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Raskolnikov

July 29, 2011

This obviously isn’t news to specialists, but I hadn’t properly appreciated how the last name “Raskolnikov” would sound when Crime and Punishment came out in Russkii vestnik in 1866. Raskol’nik, from raskol ‘schism,’ is of course one of the words applied to the Old Believers who broke with the official Russian Orthodox Church in the seventeenth century. As we saw recently, in 1858-70 there were polemics about whether Old Believers would be on the side of a possible revolution. (Staroobriadtsy ‘Old Believers’ and raskol’niki ‘schismatics’ seem to be interchangeable in Russkii vestnik, while Leskov favors raskol’niki.)

Pavel Orlenev as Raskolnikov

I’ve heard it suggested that Raskolnikov is so named because he is divided against himself in a moral-eternal-universal way. But if the name makes us think of the historical and concrete raskol’niki instead of an abstract and philosophical raskol, it’s different. The point wouldn’t be that Raskolnikov was an Old Believer or had ancestors who were. It would be that Russian radicals might think people like Raskolnikov (with his embrace of extreme materialist ideas) would be their ally, but in the end (with his return to Christian love and love of Russia) they would be wrong. Just as, according to the “G.” and “D.P.” writing in Katkov’s journal, Gertsen and Ogarev were wrong to think of the raskol’niki as potential allies.

Besides the articles linked to in the last post (and no doubt others), there was one called “The Schism as a Tool of Parties Hostile to Russia” (Раскол как орудие враждебных России партий) in the September 1866 issue of Russkii vestnik, between issues with installments of Crime and Punishment, so the argument was definitely topical.

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