13. Hands Up!

Ruki vverkh! / Hands Up!
Paris: Litt. Ferrier, [1910?]

This comic postcard dates from the early twentieth century, and clearly demonstrates the obsession with criminality, from crime stories to sensation journalism, that emerged in the Russian Empire in the wake of Alexander II’s judicial reforms. From the 1864 introduction of jury trials, those accused of crimes were tried in courtrooms that journalists could access, and the Russian reading public – including Dostoevsky – was fascinated by newspaper accounts of dark deeds and guilty confessions. The increased popularity of crime fiction in Russia during the late imperial period is no coincidence, but directly related to more public legal proceedings. Narrating a criminal’s thought process, the novel Crime and Punishment played directly into this trend.

This card also demonstrates the difficulty of finding the story behind some ephemera. While the three posed figures are clearly shown, their setting is a nonspecific urban one. The electrified streetcar provides a clue, but by 1910 nineteen cities in the Russian Empire boasted the form of public transit. On the reverse, the stamp has been removed, and the message makes no mention of the image; the translation of the caption, ‘Hands up!’ on the front of the card into German is in the same hand.

Dr Katherine Bowers

Extended captions