I’m *literary* in Russia!

I have to say, people’s confusion between “literally” and “literary” drives me crazy. If you even just stop for one second to think about what the words mean, you wouldn’t confuse the two because it makes no sense. Not to mention the misuse of the word “literally,” but that’s another story.

Theme #4 (the last one): Russian literature. I geeked out hard in Russia. I read my first Pushkin (Boris Godunov) on the train to Sergiev Posad, and I re-read Crime and Punishment (my third or fourth time reading it), which I loved in high school and loved even more in St Petersburg. I probably just worked myself up into a state of psychosomatic/borderline religious ecstasy (very Dostoevskyan of me), but I felt like it really made a difference being there, visualizing the characters and feeling the general atmosphere.

So here is my tribute to all the literary and literally nerdy things I did in Russia (mostly Dostoevsky, some Tolstoy at the end).

Dostoevsky's portrait at the Tretyakov in Moscow

Dostoevsky’s portrait at the Tretyakov in Moscow – I couldn’t get at a good angle to not have the light reflecting off the glass

I visited the Dostoevsky House Museum in St Petersburg. I couldn’t actually figure out whether I was allowed to take pictures or not (there were no signs, and a couple of other people took some pictures, but I felt like the guards kept giving me dirty looks), but I took some, so here they are:

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In St Petersburg I also did possibly the nerdiest thing I have ever done: an early-morning Crime and Punishment walk trying to find some of the major locations from the book, including re-tracing Raskolnikov’s fateful walk from his apartment to the pawnbroker’s at the beginning, when he knows it takes exactly 730 steps for him to reach her (NB: it took me 1155). In doing this, I owe an enormous debt to this site, though I also did my best to highlight location markers in the book to check that the locations seemed right. I also took all the pictures in black and white to make it seem more…authentic? I don’t know; I’m a crazy person.

1. Raskolnikov’s flat building at 19 Grazhdanskaya. It even had a plaque and a sculpture of Dostoevsky (lurking on the stairs? not sure what’s going on there) to prove it.

The view along Raskolnikov’s street.

Dostoevsky himself lived nearby, at 7 Kaznacheysaya (this is a different apartment from the one that serves as his house museum – he moved a lot)

2. Raskolnikov walks down Carpenters’ Lane (now Stolyarnyy Pereulok) to get to the pawnbroker’s.


3. He crosses Kokushkin Most:


4. He arrives at the pawnbroker’s at 104 Kanal Griboedova:


That gated courtyard entrance…doesn’t it just look like shady things could happen in there?

The frozen canal was a fitting backdrop, as were the relics of a drunken night by shady characters.

I should also add that the street outside the pawnbroker’s was the dirtiest and worst smelling place I found in all of St Pete – layers upon layers of dog shit in various states of thaw lining the canal walkway, trash everywhere. If I could somehow take an olfactory picture, I would have, just for the sheer appropriateness of Alyona Ivanovna’s street smelling like shit.

5. Haymarket is now a bustling transport hub Sennaya Square, but it still has some shops, now more permanent structures.

The fateful corner where Raskolnikov overhears Lizaveta talking to the tradesman and realizes that she will be out at 7:00 pm the next day, allowing him to murder the pawnbroker.


6. When Raskolnikov takes “the back way” to get to the pawnbroker’s to commit the murder, he passes Yusupov Gardens:


7. The Virginia website seems to think that this building on the corner of Sadovaya and Podyachevskaya is the police station…


but I like the look of this one, across the street, better–it’s seedier:


8. Nearby on Moskovsky Prospekt is the former site of the “Crystal Tavern” where Raskolnikov teases Zamiotov about whether he was or was not involved in the pawnbroker’s murder.


9. Time for some Marmeladov action! I found this underground bar on Brinko Street, where Raskolnikov first encounters Marmeladov…


…however, I was really inordinately amused by the fact that there is also a sex shop on Brinko Street, and imagined that perhaps it was the site where Marmeladov poured out his sob story about Sonia selling herself into prostitution.


After drinking together, Raskolnikov helps Marmeladov to his flat, which is said to be “300 steps” away. I don’t think I really went far enough, but I was tired at this point and just snapped a shot of a likely-looking building on Moskovsky.


10. Speaking of our hooker with a heart of gold, let’s look in on Sonechka at 73 Kanal Griboedova:

That’s right, Sonia (and Svidrigailov) lives on the same street as the pawnbroker! I LOVE IT. Incidentally, though, Sonia’s section of the street is quite clean and does not smell like shit.

11. Steps away from Sonia’s flat is Voznesenskay Most, where Katerina Ivanovna, after Marmeladov’s funeral, makes the children dance and is gripped by her fatal tubercular attack. Sonia has her dying stepmother brought to her own flat because she lives close by.

And that was pretty much it. There are other locations in the book that I had already visited under different circumstances (i.e. Razumikhin lives on Vasilyevsky Island, which is where the university is and which I walked through in order to get to the Peter and Paul Fortress), but I was surprised to discover overall how close all of these important sites are–it’s absolutely conceivable and believable that the bulk of the action takes place in this one character’s relatively small neighborhood, and it makes the characters’ connection seem all the more fateful and intimate: these are people who have been living next door to each other for years but have never come together until the murder sets everything in motion. Very cool.

Finally, I made a pilgrimage to Dostoevsky’s grave in the Nevsky cemetery.

I was pretty worn out by my intensive Dostoevsky excursions, but back in Moscow, I also found Tolstoy’s portrait and house, so I thought I would include them here.

Tolstoy's portrait at the Tretyakov in Moscow

Tolstoy’s portrait at the Tretyakov in Moscow

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I definitely wasn’t supposed to take pictures at the Tolstoy house (there was a truly exorbitant photo fee–I think it was 350 rubles on top of a 200 ruble ticket), but I got so annoyed when one of the guards interrupted my house-browsing to ask what the lump was in my back pocket (my camera, which I was not using but hadn’t wanted to leave in my checked bag–because you always have to check your bag and coat in Russia–in their totally unsupervised coat room) and then insisted that I take it out and show it to her (all in Russian, which meant that to overcome the language barrier she just did a lot of pointing at my ass) that I started taking pictures out of spite when the guards weren’t around.

And that concludes my posts about my Russian adventure. It only took me a month to get them all done. Now I’m one vacation behind (Amsterdam, the week after Russia) but am about to go on another (Valencia, literally in a few hours), so I’ll be back where I started once I’m back from Spain. What can I say, it’s a hard life going to all these places and having to organize your pictures afterward.


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