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When Dostoyevsky started work on Crime and Punishment in the summer of 1865 he was depressed and in serious financial straits. A recent gambling spree had depleted his savings, and he owed money for personal expenses as well as bills for Epokha, the journal he founded and had been forced to discontinue. Threatened with debtors' prison, he was approached by an unscrupulous publisher who offered a ridiculously exploitative contract under which Dostoyevsky signed over the copyrights to all his existing works and agreed to write a work of fiction by the end of the following year. For all this he was paid the sum of three thousand rubles, most of which was quickly swallowed up by promissory notes; what little remained was squandered at the gaming tables. Destitute once again, Dostoyevsky forced himself to concentrate on his writing, and by that fall had conceived of the idea for a novel-length work about a family ruined by alcohol.
The roots of Crime and Punishment can be found in various episodes in Dostoyevsky's life. His original idea, a murderer's first-person confession, came to him during his prison term in Siberia—an experience that profoundly changed his political views and instilled in him a life-long respect for order and authority. There is also evidence that he conceived of the Marmaledov family as the basis for a novel to be titled "The Drunkards," but which was never published. Finally, Dostoyevsky was reacting to the political climate in St. Petersburg, where the impulses of the revolution could be found in the nihilist and radical movements, which Dostoyevsky abhorred. Regardless of its origins, Dostoyevsky meant the novel to be as close to perfect as possible. He took extensive—now famous—notes regarding its structure, toying with different points of view, character, structure, plot, and a variety of thematic strains.
The efforts paid off. Crime and Punishment is a superbly plotted, brilliant character study of a man who is at once an everyman and as remarkable as any character ever written. It poses a simple question, "Can evil means justify honorable ends?" and answers it convincingly without didacticism or naiveté. Dostoyevsky intimates himself so closely with Roskolnikov's consciousness, and describes his turmoil and angst so precisely and exhaustively, that it is easy to forget that the events take place over the course of a mere two weeks. He encourages us to identify with Roskolnikov: the painstaking descriptions of the student's cramped, dingy quarters; the overpowering sights and sounds of a stifling afternoon on the streets of St. Petersburg; the excruciating tension of Porfiry's interrogation—all serve to place the reader at the heart of the action: Roskolnikov's fevered, tormented mind.
The murder itself is almost incidental to the novel; Dostoyevsky devotes no more than a few pages to describing its execution, although he details the painful vacillations that precede the incident and, of course, exposes every aspect of its aftermath. Similarly, Roskolnikov's punishment, in the literal sense, is put off until the epilogue, with his sentence—reduced to seven years due to the accused's apparent temporary insanity—to a Siberian labor camp. Thus Dostoyevsky brilliantly invites readers to put forth their own notions of Crime and Punishment, and engages us in an irresistible debate: Who is the real criminal? Marmeladov, for abandoning his family? Luzhin for exploiting Dunya? Svidrigailov for murdering his wife? Sonya for prostituting herself? The greedy pawnbroker whom Roskolnikov murdered? Or, to turn the question around: Who among us is not a criminal? Who among us has not attempted to impose his or her will on the natural order? Furthermore, we are made to understand that Roskolnikov's true punishment is not the sentence imposed on him by the court of law, but that imposed on him by his own actions: the psychological and spiritual hell he has created for himself; the necessary sentence of isolation from his friends and family; the extreme wavering between wanting to confess his crime, and desperately hoping to get away with it. Compelled, ultimately, to confess his crime—and the confession scene is the only incident in which Roskolnikov actually admits to the crime—we feel that Roskolnikov has suffered sufficiently. Indeed, the epilogue with its abbreviated pace and narrative distance feels like a reprieve for the reader as well as for the criminal. Finally, in Siberia, Roskolnikov has found space.
The public reception of Crime and Punishment was enthusiastic—if a little stunned. There was much discussion about the novel's overwhelming power and rumors of people unable to finish it. Readers were shocked by Dostoyevsky's gruesome descriptions and enthralled by his use of dramatic tension. Perhaps the most virulent, and unexpected, criticism came from readers who felt that Dostoyevsky's portrait of the nihilist movement was an indictment of Russian youth and that its premise was inconceivable. For more than a century, critics have argued about the book's message: Is it a political novel? A tale of morality? A psychological study? A religious epic? As Peter McDuff points out in his Introduction to the Penguin Classics edition, interpretations may be more revealing of the critic than of the text. Whatever Dostoyevsky's purpose—political, moral, psychological, or religious (and most likely he meant to touch on each of these themes)—one thing is certain. In Roskolnikov, Dostoyevsky has created a man who is singular yet universal. He is someone with whom we can sympathize, empathize, and pity, even if we cannot relate to his actions. He is a character we will remember forever, and whose story will echo throughout history.
ABOUT FYODOR DOSTOYEVSKY
Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky was born in 1821 at a Moscow hospital where his father was employed as a doctor. The family was poor, but their descent from 17th-century nobility entitled them to own land and serfs. Dostoyevsky's mother, Maria, was loving and religious; his father, Mikhail, tended toward alcoholism and violence, and his cruel behavior toward the peasants on their small estate resulted in his murder when Fyodor was eighteen years old.
Fyodor was the second of eight children. He was particularly close to his younger sister, Varvara, whose unfortunate marriage may have inspired Dostoyevsky's portraits of both Dunya and Sonya. His older brother, Mikhail, shared Dostoyevsky's literary and journalistic interests as well as his early social ideals. Together they attended secondary schools in Moscow, then the military academy in St. Petersburg, followed by service in the Russian army.
Dostoyevsky broadened his education by reading extensively in an attempt to sharpen his literary skills. As a youth he read and admired writers of all nationalities, including Dickens, Hugo, and Zola, and imitated some of Russia's literary geniuses, particularly Gogol. He also began a tortured acquaintance with Turgenev, which was to continue throughout his life.
His first novel, Poor Folk, was published in 1846. This tale of a young clerk who falls haplessly in love with a woman he cannot possess led the literary lion Victor Belinsky to proclaim Dostoyevsky as the next Gogol. Dostoyevsky's entrance into St. Petersburg literary society had begun—but his celebrity status was quickly overshadowed by his somewhat obnoxious behavior. Eventually, Dostoyevsky found another group to join, this time a circle of intellectual socialists run by Mikhail Petrashevsky. Given the reactionary climate of the time, the Petrashevsky group's revolutionary ideas were both exciting and dangerous, and, although Dostoyevsky was far from being a revolutionary, his alignment with the faction brought him to the attention of the police. In 1849 he and the rest of the Petrashevsky group were arrested for subversion. Dostoyevsky was imprisoned at the Peter and Paul Fortress where he and others were subject to a mock execution—an understandably traumatic experience which seems to have triggered an epileptic condition that would plague Dostoyevsky throughout his life. He spent the next five years at hard labor in Siberia, where his acquaintance with the criminal community would provide him with the themes, plots, and characters that distinguish many of his greatest works, including Crime and Punishment.
Dostoyevsky returned to St. Petersburg in 1859. The next decade was filled with emotional and physical turmoil. In 1864 the deaths of his wife, Maria, and his beloved brother, Mikhail, deepened his debt and drove him to gambling. He embarked on a doomed affair with Apollinaria Suslova, who vacillated between admiring and despising him. He also witnessed the dissolution of his literary journal and formed a disadvantageous relationship with an unscrupulous publisher. Yet the 1860s were also a period of great literary fervor, and in 1865, the publication of Crime and Punishment paved the way for a series of novels—including The Idiot, The Devils, and The Brothers Karamazov—that both reclaimed his position in Russia's pantheon of great living writers, and brought stability to his personal and financial affairs. He married his stenographer, Anna Grigorievna Snitkin, with whom he fathered four children, and established himself as a leading conservative who often spoke out against revolutionary activity. In June of 1880, Dostoyevsky attended a celebration of the great novelist, Pushkin, during which he delivered a speech in praise of the writer. His words were met with great adulation, and the event marked what was perhaps the highest point of public approbation Dostoyevsky would ever attain. Little more than six months later, on January 28, 1881, Dostoyevsky died of a lung hemorrhage. His funeral, attended by nearly thirty thousand mourners, was a national event.
Posted July 8, 2009
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I absolutely adore this book! The reader in this addition is excellent and never bores. The story is awfully long so you'll have to dedicate some time, but listening makes it go by so much faster. I got this as a christmas present and little did i know it would become a favorite.
It is witty and intellectually stimulating, but while dark, it is never overwhelming or depressing. Very interesting and a well written translation.
I read this after finishing THe Man Who Was Thursday, by GK Chesterton, and found they are an interesting combination.
3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 1, 2000
The characters in this book remind you of the worst things in yourself. Raskolnikov, a romantic plagued by his mind, and Svidrigailov, the life swallowing debaucher. A mirror to those who think too much.
2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 10, 2013
Posted May 3, 2013
I own the Norton Critical Edition, which contains several useful scholarly articles. However, this edition (one of the few I could find of the Coulson translation) contains an introduction which explains several key points: the freedom of the serfs, the issues of alcoholism at the time, and, most importantly, Dostoyevsky's original abstract, which presents his take on Raskolnikov's motives. A wonderful introduction that adds to the novel considerably.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 31, 2013
Posted September 11, 2012
Posted July 12, 2012
Posted March 1, 2012
In this novel, Dostoevsky takes us into the mind of the criminal for a deep psychological sketch of the person's motivations, feelings, and impulses. The in depth look at the psychology of the criminal mind is enough of a reason to read this book! However, Dostoevsky does not allow us to only see this side of human nature. He is constantly presenting us with examples of people that are willing to scarifice themselves in order to make others happy. The most powerful feature of the book is the renewal of human nature by the power of love!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 2, 2011
Some may say its a bad book beecause of the grammar and the fact that they were forced to read it. I was also told to read it, but i loved it. The grammar is simply from being translated and its an amazing book. I do say that its more of an advanced book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 5, 2010
Crime and Punishment is an excellent book full of symbols and messages. Throughout the book, Raskolnikov suffers emotionally and physically as a result of his crime and tries to find redemption by helping the poor and through other activities, but he cannot. He wonders how such great figures such as Napoleon can overstep the law and not feel guilty. However, he finds out that in man's search for redemption, one cannot find redemption through deeds, he must face his crime and the punishment society inflicts. After later being exiled to Siberia, he realizes his redemption and becomes at peace with himself. Very good book for casual reading or more serious educational courses.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
A very interesting story about a russian peasant and his fatal actions that haunt him for most of his life. He commits a deed that he regrets later on. His family risks everything for the goodness of his sake. He seems so selfish yet he is not because in his inner personality you see a different person that wants to help others but can't because life has him deprived of money. Money buys a lot of things in this book, like in our world today. So Raskolnikov the protoganoist is living in a state of delirium. I could tell you much more, but i suggest you buy the book. It is a Russian Classic by the lovely Feodor Dostoevsky. =)Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
As with most of the classic Russian greats the books are very detailed and require discipline to finish. However, the content makes it worth every effort. Dostoevsky is on a completely different plane of consciouness and understanding than most men and women of his time and our own. I recommend this, as well as The Brothers Karamazov, for anyone looking for a deeper meaning to the relationships we have with the challenges in our own lives.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 22, 2008
The author draws you in slowly, cunningly, and with great precision. Never have I read a novel where the characters are so real. It's as if the author is painting a masterpiece from the impressionist period. The author has exclaimed on paper what every man feels. Every man believes what they feel, no other man has felt or shared. The author has made human the emotions between good and evil, light, and darkness, shallowness, and depth, depravity, and fortitude. The author has also illuminated and underscored the premise that to suffer, is good. He is right. Would Spring be so welcome if we had no Winter? The guile the author gives the characters is amazing considering this is a novel of the 19th century. That said, this book is such an easy read compared to the fright I had upon beginning it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 15, 2006
Someone recommended Crime and Punishment to me, saying that I would enjoy it. I wasn't sure that I would, but I read it and was immediately fascinated. Raskolnikov is one of the most interesting characters in literature, and I especially love Dunya, Razumikhin, and Sonya. Rodion Raskolnikov is imprisoned in his own mind and by his own personality, but eventually finds freedom in prison, with the help of a giving and religious ex-prostitute. Dostoevsky presents his views on the steryotypes of groups of people and remarks that people may not always be what they seem. Then again, they may be exactly what they seem. He questions about a person's right to commit a crime in order to help others, and this really made me think. His message of eventual redemption inspired and uplifted me. Dostoevsky writes on so many levels that it's impossible to understand them all, but I'll certainly reread this book to try. Besides the depth and message of this wonderful book, it's just a captivating story. I would recommend this to everyone.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 15, 2006
I love this work as I love most all of Dostoevsky's works. This is one of his best books second only to The Brothers Karamazov. Books like this are what makes reading worth all the time. This is a complex phsycological thriller with the thrill and complexity of a masterpeice written by a brilliant literary artist.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 21, 2006
I had to read this novel for my AP English class and thought that like all the other books I had read, this one would be just as boring as the others. I was wrong. This is one of the best books I have ever read. I recommend this to everyone. Dostoyevsky doesn't shield you from the harsh realities and what the characters are actually thinking. It's absolutely amazing!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 5, 2005
This novel takes me far into the mess of the insanity, emotion, despair, and salvation of all human life. Much relevance to today. Frantic bursts of psychological freight trains giving way to pure clarity and bright hope... words really can't explain. Simply, I love this novel.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 18, 2005
I think that this book had a lot of issues in it that focused ont he psyche of a murderer and I think in that way the book is extremely powerful and interesting. However, there are so many details that it was almost impossible to catch the ones that were important. I also think that it was hard to read because my teacher only gave us a day to read 80 pages, but that's life.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 6, 2005
When i was reading this book people told me they knew adults that couldn't get through it, that didn't discourage me. I find this book to be completly pointless and boring, it was so predictable. I could literally guess what was going to happen next. It wasn't so much that it was long, and was in no way difficult to understand. It was just boring!
0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.