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Suicide And Related Behaviour In Dostoyevsky Novels

Saxby Pridmore, William Pridmore


Objective: To examine the presentations of suicide and related behaviour in the novels of Dostoyevsky, with a view to understanding suicide in mid-19th Century Russia, and to use this as a point of reference when reading 21st Century western academic suicide literature.

Design and setting: Dostoyevsky’s three most prominent novels, Crime and Punishment, The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov were examined for the text events, 1) completed suicide, 2) suicide attempts, 3) suicidal thoughts, and 4) other mentions of suicide. Findings were compared with current orthodox Western medical literature.

Results: In Dostoyevsky’s Russia suicide occurred not infrequently and the methods were hanging, shooting and drowning. The triggers were predominantly social factors (in contrast to the current time when the triggers are reported to be predominantly mental disorders). Attempted suicide appears to have been less common than suicide, and limited to occasions when others thwarted deadly actions (in contrast to the current time in which overdose and cutting are frequently encountered). Suicidal thoughts were common among the healthy population (which is in agreement with some current findings).

Conclusions: Dostoyevsky’s novels suggest that in mid-19th Century Russia, suicide was not uncommon and the main methods were similar to those of the current time. The triggers were depicted as mainly social/economic factors (rather than mental disorder). Attempted suicide has changed much. Suicidal thoughts appear common in both time periods, and frequently appears in the absence of mental disorder.

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Suicide; Suicide Prevention; Mental Disorder

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