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I hear this term thrown around a lot, in connection to a variety of different works. They don't all share the same central themes, though - at least not necessarily. But they do all tend to be connected in a pretty basic way: they're all fairly grim.

Online definitions circularly say that "Dostoevskian" means "in the style of Fyodor Dostoevsky," which isn't particularly helpful.

What aspects of his works are typically specifically referred to by this term? Do people mean to say that a work is nihilistic, or explores seemingly irrational behavior? Or do they mean something else entirely?

  • Could you provide examples? The reason being, that different people use literary terms in different ways. Context would help. – Vekzhivi Oct 31 '17 at 16:18
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" Do people mean to say that a work is nihilistic, or explores seemingly irrational behavior? Or do they mean something else entirely?"

They may mean both. Dostoevsky's work is characterized by social realism, rather in Dickensian style, concerned with financial hardship mixed with a non-academic psychology of hidden and demented impulses (something wholly lacking in Dickens, or, only appearing somehow through the suggestion of strange narrative twists) which stem from man's deep struggle with his existentially unsheltered condition, where he stands within the irrational forces of existence. His work is often full of a peculiar humorous quality which is not exactly pleasure in the suffering of the other, but something indeterminate in the proximity of the exorbitant striving of exceptional and unusual persons. Intellectual problems are worked through at the highest level, in dialogue and through the concrete action of the plot. A decided non-denominational Christian bent constantly played against the moral essence of nihilism, the "everything is permitted", and the piercing forces of cosmic indifference, man's malice and rapine.

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