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Book Review: 'Crime and Punishment' by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Updated on September 26, 2014
Gielguld and Dolly Haas In The Broadway Production of Dostoevsky's 'Crime And Punishment'
Gielguld and Dolly Haas In The Broadway Production of Dostoevsky's 'Crime And Punishment' | Source
Fyodor Dostoevsky
Fyodor Dostoevsky | Source

Dostoevsky Wrote From Experience

Now I begin to truly understand why the poverty-stricken commit crimes. I begin to have more compassion for them. And this is because I have read the great Russian novelist Fydor Dostoevsky’s novel, ‘Crime and Punishment’.

Dostoevsky wrote what he knew. He had served many years in prison camp for ‘alleged subversion’ against Tsar Nicholas in 1849, and was given the ‘silent treatment’ for eight months during which his guards even wore velvet-soled boots. He was then led in front of a firing squad, from which he was saved at the last moment on order and then spent four years of hard labour in a Siberian prison.

Mural By Ivan Nikolayev Inspired By Crime And Punishment At The Dostoyevskaya Subway Station in Moscow.
Mural By Ivan Nikolayev Inspired By Crime And Punishment At The Dostoyevskaya Subway Station in Moscow. | Source

The Author of ‘Crime and Punishment’ Thought Like Robin Hood

Yes, Dostoevsky did suffer from abject poverty and the conflict suffered by many Russians of that period – the conflict between the ideals of justice and compassion which led to the revolution that displaced the members of the rich ruling class such as Tsar Nicholas.

In other words, Dostoevsky’s thinking was akin to Robin Hood’s, who stole from the rich to give to the poor.

Tala Birell and Douglass Dumbrille in 1935 Hollywood Film 'Crime And Punishment'
Tala Birell and Douglass Dumbrille in 1935 Hollywood Film 'Crime And Punishment' | Source

The Reader Feels Empathy For Dostoevsky’s Criminal Protagonist

In the brilliantly written novel, Raskolnikov, the hero, an impoverished student, is mortified by the fact that his sister is about to marry a wealthy but despicable character in order to aid her brother financially, and is further pained by the story of a poor drunkard, Marmeladov and his self-sacrificing nine year old daughter Sonia who sells her body in order to bring home the money her consumptive, irate, yet loving stepmother Katerina so bemoans the lack of.

Raskolnikov wants to send money to his mother who is racked by poverty, rescue his sister, a paid companion in the household of a lascivious landowner, finish his studies, go abroad and lead a decent, upright life. He is thus led to murder his unjust pawnbroker, an old lady, and spends the rest of his life fighting insanity and prison.

A Haunting Scene From ‘Crime and Punishment’

Here is a tiny excerpt from a paragraph in 'Crime and Punishment' where Marmeladov tells him about his daughter Sonia. The scene has haunted me and is one I shall always remember as having brought tears to my eyes. In the scene, Sonia returns home and lays some money on the table beside Katerina Ivanovna.

"She did not utter a word, she did not even look at her, she simply picked up our ‘drap de dames’ shawl (we have a shawl made of `drap de dames’), put it over her head and face and lay down on the bed with her face to the wall; and her little shoulders and body kept shuddering."

And as the drunk Marmeladov watches, Katerina Ivanovna goes up to Sonia’s little bed and spends all evening kissing Sonia's feet.

Dostoevsky's ‘Crime and Punishment’ is a heavy read, but it is a classic that will open your eyes and help you understand the plight of the prostitute and the poor.

© 2014 Anita Saran

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