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Unpublished Paper
Dostoevsky v. The Judicial Reforms of 1864: How and Why One of 19th Century Russia’s Greatest Writers Mercilessly Criticized The Nation’s Most Successful Reform
ExpressO (2010)
  • Brian SC Conlon, Harvard University
Abstract
The legal reforms of 1864 marked a shift in Russian legal culture from an amorphous, corrupt, pre-modern system of procedure, structure and customary law to an independent, modern and westernized system as liberal as any nation of Europe or North America. These reforms were nearly universally lauded by legal and cultural critics, both at the time they were introduced and in historical accounts. Despite the apparent necessity and success of the new courts, one of the leading figures in 19th Century Russian literature (and indeed the history of world literature), Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky, continually criticized the new system in both his fiction and non-fiction. Through the synthesis of historical, legal and literary analysis, this study will examine the philosophical and historical reasons why Dostoevsky had an adverse reaction to the reforms, the literary techniques he used to convince his readers of the defects of the new system, and whether Dostoevsky presented a viable legal alternative to the reformed courts. In order to fully comprehend Dostoevsky’s reaction to the reforms, this study will contrast the pre and post-reform judicial systems in Imperial Russia, through the use of secondary sources and first-hand accounts. The scope and evolution of Dostoevsky’s criticism of the law will be explored through analysis of Dostoevsky’s pre-reform fiction, including House of the Dead and Crime and Punishment, his post-reform fiction, including The Idiot, Demons and Brothers Karamazov, as well as portions of his experimental literary periodical, A Writer’s Diary. Ultimately, Dostoevsky’s disappointment in the new system stemmed from its inability to live up to his Orthodox Christian ideal. Dostoevsky envisioned a court that would force the guilty to take moral accountability for their crimes, while at the same time show leniency in punishment, and thereby teach the Russian public his own Christian morals. Far from the “Go and sin no more” courts Dostoevsky envisioned, Dostoevsky portrays the reformed courts as dangerous sources of moral degradation, as eloquent lawyers corrupt the minds of the Russian people with self-aggrandizing and amoral speeches.
Keywords
  • Dostoevsky,
  • Russian Literature,
  • Legal Reform,
  • Imperial Russia,
  • Law and Literature
Disciplines
Publication Date
August 8, 2010
Citation Information
Brian SC Conlon. "Dostoevsky v. The Judicial Reforms of 1864: How and Why One of 19th Century Russia’s Greatest Writers Mercilessly Criticized The Nation’s Most Successful Reform" ExpressO (2010)
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/brian_conlon/1/