great insults in literature

"You vile Prussian chicken leg in a crinoline!"

I re-read Crime and Punishment partially because my artchatpodcast buddy Emory Holmes II had mentioned that, despite his brilliance, Dostoevsky was a bigot, particularly an anti-Semite. I did not remember that. I did remember being very affected as a young woman by the speech of the Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov, a call to personal responsibility I thought then. I also remembered reading The Idiot one summer on the beach, Spanish Banks in Vancouver.

So in my re-read, I was on the lookout for bigotry. I did not find too much explicit antisemitism, but there were three instances. In the first, Razumihkin, a poor intellectual who is devoted to Raskolnikov and in love with his sister, Dunya, describes Luzhin, the man who wants to marry Dunya as "not a man of our kind. Not because he came with his hair curled by a hairdresser, not because he was in a hurry to show off his intelligence, but because he's a stool pigeon and a speculator; because he's a Jew and a mountebank, and it shows."

In the second instance, the so-described character, Luzhin, who tried to seduce his intended with money, asks himself, "Devil take it, why did I turn into such a Jew?"

In the third obvious instance, near the end, a soldier named Achilles watches the approach of the spurned Svidrigailov (another hopeful re Raskolnikov's sister Dunya). "His face bore that expression of eternal, grumbling sorrow that is so sourly imprinted upon all faces of the Jewish tribe without exception."

During the same period in which I was reading Crime and Punishment, I watched a BBC series, "The Way We Live Now," based on an Anthony Trollope novel. Antisemitism was addressed through the character of a girl desperate to marry, and not uninterested in the advances of a pleasant Jewish banker, until she learned that while he might be able to solve her family's money problems, he expected her to mother what she called "his Jew children". To me Trollope's own attitude was clear in that he made the Jewish character more likeable than the characters who wanted to associate with him only for his money.

In Dostoevsky it is less clear. Raskolnikov is such an idealist. It's one reason for his crime in the first place. He abhors the way pawn brokers exploit the poor. Yet, both the sympathetic (Razumihkin) and the non-sympathetic characters utter statements that expose their antisemitism.

The Wikipedia article on Dostoevsky states:
"He supported equal rights for the Russian Jewish population, which was an unpopular position in Russia. He stated that he did not hate Jewish people and was not antisemitic. He claimed that Jews might exert a negative influence, but he advised the Tsar to allow them to occupy influential positions such as university professorships. The antisemitism label does not reflect his expressed desire to reconcile Jews and Christians peacefully in a universal brotherhood of mankind."

Interestingly, Dostoevsky and Trollope were contemporaries. Dostoyevsky died in 1881, the start of the pogroms in Russia, and Trollope died in 1882, before Jewish refugees fleeing Russia settled in England and competition for space and work fostered the kind of bigotry that typically arises in such situations.

As for Crime and Punishment, however, the worst insult in the book may be the one Katarina Ivanovna directs to her landlady, Amalia, who, confusingly, has the same surname. Ah the names in Russian novels!

"You vile Prussian chicken leg in a crinoline!" shouts Katarina to Amalia, a German immigrant. Shortly after, the raving Katarina dies of consumption.