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Historical Context in Crime and Punishment

First published in The Russian Messenger, a notable magazine in the 19th century, Crime and Punishment was officially published in 1867 and was greeted with acclaim. The story takes place during the 1860s in St. Petersburg, Russia, under the reign of Tsar Alexander II. Alexander had freed the Russian serfs in 1861 and began a progressive social and economic reform movement in an attempt to “catch up” to Western Europe. The city of St. Petersburg itself was filled with bankers, clerks, and intellectuals in all spheres, many writing about new, politically “liberal” philosophies modeled on similar movements in France and Germany. Such movements are directly responsible for much of the content in Dostoevsky’s work. Raskolnikov himself discusses them at length with other characters in the novel.

Historical Context Examples in Crime and Punishment:

Part I - Chapter I

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"Germans of sorts..."   (Part I - Chapter I)

Dostoevsky particularly names Germans here because they were historically one of the largest non-slavic ethnic groups in the Russian Empire. Catherine the Great, of German descent herself, proclaimed open immigration for Europeans during her rule, which resulted in a large German influx, and once Russia abolished serfdom in 1863, the labor shortage resulted in another influx of German workers.

"Hay Market..."   (Part I - Chapter I)

The Hay Market is a district in Saint Petersburg filled with vendors, bars, hotels, and brothels that developed during the late 18th century. This area was filled with alleys and bordered by slums, like where Raskolnikov lives). Interestingly, it was only one-half mile from the fashionable and more upscale Nevskii Prospect.

"she wore no kerchief over it..."   (Part I - Chapter I)

In Russian Orthodoxy, a branch of the Christian religion, it is common for women, particularly elderly ones, to wear a kerchief, or headscarf. The absence of such an article of clothing doesn't necessarily imply that the woman is not religious; however, Dostoevsky might be subtly implying a non-reverent quality to add to the generally detestable description.

"S. Place..."   (Part I - Chapter I)

One convention of 19th-century literature included using an initial instead of a specific name or location. Dostoevsky used this technique as did many other authors of the time, possibly due to the aggressive censorship that governments, particularly Imperial Russia, imposed on publications.

"Egyptian bridge...."   (Part I - Chapter II)

The Egyptian bridge crosses over the Fontanka River--one of the left branches of the Neva River. It was built during the 19th century's renewed interest in Egyptian culture and it originally featured cast-iron sphinxes, hexagonal lanterns, and a pair of cast-iron gates with Egyptian-style columns.

"farthings..."   (Part I - Chapter II)

The farthing was an old unit of currency in the United Kingdom which was equal to about a quarter of a penny and finally withdrawn from circulation in 1961. The translator has chosen to change kopeck to farthing in this instance (and throughout other places in the novel) to make the currency more relatable to an English-speaking audience.

"Lewes' Physiology..."   (Part I - Chapter II)

George Henry Lewes was an English philosopher who wrote Physiology of Common Life in 1859. However, he is actually best known for living with, but never marrying, Mary Ann Evans, who wrote under the pen name George Eliot.

"tendency to consumption..."   (Part I - Chapter II)

Marmeladov's wife, Katerina Ivanovna, suffers from consumption, or tuberculosis. This disease manifests as fever, chest pain, and even coughing up blood. It is highly contagious and was not uncommon in the 19th century, particularly in cities and areas of poverty.

"titular counsellor..."   (Part I - Chapter II)

In the Table of Ranks, defined by Peter the Great in 1722, Titular counsellor was a government position in Imperialist Russia that was more or less equivalent to a military Captain in terms of rank and authority. The kind of services someone like Marmeladov would provide are often ambiguous in nature, with authors like Dostoevsky and Nikolai Gogol sometimes using the position for humor.

"Senate..."   (Part I - Chapter III)

The Governing Senate was instituted by Peter the Great and served as the legislative, judicial, and executive body of the Russian Empire. In the 19th century, the Senate became the highest judicial entity in Russia and controlled all legal institutions, judges, and officials in the country.

"R—...."   (Part I - Chapter III)

Another example of censorship in the 19th century included using an — (em dash) to strike out the names of specific locations. This was done to avoid potential libel against cities or areas in publications.

"Schleswig-Holstein..."   (Part I - Chapter IV)

This is the northernmost state in Germany that borders Denmark. Historically, the name refers to a larger region than the modern borders, and Raskolnikov uses hit here figuratively to emphasize how his sister would never "barter her moral freedom for comfort."

"Turgenev..."   (Part I - Chapter V)

Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev was a Russian novelist whose work is generally associated with the Realism literary movement. He is best known for his novel Fathers and Sons, which is regarded as one of the major works of the 19th century.

"Pushkin..."   (Part I - Chapter V)

Alexander Pushkin is considered by many to be the greatest Russian poet, and he is credited with founding modern Russian literature. His works also greatly influenced how Russian was spoken and written in the 19th century.

"Harkov..."   (Part I - Chapter VI)

Typically spelled Kharkiv or Kharkov, this is the second-largest city in Ukraine, which at the time, was a part of the Russian Empire and not an independent country. Kharkiv is a major cultural, educational, and scientific center of Ukraine, and so would naturally attract students such as Pokorev.

"X..."   (Part II - Chapter I)

This "X" is not meant to indicate exactly what Raskolnikov said. Rather it is reflecting the original style that Dostoevsky had by showing the readers that Raskolnikov did say the name of the provide, but the censors have redacted, or removed, the name from the published copy of the novel.

"Radishchev..."   (Part II - Chapter II)

Aleksandr Nikolayevic Radishchev was a Russian author whose most famous work, A Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow, contains his strong opinions on topics such as emancipation of serfs and better condition for peasants. Rousseau is compared to Radishchev because they were both outspoken critics of social issues.

"Les Confessions..."   (Part II - Chapter II)

Les Confessions is the autobiography of Jean Jacques Rousseau, a French philosopher, author, and social critic. In this book, Rousseau delved into self-observation, criticizing his own character and imperfections while also divulging his thoughts and feelings about education, literature, and politics. Around 1770, Rousseau began reading Les Confessions aloud in local salons to ensure that his ideas were spread accurately.

"Peski..."   (Part II - Chapter IV)

This is a historic location in the heart of St. Petersburg's central district situated next to the Neva River. It's name, "Peski," means sand and is derived from the nature of the soil in the area.

"Then the great hour struck..."   (Part II - Chapter V)

Razumihin refers to the emancipation of the serfs in 1861. Until then, many lived in bound servitude to land owners in the Russian Empire. When Tsar Alexander II emancipated the serfs, this decision was followed by a great deal of social unrest.

"All the novelties, reforms, ideas..."   (Part II - Chapter V)

During the 19th Century, the Russian Empire went through tumultuous changes as it modernized and tried to keep up with social and technological advancements in Europe. St. Petersburg and other large cities like Moscow were far ahead of the outlying provinces in accepting and incorporating modern ideas. Luzhin's interest in the young shows how keen he is to know about these changes.

"Moscow News..."   (Part II - Chapter VI)

The Moscow News (Moskovskiye Vedemosti / Моско́вские ве́домости) was the largest newspaper in circulation around Russia until the mid-19th century. The publication was established at Moscow University and many of the articles were written by professors and also contained official announcements from the government. Crime news would have featured heavily in such a newspaper at the time, as the government had reasons to inform the public of such incidents and scholars would have a platform to espouse their theories on the subject.

"Assez causé!..."   (Part II - Chapter VI)

"Enough said!" [French] Dostoevsky and other Russian writers would sometimes include French and German phrases in their works without any translations; for example, Tolstoy was known for writing large sections of text in French. This has to due with the complicated history that the educated Russian classes have had with foreign languages with French often being a sign of erudition and almost an expectation in civilized society.

"all the zest of a young doctor beginning to practice..."   (Part III - Chapter III)

Zossimov's interest in Raskolnikov has clearly been established at this point to be primarily in Raskolnikov's mental state. During the late 19th century, medicine took a marked shift towards the study of mental illness and psychology became a more popular field of study. Dostoevsky is likely using the young doctor Zossimov as an example of this change in the field.

"Mitrofanievsky..."   (Part III - Chapter IV)

Sonia is referring to the funeral service for her father, which is being held at Mitrofanievsky Cemetery. This cemetery was known for being a place where those with low incomes were buried in the 19th century. Dostoevsky's choice of this place for Marmeladov's funeral is another reminder of how destitute they are.

"Ivan the Great..."   (Part III - Chapter V)

Ivan III Vasilyevich (1440-1505), known as Ivan the Great or Ivan the Terrible, was the prestigious grand duke of Moscow from 1462-1505. He is known for freeing Moscow from the rule of the Tatars in 1480. In addition to his many triumphs as duke, he also laid the foundations for the Russian state and empire.

"the soul is reactionary..."   (Part III - Chapter V)

Dostoevsky is saying, through Razumihin, that a person's soul is the exact opposite of what socialism declares it to be. Therefore, a human soul cannot co-exist within a socialist society. Socialism was on the rise in the 19th century, and this philosophical discussion not only comments on that trend, but it is a theme throughout many of Dostoevsky's works.

"the emancipation of the serfs hasn't affected me..."   (Part IV - Chapter I)

Since Svidrigaïlov's property was mostly forests and water meadows, the number of serfs he would have had working for him would have been less than if he owned agricultural property. The emancipation of the serfs meant that all land owners had to pay their serfs fair wages, and it effectively removed the feudal-type society that Russian had.

"The Egyptian Nights..."   (Part IV - Chapter I)

Svidrigaïlov is referring to Alexander Pushkin's unfinished short story "The Egyptian Nights" which was published in the year of Pushkin's death. Svidrigaïlov's choice to use it here instead of an actual year (1837) shows how influential Pushkin's work was on Russians in the 19th century.

"c'est de rigueur..."   (Part IV - Chapter V)

c'est de rigueur -- [French] "It is the rule [or regulation]." The choice to use French here after talking about high society is significant, because Russia's elite have historically learned to speak French.

"nihilists..."   (Part V - Chapter I)

Nihilists reject everything including government, religion, and morals. Nihilists generally believe that life has no meaning. In Russia in the 1860s, they were very radical, risking their lives for their beliefs, and they strove to become independent through education.

"I'll follow you to Siberia..."   (Part V - Chapter IV)

Siberia is located in central Russian and is one of the coldest and most difficult places to live. Traditionally, rebels, dissidents, and intellectuals were sent there for punishment. When Sonia says that she'll go to Siberia with Raskolnikov, she is effectively saying that she'll follow him to the ends of the earth.

"a Punch and Judy show..."   (Part V - Chapter V)

Recall how in Part IV, Chapter V Raskolnikov called Porfiry a "damned punchinello!" This is a reference to that same clown. A Punch and Judy show was a popular puppet show that originated in the 17th century. Even though the play was entertaining for children, it did contain harsh language and satirical plot lines.

"One professor there, a scientific man of standing, lately dead,..."   (Part V - Chapter V)

Lebeziatnikov might be talking about Philippe Pinel, a 19th-century French physician and psychiatrist, a well-known advocate for more humane treatment of patients. Pinel used logic in his therapy sessions to try and help his patients understand how illogical their delusions were and lead them to a more sane perception of reality.

"Schiller..."   (Part VI - Chapter II)

Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller (1759–1905) was a German romantic poet. Based on his works and ideas, his name became synonymous with things or behavior that are considered noble, good, and worthwhile. Someone described as "schiller-like" would not do depraved or vulgar things.

"debtors’ prison..."   (Part VI - Chapter IV)

People who could not pay debts to landlords or other institutions were sent to a special kind of prison. These were fairly common throughout the 19th century, and those with debt would be sentenced to labor until they had worked off their debt. For those will very large debts, this would have amounted to near-permanent servitude to the state.

"on all faces of Jewish race without exception..."   (Part VI - Chapter VI)

It's possible that Dostoevsky uses this description to illustrate how difficult life was for Jewish people in Imperial Russia and Europe. In many places, Jewish citizens were considered subordinate to Russians, which likely is represented by the "peevish dejection" that Dostoevsky uses to describe this man's face.

"nihil est..."   (Part VI - Chapter VIII)

nihil est --- [Latin] "Nothing is." Nihilism comes from this latin expression, and alludes to the negativism of the nihilist movement in 19th century Russia.

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