Transgression and Punishment

Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Susan L. Rattiner, Paul Negri, Constance Garnett

Crime and Punishment is a novel of ideas, a philosophical and psychological story. These tend not to be my favorite reads, though I do respond to the psychological (I loved Notes from Underground). Characters can feel like they exist to defend or attack particular philosophies rather than experience a journey on which the reader is taken. This is not to say (most) characters in C&P are two-dimensional; they can surprise you. There are also many moments of high tension that are compulsively readable, and the entire last third of the book (minus the epilogue), when themes, characters, and events come together after building up throughout, pays off.


The novel was originally serialized, and you can feel the remnants of that in its structure. It came out in monthly installments, which blows my mind. The closest we have to that today is serialized television (slowly dying or binge-watched, generally written by a whole team of writers) and work-in-progress fanfic (WIP). Knowing where you're going and where you've been as you write is paramount, though evidently Dostoevsky's vision for the story changed at the beginning, and the journal editor(s) initially rejected a portion, which was re-written. There's something Dickensian in the serialized feel, cast of characters, and morality, not to mention depictions of the lower class and city life. It was unexpected. Doestevsky's use of third person omniscient was also unusual for the time and place.


I struggled with the characterization of Sonya, the hooker with a heart of gold--she's that very archetype, forced into prostitution by her family's circumstances yet good and pure; she's the one most directly responsible for Raskolnikov's confession and fate. There's been some debate about the need for or tone of the novel's epilogue, where we learn everyone's fate, including Raskolnikov's time in Siberia and his eventual spiritual awakening, inspired by Sonia's love and an almost pastoral scene he witnesses. Like the epilogue to Harry Potter (yeah, I'm making this comparison), there's little we can't predict, but here not knowing the details would make the story feel incomplete. The shiny, happy, hopeful tone at the end is a bit much to swallow, however.


Raskolnikov's sister, Dounia, on the other hand, was a favorite and the most interesting character. She's smart but has a sharpness and aloofness shared with her brother. That mix was intriguing. I'd love one of those books popular lately where an author takes a side character from a great novel and expands on their story. 


According to the bit of reading I did about the book, the title in Russian translates more closely to "transgression" rather than "crime," a border being crossed or going out of bounds. This matches the theme, the spirituality, of the book much more closely, but is less catchy, I suppose. ;) In the novel, it's not so much breaking the law that's the issue as sinning. This is why the book doesn't simply end with his imprisonment in Siberia.


Speaking of translations, I do wish I had a more recent one; the language can feel antiquated. I had no problems with the Garnett translation of Anna Karenina, so perhaps it's more a difference in style.


So, not a favorite, but I'm glad to have read it.