Demons (Russian: Бесы, Bésy) is an anti-nihilistic novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, first published in the journal The Russian Messenger in 1871-2. It is the third of the four 'great' novels written by Dostoyevsky after his return from Siberian exile, the others being Crime and Punishment (1866), The Idiot (1869) and The Brothers Karamazov (1880). Demons is a social and political satire, a psychological drama, and large scale tragedy. Joyce Carol Oates has described it as "Dostoevsky's most confused and violent novel, and his most satisfyingly 'tragic' work.
Set in the 1860s, Demons is an allegory of the potentially catastrophic consequences of the political and moral nihilism that were beginning to gain ascendancy at that time in Russia. A provincial town descends into chaos as it becomes the focal point of an attempted revolution, orchestrated by master conspirator Pyotr Verkhovensky. The mysterious aristocratic figure of Nikolai Stavrogin, Verkhovensky's counterpart in the moral sphere, dominates the book, exercising an extraordinary influence over the hearts and minds of almost all the other characters. The idealistic, western-influenced generation of 1840s Russia, epitomized in the character of Stepan Verkhovensky (who is both Pyotr Verkhovensky's father and Nikolai Stavrogin's childhood teacher), are presented as the unconscious progenitors and helpless accomplices of the 'demonic' forces that take possession of the town.
According to Ronald Hingley, Demons is Dostoyevsky's "greatest onslaught on Nihilism" and constitutes "an awesome, prophetic warning which humanity...shows alarmingly few signs of heeding." He describes it as "one of humanity's most impressive achievements—perhaps even its supreme achievement—in the art of prose fiction."