Religious Thought & British Authors

The Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God Church is located in one of the favorite areas of the city's intelligentsia, and has had many notable parishioners, including Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

“From the study windows one can see the cupolas of Vladimir Church, where Dostoevsky attended services in the last years of his life…”


 Dostoevsky’s specific view on religion involves the fact that his faith endured the suffering and hardships of doubt. Most clearly his religious/aesthetics beliefs are expressed in the novel The Brothers Karamazov :

” Beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and devil are fighting there, and the battlefield is the heart of man.”   Fyodor Dostoevsky

The First Cuban Edition of The Brothers Karamazov

To Mark  300 Years


the Russian Orthodox Church

Presence in Britain


Dostoevsky: Language, Faith and Fiction


Lord Rowan Williams


“The Archbishop of Canterbury has written a book on Dostoevsky which illuminates the real operations of religion in human minds…. We need a guide who combines the gifts of a literary critic and a trained theologian to work out how far the novels of Dostoevsky can be used as vehicles for such explorations. We also need a guide who is deeply versed in the ethos and spiritual traditions of the Russian Orthodox Church to place Dostoevsky, and the tormented exchanges of his characters, within some intelligible historical framework. Luckily the Archbishop of Canterbury combines all these qualities, and more” A. N. Wilson, Times Literary Supplement” –

“”Williams takes into account a vast range of critical writing on his subject as well as the work of theologians and philosophers… Anyone who studies this book carefully and is not familiar with Dostoevsky’s novels, is likey to go away with a desire to read them” Paul Richardson, Church of England Newspaper, October 2008” –

“”Rowan Williams is an excellent literary critic. He makes you want to read, or reread, everything that Dostoevsky wrote. The books that he describes are spacious enough to contain a whole world, and beautiful enough to serve as icons that illuminate ours” Andrew Brown, The Guardian, September 2008” –

“”There is an engagement with contemporary literature which is hard to find in any other public figure… He speaks knowledgeably and and appreciatively” The Daily Telegraph, September 2008” –

“”Although Rowan Willaims is very modest about hsi credentials in writing an important book on Dostoevsky, it is difficult to think of anyone who is better qualified… a remarkable contribution to understanding not just Dostoevsky, but what it might involve to be a religious believer in the world today” Richard Harries, Church Times, October 2008” –

“”His discussion of icons is a wonderful fusion of literary criticism and theological exposition, which makes more sense of the Christian understanding of the incarnation than almost anything I have ever read on the subject” Andrew Brown, The Guardian, September 2008” –

“”Williams writes superbly, every sentence counts, he can express just what he wants to say with eloquent precision and conviction. Not only those interested in Dostoevskii’s Christianity will find much enrichment for their thoughts but, given its centrality to his fiction, this book will be indispensable for anyone seriously interested in Dostoevskii. Williams has gone very deeply into Dostoevskii’s art and has illuminated, as few have, its Christocentric heart.” The Slavonic and East European Review, 87.4, October 2009” –

“Archbishop Rowan Williams reviews Absence of Mind in The Telegraph 28th May, with a puff for Dostoevsky at the end of the review.” –

“’The archbishop’s book is an absorbing critical account of Dostoevsky’s work which uses his real understanding of how Christian ideas shaped Dostoevsky’s world and people. He is particularly good on the devil’ AS Byatt in The Guardian, 17th July” – AS Byatt,

“”Permeated by Williams’s distinctive vocabulary… [this book is] challenging and inspiring” Third Way, November 2008” –

“Title mentioned in ‘Byzantium’ in an article written by the author” –

“”a very good book….Dr. Williams has come as close as any twenty-first century western man can hope to do, to the spirit that aniamted Dostoevsky’s literary genius. This is no mean achievement” Churchman, 1 November 2008” – Gerald Bray,

“”This work offers solely a Christian understanding of Dostoevsky’s work and does not entertain alternative readings” Chioice, Feb 2009” – A.J. DeBlasio,

“Reviewed by John D. Baird, TLS 16 january 2009” –

“BBC Radio 3 Literary Proms: Archbishop on Dostoevsky [for a transcript please see ‘published reviews’ folder on macshare]” –

“”…a real feeling for literary narrative… a profound and thought provoking book” Salley Vickers, The Times, September 2008” –

“”There are some splendid reflections in this study on the affinities between faith and literary form … Dostoevsky reveals the kind of exquisite subtelty of insight we have come to expect from this poet-philosopher.” The Tablet” –

“Title mention in London Review of Books, November 2008” –

“”Rowan Williams’ fascinating book intermittently achieves what the best literary criticism strives for – smart readings of challenging works that simultaneously find ways to shed some light on some urgent problems of our time” Times Higher Education Supplement, November 2008” –

“”Wild Ecstasy, people having fits, sons murdering fathers, prostitutes converting psychopaths to Christ-this is the world of Dostoevsky, and you can see why the Archbishop finds it a refreshing change from the current Liliputian crises in the Church” Mary Miers, Country Life, November 2008 ” –

Dostoevsky saw this painting “The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb” ( 1520–22) by the German artist and print-maker Hans Holbein the Younger, when traveling in Switzerland, and was so struck by it that he climbed up on a chair in order to look at it more closely. In his 1869 novel “The Idiot”, the character Prince Myshkin, having viewed the painting in the home of Rogozhin, declares that it has the power to make the viewer lose his faith.

Did Dostoevsky borrow his themes from English novelist?  by VICTORIA DREY

” Fyodor Dostoevsky was born in 1821, just nine years after Charles Dickens. Despite the small difference in age, Dickens was a role model for the Russian writer, experts say.

Dostoevsky is known for his strong psychological characters that usually go through serious hardships. But looking deeper at Dostoevsky’s characters, there are obvious similarities and parallels with Dickens.

The poor

In Dostoevsky’s novels it is difficult to find wealthy, confident and prosperous protagonists. In most cases, key characters are simple, often squalid people, trying to find their place in a harsh world. Like Dickens, Dostoevsky focuses on  ‘insulted and injured’ people, something the Russian writer seems to have largely taken from Dickens. Both writers demonstrate a desire to reform society.

Crime and punishment

Crime and its retribution is another motif close to both writers. It is noticeable particularly when Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment (1866) is compared with Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend (1865). Dostoevsky’s novel was written exactly one year after Our Mutual Friend, which may explain some features in its protagonist Raskolnikov. Both Bradley Headstone (from Our Mutual Friend) and Raskolnikov are not sure whether they have a right to murder; both of them also feel guilty for the crimes.

Dostoevsky and Dickens experts Philip V. Allingham (Canada) and Irina Gredina (Russia) notice the impact of Dickens on Dostoevsky: “The comparison of the two criminal characters, Bradley Headstone and Raskolnikov, in terms of investigating the root cause of their criminality, and of each character’s psychological development demonstrates how deeply Dostoevsky had grasped Dickens’s psychological conceptions, transforming and enriching them in his imagination”.

Furthermore, both Bradley Headstone and Raskolnikov have so-called polysemantic names. ‘Raskolnikov’ is derived from Russian roots meaning ‘connected with doubts, mistakes, uncertainty and despair’ which really resembles the meaning of ‘Headstone’.

Fateful names

Moreover, the Russian writer takes from Dickens not only motifs, but also characters’ fates. Examining Dostoevsky’s novel The Insulted and the Injured (1861) and Dickens’ The Old Curiosity shop (1841) it is noticeable that central to the plots of both are little girls who grow up too fast. They even have practically the same names: Nelly (The Insulted and the Injured) and Nell (The Old Curiosity shop). Both girls lose their parents in early childhood, stray far and wide and meet bad people. Both of them die in the prime of life. Obviously, Dostoevsky’s image is more complicated and desperate: At 13 Nelly is forced to work in brothel, she is absolutely abandoned, an utter orphan, unlike Dickens’ Nell who at least has a grandfather. Nevertheless, from Dickens’ image of a strong and precocious little girl, Dostoyevsky made his own similar character, supplementing it with his distinctive features. Childhood as a theme is another motif that both Dostoevsky and Dickens frequently employ.

Although Dostoevsky and Dickens comes from difference cultures, countries and backgrounds, their views on life are very close, philologists and literature specialists note. “Dostoevsky was largely inspired by Dickens,” says Alexander Chameev, a professor at St Petersburg State University. “Dostoevsky’s motifs of ordeal, atonement and self-abnegation were originally depicted in Dickens’ novels. Moreover, both writers tend to create forceful images of social institutions which distort people’s lives.”

It is notable Prof. Chameev says, that “Dostoevsky called Dickens ‘the great Christian’ for his humanism and understanding”.

See also Map: Russians in London by Sara Young