Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Life & Literature Introduced in a Monty Python-Style Animation

“You know how ear­li­er we were talk­ing about Dos­toyevsky?” asks David Brent, Ricky Ger­vais’ icon­i­cal­ly inse­cure paper-com­pa­ny mid­dle-man­ag­er cen­tral to the BBC’s orig­i­nal The Office. “Oh, yeah?” replies Ricky, the junior employ­ee who had ear­li­er that day demon­strat­ed a knowl­edge of the influ­en­tial Russ­ian nov­el­ist appar­ent­ly intim­i­dat­ing to his boss. “Fyo­dor Mikhailovich Dos­toyevsky. Born 1821. Died 1881,” recites Brent. “Just inter­est­ed in him being exiled in Siberia for four years.” Ricky admits to not know­ing much about that peri­od of the writer’s life. “All it is is that he was a mem­ber of a secret polit­i­cal par­ty,” Brent con­tin­ues, draw­ing upon research clear­ly per­formed moments pre­vi­ous, “and they put him in a Siber­ian labour camp for four years, so, you know…”

We here at Open Cul­ture know that you would­n’t stoop to such tac­tics in an attempt to estab­lish intel­lec­tu­al suprema­cy over your co-work­ers — nor would you feel any shame in not hav­ing yet plunged into the work of that same Fyo­dor Mikhailovich Dos­toyevsky, born 1821, died 1881, and the author of such much-taught nov­els as Crime and Pun­ish­mentThe Idiot, and The Broth­ers Kara­ma­zov (as well as a pro­lif­ic doo­dler). “His first major work,” in the pos­tur­ing words of David Brent, “was Notes from the Under­ground, which he wrote in St Peters­burg in 1859. Of course, my favorite is The Raw Youth. It’s basi­cal­ly where Dos­toyevsky goes on to explain how sci­ence can’t real­ly find answers for the deep­er human need.”

An intrigu­ing posi­tion! To hear it explained with deep­er com­pre­hen­sion (but just as enter­tain­ing­ly, and also in an Eng­lish-accent­ed voice), watch this 14-minute, Mon­ty Python-style ani­mat­ed primer from Alain de Bot­ton’s School of Life and read the accom­pa­ny­ing arti­cle from The Book of Life. Even apart from those years in Siberia, the man “had a very hard life, but he suc­ceed­ed in con­vey­ing an idea which per­haps he under­stood more clear­ly than any­one: in a world that’s very keen on upbeat sto­ries, we will always run up against our lim­i­ta­tions as deeply flawed and pro­found­ly mud­dled crea­tures,” an atti­tude “need­ed more than ever in our naive and sen­ti­men­tal age that so fer­vent­ly clings to the idea – which this great Russ­ian loathed – that sci­ence can save us all and that we may yet be made per­fect through tech­nol­o­gy.”

After The School of Life gets you up to speed on Dos­toyevsky, you’ll no doubt find your­self able to more than hold your own in any water-cool­er dis­cus­sion of the man whom James Joyce cred­it­ed with shat­ter­ing the Vic­to­ri­an nov­el, “with its sim­per­ing maid­ens and ordered com­mon­places,” whom Vir­ginia Woolf regard­ed as the most excit­ing writer oth­er that Shake­speare, and whose work Her­mann Hesse tan­ta­liz­ing­ly described as “a glimpse into the hav­oc.” You may well also find your­self moved even to open one of Dos­toyevsky’s intim­i­dat­ing­ly impor­tant books them­selves, whose assess­ments of the human con­di­tion remain as dev­as­tat­ing­ly clear-eyed as, well, The Office’s.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Dos­to­evsky Draws Doo­dles of Raskol­nikov and Oth­er Char­ac­ters in the Man­u­script of Crime and Pun­ish­ment

Fyo­dor Dos­to­evsky Draws Elab­o­rate Doo­dles In His Man­u­scripts

Dos­to­evsky Draws a Pic­ture of Shake­speare: A New Dis­cov­ery in an Old Man­u­script

The Dig­i­tal Dos­to­evsky: Down­load Free eBooks & Audio Books of the Russ­ian Novelist’s Major Works

The Ani­mat­ed Dos­to­evsky: Two Fine­ly Craft­ed Short Films Bring the Russ­ian Novelist’s Work to Life

Albert Camus Talks About Nihilism & Adapt­ing Dostoyevsky’s The Pos­sessed for the The­atre, 1959

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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