Dostoevsky is an interesting and problematic character for a multitude of reasons. At a young age his Father was murdered, or at the very least presumed to be murdered, by a neighbour. He grew up around a hospital for poor people, seeing the various tragedies of poverty. After offending the state for reading a passage that condoned atheism (and thus challenged the legitimacy of the Tzar) he was sentenced to death- but was later sentenced to four years in prison instead.
That prison sentence would result in him being shipped off to Siberia, which is essentially like being sentenced to Alcatraz in Antarctica. After his release he spent most of his life in Poverty, mostly because of his severe gambling addiction which would later force him and his wife into a self enforced exile to escape debtors.
So in exile he was living on both borrowed money and time, meaning that he was forced to write his books extremely quickly. One of his books was written in only fifteen days. Novels like Crime and Punishment and the Idiot were initially publicised in the Russian Herald, similar to how Sherlock Holmes was initially published.
So as you can imagine writing and publishing something so quickly results in a severe degradation of the material, some of Dostoevsky’s critics say that he simply writes poorly. Which to be fair, is kind of true. Throughout this book there’s handfuls of continuity errors, spelling mistakes and strange descriptions.
That and the fact that often times his descriptions of character movements are truly bizarre. Often times he’ll have a character go on an incessant monologue and another character will move or laugh or do something, but instead of taking a break from the monologue to describe the other characters actions, he’ll simply describe them in the monologue like so;
“And thus Catholicism is the epitome of the Anti-Christ, the for bringer of Nihilism and Socialism- which of course is a concoction of the Jews so they can get all my money. Please don’t laugh at me, why are you getting up to leave from your seat? Have you converted to Atheism?“
Sounds like that.
Like his previous book that I reviewed, Crime and Punishment largely discusses Philosophy- which at times can be detrimental to the story. A good portion of characters in the book exist solely to espouse such philosophies. Raskolnikov reflects the dangers of Rationalism by committing a double homicide in the hopes of escaping poverty so that he can in turn help both himself, his family and humanity as a whole- or at least that’s what he tries to believe.
His friend Razumikhin, represents a more reasonable outlook on the world. That killing is bad under any circumstance. While the character Luzhin, the fiance of Raskolnikov’s sister Dounia, reflects the extremity of a Conservative, Egoist and Utilitarian outlook. He abides by the same kind of Randian philosophy that Ronald Reagan used for the assertion of Trickle Down economics.
The only real reason he’s marrying Dounia is that she’s both significantly poorer than him and she’d recently gone under a scandal in which the father of the household she worked in tried to seduce her, which led his wife to slabber that she was a slut and a home wrecker. Luzhin’s believes that a poor wife would be more dedicated to her husband than one who was raised in wealth.
As for side characters, Luzhin’s roommate Lebezyatnikov who literally only exists as a vocal point to mock Utopian Socialist and Feminist ideals that Dostoevsky despised. Svidgrailnov, Dounia’s former employer, reflects the dangers of over indulgence and independence- somewhat of a Nihilist or Rationalist more extreme than Raskolnikov.
That’s the main ideologies butting heads throughout the novel. It’s an interesting debate whether or not any of these world views are either inherently bad or good. But this isn’t a debate or a political essay- this is a novel.
The main plot revolves around Raskolnikov’s declining mental health as he plans out and soon commits the double homicide. He enters into a fever and the lead detective starts to play mind games with him, which makes him uber-paranoid until eventually he plans to turn himself in out if sheer guilt.
That in itself would make a compelling novel. What we get instead is that very plot broken up with two jarring subplots. One involves a drunkard named Marmeladov, who Raskolnikov kind of sort of befriends, and his impoverished family. His wife is dying of Tuberculosis and is slowly losing her mind, her eldest daughter is forced to become a prostitute to support the family and although Marmeladov is physically capable of working- he just can’t climb out of his own alcoholism.
Eventually he dies and the family are evicted from their home, after a confrontation with Luzhin over some bullshit family drama with Raskolnikov. The mother begins to lose her mind, possibly due to the tubercolosis resulting in brain damage but most likely the sheer disaster of her life has pushed her over the edge.
There’s a term that some American Pimps use called; “Ho Mileage“. Meaning that a Pimp can look at a woman and deduce how many times she can get fucked before she starts to go crazy, i.e. “That bitch is good for 500 Fucks“. It’s a very misogynistic outlook, but it was very effective for their place of work. Prostitutes who did exceed their Milage did in fact lose their minds and often died.
I would add that Ho Mileage can be used in other situations for both genders. The girl who can only take so much bullying at school before she kills herself, the cashier who can only be yelled at so many times before he has a meltdown, the forty year old who can only take so much stress before he has a nervous breakdown, the reclusive weirdo who can only go so far without meaningful human interactions before he drives a van into a crowd of people.
At some point or another a person will be fucked so many times that they have been effectively pushed over the edge. That’s what happened to Marmelaov’s wife, who would later perish as well.
This subplot is mostly pointless. There’s no real solution to their circumstance, the children are taken into an Orphanage, both parents die and Sofya- the eldest- for some reason or another dedicates her life to supporting Raskolnikov’s recovery after pressuring him to turn himself in.
It’s a very strange relationship the two have. Raskolnikov is platonically attracted to her because she’s a Whore and therefore he feels some kind of Kinship since he’s a Murderer. Which is…so fucking problematic. Like I’d understand the motif if she was a Whore and he was a Gangster or a Thief, seeing as they’re both moral outcasts, but Raskolnikov is neither of those things- he’s a psychotic maniac.
Can we all just agree that being a literal Whore and killing two people for no reason is not on the same moral wave length? That they’re not equivalent to one another? Because when you think of it, Sofya is only really hurting herself- Raskolnikov brutally murdered two women because he spent too much time in his room alone.
And her reaction to his confession just defies suspension of disbelief. He tells her that he killed two innocent women, one of them being her friend, and instead of being understandably horrified she…hugs him- and says that “Nobody is suffering more than you” which…it’s just- baffling.
She even asks if he did it because he was pushed to the extreme but he simply said “Ummm, no…not really. I could get a job anytime I want and I only really killed them because I’m such an egomaniac that I genuinely believed that the law didn’t apply to me- cause I’m smart.”
Sofya of course is supposed to represent the Christian Ideal, moral chastity and compassion and so forth. But she comes off as just gullible and delusional- attracted to a severely broken man in the hopes to fix him.
But at least this subplot gave some motivation to his eventual surrender. The other one is just pure Agatha Christy bullshit. Don’t get me wrong, a story about the family conflict resulting in an engagement that only really exists to provide financial support that the vast majority of the vast majority of characters condemn would be a compelling drama- but not when you open the book with a Double Homicide.
It’s like if you took an episode of Columbo and mashed in a story-line from the Good Wife for some fucking reason.
Obviously I’m not a fan of the familial sub plot, I think it does nothing but denigrate the quality of the book and make the reader far more impatient. I think any decent editor would have demanded that deviation be removed from the plot entirely.
As for Raskolnikov as a a character, I think today we’re more capable of understanding him than ever before. At the time Dostoevsky used Raskolnikov as a means to show the dangers of adopting Rationalism or Nihilism (even though Raskolnikov isn’t a nihilist as he believes in God) while others interpreted him to be an excellent example of Determinism- meaning that Poverty turned him into a Murderer.
In reality none of these propositions are true. Raskolnikov would have killed someone even if he were a middle class pleb. The reason Raskolnikov is the way he is is largely due to his shitty up bringing (like that time he saw a drunkard beat a horse to death) and his social repugnance. He’s an insufferably gloomy guy so he has little to no friends. He’s lazy to a fault so he refuses to go to University, refuses to get a Job and just sits alone on his room all day or walking the streets of St Petersberg muttering to himself.
He killed the old woman because she was a pawnbroker that was his main source of income as he sold literally everything he had- he resented her. He overheard a conversation at a tavern from a young edgelord who said “Hey, this old lady is a reprehensible bitch who’s sum of money would be better suited for the poor- shouldn’t someone kill her and wouldn’t that be great?” but he never needed someone to confirm his ideas. He would commit them none the less- he’s a ticking time bomb.
If Raskolnikov was alive today, he’d be an Incel or a Nazi- possibly a Jihadist if he could get over his innate racism. He’s a loser driven to murder because of delusions of grandeur and severe isolation. His mental illness contaminates an otherwise sound conscience. Throughout the book he’s exceedingly generous to Marmeladov’s impoverished family alongside various other strangers in need.
As to whether or not the murder was justified, that’s a whole other debate. You could argue that the death of the old Pawnbroker was righteous as she was a vindictive abuser of her sister, but you can’t justify the murder of the sister upon finding her corpse- she is a pure soul.
As to the character of the pawnbroker, it’s very biased against her favour. It’s not justified to hate a woman simply because she’s a pawn broker distrustful of strangers. It is however justified to condemn her for the abuse she hands her adult sister. The abuse is tolerated because the sister literally has no where else to turn.
If you want to create an abusive relationship, all you have to do is make one member dependant on the other. If a person knows that they can do whatever they want with you without consequence, then they will hurt you relentlessly. That’s why you should never get in a relationship without knowing full heatedly that both participants could leave each other and would be relatively fine- and to go where you’re celebrated, not tolerated.
The book offers some interesting moral quandaries. The rational reason for the murder is initially because Raskolnikov wishes to escape poverty so committing murder and robbery is justified as long as he dedicates the rest of his life to correcting that error by humanitarian deeds. Later it’s revealed that in actuality Raskolnikov was ego-maniacal, believing that he was superior to his fellow man. He argued that Napoleon killed many people but he isn’t considered a murderer because he’s above the law, so why should he?
The book’s message, for the most part, is that murder is reprehensible regardless of motives and that an individual is incapable of living after committing such a deed- because it is a Sin that weighs the soul. While that’s true for Raskolnikov, it wouldn’t be for a literal Psychopath. A Psychopath doesn’t need to worry about the weight upon his soul as he doesn’t feel it, a Sin is nothing to him.
I myself am quite morally jaded towards murder. Some people just deserve to die. Paedophiles, Enablers, Nazis, Fascists, Repeat Violent Offenders- objectively terrible people with no hopes of redemption and are of no use or a detriment to Society should be killed. That idea may seem radical but so is the idea of Prison.
What is the difference between killing a man and sentencing him to live out his days in a confined space? The difference of course is that an execution is a hell of a lot cheaper. Prison is supposed to be a place of rehabilitation, not punishment. Death is a Punishment. There’s no use rehabilitating a Paedophile, no use rehabilitating a mass murderer or rapist- some people are too far gone. Some people are so reprehensible that Society shuns them like a leaper- so why would killing them be radical?
Of course the Death Penalty is very problematic, namely because you cannot guarantee that the person at the receiving end is completely guilty of the offence. Justice in the West will allow five murderers to walk free so that one innocent man does not spend a day in jail. That’s a price worth paying.
I’ve had this argument with friends of mine who are pretty religious and thus Murder is a moral no-go zone. The idea that ,under in certain cases for certain people is justifiable is one of my more radical ideas. Other ideas include my belief that housing should be free, kings and queens are merely fascists ordained by God who deserve to be shot in the street and that Portugal should not be recognised as a state.
The book focuses less on Crime and even less on Punishment. It deals with a moral trespassing, the paranoia of the murderer who leads to him making some embarrassing mistakes that’ll lead to him getting caught and the guilt of the crime that moves him to such self loathing that he has no choice but confess. But he almost got away with it, if it wasn’t for the presence of Sofya- the Christian ideal who pressures him into confessing his sins and turning himself in.
There are some interesting ideas throughout the book, but the main theme as a whole is very toxic. The idea that suffering will result in happiness, with inner peace, is horseshit. It’s Dostoevsky’s interpretation of Russian Orthodoxy that suffering in life somehow elevates you in the eyes of God. Like how Sofya suffers from both poverty and the stigma of prostitution but is never the less the most Christ like figure in the book.
I understand the idea, because it is true that going through deprivation or hardships or simply being forced through dilemmas makes you appreciate things a lot more. Having a job makes you appreciate your free time more, pain contextualises love and vice versa. But the problem with the idea that suffering will result in either enlightenment or happiness for the individual is that it condones complacency.
Dostoevsky may have indicted the ruling class for their Un-Christ like behaviour, but he’d condone poverty since suffering in this life would result in spiritual enlightenment that would grant the impoverished person status in heaven. In his mind suffering was a means to secure virtue or vice and a person’s character, their essence, would determine which one would ferment.
And while it’s true that everyone to some degree or another suffers, the duty of the human race is to alleviate such suffering. To alleviate Poverty, to surpass Bullying and Bigotry- to garner the path of happiness, or at the very least contentedness. There is no God, no omnipotent force will save you or anyone else- that’s up to you.
The author strikes me of a man who upholds an ideal that he fails miserably at adhering to. He preaches Compassion and Empathy, yet is a bigot. He denounces Depravity, yet he himself is an adulterer. He mocks drunkards and the afflicted, yet he himself is a Gambling addict who is impoverished because of his vice. He’s like an Evangelical Preacher, a complete fucking hypocrite.
He’s the literary equivalent of Jordan Peterson, if Jordan Peterson could get laid.
In conclusion, Crime and Punishment possesses some interesting ideas and contains some compelling scenes. But they’re few and far between. What we mostly get is Romantic melodrama that could rival Oscar Wilde, incessant monologues of word salad, jarring scenes and just a beleaguering writing style that bores and offends the sensibilities of a decent reader.
There’s better books that deal with the exact same themes and execute them much more effectively. I would recommend you check out them and leave Crime and Punishment in peace, because the best thing about this book is the title.