Sunday, 25 November 2012

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (5/5) [re-read]

The back says: Crime and Punishment is one of the greatest and most readable novels ever written. From the beginning we are locked into the frenzied consciousness of Raskolnikov who, against his better instincts, is inexorably drawn to commit a brutal double murder. From that moment on, we share his conflicting feelings of self-loathing and pride, of contempt for and need of others, and of terrible despair and hope of redemption: and, in a remarkable transformation of the detective novel, we follow his agonised efforts to probe and confront both his own motives for, and the consequences of, his crime. The result is a tragic novel built out of a series of supremely dramatic scenes that illuminate the eternal conflicts at the heart of human existence: most especially our desire for self-expression and self-fulfilment, as against the constraints of morality and human laws; and our agonised awareness of the world's harsh injustices and of our own mortality, as against the mysteries of divine justice and immortality.

Translated by: Constance Garnett

I say: I have just re-read this for my Existentialism course, and even though I wasn’t in the mood for being inside of Raskolnikov’s head, I was genuinely surprised at how easily I was drawn into the story. Obviously it was nothing new to me, but I still found myself noticing a few things and thinking harder about others this time around – probably because I now have to write an analysis of it, but even so.

I can’t say that it was better this time around, it was just different.

One of the reasons I love Dostoevsky is because of the psychological elements of his novels; they’re all so much more than just a story; they make you think about life and morality and how you relate to it. Understandably I had existentialist ideology in my head while reading it, and it’s fascinating how often and extremely Raskolnikov changes during the course of the novel. He goes from anger to pride to indignation to sorrow to remorse to glee to pretty much every human emotion possible, and I found myself both loathing and loving him in equal measures. I loathed him for his conceit and I loved him because I understood him and his inner struggle.

Essentially he loses everything he thought himself to be.

Reluctantly, mind you, but who among us would give it all up so easily?

It’s a weird concession to make but I love the depiction of the poor in old Russia – and not in a romantic way, but in a sordid form of fascination. The way Dostoevsky describes the old, dirty and torn clothes, the meagre diet, and the inability to really pull yourself out of a slump once you’ve fallen deep enough. It’s like a sad love song to me and I simply cannot get enough of it.

Another thing I can’t get enough of is all the discussions they have about life, politics, the law, and crime and punishment (zing). Dostoevsky creates characters that represent different philosophies and pegs them against each other forcing the (attentive) reader to, not so much take sides, but acknowledge and (hopefully) address their own beliefs in the discussions.

Well, I could go on and on about this but shall refrain from doing so as I have a paper to write. I knew the first time I read Crime and Punishment that it would be one of the books that I will continue to return to my entire life as so much of your interpretation depends on where you currently are in life. You take different things with you every time you read it, or you deepen your convictions and begin to look at the world in a different way. And yes, this did significantly rock my world the first time I read it, and now it’s once again made me think hard about my life philosophy (and it doesn’t help that I’m analysing Kierkegaard and Sartre as well).

This is a masterpiece of epic proportions.


  1. I haven't read C&P for ages but I recall it being quite draining energetically because of all the emotions and the way you feel them so strongly as you read. Since you mentioned an interest in poor people in Russia, Dostoevsky also wrote a story (novella) called "Poor Folk" that might be of some interest to you if you haven't heard of it or read it already. It's free on Project Gutenberg. :)

    1. You're right, it can be a bit draining - Raskolnikov's thoughts just go on and on at times, I just want to shake him and tell him to get over himself. And I read Poor Folk some years ago, and I thought it was ok. It had all the elements of poverty, but I wasn't too intersted in the old man who fell in love with/obsessed over the young woman. At least that's how I remember it.

      And I love Project Gutenberg and - they're my first go to places for classics, and I only tend to buy the ones that aren't there, which are quite a few since copyright lasts 75 years.

  2. Oooh, I'm reading this at the moment and I'm like 'THIS IS SO HARD' but at the same time I'm enjoying it, and ALSO I'm very very pleased that you've said that it's better/different on a new reading because I definitely feel like it would be- I feel like this time round I'm just taking in the story and trying not to form firm opinions about anything, whereas next time I think I'll definitely have more FEELINGS about things.

    This is a way inarticulate comment for such a blog post. My apologies!

    1. Oh no, don't think of it as hard or try to get something out of it, it'll just spoil everything. Read it as you would any novel, just like you're currently doing. I think the reason a lot of people fear classic Russian literature is because they expect a lot from it and they fear that they might be missing out if they don't get everything the first time they read - I honestly don't think you're supposed to get everything the first time. Not unless you stop at every paragraph and analyse it properly - and who has time for that? Even as we discuss this in class people bring up points I never considered and I love that - there are so many layers.

      Sorry, I could go on and on about this (as you can tell) and I look forward to reading your review when you're done. It all really comes together in the end :)