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Historical Context of Crime and Punishment
Transcript of Historical Context of Crime and Punishment
The Courts of St. Petersburg
The other success of Alexander II was to reform the justice system to a unified court system.
Before, there was were “estate-of-the-realm” courts. This system divided clergy, nobility, and commoners making it difficult to fairly try a person.
In theory, this advance should have been a good thing, but as you will hear later on, the characters in the novel complain frequently about the issues with the new system.
One definite positive, however, was the introduction of trial by jury for most criminal trials. The tendency of public juries to return “not guilty” verdicts was significantly higher when only a judge presided. Marie Palace (Seat of the State Council)
In Imperial Russia, the Tsar held almost complete control over political affairs.
Tsar Alexander I established the State Council in 1810 as an advisory body. They had no real legislative power of their own. Their numbers fluctuated between 35 and 60, but half the members were appointed by the Tsar himself.
Local governments, like the one in St. Petersburg, were composed of the zemstva and the duma. The former was a representative body that was comprised of people from all classes. The zemstva dealt with issues like education, transportation, prisons, and health concerns. The duma was akin to a city council. It was made of primarily property owners. Neither of these bodies successfully represented the interests of poor people like Raskolnikov. St. Petersburg Slums Library of St. Petersburg
During the 1860s, Russia was infiltrated by nihilism, utilitarianism and social-cultural thought processes, which considered “rational egoism” a healthier doctrine than Christian-inspired conscience.
One radical, D. I. Pisarey, deeply inspired Dostoevsky. According to his beliefs, there were two types of people – “the mass” and “the others.”
The underlying question of crime and conscience had “taken on a burning actuality” for the author as “result of the attempt of the Russian radicals of the 1860s to establish morality on new “rational foundations.” Alexander II was the Czar of Russian from 1855-1881, who embarked on a radical program to modernize and Westernize the nation. He reformed the judicial system, centralized bureaucracy, instituted universal military training, and granted the subject nation of Poland partial autonomy.
Alexander Palace (Residence of the Russian Tsar) Revolt broke out in 1863, and Alexander acted with swift
suppression. He joined with Prussia and Austria-Hungary shortly afterward in the Three Emperors' League. Despite expanding his realm quite significantly into Central Asia and the Orient, Alexander II did sell Alaska to the USA, a purchase he later regretted. In 1867, Alexander declared war
on Turkey in the Russo-Turkish war
to save oppressed Balkan Slavs. After a populist movement arose in the 1860's,
the government arrested many students. The rest
turned to terrorist activities. Czar Alexander was
assassinated with a handmade bomb in 1881 and
succeeded by his son, Alexander III. The Tsar emancipated 20 million serfs, but this created new problems since many came into St. Petersburg but had no access to work in the city. Despite the city's economic success, poverty and crime were both widespread. As the city grew in size, overcrowding and sanitation issues became a grave concern. Contaminated drinking water caused several epidemics in St Petersburg in the 19th century, including a cholera outbreak, which killed over 9,000 residents. Sewage removal also led to heavy pollution of the channels and rivers in St Petersburg. By the 1850s, residents could no longer walk along the shore of the harbor because of an awful stench.
St. Petersburg was the economic center of Russia in addition to its political hub. By 1890 Russia had about 32,000 kilometers of railroads and 1.4 million factory workers, most of whom worked in the textile industry within St. Petersburg. Foreign nations traded freely with Russia without any tariffs on imported goods (until the 1880s).
St. Petersburg was quite a busy place in the 1860s.
Dissension and political turmoil were widespread
Keep in mind the setting in which the author lived and took inspiration for his work. One palace was not enough for the Russian Tsars.... The Winter Palace was constructed in the 18th century for Peter the Great of Russia (the namesake of St. Petersburg). The palace was an example of the decadence of the Russian royal family. Tsar Alexander was the first to occupy this residence although it continued to breed resentment against the family. The Bloody Sunday Massacre occurred here in 1905 during a protest by day laborers.