*A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice * One of The East Hampton Star's 10 Best Books of the Year*
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Most Dangerous Book, the true story behind the creation of another masterpiece of world literature, Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment.
The Sinner and the Saint is the deeply researched and immersive tale of how Dostoevsky came to write this great murder story—and why it changed the world. As a young man, Dostoevsky was a celebrated writer, but his involvement with the radical politics of his day condemned him to a long Siberian exile. There, he spent years studying the criminals that were his companions. Upon his return to St. Petersburg in the 1860s, he fought his way through gambling addiction, debilitating debt, epilepsy, the deaths of those closest to him, and literary banishment to craft an enduring classic.
The germ of Crime and Punishment came from the sensational story of Pierre François Lacenaire, a notorious murderer who charmed and outraged Paris in the 1830s. Lacenaire was a glamorous egoist who embodied the instincts that lie beneath nihilism, a western-influenced philosophy inspiring a new generation of Russian revolutionaries. Dostoevsky began creating a Russian incarnation of Lacenaire, a character who could demonstrate the errors of radical politics and ideas. His name would be Raskolnikov.
Lacenaire shaped Raskolnikov in profound ways, but the deeper insight, as Birmingham shows, is that Raskolnikov began to merge with Dostoevsky. Dostoevsky was determined to tell a murder story from the murderer's perspective, but his character couldn't be a monster. No. The murderer would be chilling because he wants so desperately to be good.
The writing consumed Dostoevsky. As his debts and the predatory terms of his contract caught up with him, he hired a stenographer to dictate the final chapters in time. Anna Grigorievna became Dostoevsky's first reader and chief critic and changed the way he wrote forever. By the time Dostoevsky finished his great novel, he had fallen in love.
Dostoevsky's great subject was self-consciousness. Crime and Punishment advanced a revolution in artistic thinking and began the greatest phase of Dostoevsky's career. The Sinner and the Saint now gives us the thrilling and definitive story of that triumph.
Literary critic Birmingham (The Most Dangerous Book) analyzes in this erudite yet tangled study how Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novel Crime and Punishment "came to be what it is." He delves deep into Dostoyevsky's money troubles and reckless gambling, his 1849 arrest and mock-execution for belonging to a revolutionary political group, his imprisonment in a Siberian labor camp, and his affair with nihilist and short story writer Polina Suslova. Birmingham also discusses how Czar Alexander II's liberalization efforts, which included the emancipation of the serfs, ground to a halt after his attempted assassination in 1866, and traces the influence of Max Stirner's philosophy of egoism on Dostoyevsky. Selections from Dostoyevsky's notebooks shed light on his search for the novel's narrative voice and the development of the character of Raskolnikov, whom Birmingham contends was inspired by Pierre-Fran ois Lacenaire, a French poet and dandy executed for murdering a banker and his mother in the 1830s. Though Dostoyevsky was clearly intrigued by the case, Birmingham overstates his claim that Lacenaire was the inspiration for Raskolnikov, and the sections devoted to the French murderer feel more like a sideshow than the main event. This ambitious survey covers a lot of territory without breaking much new ground. Agent: Suzanne Gluck, William Morris Endeavor.