Fiction — audiobook. Read by George Guidall. Translated from the Russian by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. Recorded Books, 2000. Originally published 1866. 25 hours, 1 minute. Library copy.
Arguably Dostoyevsky’s most famous work, Crime and Punishment is divided into six parts plus epilogue. Given the novel’s length and (assumed) difficulty in reading, my book club decided to split the book at the halfway mark and discuss it at two meetings. Our February meetup covered Part One to Three, which I will discuss in this post, and our March meeting will focus on Part Four through the Epilogue.
In Part One, the main character, Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, lives in poverty in St. Petersburg. Raskolnikov is distraught to learn his sister, Dunya, has chosen to marry Luzhin, a wealthy suitor whom Raskolnikov fears is an opportunist. Her employer, Svidrigailov, has ill-intentions towards Dunya, according to Raskolnikov’s mother, and Dunya must leave her position immediately.
But Raskolnikov has no money or other means of support to offer his sister, and he is sick at the thought that she is essentially prostituting herself the way his friend Marmeladov’s daughter, Sonya, has done. He thus returns to an earlier idea he had to murder a pawnbroker and steal their money. In a fit of rage (or, premeditated murder, it could be argued), Raskolnikov steals an axe and murders both the pawnbroker and the pawnbroker’s sister.
“Almost every criminal is subject to a failure of will and reasoning power by a childish and phenomenal heedlessness, at the very instant when prudence and caution are most essential. It was his conviction that this eclipse of reason and failure of will power attacked a man like a disease, developed gradually and reached its highest point just before the perpetration of the crime, continued with equal violence at the moment of the crime and for longer or shorter time after, according to the individual case, and then passed off like any other disease. The question whether the disease gives rise to the crime, or whether the crime from its own peculiar nature is always accompanied by something of the nature of disease, he did not yet feel able to decide.”
In Part Two, Raskolnikov awakens to learn he had been in a state of delirium following the murder. In the immediate aftermath, the police had summoned him — not on suspicion of murder but to discuss Raskolnikov’s failure to pay his rent. The event rattled Raskolnikov, and he ended up visiting an old university friend, Razumikhin, who was alarmed at his old friend’s appearance and ended up nursing him back to health.
In a fit of fever, Raskolnikov heard Razumikhin and the doctor discussing the ongoing police investigation into the old woman’s murder. Raskolnikov sneaks out of the flat and returns to the scene of the crime, questioning neighbors about their recollections of events and contemplating whether or not he should confess.
“It struck him as strange and grotesque, that he should have stopped at the same spot as before, as though he actually imagined he could think the same thoughts, be interested in the same theories and pictures that had interested him … so short a time ago. He felt it almost amusing, and yet it wrung his heart. Deep down, hidden far away out of sight all that seemed to him now—all his old past, his old thoughts, his old problems and theories, his old impressions and that picture and himself and all, all… . He felt as though he were flying upwards, and everything were vanishing from his sight.”
In Part Three, Raskolnikov is reunited with his sister and mother and angrily insists that Dunya break it off with Luzhin. For his part, Luzhin is now insisting Dunya break off contact with Raskolnikov after Luzhin heard reports of his future brother-in-law giving money to Sonya, a woman of ill-repute.
Meanwhile, Razumikhin introduces Raskolnikov to Detective Porfiry Petrovich, who is investigating the murders. Porfiry questions Raskolnikov about an article he wrote as a law student arguing that people have the right to cross legal or moral boundaries if those boundaries are an obstruction to their own success.
Alarmed at Porfiry’s tone, Raskolnikov immediately senses that Porfiry knows that he is the murderer, but is able to put off meeting at the police station until the morning. On his way home for the evening, Raskolnikov meets an artisan who says only one word — murderer. The chapter ends with Raskolnikov awakening to find Dunya’s employer standing in his room.
I first attempted to read Crime and Punishment in July 2010, but I struggled to find a translation and a format that worked for me. The text felt dry; the audiobook was easy to ignore as it played. And I decided not to force myself to read it any longer.
Needless to say, I was apprehensive about picking up the novel again and debated which format I should try this time around. Ultimately, I decided to try the audiobook read by George Guidall as I find the format’s provision of pronunciations for unfamiliar words helps to ground me in the story.
It has certainly been helpful to have Guidall pronounce the names of each character, although I do wish he did a better job at differentiating between Razumikhin and Raskolnikov. Their names sound so familiar as do the voices Guidall provides for them, and I had to back up the audiobook on more than one occasion to help myself differentiate between the two.
That said, I’m finding the story much more engaging this time around. The glimpse into Raskolnikov’s psyche, the justifications he offers himself for his actions are very intriguing. As such, I particularly enjoyed the entirety of Part One, where Raskolnikov comes up with his plan and tries to talk himself in and out of it.
There are also several moments throughout these three parts where the murderer debates when a crime is justified, why he shouldn’t feel guilty, and how much the murder has changed him without others knowing. I found myself pausing the audiobook to mull over his assertions, to marvel over whether this is a lunatic ascending into madness or a sane man trying to justify his crime to avoid state-sanctioned punishment. (As he is already punishing himself in his mind at this point.)
I’m definitely curious to see where the story goes. This is by no means an easy book to read but, so far, I feel as though the effort has paid off.
The Classics Club:
I read this book for the Classics Club, which challenges participants read and discuss fifty or more books considered to be classics within a five-year period. My personal goal for this project is to read seventy-five books in three years ending on August 15, 2017. This deadline has since come and passed, but I am still trying to work through my list by August 15, 2020. You can find out more information by checking out my introductory post or project post.