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Recurring Themes In 19th Century Russian Literature

2115 words - 8 pages

Just to the east of riotous, industrialising Western Europe sat Imperial Russia, pendent between tradition and modernity, a vast empire of duality. As if trying to vent her frustrations, 19th century Russia produced a selection of history's finest writers; each writer packing their work with themes of duplicity, hope, and heavy social criticism.

Duality was the cardinal theme for Imperial Russia. 19th century Russia was a peasant-filled, agrarian empire rushed through the gawky adolescence of industrialisation. The serfs were only freed in 1861, and by 1900 around 2.3 million Russians worked inside factories: in a century, Russia had moved from a feudal system of serfdom to the shores of modernity. A theme of duplicity was carried throughout. The new industries and arterial railroads were European inventions, so was Russia a European nation? Or, did Russia's devotion to the Tsar and the peasant commune separate her from the growingly liberal, economically individualistic West? The theme of duality is spread throughout Crime and Punishment (in Russian, Преступление и наказание) written by F. M. Dostoevsky . Dostoevsky expresses duality through both symbolism and the actions of his characters. The nihilist Svidrigailov and the prostitute Sonya Semyonova are symbols of the internal duality of Crime and Punishment's main protagonist, R. R. Raskolnikov. The plot orbits Raskolnikov's double-edged and Daedal personality, both indulgent and redemptive, active and introverted, murderous and self-destructive.

Raskolnikov could slip Svidrigailov and Sonya on like hats: this hat for the self, and this one for the selfless. Svidrigailov is, for Raskolnikov and the novel, the personification of self-centredness, a man who believes that the world is an evil and anarchic place and that therefore Man must pursue his own pleasures and aims only, and not be troubled with morals and morality. Svidrigailov has a "propensity for vulgarity" («...и особенно, если к тому и натурально склонность имеешь...»), a philosophical devotion, all-conquering devotion to rationalism (even when he rapes Dounia, Svidrigailov remains rational and emotionless to the end: «Да и не поверит вам никто...так что, если даже и братом пожертвуете, то и...

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