Insights into St Petersburg

“Dostoevsky: Crime and Punishment”

A must for all literature buffs, this is a classic tour of the city of “Crime and Punishment”, the major work of Fyodor Dostoevsky. We are going to see the dark side of St Petersburg – the area of tenement houses, slums and dives around the Hay Market. Walking in the footsteps of the protagonist of the novel, the student Raskolnikov, as he was heading to kill two innocent women, we are going to sneak a look into the everyday life of the townsfolk of Dostoevsky’s times and try to find spiritual roots of the Russian Revolution.

Raskolnikov’s Garret

«On an exceptionally hot evening early in July a young man came out of the garret in which he lodged in S. Place and walked slowly, as though in hesitation, towards K. bridge. His garret was under the roof of a high, five-storied house and was more like a cupboard than a room. It was about six paces in length. It had a poverty-stricken appearance with its dusty yellow paper peeling off the walls, and it was so low-pitched that a man of more than average height was ill at ease in it and felt every moment that he would knock his head against the ceiling.»
Crime and Punishment,
translated by Constance Garnet
To add to the picture of the place where Raskolnikov dwelled, here is the description of S. Place (Joiner Street) in a newspaper of 1865:

«There are sixteen houses in Joiner Street. These sixteen houses lodge eighteen drinking establishments, so everyone who wants to take pleasure in the fiery and stimulating spirits have no need to look at the signs at all. Enter any house and you will find liquor everywhere.»

The Hay Market

«At the tables and the barrows, at the booths and the shops, all the market people were closing their establishments or clearing away and packing up their wares and, like their customers, were going home. Rag pickers and costermongers of all kinds were crowding round the taverns in the dirty and stinking courtyards of the Hay Market. Here rags did not attract contemptuous attention, and one could walk about in any attire without scandalising people.»
Crime and Punishment,
translated by Constance Garnet
The Hay Market, or Sennaya Square, is as colourful today as it used to be in Dostoevsky’s time. A big vegetable and fruit market is located a few steps from the square with its unbelievably low prices attracting crowds of locals every weekend. For a foreigner, it is a good chance to experience the cultural diversity of the former USSR, as the majority of the market people are from the former republics, especially the Middle East and Caucasus. Bargain if you dare!
Incidentally, the only building that has survived from the middle of the 19th century, the time when the novel came out, is related to Dostoevsky. It is a small yellow building belonging to the old Guardhouse. Arrested for “violating the order of publication”, the writer spent here two days (21 and 22 March 1874) reading Hugo’s Les Misérables.

The Pawnbroker’s House

«With a sinking heart and a nervous tremor, he went up to a huge house which on one side looked on to the canal, and on the other into the street. This house was let out in tiny tenements and was inhabited by working people of all kinds - tailors, locksmiths, cooks, Germans of sorts, girls picking up a living as best they could, petty clerks, etc. The young man slipped unnoticed through the door on the right, and up the staircase. It was a back staircase, dark and narrow.»
Crime and Punishment,
translated by Constance Garnet
If this area of Saint Petersburg were not close to the Hay Market, the winding embankment of the elegantly bridged canal would be an ideal setting for a date.
In fact, the area around the Griboyedov canal (known as the Drain in the 19th century) has always been teeming with people. In “Crime and Punishment”, Raskolnikov rambled across the embankment “for half an hour or more” to find a quiet place where he could get rid of the blood stained axe without notice.

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