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.
This post includes my thoughts on Part Four through the Epilogue of Dostoyevsky’s most famous work. For my thoughts on Parts One through Three, please see this post.
As the end of Part Three, the main character, Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov had awoken to find an unknown yet aristocratically dressed man standing over him. In Part Four, Raskolnikov learns the man is his sister’s employer, Svidrigailov, has arrived in St. Petersburg to stop Dunya from marrying Luzhin (and to give her money left from his deceased wife’s purse) and asks Raskolnikov to arrange a meeting between him and Dunya.
Refusing to do so, Raskolnikov joins his sister and Luzhin to discuss the allegations against Svigrigailov over the death of his wife. But Luzhin continues to insist Dunya have nothing to do with her brother; a fact that alienates Dunya and leads her to dismissing Luzhin from her life.
Originally excited over the prospect of sharing Dunya’s windfall, Raskolnikov becomes depressed at the realization that his guilt still hangs over him. He flees from Dunya’s presence and heads straight to Sonya’s apartment where Sonya is glad to offer him refugee.
When Sonya shares her Christian faith and her distress over the death of the sister of the pawnbroker, Raskolnikov realizes he cannot stay in her presence and leaves to finally meet with Porfiry. His contemplation of confessing is cut short, though, when one of painters arrives and confesses to the murder. Raskolnikov is allowed to leave and arrives at Katerina Ivanovna’s apartment at the start of Part Five.
Soon after his arrival, Luzhin arrives to accuse Sonya of stealing money. The crowd begins to turn on her until Luzhin’s roommate and Raskolnikov deduce Luzhin’s real motive: to defame Raskolnikov through his association with Sonya. Luzhin is chased from the apartment, and Raskolnikov is left alone with Sonya. Without giving the events of Part Six and the epilogue away, Raskolnikov’s interactions with Sonya become a major factor in the way he ultimately reacts to the weight of his guilt.
As odd — or, as my mom would point out, as deviant — as it sounds, I found it fascinating to listen to Raskolnikov attempt to justify his actions. In his desperation to be seen as an important man, he tries to elevate his actions to be on par with the military men he has studied or heard praised. Yet, in his desperation to make his actions justifiable, he clings to his identity as a poor man trapped by circumstances and victimized by the parasitic behavior of the pawnbroker.
“I asked myself one day this question—what if Napoleon, for instance, had happened to be in my place, and if he had not had Toulon nor Egypt nor the passage of Mont Blanc to begin his career with, but instead of all those picturesque and monumental things, there had simply been some ridiculous old hag, a pawnbroker, who had to be murdered too to get money from her trunk (for his career, you understand). Well, would he have brought himself to that if there had been no other means? Wouldn’t he have felt a pang at its being so far from monumental and … and sinful, too?”
Raskolnikov’s oscillation between various excuses creates a complex and intriguing portrait of a murderer. Did Raskolnikov commit murder because his circumstances drove him to it? Or, did he commit murder because he wanted to experience what it is like to take the life of another? Is his guilt truly over the crime or over the fact that no one knows it was him?
My book club had a lengthy and passionate conversation over these questions. The majority of us decided that Raskolnikov was driven by a lust for power rather than by circumstances or temporary insanity.
Yet, with the way Dostoyevsky wrote this story, I honestly believe my understanding of the “why” behind Raskolnikov’s actions could change depending on my personal mindset why reading the book. I certainly felt swayed by the arguments others made during our meeting!
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.