Fear in Writing: Dostoevsky, Punishment & Crime make good reading

Today in Literary History

Today in Literary History...December 14, 1907: Rudyard Kipling receives the Nobel prize for literature, the first English-language writer to do so.ud

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Dostoevsky, Punishment & Crime make good reading

Well, I missed a most important date in literary history. It was one I was very excited to post at the top of my blog. One with which I was most impressed. One that would make for a great story, and did.

On December 22, 1849, Fyodor Dostoevsky was led before a firing squad and prepared for execution. The crime: allegedly taking part in anti-government activities. However, at the last minute he received a reprieve (of sorts) and was sent to a Siberian labor camp. In 1854, Dostoevsky was released into the army and worked on the Mongolian frontier. He finally returned to Russia from exile in 1859, but life got no better.

In 1864 and 1865, his wife and brother both died, the magazine he had founded collapsed and Dostoevsky found himself deeply in debt. In 1866 he published Crime and Punishment. The next year he married again and fled to Europe to escape his creditors. After another successful novel, The Possessed (1872), the Dostoevskys returned to St. Petersburg. The Brothers Karamazov came in 1880 to resounding praise. Fyodor Dostoevsky died one year later.

(All historical information was taken from History.com.)

What have you read by Dostoevsky? What do you think of Russian literature? One of my all-time favorite books is Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, and I am about to begin Crime and Punishment (embarrassingly, for the first time). I find Russian literature and culture fascinating. Do you find it accessible?


  1. I've read "Crime and Punishment." "Brothers K." has a spot in "Pretty is as Pretty Dies." In the book club I based the club in my book on, "Brothers Karamazov" is known as "The Book that Killed Book Club." :)

    I love Russian lit. Haven't had as much time to read it. And, of course, it's a bit depressing. But very enjoyable, just the same.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  2. Sad to say, I don't think I've read any Russian literature, although after watching the Russian movies Nightwatch and Daywatch, I'd like to read those books.

  3. Elizabeth- I had forgotten about that line in 'Pretty Is As Pretty Dies' about the book club! I laughed at that, b/c I've never found a book club did anything but chic lit or Oprah reads, and could handle those I would recommend. So glad to find a fellow Russian lit. reader!
    I think it would be impossible to take depression from Russian lit. because it is so entrenched in the culture. They are a people who have been doing back-breaking work for centuries, drinking themselves to death and barely surviving under harsh leadership. It's really an curious psychology from a Western standpoint.

    Diane- I haven't read any Pushkin or mid-modern stuff. But the late 19th-early 20th is fanthastic (Dostoevsky & Tolstoy). And then there are some great modern reads ABOUT Russia: Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith, The Charm School by Nelson DeMille and Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith. It's an interesting place of secrets and beauty, abundance and want.

  4. I'll be honest - I've never gotten around to reading any Dostoevsky or Tolstoy. (I've always intended to.)

    But your dialogue did remind me of this exchange from Cheers:

    Diane's friend: "I used to find enormous comfort translating Russian poetry. But no more. Even when I went back over my favorite, Karashnikov's 'Another Christmas of Agony,' it failed to soothe me. [RECITING] 'Mischa the dog lies dead in the bog. The children cry over the carcass. The mist chokes my heart, covers the mourners. At least this year, we eat.'"

    To which Diana remarks, "Well ... if that didn't pick you up, I'm at a virtual loss."

  5. Fantastic! They eat! In Russia that is positive dialogue! Thanks for the contribution!


  6. I haven't read much Russian lit either - a little in college. There really are so many good books and so little time!

  7. I love Russian literature too. Crime and Punishment was excellent. Chekov practically legitimized the short story, and Solzhenitsyn fictionalized the gulag. And then there's Tolstoy. So yes, Russian lit. is very worthwhile!

    Enjoy C&P, good lady!

    (And merry Christmas :)

  8. I've only ever read "Notes from Underground" by Dostoevsky. It was years ago, but the mood, if not the details of the piece, have stuck with me. I'd love to read more, especially Tolstoy, but I expect it to be very depressing. I have a very good Russian friend who's parents fled the country during the Stalin era and ALL her stories are terribly depressing. I shudder to think what a master storyteller could do with the Russian soul. (I don't plan to read it until I'm surrounded by chocolate and other mood enhancers)