Vladimir Nabokov, from Lectures on Russian Literature:
My position in regard to Dostoevski is a curious and difficult one. In all my courses I approach literature from the only point of view that literature interests me--namely the point of view of enduring art and individual genius. From this point of view Dostoevski is not a great writer, but a rather mediocre one--with flashes of excellent humor, but, alas, with wastelands of literary platitudes in between. In Crime and Punishment Raskolnikov for some reason or other kills an old female pawnbroker and her sister. Justice in the shape of an inexorable police officer closes slowly in on him until in the end he is driven to a public confession, and through the love of a noble prostitute he is brought to a spiritual regeneration that did not seem as incredibly banal in 1866 when the book was written as it does now when noble prostitutes are apt to be received a little cynically by experienced readers. . . .
. . .All the humiliation and hardships he endured [in prison] are described in detail [in Memoirs from the House of Death], as also the criminals among whom he lived. Not to go completely mad in those surroundings, Dostoevski had to find some sort of escape. This he found in a neurotic Christianism which he developed during these years. It is only natural that some of the convicts among whom he lived showed, besides dreadful bestiality, an occasional human trait. Dostoevski gathered these manifestations and built upon them a kind of very artificial and completely pathological idealization of the simple Russian folk. This was the initial step on his consecutive spiritual road. . . .
. . .His attitude toward the Government had completely changed since the days of his youthful radicalism. "Greek-Catholic Church, absolute monarchy, and the cult of Russian nationalism," these three props on which stood the reactionary political slavophilism were his political faith. The theories of socialism and Western liberalism became for him the embodiments of Western contamination and of satanic sin bent upon the destruction of a Slavic and Greek-Catholic world. It is the same attitude that ones sees in Fascism or in Communism--universal salvation. . . .
. . .Dostoevski never really got over the influence which the mystery novel and the sentimental novel made upon him. The sentimental influence supplied that kind of conflict he liked--placing virtuous people in pathetic situations and then extracting from these situations the last ounce of pathos. When after his return from Siberia his essential ideas began to ripen--the idea of salvation to be found through transgression, the ethical supremacy of suffering and submission over struggle and resistance, the defence of free will not as a metaphysical but as a moral proposition, and the ultimate formula of egoism-antichrist Europe on one side and brotherhood-Christ-Russia on the other--when these ideas. . .suffused his novels, much of the Western influence still remained, and one is tempted to say that in a way Dostoevski, who so hated the West, was the most European of the Russian writers. . . .
. . .Dostoevski's lack of taste, his monotonous dealings with persons suffering with pre-Freudian complexes, the way he has of wallowing in the tragic misadventures of human dignity--all this is difficult to admire. I do not like this trick his characters have of "sinning their way to Jesus" or, as a Russian author Ivan Bunin put it more bluntly, "spilling Jesus all over the place." Just as I have no ear for music, I have to my regret no ear for Dostoevski the Prophet. . . .
. . .It is, as in all Dostoevski's novels, a rush and tumble of words with endless repetitions, mutterings aside, a verbal overflow which shocks the reader after, say, Lermontov's transparent and beautifully poised prose. Dostoevski as we know is a great seeker after truth, a genius of spiritual morbidity, but as we also know he is not a great writer in the sense Tolstoy, Pushkin, and Chekhov are. And, I repeat, not because the world he creates is unreal--all the worlds of writers are unreal--but because it is created too hastily without any sense of that harmony and economy which the most irrational masterpiece is bound to comply with (in order to be a masterpiece). Indeed, in a sense Dostoevski is much too rational in his crude methods, and though his facts are but spiritual facts and his characters mere ideas in the likeness of people, their interplay and development are actuated by the mechanical methods of the earthbound and conventional novels of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. . . .
I disagree with Nabokov only in that I've searched in vain for the "excellent humor."