“And if There is God? Christianity in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and Its Film Adaptations”

For my research I read the original text as well as an international collection of analysis by various critics and philosophers. It was a bit difficult to plan out my paper and follow the outline, but the blogs helped me to do that. After analyzing the novel, I sampled multiple films in order to see how different regions and time periods effected the interpretation of the original text.

This was the first experience that I had with a research project of this scale. It taught me how to search for relevant information, analyze it and present my findings. My biggest worry was not being able to find a lot of different sources, but the library’s database provided me with useful manuscripts that lead to other articles and so on. During the creation of this research paper I faced some challenges. One of them was not to be sidetracked from my main topic. When writing my drafts I caught myself talking about the people that influenced Dostoesvky and were present in his life and other novels by Dostoevsky that had religious themes. This is where the help of my mentor, professor Danilenko came in. He was able to read and pick up on things that I was already used to in my paper, and simply did not notice when rereading it. He said that I should take my topic and be able to as thought a thread put it through my paper, having a strong intro, smooth transitions and a closing conclusion

Overall this research has taught me how to work on projects of a bigger scale, keep deadlines in mind and search high and low for useful and relevant sources. I would recommend any student to participate in the Undergraduate Student and Faculty Research Program in order to gain the skills and experience that will benefit the participant no matter in what field they will be working.


“And if There is no God?” Blog 3

“And if There is no God?” Christianity in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and its Film Adaptations

 I have begun to work on the second part of my two fold research. I am dwelling on major film adaptations, and have screened “Crime and Punishment” (1969) by Lev Kulidzhanov. The picture is black and white and visually stunning. The film is three hours and forty minutes of dark and tense character development that can feel suffocating for a viewer. Due to the influence of the Soviet Union, the film is devoid of Dostoevsky’s religious underpinning.  With the exception of Raskolnikov’s redemption at the end of the novel, the film is quite true to the original text.

I am looking forward to presenting my paper at the 2014 Annual Meeting of the Dyson College Society of Fellows. I would like to speak about the film interpretations and their various takes on the source material. I believe such an approach is both visually and culturally engaging.

Finding the book Dostoevsky’s Religion by Steven Cassedy was a success. In contrast to many of the other materials that I located, this piece was recently published in 2005. The contents of the book are very in line with my research topic and field of interest. It has also provided me with more leads for primary texts to analyze and examples of analysis of my core question “What did Dostoevsky believe?”

While researching Dostoevsky’s work, I learned how he was introduced to the Western society and to what extent his works had propagated. A philosophy course I had taken at Pace proved to be crucial in my pursuit of understanding how the west interpreted Dostoevsky’s philosophy. Friedrich Nietzsche called Dostoevsky’s work “among the most beautiful strikes of fortune in [his] life”. The two however were very different. They had opposing conclusions when it came to religion. Dostoevsky was a conservative, who believed in liberty and freedom. Freedom has to take place in the framework of order, whether that is done in a family, church or other social groups. Dostoevsky thought that everyone should have freedom and do what they want, within a structure. However, the author did not support the status quo. He was an advocate for social change and the destruction of the class system. Dostoevsky was also in favor of religious values. He argued that Christianity, specifically Russian Orthodoxy, was essential to ordered liberty and that all people have dignity-all are valuable and equally valuable, as children of God.

Nietzsche was not the only philosopher and writer that read and questioned his works and ideas. I have been trying to read and interpret various analyses written in the western world. One such analysis was written by Eugene Melchior, Vicomte de Vogue, who introduced Dostoevsky to Western Europe and France. In 1886 he published a book called The Russian Novel. Where a chapter was dedicated to Dostoevsky. A Danish critic, George Brandes who was taught by Nietzsche himself also wrote a book called Impressions of Russia. He followed the lead of de Vogue, focusing on Crime and Punishment. Freud was also curious about Dostoevsky. He wrote “Dostoevsky and Patricide” (1928) and focused on the author’s personality. His attraction to Christ and sympathy for the criminal characters in his works. Roman Guardini, an Italian priest interpreted Dostoevsky in his book Man and Faith: Essays on Religious Existence in Dostoesvky’s Great Novels. Guardini makes an effort to approach his subject without the favoritism of either Western Christianity or Russian Orthodoxy. While his efforts were valiant, a bias towards Nietzsche is apparent through his book.

Thomas Mann, who fled Nazi Germany after WWII and settled in United States, admired Dostoevsky and wrote the introduction for a collection of Dostoevsky’s works. Unfortunately Mann fell for the common mistake that Westerners made while trying to analyze and interpret Dostoevsky. He tried to compare him to Nietzsche and overlooked the relationship that Dostoevsky had with religion.

Although interpretation of Dostoesvky’s works and analysis of his theories were not easily understood in the Western world, a British writer, Virginia Woolf, stated in her essay “The reason his novels demand such an effort is that they “are composed purely and wholly of the stuff of the soul” and that the soul is entirely alien to the English reader.”

I have been reading and interpreting others analyses of Dostoevsky’s work and religious philosophy in order to form a unified opinion on what his works were trying to show the reader and what phases of religiousness Dostoevsky went though.


“And if There is no God?” Blog 2

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.

“And if There is no God?” Christianity in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and its Film Adaptations.

The working title of my research paper is “And if There is no God?” Christianity in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and its Film Adaptations. I intend to focus on classical Russian literature of the 19th century, also known as the literature of the Golden Age. Choosing from all the great Russian writers was difficult but, after narrowing it down to the top dozen, I chose Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881). Ever since his works were published, his philosophy on life, society and, in particular, religion have been scrutinized by notable scholars. Boyce Gibson and Ernest Simmons are just a few who have studied Dostoevsky’s literary works. In his book The Religion of Dostoevsky, Gibson analyzes Dostoevsky’s conception of religion from his early years to his life in Siberia. Simmons writes about the characters of Crime and Punishment and their relationship with society and religion. Results of their research, in particular, will be incorporated in my paper.

The goal of my project is twofold. First, I plan to analyze the text of the novel itself. Second, I will project my findings onto the corresponding film adaptations that have been created by various Russian and American directors. In this part of my research, I want to compare how Dostoevsky’s religious philosophical ideas are carried over into films.

During the initial stage of my research, I have been using the library’s databases and search programs that helped me find quite a number of pertaining articles and monographs.  “The Other Lazarus in Crime and Punishment” by Linda Ivanits and “The “Russian Vogue” in Europe and “Hollywood: The Transformation of Russian Stereotypes through the 1920’s” by Oksana Bulgakowa are just a few articles to name. As I dive deeper into this research I begin to understand not only Dostoevsky and his Christian philosophy, but how the political and social circumstances influenced cinematographic  adaptations of his work.

As mentioned above, during the second stage of my research, I will dwell on major film adaptations viewed from the comparative perspective. I will examine Crime and Punishment  by Josef von Sternebrg (1935, USA), Crime and Punishment mini-series by Michael Darlow (1979,UK), Crime and Punishment by Lev Kulidjanov (1970, USSR) and Crime and Punishment series by Andrey Sigle (2007, Russia). In order to ascertain cultural differences in representing Dostoevsky’s Christian philosophy in these adaptations, I will need to explore not only the directors’ styles but also the socio-political and cultural circumstances under which these films were created.