Thursday, 11 August 2016

Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky

The simple schema of a Dostoevsky novel such as Crime and Punishment allows him to create the dramatic contrasts and oppositions that move the story along. It’s all about counterparts. Mother and Daughter of the Roskolnikovs and of the Marmelodovs arrive at a trade of their only asset to support the son in the former and the family in the latter case. Roskolnikov who kills two people and Svidrigailov who caused the death of two are juxtaposed, the one unable to rise to being a cynical ubermensch, the other untrammelled by any kind of ethos. The friend of Roskolnikov, his good angel, Razumikhin is how he might be if he were not oppressed by the evil spirit of philosophisme. Roskolnikov is isolated by the consciousness of crime which is its own punishment but has the promise of redemption. Svidrigailov is an apostle of the absurd finally defeated by Dunya and whose death allows the Roskolnikov family to set themselves up with the good brother as a guardian. Examining Magistrate Porfiry Petrovitch is for me one of literature’s great cops. He spots the culprit quickly. There are too many clues but no hard evidence so he must draw out a confession discussing the Napoleon theories, appreciating and then mocking them. He is like my cat with a captive wren. The proud murderer who must face the truth that he is a bungler whose only triumph is to terrorise Sonia Marmeledov with a confession. There is a sense in which he might have to kill her too.

Everybody meets everybody else and skandaly ensues in Part V with its grotesquerie mitigated by a pantomime German and a drunken Pole and funeral guests egging them on. A worm turns, Luzhin the dismissed fiancé is unmasked. You can’t say that Dostoevsky doesn’t give dramatic value. Even if you’ve never read the book and what are you doing here, I might add; this sketch will not be a spoiler.

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