Crime and Punishment | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Crime and Punishment | 10 Things You Didn't Know

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First published in 1866, Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment is a masterpiece of psychological fiction. Exploring ideas of crime, morality, and redemption, the novel analyzes the faults and virtues of utilitarianism, a belief that the morally good action is the one that helps the most people.

The literary critic Nikolay Strakhov, a close friend of Leo Tolstoy, called the novel the "literary sensation" of 1866. Since then, Crime and Punishment has fascinated readers with the difficult moral questions it raises, as well as the psychological twists and turns of its conflicted protagonist, Raskolnikov.

1. Crime and Punishment was originally going to be titled The Drunkards.

Dostoevsky conceived the book as an examination of drunkenness in family life and the problems it causes, particularly in a country such as Russia with a high rate of alcoholism. After deciding to use the crime of murder as a plot device instead, the subject of alcohol was sidelined to a less prominent role in the story.

2. Alfred Hitchcock refused to make a film version of Crime and Punishment.

When asked by the French director Francois Truffaut to consider adapting the book for the screen, Hitchcock replied, "There's been a lot of talk about the way in which Hollywood directors distort literary masterpieces. I'll have no part of that!"

3. The first U.S. film adaptation of Crime and Punishment was a silent version released in 1917.

The 1917 film, directed by Lawrence McGill, reflected the popularity of Dostoevsky's literature in the West in the early 20th century. The star of the film, Derwent Hall Caine, was a British actor who was later knighted by King George VI in 1935.

4. Dostoevsky was imprisoned in Siberia and faced a "mock-execution."

After joining a socialist group known as Speshnev's Secret Revolutionary Society, the author was imprisoned in Siberia at the age of 27. Dostoevsky and his fellow prisoners were about to be executed by a firing squad in 1849 when an "official pardon" arrived from the tsar. The pardon was not a genuine act of mercy, as the entire execution had been staged to strike fear into the hearts of dissenters.

5. Dostoevsky's doodles and notes for Crime and Punishment were published.

Three notebooks of materials related to the creation of Crime and Punishment were left behind by Dostoevsky and later edited and published. The notes' margins contain doodles of many of the novel's characters, including Raskolnikov and Sonya. The exceptional detail that Dostoevsky used in outlining the locations in St. Petersburg relevant to his characters allowed scholars to create a full map of important buildings and points of interest in Crime and Punishment.

6. Two Woody Allen films are based on Crime and Punishment.

Woody Allen's 2005 Match Point borrows loosely from Dostoevsky's novel, transferring the themes of morality and greed to the setting of contemporary London. Allen's 1989 film Crimes and Misdemeanors also borrows from Dostoevsky's novels, as it discusses the moral question of whether or not a person can continue life with the personal knowledge of committing a murder.

7. Dostoevsky suffered from epilepsy, a condition he included in several of his novels.

The author kept records of more than 100 epileptic seizures. Although Crime and Punishment does not feature an epileptic character, Dostoevsky created characters who suffered from the disease in four of his other books.

8. The novel was published in a magazine featuring many classic Russian works.

The Russian Messenger was a magazine in the 19th and early 20th centuries perhaps most notable for serving as an outlet for Russian political thinkers, including author Leo Tolstoy. Tolstoy's War and Peace and Anna Karenina appeared in the magazine, as well as Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, which appeared in the magazine in 1866 in 12 monthly installments.

9. Crime and Punishment inspired a popular Japanese graphic novel.

The extremely grim and morally ambiguous manga, or graphic novel, Death Note shares the theme of difficult ethical judgment with Crime and Punishment and raises similar questions regarding killing "for the greater good." Shusuke Kaneko, the director of the film version of Death Note, stated in an interview that he was inspired by Dostoevsky's novel.

10. Raskolnikov's character has similarities to a real-life murderer.

French poet Pierre François Lacenaire was imprisoned numerous times for murder. Much like the character of Raskolnikov, Lacenaire attempted to justify his killings as protests against injustice and acts to benefit the greater good. In 1836 he was executed. Lancenaire was also mentioned in Dostoevsky's The Idiot and can be viewed as a prototype for the romantic criminal, or rogue antihero.

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