A stereotype of most religious writers is that they merely attempt to espouse religious dogma in their writing. How Fyodor Dosteovsky, a progressive, nineteenth-century Russian religious writer, incorporates his religious beliefs into his writing, defies this stereotype. For Dostoevsky, he is not interested in providing definitive answers to complex questions. Instead, he is more interested in having his characters attempt to answer these questions themselves through monologues and dialogues with other characters experiencing crises in his works. Fyodor Dostoevsky is shaped by his Eastern Orthodox beliefs, but is not bound by them. He recognizes the importance of icons in this religion, but wants us to examine why these icons have meaning. Dostoevsky did not shy away from the uncomfortable, and even incorporated his own vices into his writing.
Flannery O’Connor held to these same tenets by adhering to a writing style known as the New Criticism school of writing. In this approach to writing, some of the core tenets were that “you have to right about what you know,” and to “show, don’t tell.” The universes presented by O’Connor have characters that appear to have lost sight of why religion must be crucial in our everyday existence. Unlike Fyodor Dostoevsky, Flannery O’Connor was a Southern American Catholic Writer in the twentieth century, who unlike Dostoevsky did not grapple with her religious beliefs. In fact, she disputed the idea of struggling with faith. Like Dostoevsky, O’Connor did not take lightly the presence of idolatry that was becoming more and more rampant in the society she was writing in.
Other American Southern writers such as Truman Capote noted the powerful influence Fyodor Dostoevsky had on their writing approach and works. They have stated that their southern heritage was a major reason they were interesting in and decided to read Dostoevsky’s works. These writers have been drawn to Dostoevsky because of Dostoevsky’s Christian Credo about love’s power to conquer all evil present in the world. The circumstances shaped both types of writers, the progressive nineteenth-century Russian writer and twentieth-century American Southern writer respectively, was that of a society caught at a crossroads, attempting to undergo a major change. The amount of nationalism present in Dostoevsky’s writing is yet another reason this progressive writer movement was drawn to Dostoevsky’s works. These writers were drawn to Dostoevsky because of his unique ability to not shy away from difficult, intellectually stimulating questions. A last reason given to understand why the American Southern writers of the twentieth century admired Dostoevsky’s writing is because of all crises present in his novels boiling down to the ultimate question: the existence of God, and the implication of his existence or non-existence for ourselves and for our souls.
After examining how the two writers incorporated their religious beliefs into their respective works, it is apparent how much they break the stereotype of the religious writer who only espouses religious dogma. They both attempt to find some kind of rational response to the God question, and are remarkably similar in their perspectives on religion and even the circumstances shaping their writing. Seeing how influential a progressive nineteenth-century Russian writer was on an entire moment of American writers in the twentieth century demonstrates the relevance and necessity attached with reading any of Dostoevsky’s work. Failing to take the opportunity to read Fyodor Dostoevsky’s works ensures that we will miss out on one of the most fulfilling, intellectually stimulating experiences possible in this lifetime.
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