A former English teacher of mine once told me that life is too short for reading Dostoyevsky. Nevertheless I decided to tackle this work which I first read in my student days. I’m always curious to see how I will appreciate a book on re-reading.
The story concerns the decision of an ex-law student, Raskolnikov, to kill a pawnbroker, largely due to his belief that the world is divided up between the ordinary and extraordinary in people and as an extraordinary person himself he has the right to act outside the morals of ordinary mortals if it leads him to furthering his aims or to the betterment of society. The story focuses on Raskolnikov’s reaction to his crime, in the course of which he realizes that he cannot bear the weight of his actions and he is indeed ordinary.
His subsequent behaviour arouses the suspicions of Porfiry Petrovich, the Inspector into the crime and the story contains the elements of a thriller aswell as being an intensely psychological work. Eventually Raskolnikov confesses his guilt and is sent to the gulags of Siberia, but despite often being seen as a story of Christian redemption, it is only really in the final pages that there is some hope of redemption through his relationship with Sonya, who follows him to Siberia.
The reasons for his actions are complex and are shown to have to do with his poverty and ultimately his alienation from society which helped ferment such a terrible course of action. Although Raskolnikov isn’t a particularly sympathetic character – he’s very irritable and proud, other characters are described in scenes of great pathos throughout.
Ultimately, in reading this book I was fascinated and entertained and though I wouldn’t read such a book regularly I would recommend it if you have a bit of time and you want to grapple with some of the big questions.