Since the first blog I have made progress in my topic. In order to accurately analyze the religious aspects of Crime and Punishment, one must explore Dostoevsky’s personal views on religion. I have been therefore analyzing and mapping Fyodor Dostoevsky’s path through Christianity. The monographs The Religion of Dostoevsky by A. Boyce Gibson and Dostoevsky and Religion by Steven Cassedy proved very useful. Both authors speak about Fyodor Dostoevsky not only as a great writer but also discuss his lifelong relationship with Christianity.
There are three distinct phases in Dostoevsky’s relationship with the church. (1) Dostoevsky was raised in a strict Orthodox family, than (2) went on to question the role of the official church as a young adult and finally (3) reconciled with his beliefs at an older age.
Dostoevsky was born into an Orthodox family in 1821. He is quoted saying “I knew Christ in the family home while still a child” (Gibson 8). The family paid an annual holiday pilgrimage to the Troytsa monastery for the St. Sergius festival to participate in the rituals and services. Dostoevsky later reflected on these pilgrimages noting that they made a profound impression on his life and he was grateful that he had participated in them (Gibson 9).
In 1837, at the age of sixteen, he was sent to Petersburg for studies. It was there that he began to gravitate toward literature. There is a sharp decline in religious references from this point on. Those that were found were in letters to his father. A few years later, Dostoevsky befriended Vissarion Belinsky, a Russian progressive literary critic of the 1840’s. Belinsky introduced Dostoevsky to the The Essence of Christianity by Ludwig Feuerbach. The Essence of Christianity is known for putting forth a critique of religion and Feurbach’s philosophy which notoriously had a strong influence on Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. It was with the help of this book that Dostoevsky was exposed to the idea that “God is an extension of man”. Belinsky would go on to write a letter to Gogol that criticized the church. When discussing the letter with Dostoevsky, Belinsky cautioned to keep Christ and the church separate when analyzing his letter and future works. For the rest of Dostoevsky’s life he wrestled with with the thoughts and ideas brought by Belinsky’s argument. At times he dismissed the arguments by labeling them as deceiving and atheistic however, towards the end of his life, Dostoevsky was able to accept and appreciate his friend’s work. This became evident when he included Belinsky’s writing while recommending educational material for others. Belinsky and his philosophical and social theories would go on to have a lifelong influence on Dostoevsky and his writing (Gibson, 13 Cassedy 42).
As Fyodor Dostoevsky better acquainted himself with St. Petersburg and its people, he began to attended the Petrashevsky Circle. The Petrashevsky Circle was a Russian literary discussion group of progressive-minded intellectuals located in St. Petersburg. It was organized by Mikhail Petrashevsky and its members ranged from writers, teachers, students to minor government officials and army officers. The members discussed Western literature and philosophy that was officially banned by the Imperial government of Nicolas I. Dostoevsky, along with other “conspirators” of the Petrashevsky Circle were arrested on April 22, 1849. The author was blamed for reading works by Belinksy including the Correspondence with Gogol. Dostoevsky responded to the charges by declaring that he read the essays purely as a literary monument. The members of the Petrashevsky Circle were sentenced to death by firing squad however, it was stopped when a letter from the Tsar commuted the sentences. Dostoevsky spent four years in a hard labor prison camp in Omsk, Siberia, followed by forced military service at the Seventh Line Battalion at Semipalatinsk. Dostoevsky was classified as “one of the most dangerous convicts”, with his feet and hands shackled until release. He was only permitted to read the New Testament. While in prison, he wrote “ even if someone were to prove to me that the truth lay outside of Christ, I should choose to remain with Christ rather than with the truth.” (Jones)
Crime and Punishment was published in 1866 in the literary journal The Russian Messenger. It is considered to be the first of his mature works and was met with public success. Religion, justice, judgment, criminality and love are the main themes of this novel. I have collected useful information about this piece and will dwell on it later.
In 1876 Dostoevsky was working on his Diary, a book that included numerous essays and short stories about society, religion, politics and ethics. The collection was a hit and increased his circle of acquaintances. Because of his notoriety, Tsar Alexander II offered him the position of tutoring his sons, Sergey and Paul.
After collecting the data mentioned above I intend to concentrate on a number of questions. Why did Belinsky’s letter to Gogol stick with Dostoevsky for so long? What caused the author to come back to the Russian Orthodox church in his later years? What kind of philosophical challenges was Dostoevsky looking for, did he find them? I hope to answer these and other questions later as I continue my research.