“‘Lord!’ she suddenly cried, her eyes flashing, ‘Is there really no justice? Who else are you going to protect if not us orphans? Ah, no, we shall see! There is justice and truth in the world, there is, I’ll find it!”

Part Five, Chapter Three
by Dennis Abrams

Luzhin arrives at Marmeladov’s memorial meal. Luzhin confronts Sonya: “a state bank note belong to me, in the amount of one hundred roubles, disappeared from my table in the room of my friend, Andrei Semyonovich Lebezyatnikov, immediately following your visit. If in one way or another, you know and can point out its present whereabouts…the matter will end right here. Otherwise, I shall be forced to take quite serious measures, in which case…you will have only yourself to blame, miss!” Luzhin rambles on about the actions he took at the bank and the various piles of roubles. His disappointment that after so generously giving her ten roubles that Sonya “repays [him] with such an act.” Sonya denies stealing the roubles. Luzhin asks Amalia Ivanovna to inform the police and send for the caretaker. “Gott der Barmberzige! I just known she vas shetaling!” Katerina Ivanovna throws Luzhin’s donated ten roubles back into his face. Katerina Ivanovna’s hysterics, telling Luzhin to search Sonya daring him to find the money, and when he doesn’t find anything, she’ll go to the Tsar himself, “I’ll throw myself at his feet, now, today! I’m an orphan! They’ll let me in!” Luzhin allows Amalia and Katerina to search Sonya — “…from the second, the right-hand pocket, a piece of paper suddenly flew out and…fell at Luzhin’s feet…It was a hundred-rouble bill, folded in eight.” Sonya denies taking it, Katerina believes her, “As if you could take anything! What stupid people they all are! O, Lord! You’re stupid…Why, she’d strip off her last dress and sell it, and go barefoot, and give everything to you if you needed it…She got a yellow pass because my children were perishing from hunger, she sold herself for us!” The changing mood of the crowd: “The cries of the poor, consumptive, bereaved Katerina Ivanovna seemed to produce a strong effect on the public. There was so much pathos, so much suffering in her withered consumptive face, contorted by pain, in her withered lips flecked with blood, in her hoarsely crying voice, in her sobbing…that they all seemed moved to pity the unfortunate woman. Pyotor Petrovich, at least, was immediately moved to pity.” Luzhin declares that perhaps Sonya’s shame would serve as a lesson to her, but as he starts to leave, is met by Lebezyatnikov in the doorway, proclaiming loudly “How vile!” Lebezyatnikov tells the crowd that he witnessed Luzhin slipping the one-hundred rouble note into Sonya’s pocket without her noticing, but can’t figure out why he did it. Katerina Ivanovna throws herself on her knees to thank him. The crowd turns on Luzhin. Raskolnikov provides Luzhin’s motivation: “…suppose he now managed to prove that Sofya Semyonovna was a thief; then, first of all, he would prove to my sister and mother that he was almost right in his suspicions; that he was justly angry with me for putting my sister and Sofya Semyonovna on the same level; that in attacking me he was thereby also defending and protecting the honor of my sister, and his bride. In short, by means of all this he might even make me quarrel with my family again, and could certainly hope to win back their favor. I say nothing of his revenge on me personally, since he has reason to suppose that Sofya Semyonovna’s honor and happiness are very dear to me.” “Luzhin was silent and only smiled contemptuously. He was very pale, however.” Accusations are hurled at him, as well as a glass, which misses him and hits Amalia Ivanovna. Luzhin leaves, Sonya goes into hysterics, realizing the precariousness of her position, Amalia throws herself at Katerina, screaming at her to vacate the apartment. Katerina wraps herself in the green flannel shawl, “and ran shouting and sweeping out into the street — with the vague purpose of finding justice somewhere, at once, immediately, and whatever the cost.” The orphans cower, Amalia Ivanovana, in a rage, ran around the room, throwing everything she could find onto the floor, Raskolnikov makes his escape with Sonya.”

What a terrific scene — the shifting emphasis from Luzhin to Lebezyatnikov to Raskolnikov, the struggle between Katerina Ivanovna and analia Ivanovna, the constant presence of Sonya, and the crowd’s (or is it a mob?) quickly changing mood…just as a narrative structure it was impressive. Add to it the things we learned about Luzhin and Lebezyantnikov, of how perceptive Raskonikov can be, the fact that Dostoevsky made feel sorry for Katerina Ivanovna (I love how she continues to refer to herself as an orphan)…truly memorable. And at the end with the chaos, screaming and Raskolnikov and Sonya’s escape — oddly comic.

And for your weekend bonus reading, the conclusion of Joseph Frank’s essay “The World of Raskolnikov,” discussing how the structure of Part I works to both reveal and obscure Raskolnikov’s motivations:

“Each step, then, in the backward process of revealing Raskolnikov’s conscious, altruistic motive for the contemplated crime is accompanied by another episode moving forward in time that undercuts it, and that reveals the true effect of his ideas on his feelings. In each case the reader can see clearly that when Raskolnikov acts under the influence of his Utilitarian ideas, he unleashes in himself a cold and pitiless egomaniac who hates humanity although he continues to believe that he loves it. This repeated dramatic illustration of how Raskolnikov’s ideas twist and distort his feelings may perhaps explain why even those critics who taxed Dostoevsky with inconsistency of motive have never gone so far as to claim that his supposed artistic lapse seriously damaged the novel. Clearly, these critics could feel the inner unity of Raskolnikov, even though, on the basis of their misreading of the book, it was impossible for them to explain what this unity was or how it was obtained….

In Part Two, Dostoevsky begins to close the gap that exists between the reader’s awareness of Raskolnikov and Raskolnikov’s awareness of himself. For in Part II, as he begins to recover from his illness, Raskolnikov starts to ponder all the anomalies of the crime and to realise that he no longer knows why it was committed. At this point he is confronted with his old article ‘On Crime,’ which reveals to what extent egomania had always been an inseparable part of the Utilitarian love of humanity. Dostoevsky withholds the full development of this motif, though he had carefully foreshadowed it earlier, until it becomes relevant both to answer Raskolnikov’s own questions about his crime and to crystallise and define the reader’s earlier impressions. The experience of the crime, however, has now shown Raskolnikov that the feelings which inspired his altruistic love of humanity cannot co-exist in the same sensibility with those necessary to be a Napoleon, a Solon, or a Lycurgus. For the true great man, possessed by his sense of mission, cannot have any thoughts to spare for the suffering humanity on whom he tramples for their own future happiness.

Once Raskolnikov’s original theory breaks apart in this way, he is then confronted with the choice between non-Utilitarian Christian love and self-sacrifice or total amorality…The construction of the latter half of the book thus clearly reflects its purpose, which was to persuade Dostoevsky’s readers among the radical intelligentsia that they had to choose between a doctrine of love and a doctrine of power. Both were embodied, as I have tried to show, in the strange mixture of impulses and ideas that went by the name of Russian Nihilism. And that Dostoevsky’s attacks did have some effect may be indicated by the change that occurred in Russian radical ideology, when ‘rational egoism’ was abandoned for a secularised Christian ethics of love.

As a footnote, let me add that I have always been intrigued by the information that the high-strung young Pisarev broke down and wept when he read Crime and Punishment. Was there any shock of recognition involved in this response? If so, it did not prevent him from immediately writing an article, which has since become a classic in Russian criticism, proving that Raskolnikov’s crime was really caused by hunger and malnutrition.”

Fascinating. And while it is, I think, important to understand the writer’s motives when writing the book, does it matter to us that, at least according to Frank, that “it’s purpose ..was to persuade Dostoevsky’s readers among the radical intelligentsia that they had to choose between a doctrine of love and a doctrine of power?” Does it matter to us that Dickens wrote his books as a form of social protest? Is that why we read them? How do writers like Dostoevsky, like Dickens, like Tolstoy, like almost every great writer one can think of write books that transcend their time and immediate goals to become relevant to readers years later in societies that are completely different? Is that, ultimately, what makes a book a classic?

—-

The Weekend’s Reading:

Part Five, Chapters Four and Five

Enjoy. And enjoy your weekend.

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