Once I realised there were only just over 100 pages of this tome left, I couldn’t drag out reading it for another three weeks, as per the official schedule, so I read straight through to the end. Before I get to the spoilers for this final discussion post, I thought I’d write a few thoughts about the book as a whole.
For one thing, I still think I could have found a better translation. It has been interesting seeing excerpts quoted over at Unputdownables that were significantly different from what I had read. I started out reading the Penguin Popular Classics edition from 1997, which I found dull and depressing. I switched (or rather started over) to the Oxford World’s Classics edition translated by Jessie Coulson in 1953 and updated by Coulson in 1981 and initially found it a much better read. However, when other readers started raving about beautifully written or moving passages I looked at my edition and thought ‘Really?’. So there’s that.
The story seemed very slow. I mean, essentially, all the action happens in the early chapters, the rest of the book is the psychological effect of those actions. But there are a lot of characters and none of them is straightforward, in personality or in motivation, which makes guessing where the story is going quite tricky. There are a lot of intellectual discussions about not only crime and punishment, but also class, philosophy, love, society – there’s certainly a lot to get your teeth into. So while I didn’t find the story gripping, I did always find it interesting.
I would not say this was an instant favourite for me, or even highly ranked among classics I’ve read. I recognise it as a great piece of work but for me it was an intellectual exercise not an enjoyable read. I’ve heard it said that often people love either Dostoevsky or Tolstoy but rarely both, so perhaps I’d best give Leo a go.
And now for some thoughts on those final chapters. In weeks 10 and 11 I read from part 5 chapter 5 to the end. The official discussion posts will go up at Unputdownables every Friday. Unavoidably, the following will be pretty darned spoilerific.
There are so many characters who come across as just as or even more creepy than Ras, I had to keep reminding myself that he’s a murderer. But then in those moments when he tries to justify his murders a chill would go up my spine and I would, just for that moment, intensely dislike him.
“Although he judged himself severely, his lively conscience could find no particularly terrible guilt in his past, except a simple blunder, that might have happened to anybody… ‘What makes what I have done seem to them so monstrous?’ he asked himself. ‘The fact that it was a crime? What does the word mean? My conscience is easy…Many benefactors of mankind who did not inherit power but seized it for themselves should have been punished at their first steps. But the first steps of those men were successfully carried out, and therefore they were right, while mine failed, which means I had no right to permit myself that step.'”
Porfiry’s handling of Ras is clever if bizarre. He pretends friendship, pretends to have a scrap of evidence and pretends to enjoy debating the philosophy of murder and power just to persuade Ras that he must confess.
“His breath failed and he could not finish. He had listened with indescribable agitation while this man, who had seen right through him, repudiated his own judgement. He dared not, he could not, believe it. Eagerly he had scrutinized the still ambiguous words to find something more precise and definite.”
I thought from quite early in the novel that Ras would end up confessing, but I’ll admit there were times I was almost persuaded that instead he would run away or kill himself or even that a key piece of evidence or witness would turn up so that he could be arrested. However, there are increasing signs towards the end that Ras is headed for prison camp in Siberia.
“He wandered aimlessly. The sun was going down. A particular sort of dejection had recently begun to show itself in him. There was nothing violent or poignant about it, but it carried with it a premonition of perpetuity, weary, endless years of cold deadening depression, a presage of an eternity on a hand’s breadth of ground.”
Dunya doesn’t half attract some horrid men, huh? Although Razumikhin is completely lovely so at least she has him. But Svidrigalov, like Luzhin, goes to great lengths to make himself look better (and Ras look worse) to win Dunya. Of course, she is too smart to be fooled and Svidrigalov, unlike Luzhin, gives up when Dunya rejects him. And Dunya is of course one of two great positive influences on her brother (the other being Sonya). In fairness, Razumikhin tried to be but just couldn’t understand Ras well enough to help him the way the women could.
“‘It was to escape the shame that I wanted to drown myself, Dunya, but the thought came to me, when I was already standing on the bank, that if I had hitherto considered myself strong, then the shame should not frighten me now. Is that pride, Dunya?’
‘Yes, Rodya, it is pride.’
The almost extinct fire flared up again in his lustreless eyes; it was as though he were pleased that he could still be proud.
‘And you don’t think, sister, that I was simply afraid of the water?’ he asked, with an ugly smile, looking into her face.
‘Oh, stop, Rodya!'”
As for that epilogue – talk about redemption and the power of being loved by a good woman! It’s interesting that Sonya is that epitome of the good woman who is beloved by all, considering her background. But then, it seemed to me that at no point did Dostoevsky judge her or even her profession negatively. Those characters who tried to use it against her were all proved wrong for doing so. But of course Ras was also using her unfairly, right up to the last couple of pages.
“Do I love her? … Oh, how low I have fallen! No – I wanted her tears, I wanted to see her terror, and watch her heart being torn and tormented! I wanted something, anything, to cling to, any excuse for delay, some human being to look at!”
So that’s it. Finished. My detailed thoughts on the rest of the book can be found here. After a couple of extra short books as a reward I’m quite tempted to pick up another huge chunk of a book! Have you read Crime and Punishment? What are your thoughts on it?
First published in the Russian Messenger in 1866.
Source: Borrowed from the library.
Challenges: This counts towards the Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge.