Part Two, Chapters Two and Three
by Dennis Abrams
Raskolnikov decides to dispose of the items he took from the pawnbroker’s apartment — first looking to throw them in the Ekaterininsky Canal, and then, after a half an hour’s walking and rumination, he buries them under a rock in an abandoned courtyard, “Again, as that morning in the office, a strong, almost unbearable joy possessed him for a moment. ‘The traces are covered! And who, who would think of looking under that stone? It may have been lying there since the house was built, and may go on lying there as long again. And even if they find it, who will think of me? It’s finished! No evidence!'” His reluctance to pass the bench where he had tried to help the drunk girl, and his unwillingness to meet the officer to whom he’d given the twenty kopecks. Raskolnikov decides, “I spit on them, and on everyone, and my own fawning and flirting! That’s not it! Not it at all…” His realization that he hadn’t examined the goods he’d stolen, “If indeed this whole thing was done consciously and not foolheadedly, if you indeed had a definite and firm objective, then how is it that so far you have not even looked into the purse and do not know what you’ve actually gained…” and his decision to blame it on his illness. Razumikhin’s closet on the fifth floor: “They had not seen each other for about four months. Razumikhin stood there in a dressing gown worn to tatters, with shoes on his barefeet, disheveled, unshaved, and unwashed.” Just after arriving, Raskolnikov changes his mind “But now, in an instant, he realized from his earlier experience that he was least of all disposed at that moment to come face-to-face with anyone in the whole world, whoever it might be. All his bile rose up in him. He nearly choked with anger at himself as soon as he crossed Razumikhin’s threshold. ‘Good bye!!’ he said suddenly, and went to the door.” Razumikhin’s offer to split translation work he’s doing for the bookseller Cherumbimov with Raskolnikov who first accepts it, leaves without saying a words, returning the pages to be translated and the money, and leaves, again without saying a word. The whip of the carriage driver, the twenty kopeck piece from the elderly merchant’s wife, “Take it, my dear, in Christ’s name.” Standing transfixed in front of St. Isaac’s Cathedral, “It seemed as if he were flying upwards somewhere, and everything was vanishing from his sight…Inadvertently moving his hand, he suddenly felt the twenty-kopeck piece clutched in his fiat. He opened his hand, stared at the coin, swung, and threw into the water; then he turned and went home.” Raskolnikov’s feverish dream: Ilya Petrovich is in his building and kicking and pounding his landlady on the stairs. “It’s the blood…” Unconsciousness. After four days of unconsciousness, Raskolnikov wakes to learn that Razumikhin has befriended his landlady and taken care of the promissory note, and that thirty-five rubles has arrived from his mother. Soup, beer, tea. Raskolnikov’s confusion, anger, desire to be left alone, and his worry that in his feverish state he had blurted out what he had done. “Afraid a bout some secret, are you? Don’t worry, you didn’t say anything about the countess. But about some bulldog, and about some earrings and chains, and about Krestovsky Island, and about some caretaker or other, and about Nikodim Fomich, and about Ilya Petrovich, the police chief’s assistant…And what’s more, you were extremely interested in your own sock, extremely! You kept begging: ‘Please, just give it to me.”‘ Left alone, Raskolnikov panics: “Lord! only tell me one thing: do they know about it or do they not know yet? And what if they already know and are just pretending, taunting me while I’m lying here, and are suddenly going to come in and say that everythi9ng has long been known and that they were just…” Raskolnikov considers running way, to another apartment, or to American, “and spit on all of them!” but after drinking a beer, he once again falls into a deep sleep. He awakens to a returned Razumikhin, who had gone out to buy Raskolnikov “new” clothes. Razumiikhin’s humor, Raskolnikov’s irritation and loathing. The arrival of Zossimov.
Again, a study in indecisiveness. Or vacillations. Or a torn personality. I’ll throw the things in the river. I won’t throw them in the river. I’ll go visit Razumikhin. I’ll turn around and leave immediately. I’ll accept the money and do the translations. (Of course, why is he feeling the need to accept the money when he’s just robbed the pawnbroker?) I’ll turn back immediately and return the money and the translations. I’ll take the 20 kopeck coin from the elderly merchant’s wife. I’ll throw the coin in the river. I won’t sign for the money. I will sign for the money… For everything he does, every decision he makes he seems torn between two widely opposing actions — a reflection, I suspect, of the split (or schism if you will) within him between his goodness (which we have seen enough of to be sure that it’s there and that he’s not just a cold-hearted murderer) and his “dark side” (again if you will) that seems to have a deep dislike of humanity in general.
Is Razumikhin the first wholly “likable” character we’ve encountered so far?
As we have seen in just the few pages we’ve already read, the city of St. Petersburg is an important aspect, a major character of the book. For a little background information, I’d like to share this with you from Solomon Volkov’s St. Petersburg: A Cultural History:
“Petersburg as no longer the same. Surrounded by a ring of grim, sooty factories, littered with hovels and ugly tenements, the great city was threatening to become a nightmare, far worse than the most horrible fantasies of Gogol or Apollon Grigoryev.
This new, lugubrious Petersburg — new not only to Dostoyevsky but also to the unsettled native Petersburgers — gave the writer a powerful inspiration for the most famous murderer in Russian literature — the former student Rodion Raskolnikov, the protagonist of the novel Crime and Punishment.
This novel is the quintessential Petersburg work. The city is an important character, as important as Raskolnikov. Outside of Peterburg, the student fallen on hard times was unthinkable; he was the creation of the new Petersburg. According to Dostoevsky this ‘most fantastic city in the world ‘was invented’ (also Dostoyevsky’s) by Peter the Great and his heirs. In the same spirit the writer’s imagination had invented the delirious vision of the Petersburg superman/nihilist, stalking an old woman pawnbroker with ax concealed beneath his overcoat.
Raskolnikov’s ‘ugly dream’ of murder for profit was also, according to Dostoyevsky, the specific emanation of the Petersburg atmosphere. In that sense Petersburg, with its historic pride as a city pretending to have conquered nature, is a co-conspirator in the ideological crime of the impoverished student, who with devilish pride breaks ‘natural’ social boundaries. Joseph Brodsky, with a subtle feeling for the stylistics and poetics of Dostoyevsky, even maintained in our conversation that ‘Raskolnikov’s idea about killing the old pawnbroker is definitely a personal one,’ meaning that Dostoyevsky himself had considered robbery, and even murder for gain. And Brodsky added, half in jest, ‘Considering what society does to an author, he has every right to think this way.’
Raskolnikov loves people and despises them; ‘two contradictory personalities alternate in him,’ Dostoyevsky says. Parallel to his double personality, a double image of Petersburg develops in Crime and Punishment: on the one hand, ‘the marvelous panorama’ of the Neva (even though it makes a ‘grim and mysterious impression’); on the other hand, the depressing sketches of an urban hell with their ‘disgusting and sad colors.’
‘This is a city for the half-mad…There are few more grim, harsh, and strange influences on a man’s soul than in Petersburg. Just think of the climactic influences!’ the investigator mockingly reminds Raskolnikov, and the author the reader. The picture of Petersburg is painted with broad strokes, brief descriptions, (in the style of stage directions), and a multitude of exact, concrete details.
The color yellow, which Dostoyevsky hated, dominates the picture. Yellow was associated with the capital, where many houses were traditionally painted that color. In Crime and Punishment, yellow wallpaper and furniture persecutes the heroes, who seem to be placed inside a whirling painting by van Gogh.
The book’s first sentence calls our attention to the extreme heat of those two weeks during which the novel’s action takes place. Dostoyevsky stresses the heat and humidity and unbearab le stench later on — they form a counterpoint to Raskolnikov’s feverish, overheated state.
Raskolnikov lives on that ‘drunken’ Stolyarny Alley, next to the Haymarket Square…Dostoyevsky uses the grotesque ensemble of that part of Petersburg for full effect, down to the tiniest detail: the tenements filled with pathetic renters in the coffinlike rooms; the bars, brothels, pawnshops, police offices.
In the novel thirteen steps lead to the top floor of Raskolnikov’s building, to his room; curious tourists can count them today in Petersburg. From the gate of Raskolnikov’s house to the house of the moneylender he intends to kill are 730 steps, by Dostoyevsky’s count, and that is also correct. Even the stone under which Raskolnikov hid the stolen goods was real. Dostoyevsky once pointed it out to his wife while on a walk, and when she asked how he had ever ended up in that deserted courtyard, he replied, ‘For the reason that brings pedestrians to out-of-the-way spots.’
Dostoyevsky’s Petersburg is an ‘invented’ city, which nevertheless has all the signs of reality. That is why in Germany, where Dostoevsky’s European (and worldwide)fame began, Crime and Punishment was admired both by the naturalists of the 1880s and the neoromantics and expressionists of the early twentieth century. Raskolnikov, swinging his ax at the moneylender’s head, is incomparably more real than Gogol’s Nose praying in the Kazan Cathedral. But at the same time, it is an unreal, symbolic feature, and just as unreal, in Dostoyevsky’s oft-proclaimed conviction, is the Petersburg that gave rise to Raskolnikov.”
More to come.
The Weekend’s Reading:
Part Two, Chapters 4-6
Enjoy. And enjoy your weekend.