Pierre françois lacenaire

The crime which inspired Crime and Punishment

‘Whether I am a trembling creature or whether I have the right…’ The much quoted words of Rodion Raskolnikov, the protagonist of Crime and Punishment, encapsulate the novel’s main question. Fyodor Dostoevsky first pitched the idea of ‘the psychological account of a crime’ to a publisher in 1865. Three decades earlier, a real-life murderer, Pierre François Lacenaire, waiting for his execution in a French prison, wrote: ‘Only I can decide whether I have done wrong or right to society.’ As Kevin Birmingham shows in his new book, this is but one detail of Lacenaire’s story mirrored in Dostoevsky’s masterpiece; moreover, Dostoevsky’s reflections on the case influenced the way he understood