and restricts my freedom. In twenty-four hours I begin to hate the best of men: one because he's too long over his dinner; another because he has a cold and keeps on blowing his nose. I become hostile to people the moment they come close to me. But it has always happened that the more I detest men individually the more ardent becomes my love for humanity.'"
    • Book II, ch. 4 (trans. Constance Garnett).
  • Above all, avoid falsehood, every kind of falsehood, especially falseness to yourself. Watch over your own deceitfulness and look into it every hour, every minute.
    • Book II, ch. 4 (trans. Constance Garnett).
  • If you were to destroy in mankind the belief in immortality, not only love but every living force maintaining the life of the world would at once be dried up. Moreover, nothing then would be immoral, everything would be lawful, even cannibalism.
    • Book II, ch. 6 (trans. Constance Garnett).
  • Fathers and teachers, what is the monk? In the cultivated world the word is nowadays pronounced by some people with a jeer, and by others it is used as a term of abuse, and this contempt for the monk is growing. It is true, alas, it is true, that there are many sluggards, gluttons, profligates and insolent beggars among monks. Educated people point to these: “You are idlers, useless members of society, you live on the labor of others, you are shameless beggars.” And yet how many meek and humble monks there are, yearning for solitude and fervent prayer in peace! These are less noticed, or passed over in silence. And how surprised men would be if I were to say that from these meek monks, who yearn for solitary prayer, the salvation of Russia will come perhaps once more! For they are in truth made ready in peace and quiet “for the day and the hour, the month and the year.” Meanwhile, in their solitude, they keep the image of Christ fair and undefiled, in the purity of God's truth, from the times of the Fathers of old, the Apostles and the martyrs. And when the time comes they will show it to the tottering creeds of the world. That is a great thought. That star will rise out of the East.
    • Book VI, chapter 3: "Conversations and Exhortations of Father Zossima; The Russian Monk and his possible Significance" (translated by Constance Garnett).
  • Brothers, have no fear of men's sin. Love a man even in his sin, for that is the semblance of Divine Love and is the highest love on earth. Love all God's creation, the whole of it and every grain of sand in it. Love every leaf, every ray of God's light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you have perceived it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day, and you will come at last to love the world with an all-embracing love. Love the animals: God has given them the rudiments of thought and untroubled joy. So do not trouble it, do not harass them, do not deprive them of their joy, do not go against God's intent. Man, do not exhale yourself above the animals: they are without sin, while you in your majesty defile the earth by your appearance on it, and you leave the traces of your defilement behind you — alas, this is true of almost every one of us! Love children especially, for like the angels they too are sinless, and they live to soften and purify our hearts, and, as it were, to guide us. Woe to him who offends a child.
    My young brother asked even the birds to forgive him. It may sound absurd, but it is right none the less, for everything, like the ocean, flows and enters into contact with everything else: touch one place, and you set up a movement at the other end of the world. It may be senseless to beg forgiveness of the birds, but, then, it would be easier for the birds, and for the child, and for every animal if you were yourself more pleasant than you are now. Everything is like an ocean, I tell you. Then you would pray to the birds, too, consumed by a universal love, as though in ecstasy, and ask that they, too, should forgive your sin. Treasure this ecstasy, however absurd people may think it.
    • Book VI, chapter 3: "Conversations and Exhortations of Father Zossima; Of Prayer, of Love, and of Contact with other Worlds" (translated by Constance Garnett).
  • Нет бессмертия души, так нет и добродетели, значит, всё позволено. ... Без бога-то и без будущей жизни? Ведь это, стало быть, теперь всё позволено, всё можно делать?
    • If there is no immortality, there is no virtue. ... Without God and immortal life? All things are lawful then, they can do what they like?
  • Is there in the whole world a being who would have the right to forgive and could forgive? I don't want harmony. From love for humanity I don't want it. I would rather be left with the unavenged suffering. I would rather remain with my unavenged suffering and unsatisfied indignation, even if I were wrong. Besides, too high a price is asked for harmony; it's beyond our means to pay so much to enter on it. And so I hasten to give back my entrance ticket, and if I am an honest man I am bound to give it back as soon as possible. And that I am doing. It's not God that I don't accept, Alyosha, only I most respectfully return him the ticket.
  • The stupider one is, the closer one is to reality. The stupider one is, the clearer one is. Stupidity is brief and artless, while intelligence wriggles and hides itself. Intelligence is a knave, but stupidity is honest and straightforward.
  • Fathers and teachers, I ponder, "What is hell?" I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love.
    • Dostoevsky (1999) [1880]. The Brothers Karamazov. Constance Garnett, translator. Signet Classic. pp. p. 312. ISBN 0451527348. 
  • 'But,' I [Dmitri Karamazov] asked, 'how will man be after that? Without God and the future life? It means everything is permitted now, one can do anything?' 'Didn't you know?' he said. And he laughed. 'Everything is permitted to the intelligent man,' he said.
    • Book XI, ch. 4 (trans. Pevear and Volokhonsky).
  • People talk sometimes of a bestial cruelty, but that's a great injustice and insult to the beasts; a beast can never be so cruel as a man, so artistically cruel. The tiger only tears and gnaws, that's all he can do. He would never think of nailing people by the ears, even if he were able to do it.
  • I think the devil doesn't exist, but man has created him, he has created him in his own image and likeness.
The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man.
  • Beauty is a terrible and awful thing! It is terrible because it has not been fathomed, for God sets us nothing but riddles. Here the boundaries meet and all contradictions exist side by side.
  • In most cases, people, even the most vicious, are much more naive and simple-minded than we assume them to be. And this is true of ourselves too.
  • The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man.
  • Even those who have renounced Christianity and attack it, in their inmost being still follow the Christian ideal, for hitherto neither their subtlety nor the ardor of their hearts has been able to create a higher ideal of man and of virtue than the ideal given by Christ.
  • A man who lies to himself, and believes his own lies, becomes unable to recognize truth, either in himself or in anyone else, and he ends up losing respect for himself and for others. When he has no respect for anyone, he can no longer love, and in him, he yields to his impulses, indulges in the lowest form of pleasure, and behaves in the end like an animal in satisfying his vices. And it all comes from lying — to others and to yourself.
    • A more extensive variant translation: Above all, do not lie to yourself. A man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point where he does not discern any truth either in himself or anywhere around him, and thus falls into disrespect towards himself and others. Not respecting anyone, he ceases to love, and having no love, he gives himself up to passions and coarse pleasures, in order to occupy and amuse himself, and in his vices reaches complete bestiality, and it all comes from lying continually to others and to himself. A man who lies to himself is often the first to take offense. It sometimes feels very good to take offense, doesn't it? And surely he knows that no one has offended him, and that he himself has invented the offense and told lies just for the beauty of it, that he has exaggerated for the sake of effect, that he has picked on a word and made a mountain out of a pea — he knows all of that, and still he is the first to take offense, he likes feeling offended, it gives him great pleasure, and thus he reaches the point of real hostility… Do get up from your knees and sit down, I beg you, these posturings are false, too.
What terrible tragedies realism inflicts on people.
  • Men reject their prophets and slay them, but they love their martyrs and honor those they have slain.
  • So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find some one to worship.
  • If they drive God from the earth, we shall shelter Him underground.
  • Even there, in the mines, underground, I may find a human heart in another convict and murderer by my side, and I may make friends with him, for even there one may live and love and suffer. One may thaw and revive a frozen heart in that convict, one may wait upon him for years, and at last bring up from the dark depths a lofty soul, a feeling, suffering creature; one may bring forth an angel, create a hero! There are so many of them, hundreds of them, and we are to blame for them.
  • My feelings, gratitude, for instance, are denied me simply because of my social position.
    • The Devil (Ivan's Nightmare).
  • Do you know that ages will pass and mankind will proclaim in its wisdom and science that there is no crime and, therefore no sin, but that there are only hungry people. "Feed them first and then demand virtue of them!" — that is what they will inscribe on their banner which they will raise against you and which will destroy your temple.
  • To be in love is not the same as loving. You can be in love with a woman and still hate her.
  • It's the great mystery of human life that old grief passes gradually into quiet tender joy.
  • What terrible tragedies realism inflicts on people.


Misattributed[edit]

Quotes about Dostoevsky[edit]

  • In the preface to an anthology of Russian literature, Vladimir Nabokov stated that he had not found a single page of Dostoevsky worthy of inclusion. This ought to mean that Dostoevsky should not be judged by each page but rather by the total of all the pages that comprise the book.
    • Jorge Luis Borges, in his Preface to Dostoevsky's Demons as translated by Eliot Weinberger, in Borges's "A Personal Library" series; included in Jorge Luis Borges – Selected Non-Fictions (1999).

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