Sunday, May 14, 2006

Crime and Punishment


This book, “Crime and Punishment” was lying in my bookshelf untouched for the past three years. I still don’t know what stopped me from reading this book for such a long time. Probably, my inherent feeling that this book was a heavy one – might be one of the reasons.

Now that I have read this, I want to write about it, before the heat dissipates.

Fyodor Dostoevsky, the renowned Russian literati wrote this novel in the year 1866 when he was 44 years old. By then he had enough experience to write a saga. He spent three years in the most torturous of prisons (Siberia) for anti-governmental activities. He lost his wife and his brother with whom he was very close. He was about to go to debtor’s prison for the huge money he owed. In that desperate need of money, he made an agreement with a publisher (of “Russian Herald”), that he would write a serialized novel. If he would fail to deliver initial chapters by November 1866, this publisher would obtain the copy-right of all his future works, without giving a single copeck to Dostoevsky. Making such an agreement he got an advance of three thousand rubles. He gave almost all this money to his stepson and his brother’s ailing family. He gambled the remaining very little money too, which would not have been enough for repaying his debt. Thus having no money, disgusted at himself, he went and stayed in a remote, lonely place; pleaded everyone to offer him a loan. Staying in a wretched hotel, when the situation could not be further worse, he started writing “Crime and Punishment”.

Just when there was only a month to the deadline, he was lucky enough to get a devoted and caring stenographer, Anna Grigoryevna, to whom he dictated the novel, and who would soon become his wife. Thus, in Keith Carabine’s words (who had analyzed and written a detailed introduction to the novel) “he escaped in a hair’s breadth from the ugly deal”!

Coming to the book, it is about an honest, intellectual but very poor student, who out of desperation – driven by an ideology of his own, kills an old pawnbroker woman and her sister. In his eyes, she was a wretched, useless person who sucked the money of poor people. His plan was to rob her and use the money in relieving his sister who works as a maid and help his mother who pawned her pension money to pay his university fee. After killing them how he was tormented by his own guilty feeling, fear of getting caught, and how he was driven to the point of madness by the failure of his ideology makes up the novel.

Being a “serialized” novel, written for a public magazine, each and every chapter has the element of sudden twist and suspense. In a way this is the first “psychological thriller” ever written. This book acts as a page-turner, yet contains detailed discussions on trivial stuff and psychology. But one should not go to this book with a notion of finding a half-baked twister (which will twist everything, including your time, money and still remaining reasoning skills) like Sydney Sheldon or Jeffrey Archer. This novel in detail, analyzes the mentality of the criminal before and after the crime. Moreover, Dostoevsky has the knack of enacting the scene as though it happens in front of your eyes, still he would make you explore the psychology of all the characters involved! [“The last moment had come, the last drops had to be drained! So a man will sometimes go through half an hour of mortal terror with a brigand, yet when the knife is at his throat at last, he feels no fear”] The way the chief magistrate Porfiry interrogates Raskolnikov, the murderer is worth all the praises this book received so far!

Dostoevsky is one of the beginners who explored “Existentialism” in literature. According to Existensialism there is no universal good. Every man has (or should have) his own laws of good and bad. On a very high level, you can correlate this philosophy with the way Raskolnikov questions the governmental bodies, religious beliefs. But Existensialism in "C.a.P" is very intricate and a subject matter for a doctorate thesis in Literature. The great philosopher Nietzche himself declares, “Dostoevsky is the only psychologist from whom I have anything to learn”. Moreover, in Dostoevsky's times this philosophy was not known by this name. It is the French writer Albert Camus who first named it so.

There is love, parental feelings, criticism on progressive movements, theism, analysis on punishments given by law-bodies in this book. Thus Dostoevsky is truly a master who could enchant everybody from a layman to a learned intellect. Indeed all his stories were written under constant pressure from the need of money and the deadlines of magazines. (“I am convinced that not one of the writers, past or living, wrote under the conditions in which I constantly write” – Dostoevsky). So, he had no time to correct some of the short comings of his works. According to his wife, he lamented very much for this.

Indeed “Crime and Punishment” is a very good book – will definitely direct the reader towards quality literature and will shake his conscience a bit.

PS:
1) Do you know, Dostoevsky was about to be executed and saved only three minutes before the execution? When he was imprisoned for anti-governmental activities and he was condemned for capital punishment. He was taken to the execution chamber. There were six people to be executed. Dostoevsky was supposed to be the fifth. They executed the first three. When they were preparing the next three for execution, an order from Tsar to relieve these condemned was delivered.
2) In prison, he befriended a fellow prisorner, who was jailed for killing his father. Indeed after few months, he was found innocent when the original killer was caught. But the innocent son kept saying that in an indirect way he was responsible for his father’s death so his suffering was justified. Then realized Dostoevsky, the urge in the people to enjoy the suffering, which is the basis of Christianity according to him.

Comments:
Interesting....

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