Dostoyevsky Pitches “Crime and Punishment”

don’t miss the endnote:

TO M.N. Katkov

[First half of September], 1865, Wiesbaden

K[ind] S[ir] M[ikhail] N[ikiforovich]

May I hope to have my story published in your magazine, R[ussian] M[essenger]?

I have been working on it for 2 months now here in Wiesbaden, and it is nearing completion. It will contain between five and six printer’s sheets. I still have a couple of weeks’ work left on it, or perhaps a bit more. In any case, I can promise definitely that in a month at the very latest I could deliver it to the editorial offices of R.M.

The idea of my story, as far as I can see, in no wise runs counter to your magazine. Indeed, quite the contrary. It is a psychological account of a crime. The action is topical, set in the current year. A young student of lower-middle-class origin, who has been expelled from the university, and who lives in dire poverty, succumbs—through thoughtlessness and lack of strong convictions—to certain strange, “incomplete” ideas that are floating in the air, and decides to get out of his misery once and for all. He resolves to kill an old woman, the window of a titular councilor, who lends out money for interest. The old crone is stupid, deaf, sick, and greedy[…] She is wicked and makes the life of her younger sister, whom she treats as a servant, wretched. “She is good for nothing,” “what does she live for?” “Is she of any use to anyone at all?” and so on. These questions disorient the young man. He decides to kill and rob her in order to bring happiness to his mother, who is living in the provinces, and to wrest his sister, who is living as a companion in the house of some landowners, from the lewd demands of the head of the household, demands that may lead to her perdition. He also wants to finish his studies and to go abroad and, afterward, for the rest of his life, to be honest, firm, and steadfast in the performance of his “humanitarian duties toward mankind,” which certainly would “expiate his crime,” if one can actually call a crime his act against a stupid, deaf, vicious, sick old crone who herself does not know why she is living and who may die anyway in a month or so.

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