For today I read Crime and Punishment. Unfortunately my copy of Top Ten has walked off again so I can’t tell you exactly which authors liked it. However, there were at least five. I do remember Joyce Carol Oates was one of the authors that picked Crime and Punishment, because I really love a lot of what she writes so it left an impression.
Okay, so I’ll admit, I never really got the complete adoration some people have for Russian literature. I read Anna Karenina by Tolstoy and while it was a pretty amazing story, Tolstoy would go off on so many tangents and rambling story lines that it didn’t speed along. But after reading Crime and Punishment, I get it. Dostoyevsky wrote a book that is also quite long (though not quite as long as Anna Karenina, I think). But Crime and Punishment remains well paced, and any plot that comes along that you wonder “What? Why is this thrown in there?” ends up tying into the major plot in some well placed way.
Crime and Punishment is about a young man, a prior law student, who becomes ill. It’s left to theorize whether his actions were born of the illness, or whether the illness was born out of the thought processes leading to the actions and the action themselves. Raskolnikov, the main character, ends up in the first part of the book murdering a pawnbroker and her sister. The pawnbroker is the intended victim and he sees her as pretty reprehensible. The sister, a sweet lady, is a mistake. He then falls quite ill. His friends take care of him. When he finally comes to, he is in a state of paranoia about what he said and did while quite ill.
Crime and Punishment is about so many different things, so many themes run through it.
1. The role of forgiveness in Christianity, and a rebirth. In fact the book ends with the following:
“”Nor did he open it now, (speaking of a New Testament given to him), but he thought: “Can her beliefs not be mine, too? Her feelings and aspirations at least…”
“At the time he did not know that a new life had not been given him for nothing, that it would have to be bought dearly, that he would have to pay for it with a great deed in the future…
That is the beginning of a new story, though; the story of a man’s gradual renewal and rebirth….That would m ake the subject of a new story; our present story is ended.”
I paraphrased from the last two paragraphs above, as some of it would give away more of the story than I think needs to be known by those of you that haven’t read the book.
2. The rationales that we give ourselves for our “misdeeds”. An individual can talk themselves into almost anything. Raskolnikov talks himself into believing that he is above the law, that he wants to know if he would be like Napoleon and obliterate anything that got in his way to success. He convinces himself that the pawnbroker is a horrible person, a louse, and as such was okay to kill.
3. Whether our good deeds can outweigh our bad. Throughout the book, Raskolnikov is always helping people in need. With his own money or money given to him by others. He attempts to help a drunken young girl he sees on the street from getting attacked by a creepy man following her. He helps a man he meets in a bar who tells him the sad story of his life. He helps a widow of a man who is killed. It comes out later about even more people he had helped prior to the story. The question becomes, does this general character of his outweigh the murders he commits, as he ends up saving people from destruction?
4. The role of personal responsibility for our actions. I won’t go into detail here, but this covers not only Raskolnikov, but a wealthy man that his sister worked for as well. Also, a fiancée of his sister and the wretched thing he does.
The book does have hope in it, it’s not the complete gloom and doom that people tell you Russians are just full of. But, it does have more than its fair share of the doom and gloom.
I definitely have to count this in my list of the things I’ve read for the blog that I am completely satisfied I read. The translation I read is by Sidney Monas. I’m not sure how any other translations stack up comparatively, but I highly recommend this one.
One last thing, Crime and Punishment has all these heavy ideas and themes. But in some other ways, there is a definite mystery in here. Granted, the reader knows the “whodunit” part of it quite well already. But, the why (which I didn’t fully divulge) and whether he will be caught or not, Dostoyevsky definitely keeps you on the edge of your chair with.