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1 Beaverton Literature- A to Z

Crime and Punishment

by

Crime and Punishment Cover

 

 

Excerpt

From Priscilla Meyers Introduction to Crime and Punishment
 
In Russia prose fiction came into its own in the 1830s, centuries later than in Western Europe. The first Russian work that can be called a novel, Mikhail Lermontovs A Hero of Our Time, was published in 1840; Fyodor Dostoevskys masterpiece of world literature, Crime and Punishment, appeared only twenty-six years later—a remarkably compressed development. Dostoevsky was aided by his intense reading of Victor Hugo, Honoré de Balzac, Johann Goethe, and other masters of European literature, while the extraordinarily dramatic events of his life—arrest, imprisonment, a death sentence, four years in a labor camp, exile from the capital—were part of the experiential basis for his thought about the philosophical, social, and religious issues of his time.

Russian censorship restricted discussion of social and political questions, which could be treated only indirectly in prose fiction. Russia was governed by an autocracy; there was no bourgeoisie, and the small educated class was cut off from the rest of the (largely illiterate) population. Serfdom was abolished only in 1861, as part of the reforms effected by Alexander II; his legal reforms introduced trial by jury in criminal cases in 1864. Dostoevsky implicitly comments on the reforms in the investigation, trial, and sentencing of Crime and Punishments protagonist, Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov.

Dostoevsky began writing Crime and Punishment as the confession of a young criminal. But in November 1865 he found the first-person narrative too constricting, and he burned the entire manuscript and began again in December, completing it a year later. The third-person narrative of the final version creates an interplay between Raskolnikovs consciousness and the narrators viewpoint: At some points the two are in dialogue with each other; at others the narrator is within Raskolnikovs mind, so much so that he conveys the heros internal dialogue. On the first page the narrator tells us, “[Raskolnikov] was hopelessly in debt to his landlady and was afraid of meeting her. This was not because he was cowardly and browbeaten, quite the contrary.” It is as if in the second sentence Raskolnikov is defending himself against the narrators charge of cowardice in the first.

Raskolnikovs dual consciousness governs the structure of the entire book. In part one he oscillates between resolving to commit murder and renouncing his vile scheme; in the next five parts he alternates between asserting his right to murder and his anguish at having cut himself off from everyone by his act. These alternations reveal the conflict between Raskolnikovs prideful intellect and his compassionate nature, which we see in his first dream, based on a childhood memory, in which he kisses the muzzle of a poor mare that is being beaten. In part one he twice acts on generous impulses, and each time subsequently disavows his acts with a rational argument: He leaves money on the Marmeladov familys windowsill when he brings the drunken head of the household home, but then thinks, “What a stupid thing Ive done . . . they have Sonia and I need it myself”; and he tries to help a seduced girl but then suddenly regrets it—“What is it to me?” In another alternation, he renounces his plan to murder the pawnbroker after he dreams of the mare, but then overhears the conversation in Haymarket Square that presents him with a perfect opportunity for his crime.

American readers have seen this duality as a kind of schizophrenia in the psychological sense, and Dostoevsky certainly explores that dimension of human ambivalence. But Russian readers see another aspect crucial to Dostoevskys concerns: the religious argument present in the smallest details of the novel. Raskolnikovs name, not a common one, is Dostoevskys invention, based on the Russian word raskolnik (schismatic), one who has broken off from the church. The Russian Orthodox Church, which had undergone a schism in the seventeenth century, is a descendant of Greek Orthodoxy. Russians in the nineteenth century distinguished themselves from Western Europeans in part through their Eastern Christianity. They contrasted the more mystical tradition of the Orthodox church to the Western, Roman Catholic one, which they held to be legalistic in the tradition of Roman law and devoid of the spirit of Christian love they considered characteristic of the Russian peasantry, a spirit that united the Russian church and created a national religious community. Raskolnikovs patronymic (the fathers name that Russians use in the place of a middle name), Romanovich, suggests that he has cut himself off from Orthodoxy and embraced a Western (Roman) worldview, characterized by faith in reason and a focus on the material world.

This opposition of Russian spiritual values to Western rationalism underlies the duality of Raskolnikovs personality. This conflict was Dostoevskys deepest concern after his release from prison, at a time when Russian radicals began propagating Western ideas that Dostoevsky believed were based on a false vision of human nature. Raskolnikov is one of the bright young men from the provinces who has come to the capital to attend the university, where he is exposed to discussions of Western theories of economics and politics. These theories are based in a social-scientific approach that studies the material, knowable world using statistics and mathematical calculation—as in, for example, the enlightened self-interest and utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806–1873). The author of Utilitarianism (1863), Mill considered the goal of social legislation to be to provide “the greatest good for the greatest number,” calling it a “felicific calculus.” Dostoevsky takes up these ideas through the character of Peter Petrovich Luzhin, Raskolnikovs prospective brother-in-law, who argues for enlightened self-interest: “Up until now, for instance, if I were told, love thy neighbor, what came of it? . . . It meant I had to tear my coat in half to share it with my neighbor and we both were left half naked.” Raskolnikov reduces this parody of economic theory to its essence: “If you carry out logically the theory you were advocating just now, it follows that people may be killed”—in other words, that human compassion can be replaced by economic utility and enlightened self-interest. Luzhin, whose name comes for the Russian word for puddle (luzha) embodies the economic principle, the primacy of monetary relations in social thought; he provides one of the ideas that influences Raskolnikovs thinking. One of Raskolnikovs initial reasons for his crime is (murkily) associated with the “good” of redistributing the pawnbrokers wealth to the poor.

Product Details

ISBN:
9781593080815
Translator:
Garnett, Constance
Translator:
Garnett, Constance
Translator:
Salkovskaya, Juliya
Author:
Meyer, Priscilla
Author:
Garnett, Constance
Author:
Dostoevsky, Fyodor Mikhailovich
Author:
Fyodor Dostoevsky
Author:
Rice, Nicholas
Author:
Salkovskaya, Juliya
Author:
Dostoevsky, Fyodor M.
Publisher:
Barnes & Noble Classics
Subject:
Classics
Subject:
Saint petersburg (russia)
Subject:
Crime - Russia - Psychological aspects
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Subject:
LITERATURE - LIT CLASSICS TRD PB
Edition Description:
Trade Paper
Series:
Barnes and Noble Classics
Publication Date:
20070231
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Y
Pages:
576
Dimensions:
8 x 5.19 x 1.44 in

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Crime and Punishment Used Trade Paper
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Product details 576 pages Barnes & Noble Books-Imports - English 9781593080815 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by ,
The first of Dostoevsky's masterworks, Crime and Punishment presents the powerful story of Raskolnikov, who reasons that intellectually "superior" men like himself can and must transcend conventional moral law. To test his theory, he devises the perfect murder. What follows is a nightmare world of bitterness and torment, and one of the most gripping crime stories of all time.

"Synopsis" by , Dostoevsky's characters are unbelievably, almost painfully fleshed out, leading the German romantic philosopher Friedrich Netzsche to proclaim: Dostoevsky [is] the only psychologist, incidentally, from whom I had something to learn; he ranks among the most beautiful strokes of fortune in my life. In addition to the tormented killer Raskolnikov, Crime and Punishment introduces Porfiry, the brilliant investigator assigned to the murder case, and Sonia, a despoiled but pious woman devoted to Raskolnikov. Through his interactions with these two apparent opposites, Raskolnikov confronts his conscience, and learns that only through suffering can one find true happiness.
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