Tuesday, June 30, 2009

114. Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoevsky

January 2008
History: First published in the literary journal The Russian Messenger in twelve monthly installments in 1866. It was later published in a single volume. It is the second of Dostoevsky's full-length novels after he returned from his exile in Siberia, and the first great novel of his mature period. Dostoevsky conceived the idea of Crime and Punishment in the summer of 1865, having lost all his money at the casino, unable to pay his bill or afford proper meals. At the time the author owed large sums of money to creditors, and he was trying to help the family of his brother Mikhail, who had died in early 1864.
Plot: Raskolnikov, a drop-out student, chooses to live in a tiny, rented room in Saint Petersburg. He refuses all help, even from his friend Razumikhin, and plans to murder and to rob an unpleasant elderly money-lender, Alëna—his motivation, whether personal or ideological, remains unclear. When Raskolnikov kills Alëna, however, he is also forced to kill her half-sister, Lizaveta, who happens to enter the scene of the crime.
After the bungled murder, Raskolnikov falls into a feverish state. He behaves as though he wishes to betray himself, and the detective Porfiry begins to suspect him purely on psychological grounds. At the same time, a chaste relationship develops between Raskolnikov and Sonya—a prostitute full of Christian virtue, driven into the profession by the habits of her father—and Raskolnikov confesses his crime to her. The confession is overheard by Svidrigaylov, a shadowy figure whose aim is to seduce Raskolnikov's sister, Dunya. Svidrigaylov appears to have a hold over Raskolnikov, but when he unexpectedly commits suicide, Raskolnikov goes to the police himself to confess. He is sentenced to penal servitude in Siberia; Sonya follows him, and the Epilogue holds out hope for Raskolnikov's redemption and moral regeneration under her influence.
Review: However famous and meaningful, I found the book to be dull. I understood it. And I got the angst behind the story, but I couldn’t relate to the main character. Had no sympathy, felt he was a loser from the start.
Crime and Punishment is a brooder of a book. It looks unsparingly at the lives of the desperate and destitute - comprising most its central characters - and sends them in circles around a very lonely and philosophically distraught young man who makes a terrible decision: murder. It isn't made in haste, but meticulously planned and carried out until the act itself is within his grasp, at which point it explodes in his face. Rather than empowerment, he comes face to face with reality: his less-empowered and certainly more human inadequacies.
The problem, however, is that the police aren't after him...or are they? He tries several times early in the novel to expose his crime, but barely arouses suspicion - if anything, people around him grow more and more concerned for his health. The irony is that it's after Raskolnikov's crime when everyone around him starts paying him visits and taking care of him - even though half the time he's flirting with madness and fever. It is during this purgatorial reprieve from justice - with the police as close as his friends - that he is drawn into the lives of those around him and takes pains to emancipate the weak from their burdens.
Characters sad and corrupt walk into his life, often literally, and draw him into their own. Vacillating between pity, outrage, and spiritual agony, Raskolnikov takes great pains to make amends with those around him, sensing that the payment for his earlier crime is hanging inevitably in front of him, whatever turn he takes. After all, if the noose is in the mind, there are no lands you can escape to.
Dostoevsky, who spent four years as a political prisoner prior to writing C&P, writes honestly about the souls of those who are defeated by the circumstances of life. The city to which the book is seemingly dedicated - albeit in a poison pen fashion - St. Petersburg, comes across as a Gothic cesspool of poverty and corruption.
Opening Line: “On an exceptionally hot evening early in July a young man came out of the garret in which he lodged in S. Place and walked slowly, as though in hesitation, towards K. bridge.”
Closing Line: “That might be the subject of a new story, but our present story is ended.”
Quotes: "If he has a conscience he will suffer for his mistake. That will be punishment-as well as the prison."
"I did not bow down to you, I bowed down to all the suffering of humanity."
Rating: Okay

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