Dostoevsky on murderers

During his time as an inmate of a katorga (prison camp) in Siberia, Dostoevsky had plenty of opportunity to observe murderers at close range. His observations are interesting, and clearly informed his later work. In the following extract, he identifies one particular type of murderer that he said was often encountered:

“He lives quietly and humbly, enduring the vicissitudes of fortune. He may be a peasant, a house surf, an artisan or a soldier. Suddenly, without warning, something within him snaps, his endurance runs out and he plunges a knife into his enemy and oppressor. Something strange now begins to happen: the man seems to go temporarily beserk. He began by murdering his oppressor, his enemy; this, although criminal, is understandable; here there was a motive. But then he starts murdering people who are not his enemies, but just those who happen to cross his path, and he murders them for amusement, because of an insult or a look, for the sake of a string of beads, or simply, as a way of saying ‘Out of the way, don’t let me catch you, here I come!’ It is as if the man were drunk, or in delirium. As if, having overshot some sacred limit within himself, he begins to exult in the feeling that there is no longer anything sacred in him…”

From the House of the Dead. Part I, chapter 8.

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