Dimensions of Laughter in Crime and Punishment

Dimensions of Laughter in Crime and Punishment

Dimensions of Laughter in Crime and Punishment

Dimensions of Laughter in Crime and Punishment


"Dostoevsky was a psychological realist, and laughter in his handling invariably has a psychological component. It can reveal a character's mood at a given instant, it can reinforce an earlier perception about a character's makeup, and at times it can also invalidate that perception in a flash. It will be shown in this study that some of the leading figures of Crime and Punishment are indeed good candidates for reassessment on the sole basis of the nature of their laughter. Since human laughter served, in a sense, as Dostoevsky's model, the author pays some heed to the highly controversial subject of real-life laughter, along with the leading theories that seek to elucidate its causes and implications. The present study offers new insights into the utilization of belletristic laughter not only in Crime and Punishment but also in the rest of Dostoevsky's major works. Additionally, it seeks to demonstrate that Dostoevsky's use of laughter bears a certain resemblance to the technique of other authors who employ laughter for artistic purposes - Leo Tolstoy, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Umberto Eco among them." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved


The first recorded attempt in the Western world to elucidate human laughter was made by Plato around 375 B.C. Subsequent speculations concerning this extraordinarily complex, intriguing phenomenon have given rise to a sizable literature of scattered remarks, opinions, observations, and specialized studies. Over a period of nearly two and a half millennia, numerous theories of laughter have also seen the light, yet none of them offers definitive, unambiguous answers to the questions they raise. Cicero and Quintilian must have sensed the formidable, Sisyphean nature of laughter research early on when they declared, some two thousand years ago and independently of one another, that the problem of laughter had not yet been solved.

The timeless accuracy of such a pessimistic assessment prevails, as does indeed the puzzle of laughter itself. One frustrated modern commentator, having surveyed the important findings of his predecessors in the field of laughter research, deems it fitting and appropriate to conclude his lengthy review with a paraphrase of Chekhov’s dictum about the inscrutable nature of love and to apply it to the enigma of laughter: “Up to now but one incontrovertible truth has been said—it is a great mystery.”

Since the possible causes of laughter are infinite, they can never be described or analyzed in toto. Laughter research itself is, moreover, inevitably hampered by the ceaseless changes and constant fluctuations of everyday life: a fluid, kaleidoscopic setting where neither prolonged nor repeated analyses of concrete instances of laughter can be undertaken. In sharp contrast, representations of laughter in a realistic work of fiction are amenable to scrutiny. Because they are created for specific purposes, one should be able to glean their meaning from context.

A widely acclaimed masterpiece, F. M. Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment (1866) contains over three hundred descriptions of and many additional allusions to human laughter and smiling. Taken collectively, these form a system. The purpose of . . .

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