Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
I’M FRE—I mean, FINISHED!!!! Yay, I read an enormous Russian novel!!!! Seriously, what was I thinking???
For real, though. I’ve had the stupidest chest cold since last Saturday, and I feel disgusting. I had to work from home and conference with my students via Skype on Wednesday because I was coughing too hard to really make my long commute feasible. And spending my day and night hopped up on cold medicine was not conducive to paying periods of rapt attention to a seriously dense novel.
And boy, is Crime and Punishment dense. Here is a bare-bones plot brush if you’ve not encountered it yet: Raskolnikov, our protagonist, is a brilliant university student who murders a vile and greedy pawnbroker and her sister. His justification in committing the crime—the pawnbroker caused suffering and in snuffing her life, he contributed to society—clashes against the confines of his buried conscience, which is brought to life when he crosses paths with the highly religious Sonia. The novel is a deeply psychological study that asks big questions about guilt, crime, and our perceptions of right and wrong in industrial society.
As I read the novel, I kept making a lot of comparisons to Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho (which you all know that I know like the back of my hand by now—thanks, dissertation!). Obviously, Ellis’s moral examination and conclusions are rather different, as they should be. After all, the nineteenth-century society Dostoyevsky examines is vastly different than the highly materialistic culture of Ellis’s late-twentieth century. Yet there’s something about the way both authors examine the individual psyche under moral duress that is both arresting and discomfiting. I think in the end, Ellis takes a rather Hegelian approach to Crime and Punishment with his character study of Patrick Bateman—that is, while Bateman forms a sort of antithesis to Raskolnikov, there is some sort of synthesis in that the moral vacuity creates Bateman just as his own choices trap him. Or something like that. It’s been a long time since I’ve thought about Hegel in a scholarly capacity.
Crime and Punishment is ultimately a fascinating philosophical study in big societal questions. As far as plot/story are concerned, though, I much prefer The Brothers Karamazov. Crime and Punishment is less developed for character, and it’s a bit emotionally overwrought in parts.