Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky is a classic Russian novel I decided to cross off my “should have read in high school” list. It is, by today’s standards, wordy, but I expect wordiness in nineteenth century literature and I enjoy getting into characters with detail and depth.
Crime and Punishment is primarily the story of a young student named Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, who kills an old pawnbroker and her sister for a variety of reasons. He is quite poor and becomes desperate when he learns that his sister, Avdotya Romanovna, is engaged to marry a wealthy man. Raskolnikov believes his sister is marrying someone unworthy of her for money and plans to help her family, including him, through their difficult financial situation. He thinks of the murder as an act that will rid the world of an unethical individual, but I saw this more as a rationalization than a reason for the crime. All this happens early in the story. The book is, for the most part, the story of his psychological reaction to his crime.
Although the book centers on the murder of the pawnbroker, it is not the only moral issue covered. The novel includes the story of a drunk, Semyon Zakharovich Marmeladov, who dies, leaving his family in a desperate situation — Semyon’s daughter, Sofia Semyonovna Marmeladova , who turns to prostitution to help support her family — and Pyotr Petrovich Luzhin, Avdotya’s former fiancé who attempts to frame Sofia Marmeladova for a theft she hadn’t committed. All these stories show events that present moral conflicts, even if the actions were not technically illegal in nineteenth century Russia. And there is also, Arkady Ivanovich Svidrigaïlov, a wealthy, former employer of Avdotya who apparently murdered his wife, Marfa Petrovna Svidrigaïlova. So the plot covers more than one crime and more than one punishment.
I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys classics and likes to read psychological studies of human behavior. As with Tolstoy’s work, the names can be a little confusing. There are a number of internet sites including Wikipedia that can help keep the characters straight.
Steve Lindahl - Author of Motherless Soul
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