LITERARY TRAVEL

Trailing Dostoevsky in St. Petersburg

A pocket-size book maps out places in St. Petersburg, the birthplace of Russian literature, indelibly linked to writers such as Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy, and Alexander Pushkin--and their most memorable creations.

The book cover depicts a view of the Neva and the Admiralteyskaya Embankment by Moonlight, 1882, by Aleksandr Karlovich Beggrov (cover designed by Louise Fili Ltd; image courtesy of Stage Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia/The Bridgeman Art Library)

Below we've reprinted a chapter from Elaine Blair's Literary St. Petersburg on Dostoevsky that includes the spectacular blue-domed cathedral where he married, the site of his mock execution, and the garret apartment that housed Raskolnikov, the protagonist of Crime and Punishment.

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In the twenty-eight years that he lived in St. Petersburg, Dostoevsky moved twenty times and never spent more than three years in any one apartment. He preferred to live in buildings situated on corners—he liked intersections and multiple perspectives—and had two favorite neighborhoods where many of his former dwellings are concentrated: one is the area around Sennaya Ploschad (Haymarket Square), and the other is Vladmirskaya. They were both shabby neighborhoods, and Dostoevsky lived in them partly out of sheer financial necessity. But he was also fascinated by the street life in the rough parts of St. Petersburg, and he trailed people on the sidewalks and took careful notes on what he saw.

SENNAYA PLOSCHAD
Sennaya Ploschad, or Haymarket Square, was the site of the city's haymarket in Dostoevsky's time, where peasants would come to sell hay and produce from the countryside. The square and the neighborhood around it were a crossroads for all manner of Petersburg's downtrodden. Taverns and brothels lined the streets around the square. Low-rent apartment buildings housed students, artisans, peddlers, small-time shopkeepers, clerks, servants, and prostitutes. A scene from Crime and Punishment describes an alley near Sennaya Ploschad full of shabbily dressed prostitutes calling out blandishments to men passing by in the street. "Some were over forty, but there were some younger than seventeen; almost every one of them had a black eye."

Today Sennaya Ploschad is still crowded and clamorous, but the commercial activity is somewhat more reputable, with a sleek mall and stands selling DVDs and fast food. The neighborhood around the square is dominated by stores and outdoor markets, including the giant Apraksin Dvor. The residential streets are narrow and treeless. In Soviet times the neighborhood contained some of the most crowded and poorly equipped communal apartments. There are still a small number of communal apartments left, some of which local government uses to house rehabilitated alcoholics and drug users from halfway houses.

Dostoevsky's Former Residences
Kaznacheyskaya Ulitsa, Nos. 1, 7, and 9
Metro: Sennaya Ploschad/Sadovaya

Dostoevsky lived in three different residences on Kaznacheyskaya Ulitsa in the 1860s: Nos. 1, 7, and 9. The street was then called Malaya Meschanskaya, or Petit Bourgeois street, a testament to the commercial activity that took place there. At No. 7, where Dostoevsky lived between August 1864 and January 1867, he finished Crime and Punishment and wrote The Gambler with the help of his stenographer (and soon-to-be second wife) Anna Snitkina.

Crime and Punishment is largely set in this neighborhood. Though Dostoevsky didn't spell out the full names of the streets, he described the streets and buildings very precisely. It's almost certain that Raskolnikov's garret apartment ("more like a cupboard than a room") was in the building at No. 5 or No. 9 Stolyarniy Pereulok. The saintly prostitute Sonya Marmeladov lived at either No. 63 or No. 73 on the Griboedov Canal Embankment. Raskolnikov's victim, the old lady pawnbroker, lived farther down Griboedov Canal Embankment at No. 104.

Scenes in The Idiot are also set near Sennaya Ploschad. Rogozhin, the rich merchant's son who befriends and then menaces Prince Myshkin, lives "on Gorokhovaya Street, not far from Sadovaya," in a "large, gloomy, three-storied house, devoid of architectural pretension, and of a dirty-green colour." It's in Rogozhin's house that Myshkin makes a pact with Rogozhin not to visit Nastasya Filipovna—a pact he eventually breaks, leading to her murder and to his own descent into dementia.

VLADIMIRSKAYA
Vladimirskaya is a neighborhood named after the recently restored Vladimir Church. Across the street, at the intersection of Vladimirsky Prospect, Kuznechniy Pereulok, and Bolshaya Mosckovskaya Ulitsa, stands a statue of Dostoevsky. Vladimirsky Prospect, the neighborhood's main artery, is full of new stores and eateries, but the quiet sidestreets are mostly untouched by renovation and have some spectacularly decrepit-looking apartment buildings.

Dostoevsky's Former Residence
11 Vladmirsky Prospect
Metro: Vladmirskaya/Dostoevskaya

These were Dostoevsky's first lodgings after he left the military academy. He rented a single room in an apartment on the second floor, furnished only with an old sofa, some chairs, and a desk at which he wrote his first novel, Poor Folk.

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