“And this wretched Lizaveta was so simple, so downtrodden, and so permanently frightened that she did not even raise a hand to protect her face, though it would have been the most necessary and natural gesture at the moment, because the axe was raised directly over her face.”

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


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9 Responses to “And this wretched Lizaveta was so simple, so downtrodden, and so permanently frightened that she did not even raise a hand to protect her face, though it would have been the most necessary and natural gesture at the moment, because the axe was raised directly over her face.”

  1. PatRosier says:

    I am enjoying this. The pace — ie, the length of the reading each day — is about right for me.

    I’m still reading the Garnett edition on my ipod touch as I wait for the recommended translation, which seems to have got held up somewhere. The online shop doesn’t think I have paid, my bank statement says I have. Working on it.)

  2. Chuck says:

    Hi, Dennis. The pace of our reading works find for me. I’m actually surprised at how fast it goes.

    I have a question for the group. I’m curious about the meaning behind Raskolnikov’s tendency to change his frame of mind so quickly and what Dostoevsky intends by presenting him this way. He’s is obviously mad — or at least delusional from malnutrition — but is there a deeper significance to this part of his behaviour or am I over thinking this?

    For example, in chapter 4, he was adamant that the officer take the young drunk girl home — then a moment later suggests he leave her alone with “the dandy.” In chapter 5 he was obviously disturbed by his dream about the horse. He said “Thank God it was only a dream!” then immediately all but resigned himself murdering Alyona Ivanovna. It’s really striking. Could there be some clue to this dissociative behaviour in his name which, according to the translators, has its roots in the Russian word for split?

  3. Minnikin says:

    One of the lines that struck me was the conversation between the student and the officer in the tavern: the student was “surprised and laughed at the fact that Lizaveta was constantly pregnant…” (p 64).

    A throwaway line perhaps, and one that I don’t think is referred to after, but the possibilty of her being pregnant was very strong in the back of my mind when she was murdered. Maybe adding to the ‘shock’ you feel at her death (referred to by Dennis earlier)?

  4. marchhare says:

    The number of pages assigned seems OK. I am reading ahead. It is a real show-stopper. Parts are hard to read, the horse dream was horrific and was more upsetting than the murders for me (this is probably diagnosable). The other characters as described in the analysis posted appear deeply tied to R. without having a life of their own. As I read I think of the murders in Tucson by another mentally ill person. Like Proust, D. takes you very quickly into his world. Thanks Dennis.

  5. Taylor Kirk says:

    The first time I read the book Marmeladov’s role seemed to be forshadowing, hinting at the inevitability of a self-imposed calamity. To that point we had already had some experience with Raskolnikov’s thoughts, and were maybe hoping he would talk himself out of murder. When we hear Marmeladov’s story we kind of know what sort of train wreck is coming for Raskolnikov. The first-time reader who has not been informed ahead of time about the plot (unlikely, but imagine) does not to this point know for sure whether he will do it. It was interesting to read it a second time and pay more attention to Marmeladov’s story.

  6. Doak says:

    The pace is fine, but about as much as we can handle over here. If I fall behind (and I will), it likely will take more than one day to catch up.

    I was not so shocked at Lizaveta’s murder, but I was horrified. Frankly, I was horrified at Alyona Ivanova’s. I was horrified that Raskolnokov actually went through with it. Both murders were in cold blood. Having never read this book before, I really did not think that Raskolnokov had the conviction or fortitude to go through with it. I figured that, at most, he would commit some other, petty crime and then drive himself further into madness with thoughts of “what could have been” as some sort of anti-hero.

    Lizaveta’s murder did something else, too. It cemented Raskolnokov as a villain. While one might be able to rationalize Alyona Ivanova’s death as something for the common good, Lizaveta was purely innocent. Raskolnokov killed her only to save his own skin. He cannot just leave a handful of coppers on the windowsill and hope that I will feel some sort of compassion for him, now, not that he would care.

    I am glad you brought nihilism into the discussion. From what I have read from this point on, that is exactly what I see here. There were some strong hints, already: Raskolnokov giving up his lesson work to support himself and leaving the university, wandering around the streets without realizing where he is going, the horrible dream. However, now that the murders are done, Raskolnokov does not sleep, he sinks into “oblivion.”

    • Minnikin says:

      Doak said:

      ‘Lizaveta’s murder did something else, too. It cemented Raskolnokov as a villain’.

      Villain? I am not so sure it’s as simple and clear-cut as that – If he’d turned around to Lizaveta at that moment she walked in on him and said ‘oh right, you’ve caught me, the game is up’, would we applaud him as a hero? Hardly. Also it was chance, not pre-meditation that dictated the second murder.

      So how do we make sense of it? Is he a villain from the start (when he was plotting and executing the 1st murder)? Or only after he murdered Lizaveta (which wasn’t pre-meditated)? If Lizaveta’s personality had been similar as Alyona’s, could her death have been justified also?

      I’m asking a lot of questions, but admit that I don’t have the answers-feel free to tear them apart!

      • One could simplify and say that one murder was one for money, the second was in self-defense. In that case…isn’t the murder of the pawnbroker worse? Or to broaden the scope…aren’t we falling into the same trip that Raskolnikov falls into — that it’s possible to justify or at least defend a murder if the motivations are right? (Of course we do that all the time…war, self-defense, for some the death penalty)

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