Sol­dier, poet and… killer. France trem­bles in his wake!


When Fy­o­dor Dos­to­evsky be­gan work on his mon­u­men­tal novel, Crime and Pun­ish­ment (1866), there was one man whose story in­spired him above all oth­ers. That man was Pierre François Lacenaire, whose crimes were the genesis of Ro­dion Ro­manovich Raskol­nikov, the pro­tag­o­nist of Dos­to­evsky’s work.

Lacenaire was a sol­dier who dreamed of be­com­ing a poet. He de­serted his reg­i­ment and turned to a life of crime, fu­elled by ha­tred for a so­ci­ety that he be­lieved was evil in­car­nate. He be­gan with rob­bery but in 1834, joined an as­so­ciate in the mur­der of a fel­low crim­i­nal and his mother, suf­fo­cat­ing her with her own mat­tress be­fore steal­ing her pal­try sav­ings.

Fol­low­ing his ar­rest, Lacenaire filled his days writ­ing es­says and gave speeches about his crimes, say­ing that they were his per­sonal protest against an un­just so­ci­ety. The pub­lic cel­e­brated this po­etic killer all the way to the guil­lo­tine but it was Dos­to­evsky, haunted by Lacenaire’s story, who made him a lit­er­ary le­gend.

1858 il­lus­tra­tion show­ing the many bru­tal mur­ders of Pierre François Lacenaire and ac­com­plices

Lacenaire’s dandy­ish ways and eru­dite man­ner made him a pop­u­lar fig­ure de­spite his bru­tal crimes

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