Category Archives: Crime and Punishment

Crime and Punishment: Read from February 26 to March 12, 2013

Never have I had such a love / hate relationship with a novel.

To be fair, there wasn’t anything I necessarily hated about Crime and Punishment, rather, there were just so many times I was frustrated with it. In an earlier update I made as I was reading this I compared the book to jazz and as a precursor to novels such as ‘Manhattan Transfer’ and the modern art movement. I still stand by that statement but I feel Dostoyevsky’s novel was more of a fitful start to the ‘modern’ movement and that it would take a much more conscience effort by later writers to really improve this style of novel writing.

Of course, Dostoyevsky didn’t set out to write the first ‘modern’ novel, but he was reacting to modern life and the freedoms that come with it. And that’s the odd thing about this book – the freedom that suffocates our characters. True, most everyone in the book is wretchedly poor and thus shackled by poverty or alcoholism or pride or some other wicked vice, but they’re free to decide how to behave in such a setting. Everyone is bothered by regrets; except Sofia (the hooker we never see turn a trick and who has the now over-done ‘heart of gold’ trope) but they’re all regrets that were of their own conscience making. They chose to kill, or be lecherous, or terrible in some other way and they knew it and they all regretted it. There was no one to guide them – everyone in authority was either non existent or corrupt in some way – and so this ‘modern’ world has to be navigated blind.

And that’s the problem. All this freedom is stifling. Nobody knows what to do. Nobody knows if they even have free-will. Nobody has an identity – except, of course, Sofia. Raskolnikov kills two people just to feel something, anything, to see what he’s ‘made of’, what his place in society is and when he gets to Siberia he finally feels free because he now knows his place. And he resents it, which is pretty funny and probably this joked is missed because the rest of the book is so damn depressing, but it’s funny that he hates it all but at least he knows what to hate. It’s a wonderful joke Dostoyevsky tells here and makes the rest of the book worth it.

So I’m not sure the book could have been written any different, but the claustrophobia of it all, the long soliloquy’s that, while fascinating, really go on and on and on and never really resolve anything – which is why it’s funny when Razumikhin says we’ll talk our way to the truth.

The fact Dostoyevsky was able to pull this novel off is a feat and makes the book earn its place as a true masterpiece. I personally don’t think I ever want to revisit it and I’m wary of reading more Dostoyevsky, but I loved that the book challenged me so much and it did have some wonderful moments that are truly unforgettable – the horse beating, the murders, anything concerning Svidrigailov.

As a student of human behavior (and I use the term cautiously after reading this book), Crime and Punishment is a must read for its psychology and for its art.

I loved it and I hated it; which is why it was almost perfect.

95% done with Crime and Punishment

I’m interested to know if this novel is the precursor to genre books, specifically crime and noir novels. There are a lot of tropes here: hooker with the heart of gold, damsels pulling guns, dark and stormy nights, crime (obviously), and a sly and perhaps corrupt detective.

At least the style of pages and pages and full chapters of monologues never really caught on. While fascinating, it can be tedious to.

89% done with Crime and Punishment

I love how even in 1866 everyone knew tobacco was bad for you and made you sick. Even in Tolstoy’s ‘The Cossacks’, the Cossacks themselves hated smoking and wouldn’t allow it in their huts and they complained about Russian officers who all stank up the place.

I’m glad I don’t smoke anymore but if I were Raskolnikov, I’d start. Everyone knows his secret. He will unravel and everyone knows it.

81% done with Crime and Punishment

Dostoyevsky must have had intimate knowledge with death because the way he can kill off a character is almost a little too real.

This far in and I’m still struggling with exactly what I should wrap my brain around. The novel is far too literary to be taking literal, so what specific themes should I be focusing on? Damnation? Guilt? Suspicion and paranoia? Crime and/or punishment?

77% done with Crime and Punishment

“… they can’t convict a man on what they have against me.”

I wonder how many soviets read this without any irony?

The funeral dinner and the 100 Ruble note was a comedy and tragedy all rolled into one without ever once being funny or sad. Dostoyevsky would have been onto something truly great had he given his characters more dimension. The allegation of theft for the 100 rubles was quite wonderful, however.

69% done with Crime and Punishment

Dostoyevsky is at his best when he sets his characters to oppose each other in a cat and mouse game. The interrogation, for example, was actually fun to read.

But when he sets out to moralize and preach, when he’s not being suspicious but rather ‘in control’, he becomes rather dull.

Then again, perhaps that is the entire point. Madness is more fun than the social norms, at least for the madman anyway.

61% done with Crime and Punishment

What sets Tolstoy apart from Dostoyevsky is that Tolstoy didn’t ever have to force his stories to go in the direction he wanted. Intellectual, philosophical, historical and social discussions arose naturally and as part of the narrative (except during the narration of War and Peace).

Here, however, we have a very ‘modern’ novel with lots to say and not enough art to always say it. It’s not bad, but it’s unnatural

54% done with Crime and Punishment

What if the after-life is nothing more than a single, cramped, dirty room filled with spiders?

Raskolnikov has got to be dead and he’s reliving his life as a hell, right?

I mean, who else has all these people just walking into his room cramped, dirty room and telling them about the after-life?

St. Petersburg must have some bad parts of town, but this is just out of the question a bad part. It’s Dante bad.

46% done with Crime and Punishment

I’m probably wrong, but there is a sense I keep getting that none of the characters in the book (other than Raskolnikov) are real. It feels like all these people inhabit his deranged mind somehow.

And there’s something about the landlord, like she’s a demon that’s always watching him but just out of sight. It’s creepy.

At times it’s downright uncomfortable to read this book. It’s amazing like that.

38% done with Crime and Punishment

It’s unsettling to think that a person who does us a good deed could also be someone who recently split open the skull of an old Jewish pawnbroker with an ax.

Worse still, how would we know if we are mad enough to do it ourselves? Could at any moment we become obsessed with the thought of a terrible crime and then do it?

I wonder if this is what death row inmates think about?

33% done with Crime and Punishment

There’s a great expressionist painting from 1912 by the German Erich Heckel called ‘Two Men At A Table’. While the painting has nothing to do with the events of the novel, it does capture the claustrophobia of delusion that’s the theme of the novel.

Everything is in disorientation. The city is hot and stinking even at night. Every room is cramped and workmen clean blood stains from the floor.

Terrifying.

29% done with Crime and Punishment

One of my favorite novels is Dos Passos’ ‘Manhattan Transfer’. That book was structured very much like (then) modern art – it was disjointed, characters melted in and out of the story, there was not a single, strong narrative but rather a mood to the story. It was jazz.

This book feels like the first notes of that modern movement. This could almost be a stage play too; it’s hardly a novel.

It’s engrossing.