The prostitute is a curious fixture of Victorian era literature. In the works of William Thackeray and Samuel Richardson it was almost cliché for the heroine to end up in a house of prostitution and then to transcend that situation in a show of proper Victorian morals. Having seen many young women forced by extreme poverty to take up the trade of a loose woman, Fyodor Dostoevsky, a petit-bourgeois fallen on hard times himself, took a rather different approach to the whole issue; he recognized that these women were not utterly without merit as so many people of the time thought. Georg Brandes spoke accurately when he said, "Dostoevsky preaches the morality of the pariah, the morality of the slave." Dostoevsky explored these themes through prostitute characters in many of his works. The most famous of these characters are found in Crime and Punishment, Notes from Underground, and "The Meek One." Each of these presents a unique approach to the condition of prostitutes and the problem of their redemption.
In Crime and Punishment, Dostoevsky uses the character of Sonia Marmeladov, whose first name means wisdom, not solely to illustrate God's mercy toward a fallen woman but to have her redeem both herself and Raskolnikov through God's mercy. As in the parable given by Father Zosima on his death bed in The Brothers Karamazov, Raskolnikov's initial connection to Sonia in Book I functions as his "stalk of grain" which keeps him from being completely severed from God's grace. Just as the old woman in the parable was without merit except for the fact she gave the beggar a stalk of grain, Raskolnikov lacks merit after his murderous deed exce...
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...uments of grace. But most importantly, he tells us that without our own attempt to transcend our sinful nature we will fail like the Underground Man or leap to our spiritual and physical doom as the heroine of "The Meek One" did. We are all Raskolnikov, we are all Sonia. The key is to strive, strive harder and strive forever to reach the unreachable perfection lost to us and unreachable without God.
Works Cited and Consulted
Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Crime and Punishment. Trans. Constance Garnett. New York: Bantam, 1981.
Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov. Trans. Constance Garnett. New York: Signet Classics, 1999.
Dost. Research Station. Ed. Christiaan Stange. Vers. ? 17 July 1999 - kiosek.com/dostoevsky/quotations.html
Martinsen, Deborah A., ed. Notes From Underground, The Double, and Other Stories. New York: Barnes and Noble Classics NY, 2003.
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