Crime and Punishment

Crime and Punishment


Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Crime and Punishment Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Fyodor Dostoevsky

One of eight children, Fyodor Dostoevsky was born to a family lineage of middle-class businessmen and petty nobles, and his father Mikhail was a military doctor who later secured a government position and an acquired rank of nobility. A sickly but intelligent child, Dostoevsky was sent to a military engineering academy, which he hated. While he was there, it is believed his father was killed by serfs on his own plantation. His mother died of tuberculosis when Dostoevsky was a young man.
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Historical Context of Crime and Punishment

Russia in the 1860s was a society in transition: the cities, particularly Petersburg and Moscow, were filled with bankers, government clerks, and intellectuals of all stripes, many of whom espoused political philosophies considered “liberal” and modeled on similar movements in France and what would become Germany. The new tsar Alexander II was himself a reformer, whose most notable achievement was the freeing of the serfs in 1861, two years prior to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in the United States. Once freed, serfs were no longer tied legally to the estates of their landowners, but, like in the US, many remained in conditions of pseudo-bondage, unable economically to establish themselves and attain middle-class positions.

Other Books Related to Crime and Punishment

Dostoevsky’s particular form of realism, which emphasizes the internal, psychological realities of his characters and focuses less on physical description of place and event, represented one strand of a realist tradition running throughout the 1860s. In Russia, Turgenev published Fathers and Sons in 1862, a short novel describing the different assumptions, political opinions, and customs of young men and their parents. A few years later, in 1869, Leo Tolstoy published War and Peace, his sweeping take on the Napoleonic wars, the behavior of upper-class Russians, and the nature of history itself.
Key Facts about Crime and Punishment
  • Full Title: Crime and Punishment (In Russian: Prestuplenie i nakazanie)
  • When Written: 1865-1866
  • Where Written: St. Petersburg
  • When Published: 1866 (serially, in twelve installments)
  • Literary Period: Realism
  • Genre: Psychological realism
  • Setting: St. Petersburg, Russia; 1860s
  • Climax: Raskolnikov confesses to Sonya his murder of the pawnbroker and Lizaveta
  • Antagonist: Porfiry Petrovich
  • Point of View: Third-person omniscient

Extra Credit for Crime and Punishment

The Problem of Translation. The Russian language is filled with prefixes, suffixes, and forms of words that allow for numerous shades of meaning, depending on circumstances, and which allow certain ideas to recur throughout a text. For example, the Russian word for crime used often in the novel can be translated as “stepping over”—and the idea of “overstepping” the bounds of civilized society becomes a fixation of Raskolnikov’s throughout the work. Dostoevsky has been translated into English many times over the past one hundred-odd years, with the most recent version (the version used as the basis for this guide) being Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky’s 1992 translation. This latter version, in the words of the translator, attempts to capture both the “roughness” of Dostoevsky’s language and the repetitions and echoes that are a hallmark of his prose.