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Crime and Punishment
Crime and Punishment
Fyodor Dostoevsky
Translated By Constance Garnett
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Crime and Punishment
A few words about Dostoevsky himself may help the
English reader to understand his work.
Dostoevsky was the son of a doctor. His parents were
very hard- working and deeply religious people, but so
poor that they lived with their five children in only two
rooms. The father and mother spent their evenings in
reading aloud to their children, generally from books of a
serious character.
Though always sickly and delicate Dostoevsky came
out third in the final examination of the Petersburg school
of Engineering. There he had already begun his first work,
‘Poor Folk.’
This story was published by the poet Nekrassov in his
review and was received with acclamations. The shy,
unknown youth found himself instantly something of a
celebrity. A brilliant and successful career seemed to open
before him, but those hopes were soon dashed. In 1849 he
was arrested.
Though neither by temperament nor conviction a
revolutionist, Dostoevsky was one of a little group of
young men who met together to read Fourier and
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Proudhon. He was accused of ‘taking part in conversations
against the censorship, of reading a letter from Byelinsky
to Gogol, and of knowing of the intention to set up a
printing press.’ Under Nicholas I. (that ‘stern and just
man,’ as Maurice Baring calls him) this was enough, and
he was condemned to death. After eight months’
imprisonment he was with twenty-one others taken out to
the Semyonovsky Square to be shot. Writing to his
brother Mihail, Dostoevsky says: ‘They snapped words
over our heads, and they made us put on the white shirts
worn by persons condemned to death. Thereupon we
were bound in threes to stakes, to suffer execution. Being
the third in the row, I concluded I had only a few minutes
of life before me. I thought of you and your dear ones and
I contrived to kiss Plestcheiev and Dourov, who were
next to me, and to bid them farewell. Suddenly the troops
beat a tattoo, we were unbound, brought back upon the
scaffold, and informed that his Majesty had spared us our
lives.’ The sentence was commuted to hard labour.
One of the prisoners, Grigoryev, went mad as soon as
he was untied, and never regained his sanity.
The intense suffering of this experience left a lasting
stamp on Dostoevsky’s mind. Though his religious temper
led him in the end to accept every suffering with
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resignation and to regard it as a blessing in his own case,
he constantly recurs to the subject in his writings. He
describes the awful agony of the condemned man and
insists on the cruelty of inflicting such torture. Then
followed four years of penal servitude, spent in the
company of common criminals in Siberia, where he began
the ‘Dead House,’ and some years of service in a
disciplinary battalion.
He had shown signs of some obscure nervous disease
before his arrest and this now developed into violent
attacks of epilepsy, from which he suffered for the rest of
his life. The fits occurred three or four times a year and
were more frequent in periods of great strain. In 1859 he
was allowed to return to Russia. He started a journal—
‘Vremya,’ which was forbidden by the Censorship
through a misunderstanding. In 1864 he lost his first wife
and his brother Mihail. He was in terrible poverty, yet he
took upon himself the payment of his brother’s debts. He
started another journal—‘The Epoch,’ which within a few
months was also prohibited. He was weighed down by
debt, his brother’s family was dependent on him, he was
forced to write at heart-breaking speed, and is said never
to have corrected his work. The later years of his life were
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much softened by the tenderness and devotion of his
second wife.
In June 1880 he made his famous speech at the
unveiling of the monument to Pushkin in Moscow and he
was received with extraordinary demonstrations of love
and honour.
A few months later Dostoevsky died. He was followed
to the grave by a vast multitude of mourners, who ‘gave
the hapless man the funeral of a king.’ He is still probably
the most widely read writer in Russia.
In the words of a Russian critic, who seeks to explain
the feeling inspired by Dostoevsky: ‘He was one of
ourselves, a man of our blood and our bone, but one who
has suffered and has seen so much more deeply than we
have his insight impresses us as wisdom … that wisdom of
the heart which we seek that we may learn from it how to
live. All his other gifts came to him from nature, this he
won for himself and through it he became great.’
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