Crime and Punishment read-a-long week 10 to the end

Read-a-long

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.

Crime and Punishment read-a-long weeks 8 and 9

Read-a-long

The Crime and Punishment read-a-long is hosted by Wallace over at Unputdownables. In weeks eight and nine we read from part 4 chapter 6 to the end of part 5 chapter 4. The official discussion posts are over at Unputdownables.

As always, this discussion will contain spoilers, so only read on if you don’t mind/have already read this far (or further).

Raskolnikov seems to be vacillating wildly over the question of confessing to the police. He even goes to see Porfiry at the police station and seems on the verge of giving in to his provocation when someone else turns up to confess to the murder. But he knows and the police know that the confession is false so it’s only a delay, not an end to his torment. As Porfiry says:

“If I leave one gentleman quite alone, if I don’t arrest him or worry him in any way, but if he knows, or at least suspects, every minute of every hour, that I know everything down to the last detail, and am watching him day and night with ceaseless vigilance, if he is always conscious of the weight of suspicion and fear, he is absolutely certain to lose his head. He will come to me of his own accord.”

Luzhin is currently coming across as a far worse character than Ras. He’s willing to ruin Sonya, and therefore make Katerina and her children even more destitute than they are, just to score a petty point against Ras and have a slim chance of getting Dunya back.

The scene between Sonya and Ras was incredible. One moment I was completely on side with Ras and thinking their fledgling love was beautiful and heartbreaking, then the next moment I’m reminded that he’s a cold-blooded murderer trying to rationalise what he has done. Here is a selection of quotes from Ras:

“I wanted to make myself a Napoleon, and that is why I killed her.”

“I only killed a louse, Sonya, a useless, vile, pernicious louse.”

“Whoever is most audacious is most certainly right…power is given only to the man who dares stoop and take it. There is only one thing needed, only one – to dare…I wanted to have the courage, and I killed.”

“Did I murder the old woman? I killed myself, not that old creature! There and then I murdered myself at one blow, for ever!”

Crime and Punishment read-a-long weeks 6 and 7

Read-a-long

The Crime and Punishment read-a-long is hosted by Wallace over at Unputdownables. In weeks six and seven we read from part 3, chapter 4 to the end of part 4 chapter 4. The official discussion posts are over at Unputdownables.

We’re now more than halfway through! And I read all of this week’s allotted chapters in a single sitting, so it might just be getting…compelling?

Unavoidably, this discussion will contain spoilers, so only read on if you don’t mind/have already read this far (or further).

I loved the conversation between Ras and Porfiry. Their discussion of Ras’ article about “extraordinary” people was full of fantastic quickfire wit and humour. I’m still torn as to whether Ras considers himself extraordinary, or perhaps did consider himself extraordinary until he tried to be and failed? Or if he knew all along he wasn’t and accepts that his crime was just that. But was this lucid period too much for Ras? He immediately sinks back into a bad state.

“‘Any man who has [a conscience] must suffer if he is conscious of error. That is his punishment – in addition to hard labour.’
…’But the real geniuses, those to whom you have granted the right to kill, ought surely not to suffer at all, even for the spilling of blood?’
…’There is no question either of permitting or of forbidding it. Let them suffer, if they feel pity for the victims. Suffering and pain are always obligatory on those of wide intellect and profound feeling. Truly great men must, I think, experience great sorrow on the earth,’ he added, suddenly thoughtful, as though to himself.”

Ooh, the stranger who calls Ras a murderer – considering all the references to ghosts in the following few chapters, was Ras just seeing things? Or is there really another character to be added to the cast list?

And what about Svidrigaylov? Was the imminent journey he referred to death? That was my immediate assumption.

Is it honourable of Ras to break off from his mother and sister and leave them in Raz’s care? I thought so. Raz has a plan, they have money coming; association with Ras will only bring problems and pain.

“I myself am, perhaps, even worse and viler than the louse I killed, and I knew beforehand that I should tell myself so after I had killed her! Can anything compare with such horror? Oh platitudes! What baseness!”

Now, Ras seems to be on the verge of something. Confession? Suicide? His conversation with Sonya veers wildly between compassion and complete lack of it, like he’s studying her to write an academic paper.

Crime and Punishment read-a-long weeks 4 and 5

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The Crime and Punishment read-a-long is hosted by Wallace over at Unputdownables. In weeks four and five we read from part 2, chapter 5 to the end of part 3 chapter 3. The official discussion posts are over at Unputdownables.

As always, this discussion will contain spoilers, so only read on if you don’t mind/have already read this far (or further).

So Raskolnikov’s friends have become much more interesting, complicated characters. Razumikhin in particular has adorable puppy love for Dunya and gives a great rambling drunken speech about lying:

“Do you think I am annoyed because they talk nonsense? Rubbish! I like people to talk nonsense. It is man’s unique privilege, among all other organisms. By pursuing falsehood you will arrive at the truth! The fact that I am in error shows that I am human. You will not attain to one single truth until you have produced at least 14 false theories…You can talk the most mistaken rubbish to me, and if it is your own, I will embrace you! It is almost better to tell your own lies than somebody else’s truth; in the first case you are a man, in the second you are no better than a parrot!”

Raskolnikov, after weeks of being an ass to his friends and family, showing kindness only to strangers, has now suddenly apologised for his behaviour. Is he being sincere? The narration suggests not:

“‘You’re in a very sentimental mood today, aren’t you?’ exclaimed Razumikhin. If he had had more penetration he would have seen that it was very far from being a sentimental mood, but something like the very opposite. But Avdotya Romanovna noticed it. Her eyes followed her brother with anxious attention.”

But what he is finally sounding like is the intelligent law student we had been told he was. Certainly his honesty is still questionable (though in the light of Raz’s speech above, can he perhaps be lying for the right reasons?) but his delirious state has passed, if indeed it was ever as bad as his friends thought it was. Interestingly his mother and sister are afraid of him and he knows it and even confronts them about it. Is it just the memory of seeing him delirious that scares them or is there something basic in his character that they know to be afraid of?

Crime and Punishment read-a-long end of week three

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The Crime and Punishment read-a-long is hosted by Wallace over at Unputdownables. In week three we read from part 2, chapter 1 to the end of part 2 chapter 4. The official discussion post for this section will be posted over at Unputdownables but here are my thoughts.

I have now read further than I managed on my previous attempt, which is an achievement. However, though the text is more readable in this translation, I find main character Raskolnikov just as frustrating. I’m going to plough straight into the plot so here be spoilers.

I suppose I expected more of an insight into Raskolnikov’s mind than we have had so far. Maybe that’s to come. Or perhaps we’re supposed to infer his thoughts from his actions. But I am finding him inscrutable. Why why why does he turn down a good job offer, throw away money from his friend and try to reject money from his mother? Is he just ill, as his friends think? Is this a hypochondriac or even psychosomatic response to his fear of being caught? Or is it guilt/remorse? Certainly it seems to be all fear and no remorse.

Also, Raskolnikov has friends! Who really seem to care about him. Is he/was he actually a nice guy? Or are Razumikhin and Zosimov just extraordinarily nice people?

So many questions raised by this week’s reading! Which I think is a good sign. And for the first time in this novel I marked a quote that struck me:

“A new and irresistible sensation of boundless, almost physical loathing for everything round him, an obstinate, hateful, malicious sensation, was growing stronger and stronger with every minute. He loathed everyone he met – their faces, their walk, their gestures. He thought that if anyone were to speak to him, he would spit and snarl at them like an animal.”

Can you see why I am yet to be convinced I will ever like this character?

UPDATE: The official discussion post is now up.

Crime and Punishment read-a-long end of week two

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The Crime and Punishment read-a-long is hosted by Wallace over at Unputdownables. In week two we read from part 1, chapter 5 to the end of part 1. The official discussion post for this section is over here.

My main problem with the first week was that I was reading a terrible translation. Monday lunchtime I headed to the library and compared three translations and all of them were better than the one I had bought myself years ago. So be warned: avoid the old Penguin Popular Classics edition with no translator acknowledgement. I am now reading the Oxford World’s Classics edition translated by Jessie Coulson in 1953 and updated by Coulson in 1981.

Translation makes such a difference. I mean, I knew that in theory to be true, but I don’t think I have read a bad translation before. Even on just readability and interest, the first week I struggled to read 42 pages in a week. This week I started at the beginning again and easily read 83 pages in three days. I had to stop myself from reading ahead!

But there are so many subtleties that I have noticed. Over at Unputdownables there has been a lot of discussion about whether Raskolnikov is suffering from a mental illness such as depression, whether he is just an odd person, or maybe that his state of mind is a sane response to the world he lives in (though I think this week’s reading blows that one out of the water). Well, I couldn’t see what the debate was about because on page 1 of the Penguin edition it reads:

“It was not that he had been terrified or crushed by misfortune, but that for some time past he had fallen into a state of nervous depression akin to hypochondria. He had withdrawn from society and shut himself up, till he was ready to shun, not merely his landlady, but every human face.”

But the same paragraph of the Oxford edition reads:

“It was not that he was a cowed or naturally timorous person, far from it; but he had been for some time in an almost morbid state of irritability and tension. He had cut himself off from everybody and withdrawn so completely into himself that he now shrank from every kind of contact.”

Which I would still read as signs of depression, but it’s certainly less clear. They’re really very different readings.

As for the content of this week’s reading, well here be spoilers.

This would be the crime part of the story. Unless there’s further crime to come, that’s looking like a lot of punishment discussion. Because the crime was over pretty quickly. Of course, there’s the precursor dream of the horse, which actually describes the horror and gruesomeness of a very similar death in far more detail. And it’s interesting that in his dream it’s Raskolnikov who expresses horror at the horse’s death and yet the very next day…

There’s an odd mixture of premeditation and chance here. Clearly, Raskolnikov has had this murder in mind for a month and even made preparations for it, but they’re not very well planned preparations. For instance, it really is chance that he is able to steal/borrow a hatchet when the one he had had his sights on is inaccessible on the day. And he takes no bag or other means of carrying away the old woman’s treasure, which is supposedly the whole point, if we are to believe his ramblings about this being his escape from poverty.

As for his failing to lock the door behind him once he’s inside the old woman’s flat, is that poor planning, an understandable omission from a non-criminal or a lapse caused by his distracted, starved and half-crazed state of mind? If he’d only spent that money from his mother on food instead of unfortunate women would this crime have ever happened?

Hmm. I am both excited to read on and a little nervous because it’s this next section that I gave up on last time I tried to read Crime and Punishment, back in December. Fingers crossed the different translation continues to work its magic.

Crime and Punishment read-a-long end of week one

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The Crime and Punishment read-a-long is hosted by Wallace over at Unputdownables. In week one we read from the beginning to part 1, chapter 5. The official discussion post for this section is over here. However, I thought I’d expand on my own thoughts so far.

I’m finding it a slog. Already. I’m not sure if this is the grim subject matter (it’s super depressing) or the translation. I am reading a Penguin Popular Classics edition from 1997. The translator is not acknowledged at all, which is very poor. And a bit of searching on the Internet suggests it is not a respected edition. I may have to borrow a different translation from the library.

But back to the book itself. In this short section we meet Rodion Raskolnikov, who was a law student until he dropped out due to money troubles. We find him in a depressed state, not at all in his right mind, barely getting anything to eat and seriously contemplating committing some terrible crime that he thinks will solve all his troubles.

So far I am heavily reminded of Knut Hamsun’s Hunger, inasmuch as the setting is bleak and impoverished but the main character has clearly known a better life and perhaps that’s even why he isn’t dealing very well with poverty. He gives away money in random acts of kindness but then immediately regrets it. And of course the longer he goes without eating a proper meal, the crazier his state of mind becomes.

But Hunger I found compelling and so far I am not compelled by this. I don’t find Raskolnikov sympathetic. Sure he’s upset by seeing women reduced to terrible circumstances by bad or useless men, but he doesn’t even say as much out loud, let alone do anything to help. He has resolved not to let his sister accept a marriage offer, on the grounds that not only is neither party in love, but they don’t even like each other and the suitor has a worrying idea that rescuing a woman from poverty will make her indebted to him for life. However, said husband would indeed be able to save Raskolnikov’s mother and sister from poverty, not to mention give Raskolnikov himself a good job. Either he hasn’t heard of the phrase “beggars can’t be choosers” or he hasn’t figured out that he’s a beggar.

This is such a revered classic I am determined to keep going but I will have to see what the library has to offer in terms of different translations. It’s such a shame if that is my problem here.

Crime and Punishment read-a-long begins

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Today is the start of the Crime and Punishment read-a-long hosted by Wallace over at Unputdownables. After I tried and failed to read the Fyodor Dostoevsky classic back in December I really needed an incentive to try again, so this was brilliant timing.

If you fancy joining in, the sign-up post is here. We’re reading about 43 pages a week and the first discussion begins over at Unputdownables on Friday 8 February.

N.B. I am reading the Penguin Popular Classics edition from 1997. The translator is not acknowledged at all, which is very disappointing. I may have to borrow a different edition from the library if I don’t get on with this one.