Reading Dostoyevsky to own the libs

A weird thing happened to me on Twitter the other day…

I’m participating in a Crime and Punishment read-along on Booktube this month. I’ve been dutifully tweeting my observations, but the readalong doesn’t really have a Twitter presence, so I’m mostly tweeting into the void. I might get a pity like from Michael, if I’m lucky.

Then one of my C&P tweets got retweeted by Ben Shapiro.

The main thing I knew about Ben Shapiro before all this is that he doesn’t like WAP. The new things I learned about Ben Shapiro are that he has 3.2 million followers on Twitter, and that he retweets constantly, so my mentions were a mess, but only for a couple of hours.

Let’s back it up a bit and figure out what the heck happened, and what I was trying to do with my tweet, which was not really intended for the masses!

How a niche Crime and Punishment tweet goes (barely, not really) viral

My tweet caught the eye of Wesley Yang, who I either followed after reading a scathing review of his book, The Souls of Yellow Folks, in Bookforum, or, as part of my attempt to spice up my Twitter timeline by following some cancelled and cancelled-adjacent people (I did this just before the Harper’s Letter, and so many of them signed it, it’s all I heard about for weeks!). Wesley retweeted it to his 35K followers, one of whom is Mr. Facts Don’t Care About Your Feelings, who retweeted it again.

It only amassed 333 likes, 53 retweets, and 4 quote tweets (and just one random DM) but half a million people saw it in their timeline, and 50,000 clicked to see the whole screen shot. Yes, I was too chicken to actually quote tweet it.

I assume that my use of the phase “woke friend” caught their eyes, which is funny, because I had typed out Lebezyatnikov’s full name, but then I though it needed an accent on the a and I was too lazy to copy and paste one, so I substitued “woke friend”. Why was I talking about wokeness alongside Crime and Punishment? It makes sense, trust me…

The story behind the tweet

On October 11, a twitter thread about “sexual mutual aid” was a hot topic. I’d been tweeting for a few days about how much the conversations in Crime and Punishment remind me of some of the woker corners of Twitter, and here was a prime example. The salient part of the Twitter thread is in the screen grab above, and here’s a passage from Part V Chapter I of C&P (Katz translation), in which clueless Boomer Luzhin is teasing woke Millenial Lebezyatnikov about his relationship with Sonya, a prostitute:

“So, what of it? In my opinion, that is according to my personal conviction, that’s exactly the more normal condition of a woman…In today’s society, of course, it’s not altogether normal, because it’s forced on her, but in the future it will be completely normal because it will be freely chosen. Why, even now, she had a right: she was suffering, and that was her fund, so to speak, her capital, which she had the absolute right to expend. Naturally, in a future society, there’ll be no need for such funds; but her role will have a different meaning, organized harmoniously and rationally. As fas as Sonya Semyonova herself is concerned, at the present time I regard her actions as a vigorous and personal protest against the social order, and I respect her deeploy for it; I even rejoice in looking at her!”

It struck me how feminism, communism, and sex work were hot topics in the 1860s, and still are today. Hence my tweet.

Now, I’m not up on my Russian history enough to tell you whether Dostoyevsky was satirizing Lebezyatnikov’s views, merely drawing attention to them, or agreeing. Judging by my metions, many of Mr. Shapiro’s followers assumed I was satirizing or otherwise criticizing these views, but I don’t have much of an opinion on the modern context of sex work under communism either. (If you want to hear the original Twitter user opine at length, here you go.)

Back to our regularly scheduled programming

Now that the hoopla’s died down, I’m back to my regular tweets about my kids, Brit Pop, and book twitter drama. Meanwhile, Mr. Yang is tweeting about Trump, the election, and getting cancelled, and Mr. Shapiro is tweeting about Trump, the election, and getting cancelled. Plus รงa change.

My takeaway from all this is that I finally surpassed my previous most-liked Tweet, from when I got added to a Twitter moment about Jake Gyllenhall’s appreciation for Sean Paul, which honestly, is more on brand for me.


  1. Cathy746books

    I always get very anxious when tweets go bigger on twitter than I anticipated – not that it’s happened to me very often. It makes me realise how awful a full on Twitter storm must be if you are in the eye of it.

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