Previously, I filmed a live stream going over Part 1. I really liked Part 1 and had a lot to say about it. My thoughts on Part 2 of C&P are much briefer, so I’ll just jot them down here.
(Spoilers under the cut)
Crime and Punishment So Far
In Part 1, we got acquainted with Rodion Raskolnikov, an impoverished young man living in St. Petersburg. His dire circumstances have left him without schooling or work, and he has just learned his sister Dunya has entered an engagement of convenience to a wealthy man whose character is questionable. Heartbroken and enraged, Rodion concocts a plan to murder an elderly woman—a pawnbroker whom nobody likes—then to steal her money and use it for good. He violently murders the woman, as well as her half-sister as a witness, leaving the scene of the crime with just a few valuables and verging on insanity, which turns to paranoia as the police begin to investigate.
Part 2 is what I would describe as “classic Dostoyevsky.” Most of it follows Rodion walking around St. Petersburg talking to people (and at one time, revisiting the crime scene) or cooped up in his room in a fever dream. The weight of his deed seems to sink in, and he more or less resolves to make a confession. Before he can make it to the police station, however, an alcoholic acquaintance of his, Marmeladov, gets into a horrific street accident and dies. Rodion tries to comfort the family and gives them some money, restoring for the moment his belief in his own life and the desire to remain free. Eventually he returns to his apartment where he’s shocked to find his mother and sister, finally come to visit him and in preparation for the sister’s wedding.
Thoughts on Part 2
The second part felt a lot slower than the first. This is a somewhat rare example of a novel pouring all the most visceral scenes into the opening—Dunya’s dilemma, Sonia’s prostitution, the dream of the beaten horse, and, of course, the murder itself. Anything after that string of shocking events just feels kind of underwhelming.
The interaction between different classes was rather interesting. Even in poverty, characters originating from higher classes seem to carry their distinction with them, such as Marmeladov’s wife. It is tragi-comic to watch her hark back to her youthful days of relative luxury while her children run around in tatters. (This is the same woman who goaded Sonia into selling herself “for the family” so I don’t feel too bad for her.) One thing seems evident, which is that while today a person may climb up and down the social ladder at different times in life, back then it was easy to fall and hard (or impossible) to regain one’s higher status again.
Alcoholism is still ubiquitous, unsurprising since the first concept for this novel was to be called The Drunkards. At one point Rodion wanders into a tavern, as if with the thought to lose himself in drink. But he doesn’t stay there long. It is interesting that, so far, his troubles stem from a different source than that of many other characters.
I was discussing with my brother (who is also reading the novel) whether Rodion is a psychopath, e.g. lacking empathy, as it seemed to me he committed the crime and went about his life afterwards with relative ease (when his fever wasn’t upon him). My brother took a different angle on it, seeing Rodion as someone who simply justified his crime which lessened the feeling of guilt. He observed Rodion comes across as very emotional at other times, which also accounts for his strange, inconsistent behavior. For example, why does Rodion murder the pawnbroker but strike up an unlikely friendship with Marmeladov, who is a no less odious character (and actively ruining his family’s lives)?
It makes it hard for me to see our protagonist as a calculating schemer motivated by radical philosophies… yes, these things play some part in his original thinking, but he has hardly gone about it in a purely objective way. That may be the strength and weakness of the book so far. I cannot quite see him as an Übermensch or representative of such. Just as Prince Myshkin of The Idiot has a humanness to him that separates him from being just a “type,” so does Rodion. That’s something I love about Dostoyevsky’s characterizations.
But back to Part 2. Rodion’s friend Razumikhin comes to take care of him and offers some much-needed comic relief with his stubborn loyalty and funny remarks. Here’s some choice Razumikhin wisdom:
You see, Rodya, to my thinking, the great thing for getting on in the world is always to keep to the seasons; if you don’t insist on having asparagus in January, you keep your money in your purse; and it’s the same with this purchase. [upon buying him some new clothes]
“I don’t care if he does take bribes,” Razumihin cried with unnatural irritability. “I don’t praise him for taking bribes. I only say he is a nice man in his own way! But if one looks at men in all ways—are there many good ones left? Why, I am sure I shouldn’t be worth a baked onion myself… perhaps with you thrown in.”
‘We have facts,’ they say. But facts are not everything—at least half the business lies in how you interpret them!
They are talking such a lot of wild stuff… you simply can’t imagine what men will say! Though why shouldn’t you imagine? Don’t we talk nonsense ourselves? And let them… that’s the way to learn not to!
Another gem in Part 2 is the meeting between Rodion and his brother-in-law to-be, the slimy Luzhin. Dostoyevsky brings out the social commentary again, painting Luzhin as a Scrooge-like figure whose idea of social advancement is “acquiring wealth solely and exclusively for myself.” From a novel-writing perspective, it was not really necessary to make Luzhin even more repulsive than he already was, but Dostoyevesky took the opportunity to make sure we loathed Dunya’s creepy fiance.
I’m not sure what’s going to happen in Part 3… I am not sure Rodion will succeed in preventing the marriage or himself from blurting out the whole story. Either way, I hope the plot picks up again!