The Forged Coupon Begets Evil

by Mikael

The Forged Coupon is a novella written by Leo Tolstoy and published (posthumously) in 1912. The story is set in 19th century Russia and has a number of interesting themes. Prominently we see how evil begets evil when the forgery of a coupon sets off a chain of ever worse events. This culminates in a series of horrible murders by a man named Stephan.

During the last of these murders, however, Stephan has a spiritual awakening which eventually causes him to reform. This sets of a chain-reaction of reformation, good deeds and proselytizing. Perhaps even the Tsar is influenced to be a better man, through an intricate series of causation. The story in its entirety is of course hillarious.

Here is my attempt at cataloguing the chain reactions:


[Visualization as PDF]
tolstoy-the-forged-coupon

The transcription of names into English is slightly different in different translations. I use the spelling in the Penguin Classics book quoted. A couple of Important characters are:

Mitya Smokovnikov, the 15-year-old boy who with the help of his friend Makihin forges a coupon in order to repay a small debt.

Stephan Pelageyushkin, who is at the center of the whole web, first becoming a murderer and then radically reforming his sinful ways.

Maria Semyonova, an altruistic old woman whose incredible goodness inspires a wave of religious reformation.

Mitya, Makihin and Maria are to some extent sources of good and evil while Stephan is at the center of the vortex.

It is not unlikely that I have overlooked important details or gotten something wrong. In this case I would be delighted to learn about it and make the necessary corrections.

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