“…and most of all you’re a sinner because you destroyed yourself and betrayed yourself in vain. Isn’t that a horror!”

Part Four, Chapters 4-5

by Dennis Abrams

Raskolnikov visits Sonya. Her barnlike room, its “very irregular rectangular shape,” with “almost no furniture,” and “yellowish, frayed and shabby wallpaper…The poverty was evident; there not even curtains over the bed.” Raskolnikov tells Sonya he is going away. Sonya defends Katerina Ivanovna, “Ah! You don’t…If only you knew her! She’s just like a child. It’s as if she’s lost her mind…from grief. And she used to be so intelligent…so generous…so kind!” Her inability to express herself in words, yet “Some sort of insatiable compassion, of one may put it so, showed suddenly in all the features of her face…’Beat me?…and even if she did, what of it! Well, what of it!…She believes so much that there should be justice in everything, and she demands it…” What will become of Sonya? Her guilt, collars from Lizaveta, Katerina Ivanovna. What will happen to Sonya and the other children when Katerina Ivanovna dies from tuberculosis? What will happen to the children if Sonya becomes ill? Sonya insists “Oh, no! God won’t let it happen!” Raskolnikov continues, telling Sonya that Polechka will be working the streets as well. “No, no, God will protect her! God!…”But maybe there isn’t any God,” Raskolnikov replied, even almost gloatingly, and he looked at her and laughed.” Sonya tells Raskolnikov that he is losing his mind and then, after five minute of silence, Raskolnikov “With a sudden movement he bent all the way down, leaned towards the floor, and kissed her foot…’I was not bowing to you, I was bowing to all human suffering.’” Raskolnikov wonders why Sonya hasn’t killed herself, “And only here did he understand fully what these poor little orphaned children meant to her, and this pitiful, half-crazed Katerina Ivanovna, with her consumption, and her beating her head against the wall….It still stood as a question for him: how had she been able to remain for so long a time in such a position and not lose her mind, if it was beyond her strength to drown herself?” The three ways open to Sonya: suicide, madness, or depravity. “And what would I be without God?” Lizaveta’s bible. Sonya and Lizaveta — two holy fools. The story of Lazarus. Raskolnikov tells Sonya he has left his family, “‘I have only you, now, he added. ‘Let’s go together…I’ve come to you…We’re cursed together, so let’s go together…None of them will understand anything, if you start talking with them…but I understand. I need you, and so I’ve come to you.” Raskolnikov, before leaving tells Sonya that he’ll come tomorrow, and will tell her who killed Lizaveta. Sonya’s horror, fever and delirium. Next door, Svidrigailov had been listening to the whole conversation.

At 11:00 the next morning, Raskolnikov goes to keep his appointment with Porfiry Petrovich. Was the stranger who accused him of being a murderer merely a phantom? Why are they just letting him sit there? Ready for battle. Porfiry Petrovich alone in his office. Raskolnikov’s fear that he will betray himself. Raskolnikov questions Porfiry’s legal ‘techniques,’ “‘…it seems there exists a certain legal rule, a certain legal technique — for all possible investigations — to begin from afar at firwt, with little trifles, or even with something serious but not quite unrelated, in order to encourage, so to speak, or, better, to divert the person being interrogated, to lull his prudence, and then suddenly, in the most unexpected way, to stun him right on the head with the most fatal and dangerous question…is it so?” Porfiry’s laugh, Raskolnikov’s loathing. Raskolnikov presses Porfiry to get to the point. A conversation between two intelligent men. Who is thrown off more, the interrogator or the interrogated? What’s behind the door? Porfiry discusses why it is better to let some suspects remain free rather than arresting them. The knowledge that the suspect won’t run away, “Have you ever seen a moth near a candle? Well, so he’ll keep circling around me, circling around me, as around a candle; freedom will no longer be dear to him, he’ll fall to thinking, get entangled, he ‘ll tangle himself up in a net…He’ll fly right into my mouth,k and I’ll swallow him, sir, and that will be most agreeable.” Raskolnikov realises that they’re no longer playing cat and mouse. Porfiry tells Raskolnikov, “…even my figure has been arranged by God Himself that it evokes comic thoughts in others; a buffoon, sir…” Porfiry regrets not having a career in the military. “…it’s human nature that helps the poor investigator out…And that is what doesn’t occur to the young people, carried away by their own wit, ‘stepping over all obstacles’ (as you were pleased to put it in a most witty and cunning way.).” Porfiry recounts a hypothetical case of a suspect, perhaps ill, fainting in the most scandalous place, then going ahead and “making a fool of the man who suspects him,” and “starts running ahead, poking his nose where no one has asked him, starting conversations about things of which he ought, on the contrary, to keep silent, slipping in various allegories…He’ll come himself and start asking why he wasn’t arrested long ago…Human nature is a mirror, sir, the clearest mirror!” Raskolnikov’s anger and near fit. Porfiry tells Raskolnikov that he knows that he had visited the pawnbroker’s apartment after the murder and asked about blood, and that his family had arrived. Delirium or reality? Is Porfiry bullying Raskolnikov or laughing at him? Raskolnikov asks Porfiry to state outright that he is free of suspicion, Porfiry pivots away from the question. The uncertainty. Who or what is behind the door?

First off, I’d like to apologize for the late posting. I thought I had posted it early Sunday afternoon, but there were technical issues…again, my apologies. I promise it won’t happen again.

And then to the reading. Amazing, amazing, amazing. The contrast between the two chapters, of Raskolnikov’s meetings with Sonya and Porfiry is astounding. His need for Sonya, or for something she can offer him (with the surprise last paragraph of Svidrigailov’s listening in, with the comic bonus of bringing a chair next to the wall to make himself more comfortable) next to the mounting tension of his meeting with Porfiry, Porfiry’s control of the conversation…

A couple of paragraphs that struck me as central:

The first one is from Raskolnikov’s meeting with Sonya, after he’s asked her to run away with him.

“You’ll understand later…Haven’t you done the same thing? You, too, have stepped over…were able to step over. You laid hands on yourself, you have destroyed a life…your own (it’s all the same!). You might have lived by the spirit and reason, but you’ll end up on the Haymarket…But you can’t endure it, and if you remain alone, you’ll lose your mind, like me. You’re nearly crazy already; so we must go together, on the same path! Let’s go!”

The linking of Raskolnikov and Sonya’s fates…

And this from Raskolnikov’s meeting with Porfiry.

“But if I were to leave some gentleman quite alone, not bring him in or bother him, but so that he knows every hour and every minute, or at least suspects, that I know everything, all his innermost secrets, and am watching him day and night, following him vigilantly, if I were to keep him consciously under eternal suspicion and fear, then, by God, he might really get into a whirl…”

Is Porfiry God?

And an observation…given the number of description so people looking like a corpse, Sonya’s “fingers like a dead person…” Is everybody in C&P either dead or the walking dead?

And finally, more from Joseph Frank’s essay, “The World of Raskolnikov:”

“I should now like to apply this general view of Dostoevsky to some of the problems involved in the interpretation of his first great novel, Crime and Punishment. If Dostoevsky invariably began with some doctrine of the Russian radical intelligentsia, what was his starting point in this case? An answer to this will, I believe, not only provide an entry into the book, but also explain why Crime and Punishment emerged when it did in Dostoevsky’s development. Ordinarily, this novel is linked with his prison-term in Siberia, first because of his setting in the Epilogue, and secondly because this period was supposed to have focused his attention on the problem of crime and the psychology of the criminal. None of this needs to be denied; but if this were the whole story, it is impossible not to wonder why Dostoevsky did not write Crime and Punishment when he came out of imprisonment and wrote so many other things instead. The truth is that the novel as we know it could not have been conceived before 1865 because the situation of Russian culture that Dostoevsky could imagine as Raskonikov had not existed before that time.

If we look at Russian culture in the early and mid-1860s — and this means, for our purposes, the doctrines of the radical intelligentsia — we can easily spot the ‘reality’ that is incarnated in Raskolnikov. In the first place, all the radical intelligentsia were convinced that the theories of English Utilitarianism solved all the problems of ethics and personal conduct.

[Utilitarianism (also: utilism) is the idea that the moral worth of an action is determined solely by its usefulness in maximizing utility and minimizing negative utility (utility can be defined as pleasure, preference satisfaction, knowledge or other things) as summed among all sentient beings. It is thus a form of consequentialism, meaning that the moral worth of an action is determined by its outcome. The most influential contributors to this theory are considered to be Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill.

Utilitarianism was described by Bentham as “the greatest happiness or greatest felicity principle”.[1] Utility, the good to be maximized, has been defined by various thinkers as happiness or pleasure (versus suffering or pain), although preference utilitarians define it as the satisfaction of preferences. It may be described as a life stance, with happiness or pleasure being of ultimate importance.]

This has caused a great deal of confusion because only in Russia do we find this particular blend of French Utopian Socialism, with its belief in the possibility of a future world of love and moral perfection, held conjointly with a view of human nature stemming from the egoistic individualism of Bentham and Mill. Even more, the Russian radicals believed in the doctrine of what they called ‘rational egoism’ with their usual passionate extremism and fanaticism. To find anything similar in their belief in abstract reason as an infallible guide to the complexities of the moral life, we should have to go back to William Godwin. And I bring in Godwin’s name here both because he had a direct influence in Russia through N.G. Chernyshevsky, the intellectual mentor of the radicals in the early 18602, and also because the Russian cultural situation at this time closely parallels that of England in the period of the French Revolution.

Like Godwin, the Russians also strove to develop an ethics which — in the graphic words of Hazlitt’s The Spirit of the Age — tried, ‘to pass the Arctic Circle and Frozen Regions, where the understanding is no longer warmed by the affections…” And no better commentary has ever been written on Crime and Punishment than the passage in The Prelude where Wordsworth explains how abstract reason dupes itself in its dialectic with the irrational:

This was the time, when, all things tending fast

To depravation, speculative schemes –

That promised to abstract the hopes of Man

One of his feelings, to be fixed thenceforth

For ever in a purer element –

Found ready welcome. Tempting region that

For Zeal to enter and refresh herself,

Where passions has the privilege to work,

And never heard the sound of their own names.

The last two lines of this passage define the theme of Crime and Punishment with far more exactitude than the mountain of critical literature on Dostoevsky. Indeed, if we are to understand the position of Dostoevsky and his intellectual allies (Appolon Grigoriev and Nikolai Strakhov) as they confronted the Russian radicals of the 1860s, we can do no better than to take as a guide the reaction of the first generation of English Romantics to the French Revolution. Moreover, if Godwin stimulated the radicals, then the works of Carlyle, who was an especial favourite of Apollon Grigoriev, furnished sustenance for the anti-radical camp.”

More to follow…

Monday’s Reading:

I’ll keep it short (and since Chapter One of Part V is long)…Part Four, Chapter 6


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4 Responses to “…and most of all you’re a sinner because you destroyed yourself and betrayed yourself in vain. Isn’t that a horror!”

  1. Minnikin says:

    ‘The linking of Raskolnikov and Sonya’s fates…’

    Is this one of Raskolnikov ‘s central & fundamental mistakes? He believes the destruction of life is their common bond.

    Yet, Sonya destroyed a life (her own) but did it for the sake of others (her family), while Raskolnikov destroyed a life for himself (‘an “extraordinary” man has the right…’ pge 259; ‘it wasn’t a human being I killed, it was a principle!’ pge 274)

    Any thoughts?

    • I’ve read, at least as held by the Greek Orthodox Church, that suicide is “the most serious kind of murder, because there is no opportunity for repentance. The canons and practice of the Church thus prohibit a Church burial to a person who has committed suicide.”

  2. artmama says:

    It is true that they have both transgressed, but as you point out, for entirely different motives.

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