Last blog posting—by group


Final issues for discussion:

From the murders forward, Raskolnikov spins a web in which he is himself trapped. And he is, in his more lucid moments, well aware of the trap: he even says that he “turned spiteful…Then I hid in my corner like a spider.”*

Yet of all the characters, Porfiry is the one who seems most “spiderlike” as he skillfully maneuvers Raskolnikov during their encounters. Porfiry also has keen insight into Raskolnikov. When he finally confronts the young man (part six, chapter 2), Porfiry tells Rodya: “Do you know how I regard you? I regard you as one of those men who could have their guts cut out, and would stand and look at his torturers with a smile -- provided he’s found faith, or God”

Discuss what Porfiry means by this. Notice that he does not say “faith in God”, but “faith, or God” (part 6, ch. 2, 3 pages from the end of the chapter, 460 in P/V).

*Interesting…Svidrigaïlov (pages 289-290) poses this anti-metaphysical “spiders of eternity” notion to Raskolnikov:

“We keep imagining eternity as an idea that cannot be grasped, something vast, vast! Instead of all that, imagine suddenly that there will be one little room there, something like a village bathhouse, covered with soot, with spiders in every corner, and that's the whole of eternity? I sometimes fancy something of the sort.”

“But surely, surely you can imagine something more just and comforting than that!” Raskolnikov cried, with painful feeling.

“More just? Who knows, perhaps that is just—and, you know, if I had my way, it's certainly how I would do it!” Svidrigaïlov answered, smiling vaguely.

A sort of chill came over Raskolnikov at this hideous answer. Svidrigaïlov raised his head, looked at him intently, and suddenly burst out laughing.

“No, but realize,” he cried, “that half an hour ago we had never even seen each other, we’re supposed to be enemies, there is unfinished business between us; so we've dropped the business, and look where we've gone sailing into! Well, wasn't it true when I said that we were birds of a feather?”

In Heart of Darkness, Marlow’s descriptions of Kurtz include the following: “a wandering and tormented thing”, someone whose words were like “phrases spoken in nightmares”, someone who “had no restraint, no faith”, whose “soul was mad”, someone who “struggled, struggled”. Think back to the nightmare-like atmosphere that suffused Heart of Darkness, then read again the description of Rodya’s last dream (6 pages from the end of the novel, p. 547 P/V version, paragraph beginning “He lay in the hospital all through the end of Lent…” and ending with “…had heard their words or voices.” Both Rodion and Kurtz engage in interior battles fought between their inner goodness and their desire to “step over”, to be “supermen”. Crime and Punishment, however, ends with a powerful feeling of hope and redemption, whereas Heart of Darkness ends with (naturally)…darkness. How can we better understand Raskolnikov’s redemption through the tragedy of Kurtz? (As always, support your opinions.)

The fascinating, enigmatic, repellant, magnetic, odious philanthropic…Svidrigailov!


Dostoevsky provided his protagonist Raskolnikov with a number of doubles and foils: Marmeladov is a sort of double, a “criminal” with the best of intentions; Razumikhin a foil, strong, generous and well-balanced where Rodya is self-absorbed erratic—but equally passionate and warm-hearted. Even the hypocritical, self-important Luzhin provides an ironic contrast to Raskolnikov when Luzhin mouths the radical theories that have attracted Rodya and shows how empty they are.

Svidrigailov is another sort of “double,” who like Rodya is haunted by his conscience through dreams and ghosts. “He’s mad,” is what Rodya correctly thinks of his mirror image—and of course Rodya is mad, too.

Look for the ways Svidrigailov provides a counterpoint to Raskolnikov in his actions, his rationalizations, his self-absorption, his egotism, his crimes, and his agony. To help you make the connection, I’m quoting Joseph Frank’s introduction of this serpent-like character below, in which he in his turn quotes the English Romantic poet Lord Byron:

One of Dostoevsky’s most strangely appealing characters, a sort of monster à la Quasimodo longing for redemption to normalcy, Svidrigailov is much less a melodramatic villain…His Byronic world-weariness signifies a certain spiritual depth, and the contradictions of his personality, which swing between the blackest evil and the most benevolent good, perhaps can best be understood in Byronic terms. Is he not similar to such a figure as Byron’s Lara, in the poem of the same name, “who at last confounded good and ill,” and whose supreme indifference to their distinction made him equally capable of both? One can well say of Svidrigailov:

Too high for common selfishness, he could
At times resign his own for other’s good,
But not in pity, not because he ought,
But in some strange perversity of thought,
That sway’d him onward with a secret pride
To do what few or more would do beside;
And thus some impulse would, in tempting time,
Mislead his spirit equally to crime.

Svidrigailov thus embodies the same mixture of moral-psychic opposites as Raskolnikov, but arranged in a different order of dominance. What rules within him is the conscious acceptance of an unrestrained egoism acting solely in the pursuit of personal and sensual pleasure; but his enjoyments are tarnished by self-disgust. What dominates in Raskolnikov are the pangs and power of conscience even in the midst of a fiercely egoistic struggle to maintain his freedom. Svidrigailov also resembles Raskolnikov in the sophistication and sharpness of his intellect; he is a brilliant and witty talker who does a great deal to enliven the final sections of the book.

(from pages 129-130 of Dostoevsky: The Miraculous Years, 1865-1871 by Joseph Frank. Princeton University Press, 1996.)

The Women of Crime & Punishment


Now that we have taken a look at Sonya, let's turn our attention to the other women of Dostoevsky's first great novel:

  • Raskolnikov's sister Avdotya and his mother Pulcheria
  • Marmeladov's wife Katherina Ivanovna
  • The little girl, Katherina's daughter Polina
  • The two sisters: Alyona (the louse) & Lizaveta (the idiot*)
  • Svidrigailov's deceased wife, Marfa Petrovna
  • The woman who attempts suicide in the canal
  • The Marmeladov's landlady
  • Anyone else you believe may be significant (though this is a complete list as far as I know)

*I've deliberately used the word that became the title of Dostoevsky's follow-up novel. Why? Because Prince Myshkin, the Idiot, is a saintly man—not really an idiot at all except that he is ill-equipped for the world of duplicity, corruption and twisted motives that receives him. Lizaveta is a saintly idiot of another sort, but there's a connection there… and that's all I have to say for now.

What strands connect Sonya to Lizaveta and to Katherina?
Dostoevsky treats his brother-pair as temperamental, even spiritual twins. How does he make this explicit (since Dunya is a far less completely drawn character, much can be found in the narrative and dialogue)?
As you look at Lizaveta, whose importance is clear through numerous associations and allusions (please identify as many as you can for Monday) don't shortchange Alyona. After all, she is the sacrificial victim that Raskolnikov selects.
Why does Dostoevsky bother to include the incident of the woman who attempts to drown herself?
Pulcheria's letter makes up a key segment of Part 1. How does she become a secondary victim of the Crime?There are lots of other questions I could ask. Mainly I want you to think, read, and prepare. Once again we will discuss and "post our comments" aloud in class. To get to everyones, let's start our group discussion immediately upon arrival. Don't wait for me to sound the whistle: just get together with those you worked with on Thursday and get going right away.
I'm looking forward to this. I thought Thursday was a good day.

Sonya and the Lesson of Lazarus


Re-read (see, I'm giving you credit for reading it once already, though maybe you're still far away from this stage of the novel) Chapter 4 of Part V: Raskolnikov's weird mixture of argument, self-justification and confession to Sonya. Here the ideas outlined in the first meeting with Porfiry are passionately, if inconsistently, developed by our hero. What sides of himself does he show at this meeting. How complete is his confession?—does it include repentance and spiritual commitment?

Why does he choose Sonya as his confessor? Why not Porfiry, or Razumikhin?
Why also does he torment Sonya, as he does so terribly at their previous meeting?
Finally, how does the story of Lazarus work in this context? (It's featured in the essay I posted for you tonight, so you might take a look if time permits.)

George Gibian's essay on symbolism in C&P—read by Monday


Traditional Symbolism in Crime and Punishment -

Porfiry, long anticipated, appears—to what end?


Page 252: “Your things would not be lost in any event,” he [Porfiry Petrovich] went on calmly and coldly, “because I’ve been sitting here a long time waiting for you.”

From Part 2, Chapter 4, when Razumikhin first mentions the name to Raskolnikov, we hear with Rodya the name of Porfiry Petrovich (no last name ever is given, interestingly) at regular intervals. He is a police inspector and a lawyer. In chapter 7, Razumikhin tells Raskolnikov, "Porfiry…wants to make your acquaintance." (He repeats this, with emphasis, in chapter 6: "He wants very, very, very much to make your acquaintance."

There are other such moments, but we don't meet Porfiry until chapter 5 in Part III, when Raskolnikov enters laughing. Near the end of a long, tortuous and torturous conversation, Porfiry brings up Rodya's article "On Crime," written six months before when he left the university and began his isolation.

What do you think Porfiry's role in the drama we could call "Punishment" (since "Crime" only occupies the first hundred or so pages of the novel)? What is his attitude toward Raskolnikov? Does it change? Is he Raskolnikov's antagonist or nemesis?

By the way—it's 11:45 pm on Saturday. I beat my deadline…barely! So there's no refund, if you know what I mean.

Think and write well, and Tuesday we'll build a great discussion based on what you say here.

By the way, do you notice that Razumikhin is either related to or friends with just about everybody involved in the investigation? Any theories as to that remarkable fact?

The Superman or Übermensch


The Superman or übermensch -

Find passages that exemplify Rodya


The passage below is from pages 214-215 of Crime and Punishment. Accepting Razumikhin's assessment as accurate (which undoubtedly it is) find three good examples of Raskolnikov displaying his dual nature. Anything we discussed yesterday is fair game, but we need more.

Underline and note three in your book and come prepared to discuss them.

“Now then, Dmitri Prokofych, I should like very, very much to know…generally…how he looks at things now—that is, please understand me, how shall I put it—that is, better to say: what are his likes and dislikes? Is he always so irritable? What are his wishes and, so to speak, his dreams, if you can say? What precisely has a special influence on him now? In short, I should like...”

"Ah, mama, how can anyone answer so much all at once?" Dunya remarked.

“Ah, my God, but this is not at all, not at all how I expected to see him, Dmitri Prokofych.”

“That’s only natural.” Dmitri Prokofych replied. “I have no mother; but my uncle comes here every year, and almost every time fails to recognize me, even externally, and he is an intelligent man; well, and in the three years of your separation a lot of water has flowed under the bridge. What can I tell you? I’ve known Rodion for a year and a half: sullen, gloomy, proud; recently (and maybe much earlier) insecure and hypochondriac. Magnanimous and kind. Doesn’t like voicing his feelings, and would rather do something cruel than speak his heart out in words. At times, however, he’s not hypochondriac at all, but just inhuman, cold and callous, as if there really were two opposite characters in him, changing places with each other. At times he’s terribly taciturn! He’s always in a hurry, always too busy, yet he lies there doing nothing. Not given to mockery, and not because he lacks sharpness but as if he had no time for such trifles. Never hears people out to the end. Is never interested in what interests everyone else at a given moment. Sets a terribly high value on himself and. it seems, not without a certain justification. Well, what else?…It seems to me that your arrival will have a salutary effect on him.”

“Ah, God grant us that!” Pulcheria Alexandrovna cried out, tormented by Razumikhin’s assessment of her Rodya.

The Marmeladovs: a family representative of “the huddled masses” & human misery


Wednesday we’ll begin with Raskolnikov’s encounter with Marmeladov (and subsequently Marmeladov’s family), which introduces many of Dostoevsky’s distinctive techniques:

· role of confession

· role of environment

· the sort of despair that for want of a better word we can call “existential”

· the life of the social misfit

· poverty and desperate circumstances of those who suffer it

· the dead end of social determinism (via Lebezyatnikov)

· forgiveness and redemption

Then we will shift to setting in general, and Raskolnikov's environment in particular

The hell with the blog!


Why spoil a beautiful weekend with something that sounds as ugly as the word "blog"?

(That's a rhetorical question)