Dostoevsky`s Heroes

Dostoevsky`s Heroes

Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote more than 30 works; St. Petersburg figures in 20 of these. In some works the city is no more than a setting, while in others it plays in active role.

St. Petersburg — an unreal city, a city of mirages and illusion — is the best illustration of the Russian writers novels. All the places where his heroes live, suffer and die are real and recognizable. All the seasons and landscapes are authentic. Dostoevsky chose routes through the city for his heroes; he calculated distances, found expressive buildings and described everything in great detail: the streets, embankments, staircases and entryways.

Dostoevsky`s heroes wander through the city, but they cannot find peace. Take Makar Devushkin, the hero of Poor Folk. He attempts to distract him self by taking walks: “I went out for a walk along the Fontanka to freshen up. The evening was so dark and damp… Walking along the Fontanka is so monotonous! The wet granite under your feet, the tall buildings on either side, black and sooty; fog under your feet and fog over your head, too”.

Rodion Raskolnikov, the hero is Crime and Punishment, leaves his house mostly in the evening. The novels opening is set near the location of the Renaissance St. Petersburg Baltic Hotel: “At the beginning of July, during a spell of exceptionally hot weather, towards evening, a certain young man came down on to the street from the little room he rented… In S-lane and slowly, almost hesitantly, set off towards K-n Bridge”. Where does the action take place? Right here! S-lane is Stolyarny Pereulok ( now Ulitsa Przhevalskogo ), and K-n, or Kokushkin, Bridge crosses the Catherine Canal near Voznesensky Prospect.

Stolyarny Pereulok and vicinity, where Raskolnikov lives, is the most “drunken” place in St. Petersburg. At the end of the nineteenth century the neighborhood had 18 drinking dens. Nearby, on Voznesensky Prospect, there were a total of 50! Another of the novels characters, Svidrigailov, spends his time in one of the public houses on Voznesensky Prospect. From there he goes to Konnogvardeisky Boulevard, just a couple of steps from Pochtamtskaya Ulitsa, where the hotel is now located. His fatefull meeting with Sonya Marmeladova takes place on a bench on this boulevard. Sonya lives on Catherine Canal. “It was a three – story building, old and green”. That would be either house No. 63 or 73 on the canal. They are typical Petersburg tenements. Now they are painted yellow, but they both have the “rounded corner” Dostoevsky describes.

After St. Isaacs Square we come to Srednyaya Podyacheskaya Ulitsa. Here, in house No. 15, lived Alena Ivanovna, the moneylender Raskolnikov killed. Not far from here, in the courtyard of the house at 3 Voznesensky Prospect, in the early twentieth century one could still find the rock under which Raskolnikov hid the things he stole from the old woman.

The Renaissance St. Petersburg Baltic Hotel is just a leisurely 15 – 20 minute walk away from Staro – Nikolsky Bridge, the meeting place of the dreamer and Nastenka, the heroes of White Nights. Even today during the calm white nights we can see the same cityscape from the bridge: five bridges spanning the Kryukov and Catherine canals; the arcade of the Nikolsky Market on one side of Sadovaya Ulitsa; and the majestic yet delicate spire of Nikolsky Cathedral above the crowns of the trees on the other.

If we walk a few hundred meters we come to 33 Gorokhovaya Ulitsa, the home of Parfyon Rogozhin, from The Idiot. If we look closely we can see the heroes of Dostoevsky`s other novels and stories emerging from their buildings, apartments and corners to walk around St. Petersburg. No matter where you are – on the Fontanka or on Gorokhovaya, on Vasilievsky Island or in the very center of town – you will see their shadows and hear their footfalls. A dream city and, at the same time, a phantom city; a changeling city, withdrawn and arrogant, “wicked and wrathful” , Petersburg lives its own life. But it is the home of Dostoevsky`s heroes, both the ordinary and the extravagant. It is here that they conceive of their mad ideas and here that they commit their crimes… or attain their spiritual heights.

Books:

Crime and Punishment


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