Part One, Chapter Seven
by Dennis Abrams
The pawnbroker pulls the door open a crack; Raskolnikov panics and pulls the door open hard, nearly yanking Alyona Ivanovna into the hallway. He tells her he’s there with the cigarette case he promised, “A minute or so passed, he even thought he saw something like mockery in her eyes, as if she had already guessed everything.” The murder: “He took the axe all the way out, swung it with both hands, scarcely aware of himself, and almost without effort, almost mechanically, brought the butt-end down on her head.” Another strike and another, and “Blood poured as from an overturned glass, and the body fell backwards.” Removing her keys. The icon-covered stand. Suddenly afraid she might not be dead, Raskolnikov prepares to land another blow, but realizes it isn’t necessary, “he saw clearly that the skull was shattered and even displaced a little to one side. He was about to feel it with his finger, but jerked his hand back.” The purse around her neck, two crosses, and money. Keys, the chest of drawers, and the trunk, filled with gold objects he quickly stuffs into his pockets. A sound — having forgotten to lock the door, Lizaveta had returned. “Seeing him run in, she trembled like a leaf with a faint quivering, and spasms ran across her whole face; she raised her hand, opened her mouth, yet still did not utter a cry, and began slowly backing away from him into the corner…He rushed at her with the axe…She brought her free left hand up very slightly…The blow landed directly on the skull, with the sharp edge, and immediately split the whole upper part of the forehead, almost to the crown.” Raskolnikov prepares to flee, taking the time to wash his hands, clothes, and the axe free of blood. In the hallway he hears steps coming up the stairs, hesitates and freezes, then returns to the apartment, latching it shut. Two men outside the door, one fat, one young, wanting to do business with the pawnbroker, realize the door is latched from the inside (meaning there’s someone inside) rather than locked from the outside, and after there’s no response, go downstairs for help. Raskolnikov flees the building, pausing briefly in the second floor apartment recently left empty by the painters as others go up the stairs. Making his way home, he returns the axe to the caretaker’s shack. “He met no one, not a single soul, from then on all the way to his room, the landlady’s room was shut. He went into his room and threw himself down on the sofa just as he was. He did not sleep, but was if oblivious. If anyone had come into his room then, he would have jumped up at once and shouted. Bits and scraps of various thoughts kept swarming in his head, but he could not grasp any of them, could not rest on any one, hard as he tried…”
Just 86 pages into the book, and already…
A remarkable scene. I’m guessing this is the fourth time I’ve read the book (the others we’ll be reading are much less familiar to me), but I’m still shocked and horrified by the murder of poor wretched Lizaveta every time, and in ways that the pawnbroker’s doesn’t. It’s not so much that it’s a surprise, but I guess, in some ways, Raskolnikov has convinced me of the unworthiness of Alyona Ivanova compared to the goodness and innocence of Lizaveta. Am I alone on this?
I thought I’d share with you the opening of biographer Joseph Frank’s analysis of Crime and Punishment, from his book Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time
“Crime and Punishment (Prestuplenie i nakazanie) is the first of the truly great novels of Dostoevsky’s mature period. The psychology of Raskolnikov is placed squarely at the center of the work and is carefully interwoven with the ideas ultimately responsible for his fatal transgression. Every other feature as well illuminates the agonizing dilemma in which Raskolnikov is caught, with its inextricable mixture of tormenting passions and lofty rationalizations. The main character is surrounded by others who serve as oblique reflectors of his inner conflicts, and even the subplots serve as implicit thematic commentary. The development of the plot-action is organized to guide the reader toward a proper grasp of the significance of Raskolnikov’s crime. Every element of the book thus contributes to an enrichment of its theme and to a resolution of the deeper issues that are posed. At the center of the plot-action is the suspense created by Raskolnikov’s inner oscillations and the duel between him and Porfiry Petrovich, but this must be placed in the contest of all those ‘reverberations’ generated by the novel’s extraordinarily tight-knit ideological-thematic texture. No detail or event seems casual or irrelevant.
It is not surprising that the radicals refused to recognize themselves in his pages, since Dostoevsky portrayed Nihilist ideas not on the level at which they were ordinarily advocated, but rather as they were refashioned by his eschatological imagination and taken to their most extreme consequences. The aim of these ideas, as he knew, was altruistic and humanitarian. inspired by pity and compassion for human suffering. But these aims were to be achieved by suppressing entirely the spontaneous outflow of such feelings, relying on reason (understood in Chernyshevskian terms as Utilitarian calculation) to master all the contradictory and irrational potentialities of the human personality, and, in its latest variety of Bazarovism, encouraging the growth of a proto-Nietzschean egoism among an elite of superior individuals to whom the hopes for the future were to be entrusted.
Raskolnikov (from the Russian raskolnik, ‘dissenter’) was created to exemplify all the potentially dangerous hazards contained in such an ideal, and the moral-psychological traits of his character incorporate this antimony between instinctive kindness, sympathy, and pity, on the one hand, and on the other, a proud and idealistic egoism that has become perverted into a contemptuous disdain for the submissive heard. All the other major figures in the book are equally integrated with Raskolnikov’s fluctuations between these two poles, each is a ‘quasi-double’ who embodies, in a more sharply accentuated incarnation, one or another of the clashing oppositions within Raskolnikov’s character and ideas. Bakhtin aptly remarks that each character Raskolnikov encounters becomes ‘for him instantly an embodied solution to his own personal question, a solution different from the one at which he himself had arrived; therefore every person touches a sore spot in him and assumes a firm role in his inner speech.’ Such characters structure the novel not only through ‘inner speech’ but more centrally through the unrolling sequence of encounters generated by the plot-action. These encounters, which present Raskolnikov with one or another aspect of himself, work to motivate that process of self-understanding so crucial for Dostoevsky’s artistic purposes.”
Thoughts on where we are so far? How’s the pace of the reading for everybody? Questions? Opinions? Join in the dialogue!
Wednesday’s Reading: Part Two, Chapter One