The Draw to Dostoevsky

It’s Crime and Punishment part two, chapter five tonight. I’m struck by how much of the story can be glimpsed in this one chapter. We meet Petr Petrovich, a true antagonist, and he immediately shows his character. He wants to marry Raskolnivok’s sister, and he wants to put his elightened mind on display in this first encounter.

“If for example I was told to ‘love my neighbor,’ and did so, what comes of that?” … Science tells us to love ourselves first of all because everything on earth is based on personal interest …

p. 164

Throughout the chapter, Razumikhin’s conern for his friend shines through. I love how he is the one to speak up first and shut down Petrovich’s spirit of the age nonsense. “Enough, sir!”

Raskolnikov himself, from his sick bead, half-dead, teaches Petrovich the end of his ways,

“if you follow the theory that you were advocating just now to its conclusion, it turns out that one can slaughter people …”

p. 167

Of course, his twisted “economic theory” extends to twisted relationships, and when he slips up in his anger and subtly slights Raskolnikov’s mother, I just love how the nearly dead man rises and spits fire,

“If you dare once agin … utter even one word … about my mother … I’ll throw you down the stairs head over heels!”

p. 168

By the time the chapter ends, the reader is aware that it won’t be too difficult to put together the pieces of the crime. You can glimpse a litte of how it might play out, but what’s more is that this half-dead Raskolnikov is acting virtuously in his forceful stiff-arm to the esteemed, would-be “suitor” of his sister.

At this point in the novel, he is dead in his crime, he is a madman, writhing in his guilt, yet he knows Petrovich is toxic and absolutely full of it, and he does something about it.

After reading this chapter in Katz’s translation, I picked up the Pevear and Volohkonsky Everyman’s Library edition. In the introduction, W. J. Leatherbarrow, in one sentence, states exactly why I find Dostoevsky so enthralling.

Dostoevsky’s uniqueness lay not in the exposure of social injustice, but in the exploration of the complex and contradictory impulses which make up human nature.

p. xi

You see it in Raskolnikov from start to finish, and you see it in yourself. In a way, when you read Dostoevsky, you feel seen and known. And the best part is that you know there is redemption waiting for you at the end of the book.