Dostoevsky and the Trial of Nastasia Kairova: Carnal Love, Crimes of Passion, and Spiritual Redemption


The commentaries on newly instituted jury trials in Russia that Dostoevsky provided in his Diary of a Writer during the 1870s has attracted scholarly attention mainly for the legal and moral issues he addresses in them. His commentary on two jury trials in particular–those of Kroneberg and Kornilova (both of which involve violence toward children)–has attracted most of this scholarly attention. The present article examines Dostoevsky's commentary on a different trial, that of Nastasia Kairova, an actress who attacked the estranged wife of her lover with a razor in an outburst of jealous passion. Rather than examine Dostoevsky's commentary on the Kairova case as an example of his views on moral, legal, criminal, and/or judicial issues, however, I will be exploring it against the background of the author's views on female sexuality. More specifically, I will be focusing upon how Dostoevsky's conceptualization of carnal desire as a violent and destructive passion shapes his understanding not only of sex and love, but also of justice and mercy. It thus influences in a very fundamental way his view of the role that love–maternal and conjugal as opposed to romantic and sexual–should play in helping to establish the moral structure of a life, a family, and a society. Dostoevsky believed that Kairova's crime of passion was triggered by the unbridling of her carnal lusts, by the unleashing of a dangerous and destructive appetite for power, aggression, and domination that he linked closely with sexual desire. As we will see, Kairova's unruly carnal lusts, in Dostoevsky's opinion, not only led to her violent crime of passion; they also stood in the way of her moral regeneration and spiritual redemption.


Languages, Literatures, and Cultures

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The Russian Review



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Copyright 2012 The Russian Review