I am wondering about what Dostoyevsky means by the word 'propaganda' in part six, chapter four of Crime and Punishment. None of the meanings that I understand make sense in the context of the book. Here are the quotes:

Once, after lunch, Avdotya Romanovna caught me alone on one of the paths in the garden and, eyes flashing, demanded that I leave poor Parasha alone. It was virtually our first tête-à-tête. I, needless to say, considered it an honour to satisfy her wish, tried my best to look stricken and abashed, and, in short, carried it off rather well. A relationship began: mysterious conversations, admonitions, exhortations, supplications, entreaties, even tears - can you believe it? - even tears! The things a passion for propaganda can do to a girl!

That is page 571 of my Penguin Classics edition.

Then I committed another stupidity. I set about mocking all this propaganda and oratory in the most vulgar way imaginable.

So what does he actually mean by propaganda here? And what does he mean when he said that he 'mocked' the propaganda?

  • 1
    Could you please add the translator's name? Is that David McDuff?
    – Tsundoku
    Jul 11, 2020 at 13:37
  • Mentioning the translator is a matter of correct attribution. Penguin has published at least two translation of Crime and Punishment: one by David McDuff and one by Oliver Ready.
    – Tsundoku
    Jul 11, 2020 at 17:20
  • С.И. Ожегов, Н.Ю. Шведова Толковый словарь русского языка ПРОПАГА́НДА, -ы, ж. Распространение в обществе и разъяснение каких-н. воззрений, идей, знаний, учения. Агитация и п. PROPAGANDA, -y, well. Dissemination in society and clarification of some views, ideas, knowledge, teachings. Campaigning, etc.
    – mkatkov
    Oct 20, 2020 at 3:36

1 Answer 1


The word "propaganda" at that time was not understood the way we tend to understand it today.
It is more or less safe to understand it based on its etymology, i.e. based on the verb "propagate" - propaganda: "A concerted set of messages aimed at influencing the opinions or behaviour of large numbers of people." - just remove the "large number of people" from this modern definition.

Dostoyevsky, or, rather, Svidrigailov uses this fancy word to express the idea that the girl tried all the ways she could think of ("even tears!") to get what she wanted.

PS. Unfortunately, all the links that I have to support my claim are in Russian. I'm not sure it makes much sense to provide them here. I'm adding this one (PDF file) just in case.


An excerpt from the original goes like this:

Раз, после обеда, Авдотья Романовна нарочно отыскала меня одного в аллее в саду и с сверкающими глазами потребовала от меня, чтоб я оставил бедную Парашу в покое. Это был чуть ли не первый разговор наш вдвоем. Я, разумеется, почел за честь удовлетворить ее желанию, постарался прикинуться пораженным, смущенным, ну, одним словом, сыграл роль недурно. Начались сношения, таинственные разговоры, нравоучения, поучения, упрашивания, умаливания, даже слезы, — верите ли, даже слезы! Вот до какой силы доходит у иных девушек страсть к пропаганде!

And the second occurrence is:

Тут я опять сглупил. Пустился грубейшим образом издеваться насчет всех этих пропаганд и обращений; Параша опять выступила на сцену, да и не она одна, — одним словом, начался содом.

I think I should add here that the word "пропаганда" (propaganda) here feels slightly odd even for a native Russian speaker. I can't really judge how this was perceived at the time the book was written. I suspect that it still did sound weird even then - so it might be a detail of the Svidrigailov's character. He uses some "fancy words", the meaning of which he might not be actually sure of.


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