You’ll never guess what they did before television, (and it’s not what you think!)

Early on in ‘Crime and Punishment’ , Raskolnikov receives a letter from his mother revealing how unjustly treated his sister Dunya has been, while working as a governess. Dunya had sent an advance on her wages to her brother to help ease his financial struggle but soon after, her employer, Mr Svidrigailov, made plain that he was interested in more than her childcare proficiency. Trapped by the debt, she couldn’t leave, so she was forced to put up with his harrassment as best she could.

When Svidrigailov’s wife, Marfa Petrovna overheard her husband pleading with Dunya in the garden and she blamed his flirtation on her.  Marfa not only dismissed Dunya, but actually hit her, had Dunya and her belongings thrown into a cart and driven home in the pouring rain for all to see.

In the absence of anything interesting happening ever, local tongues were not slow latch on to such juicy gossip, with the result that Dunya and her mother were publicly shamed, and couldn’t even attend church due to the audible whispers of the congregation. Even close friends started to avoid them. Marfa Petrovna had shared her woes with so many listening ears that the tale was the talk of not only the town but the district, too.

In an uncharacteristic act of generosity, Svidrigailov owned up, redeeming Dunya’s reputation in the process. He showed his wife a letter Dunya had sent him, in which she firmly rebuked him for his attention and reminded him that he was a family man. On realising her mistake in blaming Dunya, Marfa immediately apologised and begged forgiveness.

That same morning, wasting no time, she went straight from us to all the houses in town, and in every one of them, in terms most flattering to Dunya, shedding floods of tears, re-established Dunya’s innocence and the nobility of her emotions and behaviour. Not only that; she showed and read aloud to everyone that letter Dunya had written in her own hand to Mr Svidrigailov, and even allowed people to make copies of it which I consider is going a bit far). thus it was that she had to spend several days going round to everyone in town, as some people began to get offended that others had been shown preference, and thus it was that queues began to form, so that in every house people were waiting for it to be their turn, and everyone knew that on such-and-such a day Marfa Petrovna would be reading that letter in this house or that house, and present at every reading of it would be even those people who had already heard the letter several times in their own homes and those of their friends.

So, in the absence of television, what did people do for entertainment? They enacted their private dramas in the public eye, like a quasi ‘Jeremy Kyle’ live confessional, but on tour – coming soon, to a sofa in the comfort of your neighbours’ parlour!

I think it’s fair to say that television chat-shows haven’t dumbed down the population, the idiocy was already there.

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