Crime and Punishment : A Novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky (Book Review)

  • Ankesh
  • July 19, 2020

Content :


The Book ‘Crime and Punishment’ is authored by the Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky. The first publication of the book dates back to the year 1866. It published in a series of twelve volumes in the Russian Magazine \'The Russian Messenger\'. After that, the book has been compiled into a single volume and is sold via different publishers globally as per the licenses acquired. In India, this book is sold by \'Penguin Classics\'. The Indian version of the book can be bought on for the price tag of ₹229. The paperback edition of the book comprises 767 pages and the book is divided into six major parts. This is quite a hefty and bulky book to start with but the story is grasping that you won\'t even feel how time flies and by the time you\'re done finishing it you will get curious and excited to know more about what happens next, but sadly it is the end of it. This book feels more like those American Situational Comedies where we establish a connection with the characters throughout that TV Show and when it ends, you feel sad that you won\'t be able to see them again in that form. Over time from 1866 many movies have also been made on this book, some of which I watched after reading the book to get a better idea of what the book is doing. Movies can be a great way to connect to the characters, but if you have a great imagination there’s no better way to do it. 

In the summer of 1865, Dostoevsky conceived the idea of Crime and Punishment influenced by the situation of Pierre François Lacenaire. At the time, he had been working on another project called The Drunkards, which was to deal with "the present issue of drunkenness in all its ramifications, especially the picture of a family and the raising of children in these circumstances, etc., etc." This theme, centered on the Marmeladov family story, became ancillary to Raskolnikov \'s story and his crime.

Dostoevsky at the time owed large sums of money to creditors and was trying to help his brother Mikhail \'s family, who had died early in 1864. After appeals collapsed elsewhere, Dostoevsky turned to publisher Mikhail Katkov as a last resort and found a lead on a new addition. He proposed his tale or novella for publication in Katkov \'s monthly newspaper The Russian Messenger — a respected publication of its type, and the forum for both Ivan Turgenev and Leo Tolstoy, at the time he was not dreaming of a book.

Having carried on quite bruising polemics with Katkov in the early 1860s, Dostoevsky had never published anything in his pages before. Dostoevsky explained to him in a letter to Katkov written in September 1865 that the work was to be about a young man who yielded to "some strange, \'unfinished\' ideas, yet floating in the air." He intended to investigate the spiritual and psychological risks of the "radicalism" movement and believed the idea appealed to the traditional Katkov. An essential philosophical shift happened in letters published in November 1865: the "plot" became a "novel." From then on, the novel is called Crime and Punishment.

“The definitive iteration of Crime and Retribution came into existence after Dostoevsky agreed in November 1865 to recast his book into the third person. This shift was the culmination of a long struggle, present through all early compositional stages. Dostoevsky began to rewrite from scratch once he had decided, and was able to easily integrate sections of the early manuscript into the final text. Frank says he did not burn everything he had written earlier, as he told Wrangel. During this difficult task Anna Snitkina, a typist who later became Dostoevsky \'s wife, was of great help to him.The first part of Crime and Punishment was printed in The Russian Messenger, January 1866 issue, and the last one was published in December 1866.” 


Raskolnikov, a law student who thinks of himself as an extraordinary young man, formulates a theory according to which the world \'s extraordinary men have the right to commit any crime if they have something worth offering to humanity. He is murdering an ancient, disgusting pawnbroker and her half-sister, who unexpectedly fell upon him to support his hypothesis. He gets ill immediately after the crime and lies semi-consciously in his room for several days. When he recovers, he finds that he had been looked for by a friend, Razumihkin. While he recovers, he receives a visit from Luzhin, who is engaged to Dunya, the sister of Raskolnikov. Raskolnikov is insulting Luzhin and sending him away for resenting Luzhin \'s dominant attitude towards Dunya.

‘Raskolnikov goes out and reads about the crime in all of the newspapers of the last few days as soon as he can be about again. He encounters a police department officer, and almost confesses the offense. Despite his ranting, he would go far enough to render the official suspect. Later, he witnesses the death of a minor government official, Marmeladov, who is struck by a carriage as he staggers in a drunken stupor across the street. Raskolnikov helps the man and leaves all his money to the destitute widow. When he returns to his room he sees his mother and sister who have just arrived with Luzhin to plan for the wedding. He denounces Luzhin and refuses to authorize this mean and rude guy to marry his son. At about the same time, Dunya\'s former employer Svidrigailov arrives in town and looks up Raskolnikov and asks for a meeting with Dunya. Svidrigailov had previously tried to seduce Dunya and when Raskolnikov learned of it, he immediately developed a violent hatred for the individual. 

“Raskolnikov discovers that police sergeant Porfiry is interviewing all people with the old pawnbroker who had ever had any business with him. So, he goes for an interview and leaves believing he is accused by investigators. Since he met the dead man\'s daughter Sonya Marmeladov whom he had supported, he goes to her and tells her to read Lazarus\' tale to him from the Bible. He shares deep solidarity with Sonya who was coerced into prostitution to help her family while her father continuously drank. For Raskolnikov, she is a central sign of her pain. He wants to inform her who was a relative of Sonya\'s who killed the old pawnbroker and her girlfriend.” 

Raskolnikov decides to confess to Sonya after yet another interview with Porfiry. He returns to her, and Svidrigailov listens through the adjacent door during confession. Using this information, he attempts to force Dunya to sleep with him. She declines and later that night, he kills himself.Porfiry informs Raskolnikov he knows who murdered the pawnbroker. Raskolnikov fully confesses to the murder after talking to Sonya and is sentenced to eight years in a Siberian jail. He is accompanied by Sonya and Raskolnikov starts his reconstruction with her support.


We have a young smart guy in 19th-century Russia in this novel who comes up with the notion that certain men should be able to murder with impunity since they are geniuses who do incredible deeds. “Any murders that further such activities, which are for the sake of all people, are worth the expense, and should not be punished. Of course, what our narrator, Raskolnikov, comes up with, isn\'t anything new, and Napoleon is mentioned as one of the key inspirations for the thoughts for which he is battling. Raskolnikov is poor and starving, his beloved mother and sister live far from him and suffer, and he seeks to determine whether or not he is among the few selected.” The person he is thinking of killing is an old lady who is lending people money at very high rates, and of course, she is described in a very negative way.

“As an aside: sometimes I think that for Dostoevsky money lenders were the worst people in the world, although I suppose those who were Jews were worse. I may sound sarcastic right now, but I\'m not – I am sad. I know I forgave Dostoevsky for his anti-Semitism, but every time I see an off-the-cuff remark in his book about Jews (for example, here a character remarks when he is doing something bad that he is turning into a Jew), I feel so sad. I know how much the man suffered in his life, I consider him one of the most brilliant writers if not the most brilliant writer of all time, I know that he is a product of his times and I\'m well aware of how imperial Russia treated Jewish people. But I still can\'t help but wish he had been able to overcome his prejudice.” 

And getting back at what the book says, here Raskolnikov had a theory made up, and he is toiling his day and night, to decide whether this theory can apply to him. “What? How\'s that? The right to commit crimes? But not because they\'re \'victims of the environment\'?”Razumikhin inquired, even somewhat fearfully. "No, no, not quite because of that," Porfiry replied. "The whole point is that in his article all people are somehow divided into the \'ordinary\' and the \'extraordinary.\' The ordinary must live in obedience and have no right to transgress the law, because they are, after all, ordinary. While the extraordinary have the right to commit all sorts of crimes and in various ways to transgress the law, because they are extraordinary. That is how you had it unless I\'m mistaken?" "But what is this? It can\'t possibly be so!"

The story is not even an unknown; we all know that Raskolnikov is going to kill the old lady. Then the irony is that as Raskolnikov performs the act, the old lady\'s half-blood sister arrives home suddenly, and he has no choice but to murder her too.

His self-torture increases after the murder. He falls ill and becomes often delirious. He can\'t decide what to do with the things he \'d been taking and money. He seeks to connect with the people that surround him without giving in to his temptation to admit his crime.  “Oh, I know the poor man goes through a whole lot of pain – in that regard he certainly did not get off easy, but I wonder if letting him kill the sweet, innocent sister made his eventual remorse come more easily?”Yet if the story\'s overarching lesson is that only God will determine who lives and who dies, shouldn\'t Raskolnikov have come to realize that he wasn\'t permitted to take away a life, no matter whose existence it was, even though he just murdered a covetous old woman?

“Raskolnikov \'s verbal duel with PorfiriyPetrovich (the investigator) was brilliant; it was such a pleasure to read. I still don\'t know if I completely understand Porfiriy – he seemed to be a very decent guy who really thought Raskolnikov wasn\'t supposed to throw away his life even if his theories were not supported by facts, but I just felt so bad for Raskolnikov. Yep, part of the reason I\'m so fond of this book is because it\'s so brilliant.” 

The supporting characters have been wonderful all over again – and they\'re written with such compassion. Obviously, this novel is no romance, but for the main character it has a short love tale and it also has very optimistic conclusion. The romantic tale, of course, is linked to the prosecution of the murder and the subsequent arrest of Raskolnikov. It\'s not exactly a "heart saved" ending – I just interpret that as "Jesus saved" ending – but the young lady is a faithful believer in Christ, and they\'re both linked in my opinion.

And then there is sister Dunya of Raskolnikov, who had many people wanting to marry her, but she ended up with a really good man and it was great. It sounds soap opera-ish but a lot of Dunya\'s story is so real, it shows what the poor "little people" in Russia had to do.