12 Facts about Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s 1866 novel, a former student named Raskolnikov plans and perpetrates a savage murder in order to test his theory that he is an extraordinary man. His subsequent descent into guilt-ridden anguish and spiritual turmoil has led many to regard Crime and Punishment as one of fiction’s more profound psychological works.

1. DOSTOEVSKY GAVE UP A MILITARY CAREER.

The future author's father, a retired surgeon with a stern and rigid personality, arranged for his son to train for a career as a military engineer. Dostoevsky, however, had always been drawn to gothic and Romantic literature and longed to try his hand as a writer. Despite graduating from the Academy of Military Engineering in St. Petersburg in 1834 and achieving the rank of sublieutenant, Dostoevsky resigned to devote himself completely to his craft.

2. HIS EARLY WORK WAS PRAISED FOR ITS PSYCHOLOGICAL INSIGHT.

In 1846, Dostoevsky published his first novella, Poor Folk. Told through letters that a poor clerk exchanges with his love, an equally poor girl who has agreed to marry a worthless but rich suitor, the story describes the grinding psychological strain of poverty. Dostoevsky gave a copy to a friend, who showed it to the poet Nikolay Nekrasov. Both were floored by the volume's depth and emotional pull, and immediately brought the book to the attention of Vissarion Belinsky, Russia's leading literary critic. Belinsky anointed Dostoevsky as the next great Russian talent.

3. DOSTOEVSKY SERVED TIME IN PRISON.

Around the time that he wrote Poor Folk, Dostoevsky began attending discussions with other young intellectuals about socialism, politics, and serfdom, the Russian system that kept rural laborers under the control of rich landowners. In 1849, Dostoevsky and other members of the discussion group were arrested on suspicion of revolutionary activity. He spent months in a wretched prison, and then was taken out to a public square to be shot. At the last moment, a pardon was delivered from the Tsar; the whole charade had been part of the punishment. The experience had a profound effect on him, reaffirming his deep religious beliefs and inspiring the moral questions raised in Crime and Punishment.

4. ORIGINALLY, CRIME AND PUNISHMENT HAD A FIRST-PERSON NARRATOR.

Dostoevsky had intended Crime and Punishment to be a first-person narrative and confessional. He ultimately switched to a third-person omniscient voice that plunges the reader right into the protagonist’s tormented psyche.

5. THE BOOK'S PROTAGONIST, RASKOLNIKOV, WASN’T THE ONLY ONE WITH MONEY TROUBLES.

His creator, Dostoevsky, contended with an ongoing addiction to gambling that often compelled him to write hastily so he could pay off his gambling debts. Shortly after Crime and Punishment was published, Dostoevsky published a semiautobiographical short novel, The Gambler.

6. RASKOLNIKOV USES AN AXE—THE TRADITIONAL WEAPON OF THE RUSSIAN PEASANT.

More than a century before Patrick Bateman went American Psycho, Raskolnikov used an axe to kill the pawnbroker Alyona Ivanovna, a miserly but defenseless old woman, and her hapless younger sister Lizaveta Ivanovna. According to James Billington's The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture, the axe represents the foundational tool of Russian civilization—the means by which man conquers the forest and the symbol of labor. Thus, Raskolnikov’s choice of weapon is later derided by the peasant criminals with whom he serves his sentence of murder in Siberia. Because Raskolnikov is an educated thinker, they tell him, “You are a gentleman! You shouldn’t have gone to work with an axe; it’s not at all the thing for a gentleman.”

7. RASKOLNIKOV IS DIVIDED BY NAME.

Raskol means “split” or “schism.” It refers to dissension that took place within the Russian Orthodox Church in the 17th century. Dostoevsky was an ardent Christian who took care to plant Orthodox symbols in his work; the name “Raskolnikov” is also an apt choice for a split personality that could manifest itself as hypersensitive intellectual or axe-swinging maniac.

8. RASKOLNIKOV IS A CONTRADICTION OF MORAL AND IMMORAL IMPULSES.

Capable of both generosity and heroism, Rakolnikov falls prey to his own ideology. He becomes intoxicated with the notion that he can commit a particular murder with moral impunity because the financial proceeds he derives from it will enable him to use his superior talents to benefit mankind—thereby justifying his violent crime. Yet, at his murder trial, details surface about how he had provided extensive assistance to a fellow university student stricken with tuberculosis. When the consumptive student died, Raskolnikov assisted the young man’s destitute father and then, when he died as well, paid for his funeral.

9. RASKOLNIKOV GETS A LIGHT SENTENCE.

In the early part of the 19th century, corporal punishment (such as being flogged with tree branches) for serious crimes was typical, but by the time Dostoevsky wrote Crime and Punishment, a movement towards reform was gaining steam. Exile in Siberia for a certain number of years, sometimes with a sentence of hard labor, became a common punishment for premeditated murder. Raskolnikov's relatively light sentence of eight years may have been prompted by the benevolent character traits that surfaced at his trial. Raskolnikov is helped by other factors: He confessed voluntarily, he “made no use of what he had stolen,” and it was decided he suffered from an “abnormal mental condition” when he committed the crime.

10. THE REVIEWS WERE MIXED.

Crime and Punishment, which first appeared in magazine installments, received immediate widespread attention. Not everyone was a fan, though; among those less than reverent were politically radical students, who seemed to feel the novel had attributed homicidal inclinations to them. One critic asked the following rhetorical question: “Has there ever been a case of a student committing murder for the sake of robbery?”

11. CRIME AND PUNISHMENT HAS BEEN ADAPTED INTO MORE THAN 25 FILMS ...

The 1923 silent film Raskolnikow, helmed by German director Robert Wiene (who also directed the expressionist masterpiece The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), debuted in 1923 as one of the first movie adaptations of the novel. Many more film and TV versions have followed, including American, Japanese, Finnish, Indian, Soviet, and British productions.

12. ... BUT NOT BY ALFRED HITCHCOCK.

It wasn’t because Hitchcock thought the novel was beneath his talents. As Jonathan Coe wrote in The Guardian, the filmmaker François Truffaut once asked Hitchcock why he'd never make a film version of Crime and Punishment. "In Dostoevsky's novel there are many, many words and all of them have a function," Hitchcock replied. "To really convey that in cinematic terms, substituting the language of the camera for the written word, one would have to make a six- to 10-hour film. Otherwise, it won't be any good."

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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13 Things You Might Not Know About H.P. Lovecraft

Crabitha, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Crabitha, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Though it’s been more than a century since H.P. Lovecraft was born, the writer’s weird fiction and cosmic horror remain both influential and problematic. Lovecraft’s ghastly tales of alien gods, bloodguilty families, and collapsing civilizations have influenced authors like Stephen King and Ramsey Campbell. The new HBO horror series Lovecraft Country—which was created by Misha Green and executive produced by Jordan Peele (Get Out) and J.J. Abrams (Star Wars)—explores 1950s racism via dramatic encounters with Lovecraftian monsters. Check out some facts about this twisted soul from Providence, Rhode Island. (Warning: Some of the sources linked within contain offensive and racist language.)

1. H.P. Lovecraft had a tough childhood.

Born on August 20, 1890, Howard Phillips Lovecraft grew up under tragic, bizarre circumstances. His father, suffering from what was likely syphilis-induced psychosis, entered Providence’s Butler Hospital in 1893 and died there in 1898. (His mother went into the same mental hospital after World War I.) Lovecraft’s grandfather told him horror stories, and Lovecraft honed his lurid imagination by devouring Edgar Allan Poe and Grimm’s Fairy Tales. After his grandfather’s death, his family fell into poverty, and he had a nervous breakdown before graduating high school.

2. H.P. Lovecraft’s iconic monsters have murky origins.

When Lovecraft, at age 5, lost his grandmother, his mother and aunts wore eerie black mourning dresses. His subsequent nightmares may have inspired his black-winged, demonic Night-Gaunts. Another of his monsters, Dagon, is a water denizen with a “hideous head” and “scaly arms,” and the name, which Lovecraft first used in a 1919 short story, matches that of the Biblical god of the Philistines. And the infamous Cthulhu, a gigantic octopus-dragon hybrid, may reflect Lovecraft’s hatred of seafood.

3. H.P. Lovecraft co-wrote a short story about Egypt with Harry Houdini.

In 1924, the editor of Weird Tales paid Lovecraft $100 to write “Imprisoned With the Pharaohs,” based on Houdini’s claim that he’d once been kidnapped and trapped underground near the Great Pyramid of Giza. Lovecraft figured this was bogus, but did extensive Egyptological research. The legendary magician offered Lovecraft more projects, but died in 1926 before they could collaborate further.

4. H.P. Lovecraft struggled to support himself.

Reclusive and socially inept, Lovecraft scraped by financially, sometimes by living with his family, sometimes being supported by his wife Sonia Greene. He wrote more than 60 short stories, plus some novels and novellas, but also penned an estimated 100,000 letters to friends and fans. Sometimes he skipped meals to pay for postage.

5. Metal bands are obsessed with H.P. Lovecraft.

Metallica’s “The Call of Ktulu” and “The Thing That Should Not Be” invoke Lovecraft’s greatest monster, as does Cradle of Filth’s “Cthulhu Dawn.” Black Sabbath’s “Behind The Wall of Sleep” is inspired by a 1919 Lovecraft story. Morbid Angel guitarist Trey Azagthoth derived his stage name from Azathoth, one of Lovecraft’s gods. The list goes on.

6. H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness influenced the movie Alien.

Alien writer Dan O’Bannon was influenced by Lovecraft’s 1936 novella about an ill-fated Antarctica expedition. Both stories involve explorers getting attacked by mysterious creatures in an unfamiliar environment, and the Alien somewhat physically resembles Cthulhu. Swiss artist H.R. Giger, who designed the facehuggers and chestbursters in Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi classic, released a surreal art book entitled Necronomicon, named after Lovecraft’s oft-cited spellbook.

7. Providence, Rhode Island, abounds with H.P. Lovecraft-related tourist attractions.

The city features the Lovecraft Arts & Sciences store and Lovecraft’s grave, among other highlights. Plus, Brown University houses the world’s largest collection of Lovecraft papers.

8. H.P. Lovecraft had a love-hate relationship with New York.

While residing in Brooklyn, Lovecraft enjoyed roaming around the Big Apple in search of ideas and hobnobbing with other literary types in the Kalem Club. However, 1927’s “Horror at Red Hook,” a story set in the neighborhood and involving occult sacrifices, displayed his xenophobia.

9. H.P. Lovecraft loved cats.

In a pompous essay entitled “Cats and Dogs,” he wrote: “The cat is such a perfect symbol of beauty and superiority that it seems scarcely possible for any true aesthete and civilised cynic to do other than worship it.” Horror stories like “The Cats of Ulthar” and “The Rats in the Walls” also reflect his penchant for felines. As a boy, Lovecraft owned a black cat whose name was a racial slur.

10. H.P. Lovecraft was extremely racist.

There’s no avoiding it: Lovecraft’s fiction, poetry, and correspondence include bigoted statements about Black, Jewish, and Irish people—among many other backgrounds. He admired Hitler and supported white supremacy. Recently, his troubling legacy has come under the microscope.

11. The World Fantasy Awards stopped using H.P. Lovecraft statuettes after the 2015 awards.

These awards, which have taken place annually since 1975, honor the best fantasy fiction published the year before. Winners used to receive a small bust of Lovecraft. That tradition ended due to his racist history. YA author Daniel José Older (Shadowshaper) petitioned to replace it with an Octavia Butler statuette. However, in 2017, the organizers unveiled a new design with a tree in front of a full moon.

12. A Wisconsin publishing house pumped up H.P. Lovecraft’s fame after his death.

If August Derleth and Donald Wandrei hadn’t co-founded Arkham House in Sauk City, Wisconsin, Lovecraft’s work might have languished in obscurity. After Lovecraft died of cancer at age 46 in 1937, Derleth and Wandrei wanted to put out a hardcover anthology of his fiction. When no established publisher bit, they published The Outsider and Others themselves in 1939. More omnibuses followed, and over the decades, Lovecraft became a household name.

13. H.P. Lovecraft continues to influence popular culture.

Besides Lovecraft Country, there are lots of recent reimaginings to choose from. South Park spoofed Cthulhu in 2010. Lovecraft’s influence on the 2016-launched Netflix series Stranger Things is well-documented. Between 2016 and 2018, Mark Hamill and Christopher Plummer lent their voices to the animated Howard Lovecraft film trilogy by Arcana Studio. Also, Nicolas Cage stars in the 2019 movie Color Out of Space, based on the Lovecraft story of that name.