A Thousand Flappers and Hobbledehoys

My name is Doug Wykstra, and this is some of the stuff I've read and watched.

Crime and Punishment: Review

I have lived with a mild fear of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment for most of my adult life. Having finally read it, I’m not entirely sure what to think, other than that it is a lot less intimidating than its reputation would suggest. Maybe it’s the Pevear & Volokhonsky translation, but the plot’s frequent focus on marriages and inheritances and the shifting of weirdly-consistent incomes from shadowy and unexplained sources is the sort of stuff so essential to the novel as a genre that it translates just as well as any 19th-century novel in any language.

I feel like there are two different narratives contained within this novel. One is the sort of thing you expect in a Dostoevsky novel by reputation, the depressing and inevitable procession of men too weak to realize their dreams, and the women whose belief in those men and their dreams gradually drives them to delirium and madness, like a national curse of addictive behavior and despair passed down through the generations. It’s chilling how clearly Dostoevsky lays this out, understanding how the women are trapped by the marginal place afforded them, and how the men cannot help but disappoint them.

On another level, the whole thing works as a black comedy about how a young, arrogant, over-educated man would rather literally die than admit that he was wrong. Raskalnikov is such a crazy character to build your novel around. If this was an English novel, I’d say he was a satirical sketch of the sort of ineffectual Victorian hero who unaccountably gets help from a variety of people who all have better things to do than provide the supporting cast for such a total drip. As it is, I think he’s the sort of person Dostoevsky was afraid of becoming, a man paralyzed by his own ideas, whose epithet would read “He had a lot of potential.” It’s tempting to read the novel as a sort of personal act of exorcism, the author trying to sketch out his own worst-case scenario and convince himself that, even in those circumstances, there would still be hope for him. (Also, sorry, Conrad scholars who claim that Conrad was so anti-Russian he barely read any literature from there, but there is no way that Under Western Eyes exists if he never read this novel. The main character’s name is Razumov, for crying out loud.)

In the end, all I can say about Crime and Punishment is that I enjoyed how it took a very straightforward matter of crime and guilt, and used it as an engine to engage with a variety of complicated, unresolved philosophical questions about good and evil. I could complain about how obviously beholden it is to the conventions of the serial novel (Raskolinov’s engagement seems shoehorned in, Svidrigailov feels like nothing more than a plot device until his last few pages), but somehow their awkwardness makes the whole novel more charming somehow. And the economic conditions Dostoevsky sketches, with seemingly every college student deep in debt with no path of getting out, and families collapsing under the weight of their parents’ illusions and addictions, all feel just as prescient now as they were when he first wrote them.

Interested in reading this? I’m an Amazon Affiliate, meaning that I link products from Amazon, and if anyone clicks those links to buy the product, they pay me a commission. If you’re interested in purchasing Crime and Punishment, just follow the link below:

Crime and Punishment: Pevear & Volokhonsky Translation (Vintage Classics)

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This entry was posted on 30 October 2019 by in Elegant Extracts and tagged , , .
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