Part Two, Chapter One
by Dennis Abrams
Early the next morning: “A terrible chill seized him…he was suddenly stricken with such shivering that his teeth almost flew out and everything in him came loose.” Remembering to put the hook on the door, to examine himself, to hide the purse and things he had taken in a corner low down, “where the wall paper was coming away…” After falling asleep again, he wakes up and begins to frantically tear out the lining of his pocket, to take apart the loop that had held the axe underneath his jacket, the toe of his sock soaked in blood. No matches to light the stove to burn the evidence. He falls asleep again, and wakes up that afternoon to the sound of knocking at his door — Nastasya and the caretaker. A summons from the police. His fever. “It was an ordinary summons from the local police to come to the chief’s office that day at half past nine. ‘But this is unheard of. I’ve never had any personal dealings with the police! And why precisely today?’ he thought, in tormenting bewilderment. ‘Lord, get it over with!’ He fell on his knees to pray, but burst out laughing instead — not at praying, but at himself…’If I’m to perish, let me perish, I don’t care!'” Socks. Laughter giving way to despair. “‘It’s a ruse! They want to lure me there by a ruse and suddenly throw me off with everything,’ he continued to himself, walking out the stairs. ‘The worst of it is that I’m almost delirious…I might blurt out some foolishness.'” Will there be a search while he’s away? “If they ask, maybe I’ll tell them.” The station, “The stairway was narrow, steep, and all covered with swill.” The smell of rancid paint. Two ladies — one in mourning, the other, “an extremely plump and conspicuous woman, with reddish-purple blotches, all too magnificently dressed, and with a brooch the size of a saucer on her bosom…” Raskolnikov’s dizziness. The airless room. The young clear, “about twenty-two years old, with a dark and mobile physiognomy which looked older than its years, fashionably and foppishly dressed, his hair part ed behind, all combed and pomaded, with many rings and signet-rings on his white, brush-scrubbed fingers, and gold chains on his waistcoat. He even spoke a few words of French…” A question of money. Recovery of a one hundred and fifteen rouble note which Raskolnikov gave to his landlady, who gave it turn in payment to the court councillor Chebarov. Relief. Laviza Ivanovan’s story (in a heavily German accented Russian) of her most noble house, and her most unnoble drunken guest. Lieutenant Ilya Petrovich. Chief of Police Nikodim Formich, “Come, come, my friend, poverty is no vice!” Raskolnikov’s defense: His poverty, his love for his landlady’s daughter, her death from typhus, the landlady’s promise never to use the promissory note against him. “Raskolnikov fancied that after his confession the clerk had become more casual and contemptuous with him, but — strangely — he suddenly felt decidedly indifferent to anyone’s possible opinion…And where had these feelings come from? On the contrary, if the room were no suddenly filled not with policemen but with his foremost friends, even then, he thought, he would be unable to find a single human word for them, so empty had his heart suddenly become.” After signing the papers, Raskolnikov felt “as if a nail were being driven into his skull. A strange thought suddenly arose in him: to get up now, go over to Nikodim Fonisch, and tell him all about yesterday, down to the last detail…” Raskolnikov overhears Fomich and Petrovich discussing the murder, gets up to leave and faints. Asked how long he’s been ill, he ends up admitting that he had left his apartment for a walk after 7pm the night of the murder. “‘A search, a search, an immediate search!’ he repeated to himself, hurrying to get home. ‘The villains! They suspect me!” His former fear again came over him entirely, from head to foot.”
Fairly self-explanatory, as Raskolnikov’s badly-timed summons to the police station plays on his already nerve-rattled mind. I was struck by (among other things) the stench of everything…the nauseating odor of the paint, the reek of Louisa Ivanovna’s perfume (noted twice in one paragraph) — one gets the constant feeling in this book of the walls closing in, of confinement, of…stench. And the contrast between Raskolnikov’s rags and the foppish clerk…
From one of my favorite literary critics, the Washington Post’s Michael Dirda, a nice summary of where we stand so far:
“Crime and Punishment is…a story with a power that burst through any English version. It is also a novel that might easily be set in, say, contemporary Washington, a city as artificial and dream-filled as old St. Petersburg.
A young man of twenty-three has dropped out of school because he can’t pay his tuition. He lives in what amounts to a closet and, being in arrears on his rent, is afraid of running into his landlady. Everywhere he wanders in his ghetto neighborhood people are out on the pavement begging, whoring, or drinking. One pathetic drunk buttonholes him and confesses how he sent his own daughter out on the streets. ‘Do you understand,’ he implores, ‘do you understand, my dear sir, what it means where there is no longer anywhere to go?’ Revolutionary ideas fill the air, and this rather sullen intellectual finds them attractive. Sometimes, though, he thinks of throwing himself into the river.
And why not? His father is long dead. His fervently religious mother has been reduced to taking in sewing to save some money for her son’s ‘university education.’ Even his attractive, hot-tempered young sister has accepted a menial job in a rich household. After narrowly avoiding seduction by the priapic husband, she has recently agreed to marry a considerably older and utterly crass businessman who can hardly wait to get her into bed. Our hero realizes that both his mother and his sister are sacrificing their lives for him.
Now, an old witchlike pawnbroker lives nearby, venal, usurious, and cruel; she treats her own sister like a slave. Why should such an insect flourish while others suffer? Think what could be done with all her money. An ambitious self-starter could finish his law degree, grow wealthy, divert funds back into his community, build parks, relieve the poor and addicted, achieve great things. Surely, the life of a miserable ‘louse’ is next to nothing compared to all these good deeds. ‘One death for hundreds of lives — it’s simple arithmetic.’
And as Dostoevsky’s ambiguous hero Raskolnikov — for it is he, not some kid in a modern big-city slum — feverish, despondent, half sick from malnutrition, starts to toy with the idea of murder, to rehearse it over and over in his mind, but only, he tells himself, as a kind of mental game. Then late one afternoon he inadvertently learns that at 7 PM the next day the old moneylender will be alone.
Will he do it? Should he? Raskolnikov wavers for a moment; then the life of Alyona Ivanova is bludgeoned out of her in a single chilling sentence: ‘The moment he brought the ax down, strength was born in him.’ Shortly thereafter, the pawnbroker’s unfortunate sister returns home early.
Against all odds, Raskolnikov manages to escape the scene of his double murder. He is safe. No one, absolutely no one, can touch him. We are on page 86, end of part 1, and Crime and Punishment has only just begun to accelerate.”
Thursday’s Reading: Part 2, Chapters Two and Three