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Reading journal: Crime and Punishment by Fjodor Dostojevski. Entry 1.

Note that the spellings of the Russian names that I use here are the ones used in the Icelandic translation, and may be different from the way they are transliterated into English.

Part 1 of the book is about the titular crime and what leads the protagonist, Raskolnikof, to commit it.

  • The leading-up to the decision to commit the crime is the result of a state of mind that seems to be caused in equal measure by hunger, desperation and pride, and possibly also love for his family, that come together in Raskolnikof‘s mind to convince him that what he is planning is the right thing to do. The way Dostojevski describes the reaching of the decision, from the idea (conceived in a nightmare) to the planning to finally making his mind up to go ahead, is nothing short of brilliant. By describing it in a non-linear way, giving it out piecemeal so that the reader has to be on the alert the whole time if they want to fully understand what is going on, he creates tension that feeds into the stress and fear of Raskolnikof as he sets out to carry out his murderous plan. There is a sick kind of logic to the whole decision-making process that makes one understand why and how Raskolnikof reaches this decision, and even though I find his actions repulsive, I can’t help but sympathise with him on a certain level while finding him repugnant on another.

  • Raskolnikof seems to be convinced that he can live with the murder on his conscience, having convinced himself that the old woman deserves to die and he deserves her money, but when he actually does do it there is a snag and he finds himself committing a second murder to cover up for the first and ends up killing an innocent and blameless woman. I have a feeling that this is going to be his downfall. He has not rationalised the killing of the second woman to himself, and I think his conscience will start bothering him before long.

  • The beginning of the story has the hallmark of a moral tale. The crime being over already, I have the feeling that this is not going to be a story of punishment in the legal sense, but rather one of the punishment visited on the guilty either by fate or by their own conscience, or perhaps both.

  • There is an interesting interlude early on with a drunkard named Marmeladof who tells Raskolnikof the story of his daughter who was forced by her stepmother to prostitute herself to keep the family fed and housed. This can be seen as an equally desperate but more honest sacrifice of the sort Raskolnikov’s mother and sister are preparing to make for him by the sister’s marriage to a rich man she does not love, and who, from the descriptions in the mother’s letter to her son, seems to be not altogether a nice person. It will be interesting to see what comes of this. I have a suspicion that Marmeladof will pop up again, and possibly his daughter as well.


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