Crime and Punishment, Napoleon, and the Great Man Theory

Gary Rosenshield


One of the most hotly debated notions throughout Europe in the first decades of the nineteenth century was the idea of ‘the great man’. The cause, of course, was the dominating presence of Napoleon whose exploits and achievements many compared to those of Caesar and Alexander the Great. The debate did not diminish in importance during Napoleon’s exile or after his death. Quite the contrary, the status of Napoleon as modern history’s ‘great man’ or extraordinary individual increased after his death, kept alive not only by many of his supporters but even by those who were ambivalent about his achievements and character. In Crime and Punishment, Dostoevsky incorporated a devastating critique of the myth and legend of Napoleon as the modern era’s greatest man by presenting a double perspective on Napoleon as a great man – one explicit the other implied. Raskolnikov explicitly embraces the arguments in favor of Napoleon as a great man, whereas the implied author, Dostoevsky, subjects them to varying degrees of deflationary irony.

Keywords: Crime and Punishment, Napoleon, "great man"'s idea

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