Dostoevsky's Sonya and Martha: Fiction and reality

Eulalie Elizabeth Scoll, Salve Regina University


Literary scholars have traditionally sought to discover hidden details from authors' lives that, seen against the background of the times, can illuminate their imaginative writings. Dostoevsky's complicated life continues to offer such possibilities, and this study examines the possible source for the key character of Sonya in Crime and Punishment. The dissertation has two focal points. The first deals with a few early years of the technological age in Russia (1860-1866), the rock upon which the indomitable twentieth-century Russian industrialization was built. The second, more pertinent to this study, is how Dostoevsky portrays the dark side of the urban poverty resulting from this emerging technology. In Crime and Punishment he vividly captures the social, psychological, and behavioral impact on his leading characters, particularly the unfortunate Sonya. The winds of technological change similarly affect Sonya's likely prototype, Martha Panina Brown, in her unhappy life. Dostoevsky scholars have been both fascinated and baffled by Martha Brown. Leonid Grossman, for example, argues that Martha's letters are the most important documents in the Dostoevsky Intimate Archives. However, for a variety of reasons, such as lack of archival access and ignorance of Martha's full identity, scholars could not adequately trace Martha's life, and consequently they have not fully appreciated the portrait of Sonya in Crime and Punishment. This dissertation proposes a more authentic comparison, both literary and analytical, of Sonya Marmeladova, the sainted-prostitute in Crime and Punishment, with Martha Brown, her likely inspiration.

Subject Area

Slavic literature|Womens studies|Behaviorial sciences

Recommended Citation

Scoll, Eulalie Elizabeth, "Dostoevsky's Sonya and Martha: Fiction and reality" (1996). Doctoral Dissertations. AAI9717878.