Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*St. Petersburg

*St. Petersburg. Capital of Imperial Russia. Deep within the glittering outer facade of St. Petersburg’s state buildings, elegant promenades, and gilded mansions is a central core of filth, stench, poverty, despair, and depravity. The outside order is mere cover for the horror and disorder within. Dostoevski lived in St. Petersburg for twenty-eight years, moving during this period into twenty different apartments. Minute details about places where Dostoevski lived appear in Crime and Punishment to provide descriptive realism along with significant symbolism. On the micro level, the scenes of Dostoevski’s novel unfold in the vicinity of the apartment he was renting at the time. On the macro level, St. Petersburg is symptomatic of the split in the Russian psyche between the cold Western rationalism and capitalistic materialism of the new Russia and the traditional Muscovite values of the old Russia. Like the city itself, the major character Raskolnikov (whose name means “split” or “schism”) must struggle to discover his identity in a battle between cold rationalism, which leads him to double murder, and his Russian soul, which seeks repentance and resurrection. As a student, Dostoevski himself fell into Western-style radicalism and was sentenced to death in 1849 by the repressive regime of Czar Nicholas I. After being placed before a firing squad in St. Petersburg, Dostoevski was pardoned and his sentence commuted to eight years in Siberia. Back in St. Petersburg, Dostoevski remained aware of a continuing inner struggle. As he says in Crime and Punishment, St. Petersburg has “gloomy and queer influences on the soul of man.”

*Haymarket

*Haymarket. District filled with vendor stalls, peasant stalls, bars, hotels, and brothels that developed in St. Petersburg during the last quarter of the eighteenth century. It was filled with alleys and crammed with all sorts of people from the lower classes. It was bordered by slums (where Raskolnikov, Sonya, and the pawnbroker live), yet it was only one-half mile from St. Petersburg’s fashionable Nevskii Prospect. All types of people pass through the Haymarket; it is here that an accidental encounter with the pawnbroker’s half-sister (Lizaveta) convinces Raskolnikov that the time is right to murder the pawnbroker. Here, too, he bows down to kiss the ground (a sign of connectedness to mother earth and traditional values) and then goes to the police to confess that he is a murderer.

Stolyarny Lane

Stolyarny Lane. Street located near the Haymarket on which the main character, Raskolnikov, lives. The poverty-stricken former university student has a single shabby room with low ceilings, in an almost cavelike dwelling. Here, on a dilapidated couch-bed in his tiny, windowless room, Raskolnikov falls under the influence of the sinister plot to kill the pawnbroker and steal her ill-gotten gains. Although his room is a world unto itself, Raskolnikov always keeps the door unlocked, providing the opportunity for others to enter and for him to exit into the wider, ominous world of St. Petersburg.

*Sadovaya Street

*Sadovaya Street. Street not far from Raskolnikov’s building on which the pawnbroker Alonya Ivanovna and her half-sister, Lizaveta Ivanovna, live in the fourth-floor apartment. Their two rooms are kept clean due to the efforts of Lizaveta, who works as a virtual slave. Raskolnikov visits three times before murdering the pawnbroker and Lizaveta, who unexpectedly walks into the apartment shortly after the pawnbroker’s axe murder. A fortuitous set of circumstances allows Raskolnikov to leave the apartment unnoticed. Later, he returns to the apartment to relive the event.

Sonya’s room

Sonya’s room. Home of the prostitute Sonya Marmeladov, in a three-story house on the Ekaterinsky Canal. The room has many windows that let in light and overlook the canal, although the walls are yellowed, and the room is nearly barren. It is here that Raskolnikov tells Sonya about the murders, unaware that Svidrigaylov, an unscrupulous suitor of his sister, is in an adjoining room, listening to his confession through the door.

*Neva River

*Neva River. Major river of St. Petersburg which also boasts a tributary, the Little Neva. Bridges and water in general play an important symbolic role in Crime and Punishment. The Neva is the courier of rebirth but also of death. It brings discord but also calmness. Thus Raskolnikov thinks of throwing what he has stolen from the pawnbroker into the Neva but chooses instead to bury it under a stone. He throws the last of his money into the Neva as a symbol of his rejection of materialism. It is on Tuchkov Bridge, over the Little Neva, that Raskolnikov enters a mood of tranquillity and decides not to kill the pawnbroker. (The decision changes, however, when he enters Haymarket Square.) For evil characters such as Svidrigaylov, the river brings coldness and depression. After an excursion on Tuchkov Bridge, Svidrigaylov decides to kill himself.

*Siberia

*Siberia. Vast, desolate region of eastern Russia. After confessing his crime, Raskolnikov is sentenced to eight years imprisonment in Siberia. The faithful Sonya follows him into this frozen wasteland. Yet the prison, on the bank of a river, is the place of rebirth and salvation for Raskolnikov, where he discovers love and traditional Russian values. His apartment in St. Petersburg was more a prison than his cell in the wide-open spaces of Siberia. While here, he patiently looks forward to his future life with Sonya. Dostoevsky himself spent eight years in Siberia, four in a prison camp and four in military service, after which his life and beliefs took dramatic new shape.