#60. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Crime and Punishmentis a novel by Fyodor Mikhaylovich Dostoyevsky, a Russian author from Moscow who was obsessed with crime, criminality and vice. It was first published as twelve monthly installments to the conservative literary journal The Russian Messenger, run by his publisher Mikhail Katkov. The first installment made its debut in the January 1866 issue, and the twelfth, concluding the book, appeared in the December issue of that year. The Russian Messenger was also an outlet for the great Ivan Turgenev and Leo Tolstoy. While this is the second book following his incarceration in Siberia, it is considered to be the first masterpiece of the novels written after he matured and settled into his style. House of the Dead was the first written after his release from Siberia, and was based on his experiences while incarcerated. He was imprisoned in Siberia for five years for controversial politics. Despite it being one of the first books on Russian prisons, it was not well received. The change came when he decided to write about familiar things. Dostoyevsky was familiar with poverty and gambling, and he chose to stick to writing about things that he understood. Many of his characters, pre- but mainly post-incarceration, are polyphony and autobiographical, or, at least, semi-autobiographical. Within its covers you will find a “repulsive array” of crimes, from murder to child abuse, with a variety of victims.
During the summer of 1865 the seed of Crime and Punishment was sprouting, but was known as The Drunkards in the earliest stages. It was to address the complicated consequences of drunkenness, in all aspects of life, including family life, but more specifically on the children. At this time, Dostoyevsky owed large sums of money to creditors and was more often than not unable to afford proper meals. By this time his wife, Maria Dmitriyevna Isayevna (1864), and his brother, Mikhail Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky (July 22, 1864), had died. He became responsible for not only his step son Pasha, but also for his brother’s family. The drive to succeed intensified and he became more focused. The elements were not fitting neatly together and the story was not flowing smoothly. Dostoyevsky then focused on the case of Pierre Francois Lacenaire, and the sprouting seed transformed into Crime and Punishment, tracking Lacenaire’s crime to the letter, and the theme of drunkenness moved to a secondary position seen in the role of the Marmeladov family.
Dostoyevsky actually didn’t foresee a novel springing from this idea, but rather was focused on a short story or a novella, but as the protagonist developed and new characteristics emerged, he saw that the tale could no longer fit within the covers of a short story. He shifted to a unique third-person form, and 600+ pages later, Crime and Punishmentsprung from the pages! In the past, Dostoyevsky had avoided publishing anything in Katkov’s paper, but in great need of money, and nowhere else to turn he was forced to swallow his pride and approach Katkov. In a letter to him (September 1865), Dostoyevsky shared his ideas of his work, stating that the piece was to be about a young man who yields to “certain strange, ‘unfinished’ideas, yet floating in the air”; he had thus embarked on his plan to explore the moral and psychological dangers of the ideology of “radicalism”. According to letters written to Katkov in November 1865, Dostoyevsky finally realized that this was to be no short story, but rather a full scale novel.
As he returned to St. Petersburg from European travels, Dostoyevsky found himself behind schedule in both Crime and Punishment and The Gambler. A friend recommended the hiring of a secretary to assist in this monstrous commitment. After contacting Pavel Olkhin, a stenographer in St. Petersburg, he hired Anna Grigoryevna Snitkina, the Olkhin’s pupil. She was able to help him finish The Gamblerin 26 days, registering his dictation in shorthand. Crime and Punishment was kept on its monthly commitments to The Russian Messenger. Even halfway through its reign, it was successfully received by the readers. An anonymous reviewer wrote that “the novel promised to be one of the most important works of the author of “The House of the Dead”. Even Nikolay Strakhov, a conservative belletrist admitted that Crime and Punishment was a renowned masterpiece of 1866. Simon Karlinsky, a distinguished scholar of Russian literature proposes that Dostoevsky and Crime and Punishment is a Russian Rorschach Test in an essay, that it is written loosely enough to host a wide variety of interpretation by readers.
Dostoevsky was paid handsomely for his piece, but the 7,000 rubles he received for finishing Crime and Punishment barely paid off his debts. He would eventually marry Anna (February 15th, 1867) and would gamble away all her money.
While Crime and Punishment was written in a monthly issue format, (similar to what Charles Dickens frequently did), Soviet editors sought to reassemble and print the notebooks that Dostoyevsky maintained during the creation of the novel. This created a working draft of the original storyline in the novella form. Readers are able to access these through the Wiesbaden edition, the Petersburg edition, and the “final plan”. The Wiesbaden edition follows the aftermath of the crime in rough conjunction with the letters received by Katkov. The “final plan” introduces the shift from the typical first-person narration to the unique third-person form introduced by Dostoyevsky. This third person form, considered third-person omniscient, allowed him to create a smooth flowing feature and incorporate all his thoughts and ideas to round out the storyline. Dostoyevsky was pleased with the final draft, but there was a mysterious conflict between him and the editors of The Russian Messenger. It appears that the original manuscript turned in to Katkov was misplaced, and so the world may never know what was so objectionable about it.
The protagonist is Rodion Raskolnikov, an impoverished University dropout living in St. Petersburg, Russia. The novel centers around his mental anguish caused by the mental and moral dilemmas that surround a murder he commits. Earlier, in his university days, he wrote an article declaring that a certain category of people have the right to commit crimes providing that they are done in the ultimate benefit of humanity, for a higher purpose. He contemplates the murder of an old pawnbroker that he considers to be a parasite upon society. He reasons that he could be doing society two goods with her murder, the first being to remove the presence of vermin from society, and the second to utilize the money he acquires by the act towards good deeds. Before and after the murder, he views the vile act as a test of his hypothesis of the previously written paper, and ultimately justifies himself by comparing himself to Napoleon Bonaparte. This is a test, however, that he fails. We walk with Rodion, from the contemplation and completion of the murder, to the spiritual resurrection with the guidance of Sonia, the prostitute, to his incarceration in Siberia. We witness a man who is in complete control of his mind; break into pieces under the weight of his own guilt, and then reborn with new values and ideas. He has numerous blackouts or fainting spells that although attributed to the weight of guilt upon his mind, is not unlike Dostoevsky who suffered from epilepsy.
There is much to be said about translating a classic from one language to another, and reading a book from a different period. Without mentioning the supposed interpretations and “freedoms” that many translators are accused of, it’s fair to say that much is lost in that translation. The expectations of the typical 19th and 20thcentury readers include linear plots and systematic narration that reveals all. This can cause Dostoyevksy’s work to appear untidy to modern readers unaccustomed to pieces of that period. In his creative style, he assigned different characteristics in speech patterns and sentence lengths representative of each character, and this is considerably diminished with the translation. Also lost in translation is the significance of the novel’s name. In Russian, Преступлéние и наказáние is not equivalent to the English title Crime and Punishment. “Преступлéние” literally means“stepping across”, and relates to the image of crime as stepping over a boundary or barrier set up by society. This also has religious connotations, where the title refers to religious implications of a transgression, while English refers to it simply as a sin rather than a crime. We, the English readers, are also unaware of the meaning of the names he assigned each character. Following is an explanation for the more important characters in the story:
Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov is the lead protagonist and his name is centered around the Russian word “raskol” which means “a schism or split”. “Raskolnik” is a person “who splits” or a “dissenter”, which is what we see between from the beginning when he is in control of himself and in possession of his values, to later in the novel where he completely falls apart. The verb “raskalyvat” means “to cleave, to chop, to crack, to split, or to break”. This can be symbolic of the way he murdered the pawnbroker, or of the way his personality split up and fell to pieces.
The other names are not so in-depth, but should be mentioned:
Pyotr Petrovich Luzhin extends from the word “luzha” which means “a puddle”, a great way to explain the personality of the suitor of his sister. Dmitri Prokofich Razumikhin extends from the word “razum” which means “rationality, mind, intelligence, an excellent description of his scholarly friend. Alexander Grigorievich Zamyotov extends from the word “zametit”, which means “to notice, to realize, a quite precise description of the head clerk’s role in the conclusion of the investigation into the crime. Andrey Semyenovich Lebezyatnikov extends from the word “lebezit”,which means “to fawn on somebody, to cringe”. This is quite descriptive of his personality as he catered to Luzhin until the moment where Luzhin attempted to frame Sonia. Samyon Zakharovich Marmeladov extends from the word “marmelad”, which, obviously means “marmalade or jam”. A sweet indulgence is quite representative of the drunk who catered to, wallowed in, and indulged himself in his own suffering. Arkady Ivanovich Svidrigaïlov comes from the name “Svidrigailo”, who was a Lithuanian duke of the fifteenth century. This duke was locked in dynastic struggles with family, and, before his assassination, gave away his possessions. Arkady was locked in struggles with his late wife, and gave away his possessions before committing suicide. Porfiry Petrovich extends from the name “Porphyry”, and it is thought that the detective investigating this crime was possibly named after the Neoplatonic philosopher of Tyre, or perhaps the Russian “porphyra” meaning “purple or purple mantle”.
Suicide, poverty, human manipulation and morality are prevalent themes in Dostoyevsky’s writings. Prior to his incarceration, the main theme centered on interactions between the poor and the rich. Post-incarceration found his work laced with a more religious motif. Frequent references to crosses and crossings are scattered throughout the book. The cross is representative of Christianity and Christ’s suffering for the good of humanity and the greater good. It is first brought to our attention through Samyon Zakharovich Marmeladov, the drunk.
“Why am I to be pitied, you say? Yes! There’s nothing to pity me for! I ought to be crucified, crucified on a cross, not pitied! Crucify me, oh judge, crucify me but pity me?” (Part 1, Chapter 2, page 36)
According to Christian theology, Christ was void of sin, and could therefore be a vessel for the sins of the people. While Marmeladov was considered a sinner, he felt guilt, and suffered immensely, showing that he was not beyond hope. By begging to be crucified and suffering immensely (as Christ had), or in the very least proclaiming to WANT to suffer, leads him to believe that he will be forgiven in the afterlife.
Rodion also mentions Christ’s crucifixion in a roundabout way when, in response to the plan of his sister Avdotya Romanovna Raskolnikova (Dounia) to marry Pyotr Petrovich Luzhin , he retorts “Bitter is the ascent to Golgotha.” (Part 1, Chapter 4). He accuses her of offering herself up for his sins, making herself a martyr. He feels that he frees her from this path by murdering the pawnbroker. He never uses this thought pattern to justify his crime, though.
Sonia brings the most obvious cross references into the story. From her referencing the necklaces that were exchanged between her and Lizaveta Ivanovna, to her proclamation to Rodion that they will go together to Siberia:
“We will go to suffer together, and together we will bear our cross!” (Part 5, Chapter 4)
It is quite possible to feel that each had their own cross to bear, Rodion for his murder and lies, and Sonia for being a prostitute. It’s important to note that unlike her father, Sonia looked upon the cross as a symbol of possible redemption in this life, as well as the afterlife. Through this, it seems that Dostoevsky seems to be saying that suffering isn’t the destination that punishment is to lead, but rather redemption, and, ultimately, happiness. But for Rodion, this cross does not symbolize any sort of redemption, or anything close to what Sonia feels the cross represents. For Rodion, it denotes the thread of recognition of the sins he committed, the sins not only against society, but also against himself. It is, however, through Sonia, her interpretation of the symbol and her love that he will find his way back to humanity and ultimately save him. When Rodion and Sonia became engaged, she chose to use crosses instead of rings. Could this be representative of her devotion of her religion, or a result of her poverty?
The list of examples goes on and on. Upon searching for the word “cross” in the text of an electronic form of Crime and Punishment, the viewer will see that Rodion is consistently crossing something, a bridge, the street, the market, the room… Is this mere coincidence or symbolic representation of Rodion’s desire to cross into the desired new reality, or actual transition into various phases and new experiences?
Time is a major theme in the book, and it can walk hand in hand with another theme: versions of reality. As the book progresses, he becomes ill from the stress and guilt of his crime. He falls in and out of delirium, and loses track of time. Even when he is told the time, he immediately forgets.
“Sometimes he fancied he had been lying there a month; at other times it all seemed part of the same day. But of that – of that he had no recollection, and yet every minute he felt that he had forgotten something he ought to remember.” (Part Two, Chapter 3, page 82)
The dreams that he has during his feverish sleep demonstrate his conflicted conscience. The dream of the beaten mare shows a society that is both vile and unforgiving in the form of the group beating an unfit mare. (Was this Dostoyevsky’s nihilistic views peeking through the fabric of the storyline?) Rodion was very distressed at viewing this abuse but was powerless to do anything about it. Was this his conscience attempting to challenge his concept of justified killing? This very dream is mentioned again later when we learn that Sonia is essentially pimped out for the existence of the Marmeladov family as a direct result of Marmeladov’s inability to find and maintain work due to his alcoholism. Could the dream also be a foreshadowing of his crime? We can only speculate that the final dream sequence of the novel that Rodion has at the prison hospital, of a nihilistic plague a rearing snake of Dostoyevsky’s personal beliefs. Janko Lavrin, a war correspondent for Slovenia and professor of Russian literature during WWI era, deemed this final dream sequence as “prophetic in its symbolism”.
There is consistent reference to Napoleon Bonaparte throughout the text. It wasn’t so much the actual man that Rodion compared himself to, as it was the idea or type of man that Napoleon was, a superman who was above the moral rules governing the rest of humanity. Here was a man who was a powerful man that had Europe cowering at his feet. Despite the amount of blood that would forever coat Napoleon’s hands and the thousands upon thousands of deaths he was responsible for in his pursuit of power, he was a revered and celebrated man, even if it was after his death. It was this form of power that attracted Rodion, and he justified the murder of Alyona Ivanovna as steps towards this power; however, after the crime, this defense never withstands even his scrutiny. It is the conviction to belonging to this elite group that accompanies Rodion in his downward spiral with insanity, coping with the guilt and the reality that he has contradicted his true nature.
“I wanted to make myself a Napoleon, and that is why I killed her…” (Part 5, Chapter 4, the confession of Rodion)
America is an interesting symbol used by many authors of these specific decades. While the symbolic representations vary in specifics, the overall opinion seems to be a lawless land that will accept anyone and where they can disappear, if desired. During this time period in the United States, the Civil War was raging, and there was great upheaval in the average citizen’s life. Rodion says:
“They’ll find me, Razumihin will find me. Better escape altogether… far away… to America, and let them do their worst!” (Part 2, Chapter 3).
“But if you are convinced that one mustn’t listen at doors, but one may murder old women at one’s pleasure, you’d better be off to America and make haste” (Part 6, Chapter 5).
Does Rodion feel that in America one’s right to privacy outweighs the rights of the victim? Is it some distant paradise, as unknown as, let’s say, Australia is to the typical American? America becomes a climatic point for Arkady Ivanovich Svidrigaïlov when sees that his life is going nowhere. At this point, he has unforgivably disrespected Dounia, and, after attempting to shoot him, she tells him that she could never love him. He is betrothed to a juvenile, comparable to a child molester. Running a parallel course as Rodion, he is suspected of murder, although more than one. He looks to do the greater good, with his charitable acts of giving money. He gives a sizable contribution to the Marmeladov children that enter an orphanage, three thousand rubles to Sonia, and the remainder being bequeathed to his juvenile fiancé. He loses track of time in feverish dreams, and finds himself at the gate of a grand house. As he approaches the guard, a small staccato dialogue ends in Svidrigaïlov’s suicide. Perhaps he realized that the paradise land that America represented was unobtainable by the likes of him.
“‘When you are asked, you just say he was going, he said, to America.’ He put the revolver to his right temple.”(Part 6, Chapter 6).
While only mentioned once, the prison hospital is a pivotal symbol. Throughout the period of guilt, the prison is never something feared, but rather a step forward towards redemption; however, at the prison, he still became ill. It is made quite clear that the source of the illness is not prison life, but rather the inmates, of which is an outcast. When he was admitted into the hospital, he viewed it solely as a place of healing. This is the first time he’s been a place whose one purpose is to heal. It is here that he dreams about a virus and ideas. It is through the window of the hospital that he sees Sonia, and realizes and acknowledges that he indeed is in love with her. This change in attitude alters his perception of his place amongst the other inmates, whether it actually changes or the changes are in his mind, it is unclear. You may point out that he had indeed been seen by a doctor earlier in the book, but it must be remembered that he was in his loft room, a place that assisted in bringing about and perpetuating his sickness to begin with.
Other secondary symbols should be mentioned. Saint Petersburg, a city unrelieved by poverty, and its problems, are connected, in Dostoyevsky’s mind, to Rodion’s thought patterns and subsequent actions. It is a dirty city, filled with drunks, abuse, inequities, prejudices and deficits. It is only through his confession that Rodion can escape not only his guilt-induced insanity, but also the clutches of this merciless city. The color yellow is used to represent suffering and mental illness, from Sonia’s yellow ticket to the walls of rooms of both Rodion and Alyona, the pawnbroker. Interesting enough, the Russian term “zholti dom” literally translates to “yellow house” and is applied to Russian lunatic asylums.
This book appears on the following lists:
#60 – BBC 2003 Big Read and BBC Top 100 Books List of 2011
#27 – BBC Top 100 Books List of 2012 #21 – TheGreatestNovels.com
Best 100 Novels of All Time
GoodReads Books Everyone Should Read