Determined to overreach his humanity and assert his untrammeled individual will, Raskolnikov, and impoverished student living in the St. Petersburg of the Tsars, commits an act of murder and theft and sets into motion a story which, for its excruciating suspense, its atmospheric vividness, and its profundity of characterization and vision, is almost unequaled in the literatures of the world.
The acclaim in which I held this book for so long made me a bit tentative about going back to it fifteen years later, but I am so glad for having done so. I can be more open now about the writing style in comparison with other great works I have read since; it is, without a doubt, a nineteenth century text, and one whose reading requires a great deal of investment--not work, per se, but close attention. And yet, the deeper meanings of the novel stand out in even sharper relief to me than they did on the first go. I find myself taking the perspective of each of the characters, not just Raskolnikov, and marvelling at how well Dostoevsky brings each of them to life with a psychology and a spirituality that is uniquely and realistically their own. I find myself more critical of the themes of the novel in view of my own understanding of Christian truth, yet more desperate than ever to piece together how and when, for Raskolnikov, his actions and his understanding combine into a coherent whole. And I find myself more appreciative than ever that the author does not gloss over the evil realities of life, but instead explores the heights of Christian redemption through the depths of the harshest sins, and does not permit his characters to slip painlessly into a happy ending, but demands, as God does of us, that they persevere for years in a growing understanding of His truth. This is the Christian fiction I wish more Christians could be bothered to aim for--not the heartfelt world of Amish farms, well-behaved children, and sexually pure courtships, but the far more compelling world of real people with real problems, getting life wrong, falling into the depths of despair, finding faith, and continuing to live in spite of their pain (not without it) simply because of some faint understanding in the bottom of their consciousness that there is one more reason out there not to give up hope. It is the fiction that would birth the C.S. Lewis and the Flannery O'Connor, as well as inspire a multitude of non-Christian authors who, in spite of not sharing the author's or the main character's views, would sense the significance of allowing their characters to be shaped by events and not simply molded by predestined happy endings. It is a book that seems to touch on my own psychology and heart more as I grow older and more experienced with disappointment and struggle. And though the mystery faded considerably after the first read, it is, because of all these things, still my all-time favourite book.
"Brother, brother, what are you saying? Why, you have shed blood?" cried Dunya in despair.
"Which all men shed," he put in almost frantically, "which flows and has always flowed in streams, which is spilt like champagne, and for which men are crowned in the Capitol and are called afterwards benefactors of mankind... If I had succeeded I should have been crowned with glory, but now I'm trapped."
A surprising book. A book whose reputation overshadows it with those dreaded words "a worthy classic". A book of social commentary, a discussion of philosophy, of morality and justice, a plea for the Christian faith. But it’s also a playful crime novel, a crime of The Why, a wry look at art of catching criminals and with the number one genre attribute: a gripping plot. It is also beautifully written; discussion and descriptions slip of the page and their gems lurk in your brain. It is far too easy a read for such a chewy book.
“It would be interesting to know what it is men are most afraid of. Taking a new step, uttering a new word is what they fear most.”
Of course it's not without its faults, Personally (and though open to interpretation) the epilogue with its religion as a panacea felt a like a let down to the topics explored, a simplistic choice God or Nihilism. Sexism is endemic, although female characters abound they all lean towards self sacrificing end of the spectrum (yes Sonia is the embodiment of self sacrifice but every female character?) Racism is littered throughout too with throw away anti Semitic comments and for some reason a dislike of Germans. I can ignore these things, there is too much good stuff to take away but it depends on your sensitivity.
Where is it?" thought Raskolnikov. "Where is it I've read that someone condemned to death says or thinks, an hour before his death, that if he had to live on some high rock, on such a narrow ledge that he'd only room to stand, and the ocean, everlasting darkness, everlasting solitude, everlasting tempest around him, if he had to remain standing on a square yard of space all his life, a thousand years, eternity, it were better to live so than to die at once! Only to live, to live and live! Life, whatever it may be!... How true it is! Good God, how true! Man is a vile creature!... And vile is he who calls him vile for that," he added a moment later.
Overall highly recommended. Ignore the overly academic introductions and essays and dive right it, take away what you will and most of all wallow and enjoy (unless you’re a Nihilist)
The book's central character is Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, an impoverished student. The first part deals with the "crime" of the title, his axe murder of an elderly pawnbroker and her sister. He tells himself he could do a lot for people with her money--a "greatest good for the greatest number" sort of argument--and that he needs to test his mettle as an "extraordinary" man, such as Napoleon, who can "dare" step "over the barriers" and thus be beyond the law (the aspect that reminded me of Nietzsche). The next five parts deal with Raskolnikov's "punishment." His internal punishment as he's lashed by his conscience and his fear of discovery. The first part I found suspenseful and a fascinating psychological study of the mind of a murderer, even though, in many respects, Raskolnikov came off as sympathetic. He can be kind and generous--leaving charity anonymously; he's insightful and sensitive when he intuits the nature of the man who wants to marry his sister from his mother's letter. Although right from the first, I was struck, and a bit repelled, by how vividly Dostoevsky represents the terrible squalor surrounding Raskolnikov. All about him is greasy and ragged, stained and frayed and hopeless. There is humor, but it tends to a black hue. That dark atmosphere only increased through the book; the terrible cruelty of what Dostoevsky puts his characters through is hard to take. Raskolnikov becomes harder and harder to take too. An essay in the Norton Critical edition I read states that a Russian word, dostoevshchina, is derived from the author's name that means someone difficult, perverse, or who has "an excessive and morbid preoccupation with" their "own psychological processes." And boy, that sure describes the increasingly unbearable Raskolnikov.
Although I found much of Dostoevksy's anti-Enlightenment message deplorable, I couldn't help but be struck by the novel's philosophical and psychological richness. Another of the essays in this edition says that the pawnbroker could be seen as representing the bourgeoisie, and her murder thus a condemnation by Dostoevsky of using violent means in their elimination in the name of the people and thus a condemnation of what the Bolsheviks would do decades after the novel was published. Reading this novel published in 1865, one can see the intellectual broth out of which Soviet Russia emerged decades later. The novel has also been seen as a critique of nihilism and a forerunner of existentialism. The use of dream imagery made me think of Freud. I was more put off by what Dostoevsky seemed to hold up as an ideal than what he condemns, as embodied by the meek Sonya. She may be a "fallen" woman and sinner, and in her way Raskonikov's female counterpart in transgressing moral and social boundaries, but she's also a devout Christian and a redemptive figure. She's a prostitute who sold her body to feed a stepmother who was abusive to her and the alcoholic father who uses the money she has made that way to go on drunken binges. Though I wouldn't say Dostoevsky approves of Sonya's choice to prostitute herself, he seems to suggest both her suffering and her willingness to thus debase herself for others is ennobling. I had a similar negative reaction to actions of Dunya, Raskonikov's sister, who also prostitutes herself in a self-sacrificing way in accepting a marriage proposal to help her family. To be fair to Dostoevsky, he does seem to suggest that despite their good intentions, both women would have endangered their soul had they continued on their course. Nevertheless, I did find miserable and malignant the sense that self-abnegation, renunciation, a cringing and self-effacing humility and the embrace of irrationality and suffering constitute the "good."
I'll say this though, I never found the novel dull. Annoying in places given Raskonikov's increasing histrionics, often depressing, and with a rather lame and unconvincing redemptive ending, but never dull. And so many scenes and characters are so vivid I feel they'll be etched in my mind forever. I wouldn't call this novel a favorite, too dark for my tastes and too antithetical to all I value, but it's masterfully written and thought-provoking.
There is not much that is pleasant in the world of Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov. Following his planned murder of the pawnbroker Alena Ivanovna and the subsequent murder of Lizaveta , the sister who stumbles into the scene of the crime we are propelled through his swirling half mad mind.
In a series of set pieces he attempts to rationalise and understand his behaviour whilst simultaneously dealing with the usual criminal issues of guilt, paranoia and abjection.
Murder, alcoholism, mental illness, child cruelty, domestic abuse, etc, etc Dostoevsky minutely examines each and more through the characters that swirl around Raskolnikov in his 19th Century Petersburg.
Go on, immerse yourself in the depravity and inertia that is the mind of Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov.
The author has also illuminated and underscored the premise that to suffer, is good. He is right. Would Spring be so welcome if we had no Winter? The guile the author gives the characters is amazing considering this is a novel of the 19th century. That said, this book is such an easy read compared to the fright I had upon beginning it.
The murder occurred at the very beginning of the book and proceeded which was Raskolnikov's meticulous planning and "rehearsal" of the perfect crime. He would paid a visit to the pawnbroker, made careful notice of the setup of her apartment, listened for the pitch of the notched key she used to unlock the chest, and sewed a piece of cloth inside his waistcoat to hold the axe. Whether the crime was destitute-driven, the origin of his action could be diffuse and was somehow associated with certain morbid sensations. Indeed Raskolnikov subsequently conferred on his theory about the psychological state of a criminal's mind throughout the entire process of committing the crime. In his audacious "ordinary vs. extraordinary" statement, the latter could commit the most atrocious crime to whom law did not apply. To Raskolnikov, the morbid theory justified the act of committing atrocious acts upon morally corrupt individuals (the loutish, loathsome, filthy old moneylender woman per se) for the benefit of society.
The rest (five-sixths) of the book dealt with Raskolnikov's psychological aftermath of his crime-the intermittent moments of remorse, the excruciating physical suffering (seized with fear that he might give away his murder in his delirium), the howling of his own conscience, and the to-confess-or-not-to-confess struggle. Indeed Raskolnikov's own qualms of conscience had given him away-that investigator Porfiry infallibly identified Raskolnikov as the murderer by employing psychological tactics to play with Raskolnikov's mind. Porfiry contemplated that no less cruel was the punishment from one's own conscience. It was the formidable suffering that led Porfiry to purposely send an artisan to the street and randomly accused Raskolnikov of murder, to make him panic. That's why he wouldn't worry about arresting him imminently.
An interesting notion that kept repeating throughout the novel was redemption. Raskolnikov might have found his redemption through Sonya, a downtrodden prostitute who prayed and read the bible. But Sonya herself was asking for mercy and redemption for her own sin to which Raskolnikov deemed as moral suicide. Sonya's father Marmeladov in his deathbed asked for forgiveness and died in Sonya's arms. Svidrigailov, the landowner in whose home Raskolnikov's sister Dunya was ill-treated, offered to cover the cost of Katerina's (Sonya's stepmother) funeral and endowed each of the children with 1500 roubles to be paid on their maturity. In a sense, Svidrigailov hoped to find redemption of his sin (the killing of his wife and servant) through a good deed.
Not until in Siberia did Raskolnikov truly begin his repentance. One would be mistaken to think Raskolnikov had felt remorse for his crime when he confessed to Sonya. At that point all he did was nothing but recounting the whole murdering event, from the rehearsal, the timing, and the actual murder from which he was emotionally detached. He simply wanted to make the dare and thus never availed himself of the pawnbroker's treasures. It was the Devil who killed her, he claimed. It was the kind of theory; the sort of argument that said a single villainous act was allowable if the central aim was good. Whether he truly found redemption from his depravity and perversity would be left to readers' judgment.
A gloomy, melancholy, and taut air hovered above the entire novel and the language of which could become overwhelming and awkward at times. The plot itself was not so much suspenseful as the most jolting event took place in the beginning. What really gripped my mind were the conflicting emotions of fear, guilt, remorse, and courage. Whenever he was haunted, Raskolnikov would search his memory for some hints he might inadvertently gave away evidence of his crime. You might question how Dostoyevsky could penetrate the mind of a murderer so thoroughly and verbalize those freaky delirious thoughts. Every single character in the novel exerted some sense of agitation which, again, permeated throughout the book. The persistent destitute chased after Sonya's stepmother who already suffered from tuberculosis and hacked up blood. The children starved for days and were forced to perform street dance and begged for money. The inebriated men consumed huge amount of alcohol and paid numerous visits to brothels and indulged in debauchery. The most repugnant of all was Pyotr (Luzhin) who took advantage of women's glooming poverty and wielded the constant reproach over them that he had done a favor, making them forever indebted to him. He would manipulate in hope that Dunya and her mother would fall out with Raskolnikov out of his slanderous remarks. His would slyly slip a 100-rouble note into Sonya's pocket, falsely accused her stealing the money among a ghastly audience, and hopefully made her feel indebted to him.
Crime and Punishment is not an easy book to read. You will be rewarded with a sense of fulfillment that is so promising when you manage to finish. No sooner when you open the book than it provokes your mind. The whole novel is about morbidity that gives rise of a serious crime. That means you have to persevere with the psychotic nature of a murderer. It is impossible to do justice of all the implications and historical meaning underlying in this book with just a few paragraphs. Do read it for yourself.
Characters: These are the true glory of the book. Down to the smallest side character they're superbly sketched and individualized, and their thought processes are laid out with enough detail for the reader to easily follow them. None of the characters are truly likable, but they are understandable, which is more important.
Style: It's a difficult read. Epic and wordy, the story meanders about and sometimes goes off in unexpected directions with page-long discussions of an idea. It doesn't excuse any inattention from the reader. The Garnett translation used to be the established standard.
Plus: It's an amazing character study.
Minus: At times it's an ordeal to go through it, with the last page being the goal in mind.
Summary: It's a great book, but one that demands attention, stamina and patience from the reader. I found it a harder read than The Brothers Karamasov, but equally rewarding.
I think that this book is best explained by drawing parallels between hypnosis. Specifically, I'm referred to the fractionation technique of taking subjects in and out of deeper and deeper trances (comparable to his gradual increase in paragraph length), the dissociative technique of attributing key statements to others (comparable to the epistolary nature of the early books of the novel) and the response anticipation of making someone wait for key information (comparable to prolonged, repetitive discussions between Raskolnikov and the inspector and the general theme of waiting to be discovered). In summary, I believe from my reading of this, The Brother's and Notes that Dostoyevsky's prose style is that of a verbal hypnotist.
One thing that stands out in my mind now that I'm reflecting back after several years is the dream with the beating of the horse and the man that kept saying, "I own it, it's my property!" And maybe this is a small complaint that I have: This dreams seems to be an allusion to an argument against capitalism and in favor of an impending political revolution but how can the theme of crime and punishment intermesh with a general political theme of that time such as anti-capitalism?
It's also interesting how he made me care so much for Raskolnikov. This novel does an excellent job of describing the ideas behind ambition, even misguided, petty ambition.
I don't think I've ever come across a book quite like Crime and Punishment. Usually, I can at the very least quickly classify a book in the broad terms of "I liked it" or "I didn't like it." Crime and Punishment doesn't really fit in this paradigm. I can't tell you if I liked it or not, because I don't know. In fact, it almost defies description at all. Nevertheless, I will say what I can about Dostoyevsky's novel.
The basic plot centers on a young man named Raskolnikov who commits a double murder early on in the story. The rest of the book details the slow, agonizing punishment of that crime, which for him is an internal battle between his intellect, which says that he has done no wrong, and his conscience, which informs him that what he did was in fact very wrong. His internal strife slowly eats away at Raskolnikov to the point where he confesses his crime and is sent to Siberia for hard labor. While in Siberia, his suffering for his misdeeds reaches a climax, and as a result he finds redemption and is reanimated as a person. His soul is restored.
The positive elements of the book are several: First, there are multiple scenes which evoked strong emotional reactions as I read. Dostoyevsky had an amazing ability to write viscerally. Second, the novel displays (accurately, in my view) the destructiveness of adhering to a false worldview. Raskolnikov came close to breaking down throughout the story, precisely because he could not reconcile his worldview with reality. Conversely, the author represents well the transformation or regeneration that occurs with true repentance--a lesson that will forever ring true.
There are several negative elements of the book, though. As is typical with Russian literature, it is a heavy, long read. I personally could not say that I enjoyed reading it, but while hard, it was worthwhile. (Perhaps it is the literary equivalent to eating one's vegetables?) In addition, Dostoyevsky had several side stories that dealt with the current events of the day--events with which I was completely in the dark. I admit, this is probably more of a commentary on myself than the book, but since I am not in academia and have precious little time to read as it is, it makes little sense for me to study up on such details just to read a book.
Overall, I am just not sure what to do with this book. It speaks to the reader on multiple levels and contains much that is good, but it was not particularly a "good read" in the sense that it was not a book I would recommend to curl up with next to a fire. Reading it was more like running a marathon without knowing where the finish line was. On balance, I am rating this book 3 stars, which I freely admit may reflect more on me than Dostoyevsky's classic work.
This novel was almost too long to preserve all of the personality traits assigned to R. and the people around him. I remember once focussing on how he felt about Sonia, the prostitute daughter of a drunk he meets once in a bar and gets told the drunk’s entire life story. Then it shifted to the relationship between himself and his mother and sister. His feelings towards his sister are almost identical to those he has towards Sonia. Both women are pure at heart and only he can save them from the world.
What I can’t understand is how caught up in and utterly slaves to emotions these people are. R. cannot do anything because he’s paralyzed by a series of emotions he cannot get under control. Rage. Self-loathing. Guilt. Outrage. Anger. All of these plague R. and he cannot act with any will of his own. Maybe that’s why he was deranged.
One example I remember of how screwed up and detached from reality R. is when he accidentally on purpose gets run down by a street coach or carriage. The people who hit him want to give him money and he eventually accepts it only to literally throw it in the river shortly thereafter. Unbelievable! He is destitute and wearing rags and hadn’t eaten in God knows how long, and he throws the money away.
Another example is that he fails to use the money and trinkets he steals from the old woman. Part of his reason for killing her is that he will free this fortune from the old woman and use it for good. The end justifies the means. After all his rationalization, he doesn’t have the resolve to do what he said he would do. The money he would get from killing her would go to good works and be much better used in the grand scheme of things than it would be if it stayed with the old woman who was mean and would never do good with her money. All she propagated was more despair and misery.
Derangement is maybe a family trait. Dunya his sister is pursued by a slightly twisted man name Svidrygaylov. When he lures her into his chambers alone and tries to rape her, she pulls a gun on him and tries to shoot him. She misses. Instead of trying again, she lowers the gun and completely surrenders to S. Is she nuts?
Anyway, the end is of course in Siberia (he takes forever to confess but in actual time it’s only a few months). He has confessed and is sent to a workhouse. Sonia follows. Dunya and his friend R. also follow and marry and live in a nearby town. His mother dies of a brain fever or something.
I don’t understand the wrestling with emotions and the lack of will power to act. I guess it was a different time and place than here but, it seemed like R. wasn’t the criminal he was supposed to be. He only killed the old woman to see if he could commit a murder. He admits that to Sonia or Dunya. I wish D. would have made the old woman act like the evil harridan that R. makes her out to be. What I get is just R’s opinion of the pawnbroker from only his interaction with her. I would have liked to see the pawnbroker cheating or humiliating other people who came to her with pledges. The way it was written, we only have R’s opinion of how unjust and cruel she is and I don’t trust R’s opinion since he seems to have no reason, just emotion.
Another thing that I wish would have been different was how much time was devoted to the most intricate details of everyone’s life. I think that if that level of fine focus was only centered on R and his immediate circle, the book would have been more understandable and the threads in the story easier to keep track of. It’s the minutiae that obscures the main plot and theme of the story for me.
I hated Rodya, yet I sympathized with and pitied him; I held my breath for him right to the bitter end, even as I was hating him for being selfish and gloomy.
This was the easiest, most engrossing Russian novel I have yet read; the most intense, and the most aching.
Who couldn't admire Sonya, and Dounia for being so noble? Who could not admire Dmitri Prokofitch for being so loyal and so simple? Or Profiry for being so observant and devious? Truly a wonderful array of characters; an immensely enjoyable read for anyone with a love of the human mind.
However, due to the truly impressive style and depth added by the author, the book and characters left a lasting imprint and one that I've enjoyed looking back on, like the good books often cause one to do.
Story writers use this. I don’t think I have ever heard anyone in real conversation begin a sentence with “Why,…..
“Why” is a question. It is the prefect word to ask a question with. ( I do believe Winston Churchill is claimed to have written the shortest ever diplomatic letter, which contained only the one word “Why?”)
Used at the beginning of a sentence, with no question mark, it means nothing, just the waste of a word.
To me, it denotes that the story writer is only “story writing” and probably has not noticed that in real life conversations “Why,….” is rarely, if ever, spoken that way. It belongs only in fiction and on the stage.
This serves to remind me constantly that the speaker is not a real person, just someone on a stage. It is this knowledge that detracts and spoils the believability of otherwise excellent characters in the plots.
So, only five stars from me ! Without the above I would have awarded this work ten. Get it ! Read it yourself.
His characters are all very philosophical and all discuss their philosophies, mostly externally, but at least internally through narration with the reader as a motivating factor for their actions. As an intelligent and open minded reader, these philosophical diatribes on things that actually matter and could apply to a modern reader's day to day life can be very enlightening. His ultimate philosophical claims don't matter nearly as much as how he and his characters reach them and their dialogues on these issues can still be extremely enlightening and opening to any belief system, portraying legitimately good and bad arguments for all kind of belief systems, in a strict religious sense, but also in the political spectrum, and other general philosophies on morality. Basically, these dialogues serve as amazing food for thought. When I first read Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov years ago, it made me question religion and be more open-minded in regards to religion, and ultimately made me more conservative morally and generally respectful of Christians and their beliefs and helped me see the amazing beauty of Christianity and its implications.
Don't think though, that Dostoevsky's work is all moralizing and edifying though. His writing style is very simple, somewhat similar to Charles Dickens, and the narrative structure is very straightforward and completely linear. His works are very easy when given a chance, and that ties in greatly with how he manages to merge elements of genre fiction into some fine literature. His two main well known epics (out of a total 5 massive novels he wrote) are Crime and Punishment, and the Brothers Karamazov, and both infuse elements of suspense fiction and detective/crime fiction creating a very quickly moving narrative that manages to keep the reader on his toes while still delivering philosophical debates and other things of that nature.
This is all also tied in with Dostoevsky's total sincerity. His works are very sincere, and almost completely lack irony. They feel very trusting and confiding in the reader and don't try to trick you as a reader or see how clever Dostoevsky is, like a lot of literary fiction really doesn't. This sincerity allows readers of Dostoevsky to form strong ties to his characters through seeing them as ultimately broken people, but very real people, through seeing and connecting with both their actions and their reasons for them, in their philosophies. These connections allow me, and presumably most readers of Dostoevsky, to see these characters as real people that could be alive today. These connections also affect me personally as the Brothers Karamazov hit me so hard that it completely solidified my interest in psychological fiction, because I wanted to read more of them in this lifetime, after seeing the beauty and power of literature that can be carried in these amazing texts like most of Dostoevsky's work.
-Ken from NY