Mary Magdalen of Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground

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Not for this I was born and then raised up.

Unacquainted was I with such need.

I once prayed to God, I was faithful.

I once had a soul that knew peace.

-from "Fallen," a Russian brothel song (Bernstein, 169)

Prostitutes, women who sell their bodies for money, have been frowned upon since antiquity by most members of society. However, from as early as Rahab, the Whore of Jericho in the Old Testament who helped Joshua and his men regain the Promised Land, prostitutes have been portrayed as not only as sinners with the possibility of redemption, but women who lead men to salvation as well. This trend was particularly taken up in nineteenth-century Russian literature: "Elevated into powerful literary symbols by authors like Dostoevsky, Tolstoy..., prostitutes became female archetypes who either disillusioned the men with whom they associated or raised them to a higher plane of being" (11). Dostoevsky uses this idea of a "saintly prostitute" repeatedly in his works. The archetype that Bernstein claims he creates in based on the image of Mary Magdalen from the New Testament, the celebrated reformed prostitute who devotes her life to Christ. Crime and Punishment's Sonya Marmeladova, of whom "Notes from Underground's Liza is a prototype, performs the role of the penitent sinner who leads the way to salvation: the saintly prostitute Mary Magdalen.

Despite common belief, Mary Magdalen is never referred to as a reformed prostitute in the four Gospels of the New Testament, though her actual role is just as pertinent to Dostoevsky's writing. In spite of the Gospels' tendencies to conflict with each other, they agree on four aspects of the Magdalen's life. First of all, she is one of Jesus Christ's female followers who is present at ...

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...r one's sins and the perpetual chance of salvation.

Works Cited

Bernstein, Laurie. Sonia's Daughter's: Prostitutes and Their Regulation in Imperial Russia. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

Conradi, Peter. Modern Novelists: Fyodor Dostoevsky. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1988.

Dostoevsky, Fyodor M. Crime and Punishment. Trans. Jessie Coulson. Ed. George Gibian. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1989.

Dostoevsky, Fyodor M. "Notes from Underground." Trans. Andrew R. MacAndrew. New York: Penguin Books, 1961.

Haskins, Susan. Mary Magdalen: Myth and Metaphor. London: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1993.

Malvern, Marjorie M. Venus in Sackcloth: The Magdalen's Origins and Metamorphoses. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1975.

Wasiolek, Edward. Dostoevsky: The Major Fiction. Cambridge, MA: The M.I.T. Press, 1964.
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