Dostoevsky and the Law

by Amy D. Ronner

Tags: Literature and Law

Table of Contents (PDF)

322 pp  $60.00

ISBN 978-1-61163-417-4

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In 1849, Fyodor Dostoevsky, already a known novelist, was arrested, tried, and sentenced to death for treason. After about eight months in prison, officials paraded him and others into a public square and tethered them to execution posts before a firing squad. Just before discharging their fatal shots, the soldiers received a command to halt. By order of Nicholas I, the great Russian novelist and fellow prisoners were spared and their death sentences commuted to terms of hard labor and exile in Siberia. After serving his sentence, Dostoevsky, permitted to return to St. Petersberg, wrote some of the greatest masterpieces in world literature. His experience in Siberia, where he lived in close proximity with convicts, political prisoners, and others punished for crimes they did not commit, shaped his life and career. It not only gave him insight into the workings of the human psyche, but also fostered what could be characterized as an obsession with criminal justice, convicts, and suspects. Although Dostoevsky wrote in the nineteenth century, his genius transcends time to shed light on our own justice system and legal doctrines. Through a legal lens, this book examines several of Dostoevsky's works, including Crime and Punishment, The Double, Notes from the House of the Dead, Demons, and Brothers Karamazov, to show how they transmit relevant and timely messages about our mental capacity doctrine, confessions, legal system, and prisons.

"Amy Ronner's excellent book offers a new dimension to the growing literature on Dostoevsky and the law ... not only does Ronner address a broad scope of issues within civil and criminal law, from testamentary capacity to confessional jurisprudence to the Miranda protections. Her Dostoevsky is more capacious and diverse than the Dostoevsky of other legal scholars who tend to focus on a smaller set of usual suspects like Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov. Still rarer than Ronner's vast knowledge of Dostoevsky is her great familiarity with Dostoevsky studies which is typically sidelined by various professional experts who seek to bring Dostoevsky's insights to bear on their professional concerns. In refreshingly readable prose, Ronner walks the reader through a number of technical legal issues, making the stakes clear for lawyers and non-lawyers alike." — Anna Schur, The Russian Review

"Ronner. . . provides a fresh entry point into Dostoevskii's work, one that could be particularly useful in teaching the Russian author to American students. Indeed, the book will be a valuable teaching resource: extensively researched, it presents previous English language scholarship in an exhaustive, fair, and informative way." —Cristina Vatulescu, The Slavic Review