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Crime and Punishment - Part 1

#179: Oct. - Dec. 2021 (Fiction)
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Chris OConnor

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Crime and Punishment - Part 1

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Crime and Punishment - Part 1

Please use this thread to discuss Part 1 of Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
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Robert Tulip

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Re: Crime and Punishment - Part 1

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Chapter One
Raskolnikov takes us immediately into the dilemmas of his existential psychology, in a life without meaning or purpose.

Each time he passes his landlady’s door, “the young man had a sick, frightened feeling, which made him scowl and feel ashamed.” His inability to pay the rent, “crushed by poverty”, leads him to hide and skulk and lie, creating the conditions for his murderous intent. His disturbed mind imagines murder as a sign of courage. The intimations of the title appear from the outset of the book: “I want to attempt a thing _like that_ and am frightened by these trifles,” he thought, with an odd smile.

In a life of revolting misery, the “accumulated bitterness and contempt in the young man’s heart” meant Raskolnikov had lost the ability to care about appearances. His existence had lost any meaning, despite his good looks. And so his plans to murder an old woman take on an insane grandeur, a symbol of his ability to control his situation, to create meaning out of the abyss. Walking the 730 steps from his garret to the planned crime scene, tantalising himself by the hideous but daring recklessness of his dreams, a violent excitement takes over his mind.

His nerves terribly overstrained, he enters the tiny flat of the pawnbroker lady.

“She was a diminutive, withered up old woman of sixty, with sharp malignant eyes and a sharp little nose. Her colourless, somewhat grizzled hair was thickly smeared with oil, and she wore no kerchief over it. Round her thin long neck, which looked like a hen’s leg, was knotted some sort of flannel rag, and, in spite of the heat, there hung flapping on her shoulders, a mangy fur cape, yellow with age. The old woman coughed and groaned at every instant.”

The characters are already drawn as sharply as the malignant eyes and little nose of the victim. Like Gollum in Lord of the Rings debating whether to murder the hobbits, Raskolnikov first admires the clean flat and then bizarrely explains to himself that the tidiness is only a symbol of spitefulness. The transaction proceeds.

“How much will you give me for the watch, Alyona Ivanovna?”

“You come with such trifles, my good sir, it’s scarcely worth anything. I gave you two roubles last time for your ring and one could buy it quite new at a jeweler’s for a rouble and a half.”

His intent is to listen carefully to her movements so he can plan the murder. Receiving almost nothing for the watch, he ends up drinking the proceeds.
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Re: Crime and Punishment - Part 1

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Chapter Two: “It hurts more when they don’t blame”.

Raskolnikov has entered a tavern, where he meets a foul wretched drunkard, Marmeladov, who proceeds in remarkable garrulous and evocative fashion to tell the sad tale of his personal fall from grace. His daughter has been sold into prostitution while he lazed about drinking. He himself then hoped to avoid drinking, and even got a proper job, but then immediately lost all his composure and discipline, stealing all the housekeeping money to drink, and ending up in filth and squalor.

Nailed on the pitiless cross of alcohol, Marmeladov predicts that at Judgement Day God will redeem him precisely because he thought himself irredeemable. This is a piece of theological psychology that offers an even more paradoxical line than the comment from Jesus Christ that the last shall be first. It might be argued that the last in the Bible are those who are excluded from power and wealth and happiness by the injustice of the world. But Marmeladov has excluded himself by his own deliberate addictive weakness. Dostoyevsky is putting into rather stark terms the contrast between the deserving and undeserving, portraying Marmeladov as the most extremely undeserving scoundrel he can imagine. And yet this monster has the effrontery to beg for pity, perhaps even for forgiveness, even though his actions show his pretend remorse is superficial, and he would repeat his evil deeds without shame given the chance.

How could it be possible that God, or any good Christian, could fail to blame Marmeladov for his vile wickedness?? And how would Marmeladov himself feel, as an unrepentant sinner, to be utterly forgiven without condition? Would he revel in the stupidity of God, or would pangs of conscience start to work on his evil soul?

But before Judgement Day, there is the wrath of his wife Katerina Ivanovna. How will Marmeladov look her in the eye?
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Re: Crime and Punishment - Part 1

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We now live in a corner at Amalia Fyodornovna Lippeweschsel's and what we live on and pay with I do not know.
My copy has the following note about that passage in Chapter 2.
It was possible to "live in a corner," this is, to rent only part of a room, though Marmeladov turns out to be renting a whole room from Mrs. Lippeweshsel.
Clearly we are looking at widespread bone crushing poverty in this part of the book.
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Re: Crime and Punishment - Part 1

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What a great book, I've read it several times and am just now starting it again. I finished Lolita recently, also Anna Karenena, I guess I'm on a Russian tear.
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Re: Crime and Punishment - Part 1

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'...noble hearts; till the last moment every goose is a swan with them, till the last moment, they hope for the best and will see nothing wrong, and although they have an inkling of the other side of the picture, yet they won’t face the truth till they are forced to; the very thought of it makes them shiver; they thrust the truth away with both hands, until the man they deck out in false colours puts a fool’s cap on them with his own hands.'

This resounded and echoed to me in my own life; when you are the child of such a person, you suffer greatly.
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Re: Crime and Punishment - Part 1

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Chapters Three and Four
carolinedelussey wrote:'...noble hearts; till the last moment every goose is a swan with them, till the last moment, they hope for the best and will see nothing wrong, and although they have an inkling of the other side of the picture, yet they won’t face the truth till they are forced to; the very thought of it makes them shiver; they thrust the truth away with both hands, until the man they deck out in false colours puts a fool’s cap on them with his own hands.'

This resounded and echoed to me in my own life; when you are the child of such a person, you suffer greatly.
Hello Caroline, welcome to Booktalk, thank you for joining this conversation.

This line that ‘every goose is a swan’ evokes the romantic Russian sentiment of imagining things are better than they are by over-exaggerating and losing touch with reality. Geese and swans are quite different, so to think they are the same is a delusion. Someone who habitually exaggerates the merits of undistinguished people or things lives with constant confusion. The goose is proverbially contrasted with the swan as being the clumsier, less elegant, and less distinguished bird.

The context is that Chapter Three provides a long letter to Raskolnikov from his mother, explaining that his sister Dounia has accepted a marriage proposal. R is furious about this, although his grounds for intervention and concern are far from clear. He ruminates to himself about how Dounia is imagining this fiancé is far better than he actually is. In his feverish thoughts he suggests this marriage is no better than prostitution, and that his fury is justified because, in a moment of intense confusion, he tells himself he must refuse to allow his sister to sacrifice herself for him.

Such ideas in literature do often strike a chord with our own lives, as you say Caroline. So many people put up with unsatisfactory conditions because they imagine things are better than they actually are.
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Re: Crime and Punishment - Part 1

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Robert Tulip wrote: This line that ‘every goose is a swan’ evokes the romantic Russian sentiment of imagining things are better than they are by over-exaggerating and losing touch with reality. Geese and swans are quite different, so to think they are the same is a delusion. Someone who habitually exaggerates the merits of undistinguished people or things lives with constant confusion. The goose is proverbially contrasted with the swan as being the clumsier, less elegant, and less distinguished bird.
The Russians may have elevated this to a high art, or given it a particularly romantic twist, but I am sure every culture has versions of deliberately imagining things to be better than they are for the sake of the consolation that comes with the self-delusion. We Yanks just call it denial and indulge freely in it.

What gripped me about Dostoevsky's opening chapters was the moral complexity, to the point of absurdity, that he was hitting us with right up front. Bernard Shaw had a much more amusing version in "Pygmalion" with the moral philosopher, Eliza's dad, who insisted on being part of the "undeserving poor." I wonder how much Dostoevsky wants us to be similarly amused by the incongruity and irony of this drunken poseur. Yet his tone is quite serious, even portentous, in a way that Kierkegaard would have declared demonic. To pretend that one's failings are deliberately chosen and to crave the self-delusion of dignifying our disastrous effects on others with its opportunity for God to be gracious is surely a species of the demonic.

But then, that's what the book is about, isn't it?
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Re: Crime and Punishment - Part 1

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It seems every character is indulging in this fantasy, does everyone do this, all the time, on different levels? One feels impatient with R for his inertia, indecision, a young man, with neither children nor wife, is unable and unwilling to support himself, on the surface, and on the surface it is very easy to dislike him for this. Seeing into his mental anguish, however, makes him sympathetic.
The swan and goose inner monologue reflect R's exact delusion toward himself as he progresses in this part, convincing himself he is an extraordinary person, better than the average, and therefore, more deserving of life.
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Re: Crime and Punishment - Part 1

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carolinedelussey wrote:It seems every character is indulging in this fantasy, does everyone do this, all the time, on different levels?
One thing that makes Dostoevsky feel worth reading, to me, is that he has a gift for bringing "ordinary" pathologies out to the point of obviousness. He exaggerates an aspect without breaking the link to reality, and most novelists don't really have that ability.
carolinedelussey wrote:One feels impatient with R for his inertia, indecision, a young man, with neither children nor wife, is unable and unwilling to support himself, on the surface, and on the surface it is very easy to dislike him for this.
I certainly did. I was ready to throw the book across the room several times, but since it was an audiobook on my iPad, that didn't seem wise. In the end I did feel that his pride was somehow sane, and represented, in an extreme and incongruous way, an admirable side of humans (though lacking the supporting context to make it admirable from Raskolnikov.) We will get to some of the crucial scenes, I suppose.
carolinedelussey wrote:Seeing into his mental anguish, however, makes him sympathetic.
I suppose this is an example of the current enthusiasm for "empathy literature" helping us to see clearly the situation of people on the receiving end of injustice. Though R's anguish seems deserved, he anguishes about aspects that are not within his power to set aside. He is contrasted with conventional middle class lives of pretense and outward conformity, and as in Tolstoy we are invited to appreciate his non-conformist seriousness. That was the main path to sympathy for me - what did I want him to do, kneel to conventional sham? (spoiler: yes, that's what I wanted him to do.)
carolinedelussey wrote:The swan and goose inner monologue reflect R's exact delusion toward himself as he progresses in this part, convincing himself he is an extraordinary person, better than the average, and therefore, more deserving of life.
Thanks for clarifying that. It has been about a year since I heard him out. I was struck, in the early chapters, by his inklings of self-awareness (frustrating me even more that he did not sit with them and let himself be led to better life choices.) It is part of Dostoevsky's attraction that he can deliver such ambiguity in the context of Big Thoughts that bring the tensions into relevance to us normies. Maybe we just haven't thought about the miserable contradictions of the human condition with Dostoyevsky's courageous outrageousness.
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