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


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 He had withdrawn from society and shut himself up, till he was ready to shun, not merely his landlady, but every human face.”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 He had cut himself off from everybody and withdrawn so completely into himself that he now shrank from every kind of contact.”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.