“Power is given only to him who dares to stoop and take it ... one must have the courage to dare.”
It's been a while since I've written a blog entry, and it's because I've been working my way through a long Russian classic. I wasn't planning to read Crime and Punishment this year, but my mishap with accidentally reading an abridged version of War and Peace last month made me decide to choose another Russian novel for my Back to the Classics Challenge. It took me a total of twenty days to make it through this Dostoyevsky tome, which is longer than it usually takes me to finish a book. However, I had the start of a new school year to deal with, which meant that I had less time to read than usual. Add that to the fact that this wasn't exactly a page turner for me and you have the explanation for why things have been quiet on the blog.
Crime and Punishment is the story of Rodion Raskolnikov, a university student living in Saint Petersburg, Russia. At the beginning of the novel, his money has run out and he is living in poverty. He has had to drop out of school temporarily until he can find a way to pay for more classes. This turn of events has driven him into an anxious and depressed state. He decides that his best way forward is to murder an old pawnbroker that he frequents and steal the money and pledges she has in her apartment. He reasons that no one will miss the pawnbroker; she is greedy and profits off the misery and desperation of others. It makes more sense to sacrifice her life for the good of his own and the good he will eventually spread to mankind after he is able to finish his education.
Convinced that he is smart enough to plan the perfect crime, Raskolnikov murders the woman. Immediately, he is surprised at the visceral reaction he has to the crime. He becomes emotional, makes foolish mistakes, ends up hurting more people than he had intended, and feels an inescapable sense of dread afterwards. He constantly fears that he will be caught and falls into a state of feverish delirium. To make matters worse, his mother and sister arrive in town expecting a joyful family reunion. Raskolnikov is unable to keep up appearances for them and they begin to worry for his sanity. Everyone around him can sense that something is wrong and he begins to descend into a nervous breakdown. The police even end up on his trail after noticing his suspicious behavior. As he inches closer and closer to his breaking point, he must decide to either flee the country, commit suicide, or confess to the crime.
Crime and Punishment is a psychological journey. After the initial crime is committed, which happens in the first 100 pages, much of the rest of the novel (which is an additional 400 pages) is spent inside Raskolnikov's mind as he agonizes over what he has done. He doesn't feel remorse for the crime. Instead, he feels a complicated mix of emotions including anger at his current emotional state, sadness at his new isolation from the rest of the law-abiding world, and offense at the idea that someone as intelligent as him has to be restricted by the laws of man. He believes himself to belong to a higher class of human. Extraordinary beings such as himself weren't meant to be restricted by the laws designed to keeps the lesser members of the species under control. He compares himself to historical figures such as Napoleon, and laments the fact that many successful men committed crimes on their way to greatness and never had to suffer consequences for them. He is outraged that he failed in his goals and deeply depressed at the revelation that he does not belong to the higher class of man that he thought he did. He is an impossible character to like but an interesting one to analyze. The sections that focused on him were brilliant. Heavy and joyless, but brilliant.
Where the novel fell short for me was in the endless subplots involving minor characters that ran throughout the novel. Pages and pages are spent on Raskolnikov's mother and sister, his friend, members of the police force, a virtuous prostitute, and his sister's former boss. The stories surrounding these figures were boring, long, and confusing to try and relate to the main plot of the novel. I found myself struggling to get excited about reading this book because so much of it meandered from minor character to minor character. I was interested in Raskolnikov, but the parts focusing exclusively on him were scattered almost randomly throughout what seemed like a lot of unnecessary filler.
Crime and Punishment is regarded as one of the finest works of world literature. While I agree that it is an important and intriguing work, I found it to be a largely boring novel with flashes of greatness. This won't be a favorite for me, but I am still glad that I experienced it. Raskolnikov's psychological struggle was unlike anything else I have read and the novel is most definitely noteworthy for that. I am just disappointed that I found the rest of the story so dull.
Honestly, I am relieved right now that I can finally move on and read something else. I wish I didn't feel like that, but it's my truth. I'm glad that my time with this novel is at an end.
Back to the Classics (a Russian Classic): 11/12
TBR Challenge: (previously owned) 41/60
Total Books Read in 2017: 53