Part Five, Chapters Four and Five
by Dennis Abrams
Raskolnikov and Sonya. What would have happened to Sonya if Raskolnikov and Lebezyatnikov hadn’t been there? If Sonya had gone to jail, what would have happened to Katerina Ivanovna and the children? Given that, Raskolnikov asks Sonya, “Well, so, if all this was suddenly given for you to decide: is it for him or for them to go on living; that is, should Luzhin live and commit abominations, or should Katerina Ivanovna die? How would you decide which of them was to die?” “But I cannot know divine Providence…And why do you ask what cannot be asked? Why such empty questions?…And who put me her to judge who is to live and who is not to live?” Raskolnikov tells Sonya he is seeking forgiveness — the moment he does, “suddenly a strange, unexpected feeling of corrosive feeling of hatred for Sonya came over his heart.” The feeling that “there was not another moment to lose.” Raskolnikov comes close to confessing, telling Lizaveta that he must be a great friend of “his.” “‘So you can’t guess?’ he suddenly asked, feeling as if here were throwing himself from a bell-tower.” Sonya’s face turns into that of Lizaveta’s just before he murdered her, “just ask powerlessly, with the same fright, she looked at him for a time; then suddenly, holding out her left hand, she rested her fingers barely, lightly, on his chest, and slowly began to get up from the bed, backing fart her and farther away from…Her terror suddenly communicated itself to him: exactly the same fright showed on his face as well; he began looking at her in exactly the same way, and even with almost the same childlike smile.” “You’ve guessed?” he whispered at last.” No hope, no doubt remained — it was all so. “‘What, what have you done to yourself!’ she said desperately, and, jumping from her knees, threw herself on his neck, embraced him, and pressed him very, very tightly in her arms…No one, no one in the whole world, is unhappier than you are right now!” Sonya vows she’d go to hard labor with Raskolnikov. Sonya hears the murderer in his tone of voice. Raskolnikov tries to explain why he did it: It was for the money, but it wasn’t. If he’d only killed them because he was hungry, he’d be happy today. He’s wicked, and has a wicked heart. He’s a coward and a scoundrel. Sonya interjects, “…but go on, just go on! I’ll understand, I’ll understand everything within myself!” Raskolnikov continues: What would Napoleon have done? “…he’d up and throttle her before she could make a peep, without a moment’s thoughtfulness!…So I, too…came out of my thoughtfulness…I throttled her…following the example of my authority…And that’s exactly how it was! You think it’s funny? Yes, Sonya, the funniest thing is that maybe that’s precisely how it was…” Raskolnikov tries again: Knowing the life he’d lead otherwise, “I decided to take possession of the old woman’s money and use it for my first years, without tormenting my mother, to support myself at the university, and for the first steps after the university, and to do it all sweepingly, radically, so as to set up a whole new career entirely and start out on a new, independent path…” Sonya can’t believe that that’s the reason, “I only killed a louse, Sonya, a useless, nasty, pernicious louse,” before reversing himself yet again, “Not a louse, I know it myself…Anyway, I’m lying Sonya…I’ve been lying for a long time…” “Better…suppose…suppose that I’m vain, jealous, spiteful, loathsome, vengeful, well…and perhaps also inclined to madness…” Raskolnikov admits he could have gotten by financially without the pawnbroker’s money, “But I turned spiteful and din’t want to. Precisely, I turned spiteful…then I hid in my corner like a spider. You were in my kennel, you saw it…And do you know, Sonya, low ceilings and cramped rooms cramp the soul and mind!…And I kept having such dreams, all sorts of strange dreams…I kept asking myself then: am I so stupid that, if others are stupid and I know for certain they’re stupid, I myself don’t want to be smarter? Then I learned, Sonya, that if one waits for everyone to become smarter, it will take too long…that people will never change, and no one can remake them…And I know now, Sonya, that he who is firm and strong in mind and spirit will rule over them!…Then I realized, Sonya…that power is given only to the one who dares to reach down and take it. Here there is one thing, one thing, only: one has only to dare! And a thought took shape in me, for the first time in my life, one that nobody had ever thought before me! Nobody! It suddenly came to me as bright as the sun, how is it that no on man before now has dared or dares yet, while passing by all this absurdity, quite simply to take the whole thing by the tail and whisk it off to the devil! I…I wanted to dare, and I killed…I just wanted to dare, Sonya, that’s the whole reason!…And do you really think that I went it into it headlong, like a fool? No, I went into it like a bright boy, and that’s what ruined me! And do you really think I didn’t know, for example, that since I’d begun questioning and querying myself, do I have the right to have power?–it meant that I dno not have the right to have power?…I did not kill so that, having obtained means and power, I could become a benefactor of mankind. Nonsense! I simply killed — simply killed for myself, for myself alone — and whether I would later become anyone’s benefactor, or would spend my life like a spider, catching everyone in my web and sucking the life-sap out of everyone, should at that made no difference to me…Understand me: perhaps, continuing on the same path, I would never again repeat the murder. there was something else I wanted to know; something else was nudging my arm. I wanted to find out then, and find out quickly, whether I was a louse like all the rest, or a man? Would I be able to step over, or not! Would I dare to reach down and take, or not? Am I a trembling creature, or do I have the right…” Sonya suffers for Raskolnikov’s suffering, urges him to “Go now, this minute, stand in the crossroads, bow down, and first kiss the earth you’ve defiled, then bow to the whole world, on all four sides, and say aloud to everyone: ‘I have killed!’ Then God will send you life again. Will you go? Will you go?” Sonya gives Raskolnikov her cross. “We’ll go to suffer together, and we’ll bear the cross together!” Three knocks on the door from Lebezyatnikov.
Katerina Ivanovna has dressed the children up and brought them out into the street to perform for money: Sonya runs out. Raskolnikov returns to his room where he met by his sister, Dunya, he encourages her to be with Razumikhin. Out on the street. Lebezyatnikov takes him to help Sonya with Katerina Ivanovna and the children. Katerina Ivanovna’s breakdown. Her death, “‘Enough!…It’s time! Farewell, hapless girl!…The nag’s been overdriven!’ she cried desperately and hatefully, and her head fell back on the pillow.” Svidrigailov arrives — tells Sonya that he’ll pay for the funeral and to have the youngsters “placed in some orphanage, of the better sort, and settle fifteen hundred roubles on each of them, for their coming of age, so that Sofya Semyonovna can be completely at ease. And I’ll get her out of the quagmire, because she’s a nice girl, isn’t she?” Raskolnikov questions his philanthropy. Svidrigailov makes it clear to Raskolnikov that he’d listened in on his talk with Sonya, and knows everything about the murder. “I told you we’d become close, I predicted it — well, and so we have. You’ll see what a congenial man I am. You’ll see that one can get along with me after all…”
Whew. It’s been at least five years since I’ve read C&P, and I’d forgotten just how brilliant these two chapters are. I felt it was important to excerpt so much of Raskolnikov’s “confession” to Sonya because through it we can see the veils dropping away, the motives that he’d convinced himself of being discarded until at least the “truth” (if that is even the case) is revealed — “I just wanted to dare!” And Sonya’s concern for what Raskolnikov had done to himself by committing the murders. Amazing.
And then, Katerina Ivanovna’s breakdown and death. Sure, it’s overdone and even operatic (can’t you imagine it as a great aria for the third act?) but it works. I have to admit that I gasped when she said “the nags been overdriven, leading back to, of course, Raskolnikov’s dream in Part One.
And since there’s been a lot of requests — I found an essay by Boris Christa on the role of money in Dostoevsky, entitled, curiously enough, “Dostoevskii and Money,” from The Cambridge Companion to Dostoevskii
“Dostoevskii’s fictional world is dominated by money. One critic has identified it, along with epilepsy, as ‘the ruling power in Dostoevsky’s creative environment.” It confronts his characters at every step and their awareness of it is often articulated. Dmitrii in The Brothers Karamazov reflects ruefully, ‘without money you can’t take a step in any direction.’ Makat Ivanovich, the wise old peasant in A Raw Youth, says: ‘Even if money is not God — it is at least a demi-god.’ Aleksei puts it even more strongly in The Gambler, when he states categorically, ‘Money is everything!’
Painfully sensitive to the significance of money in human affairs, Dostoevskii was fully conscious of its ability to function as a medium in literary communication. But money as theme and message is also central to his writing. He recognizes that money is power and its unequal distribution a cause of massive suffering and conflict. The close examination of social hardship is one of his primary concerns as a novelist. Rejecting the option of forcible redistribution of wealth through revolution and bloodshed, he nevertheless opposes strongly the frenzied pursuit of money by fair means or foul and the unprincipled use of money0based power. He presents money above all is a touchstone, a moral challenge, and his concern is how individuals obtain it, spend it and live with it. He lived and wrote at a time in Russian history when the old feudal society, which provided subsistence as a birthright, was superseded by a free-for-all capitalist society that demanded strenuous struggle to survive. His own highly dramatic career strongly confirmed him in his views on the central importance of money in life and human relationships. References to it abound in his correspondence and non-fictional prose, and as medium, theme, and message, it forms one of the basic building blocks of his creative writing.
Although chronically incapable of handling his own financial affairs, Dostoevskii was very alert and well-informed about money. So often presented as a ‘seer of the spirit’, a visionary and mystic, he is, in his fictional writing, extremely street-wise. He knew exactly what a rouble will buy, mentions the various currencies of Europe in a casual and authoritative way and is even familiar with the rates of exchange. He knows the was of rich merchant-tycoons, shopkeepers, pawnbrokers and lodging-house keepers. There is frequent mention of loans and interest rates, promissory notes, meaningful references to named sums or roubles and kopecks, demonstrating that money had for Dostoevskii a level of significance that seems unmatched by any other of the world’s great writers. It is a hallmark of his technique to present much information in asides and subtextual indications that require the reader to be, as it were, ‘interactive’ with the author. This style gives depth and realistic texture to his literary discourse. He is a pioneer in bringing to the surface, and into the realm of literature, mundane facts of existence that are often hidden or falsified. He realised that in this context money was of singular significance. Named sums of cash are hard facts and they can serve to deconstruct any facade of pretensions, opinions or lies. ‘Money talks,’ as the popular adage has it, and Dostoevskii is adept at making it speak expressly and frankly.
In the social world which Dostoevskii describes, genteel poverty is the norm, and in self-defence, his characters tend to spin around themselves a cocoon of deception and social pretence. To maintain authenticity, he faithfully describes these attempts at social camouflage, but his ‘cruel talent’ refuses to accept a taboo on intrusion. As a critical realist, it was axiomatic for him that no characterisation was complete without full information regarding the financial circumstances which influenced the development of a particular person and motivated his or her behaviour and outlook. The precise extent of personal income, for instance, is very significant in the case of individual major characters, since their life-style and view of the world are conditioned fundamentally by the money they have available to spend. For example, the hero in the seminal story Notes from Underground reveals in answer to an imaginary interrogator that he was a totally unmotivated public servant. He retired at once when he received an unexpected legacy of 6,000 roubles. He now lives on the income from this modest capital and this gives a key to his drab and oppressive ‘underground’ existence. He subsists, but can afford nothing. By retiring from work and society and becoming a solitary outsider, he has struck a blow for intellectual independence. But the only freedom he has is to muse and rant endlessly, and his meager income inevitably conditions his attitudes and his bitter and subversive thoughts
In Dostoevskii’s novels money is invariably a major element of characterisation. In the introduction of new characters, the information regarding financial status is sometimes withheld to maintain an element of mystery, to be resolved later, but generally it is given at once. It is usually expressed by the capital at their disposal, sometimes by the number of serfs on their estate and sometimes by yearly income. Women generally have their position oin the social hierarchy defined by reference to the amount of their marriage dowry.
Dostoevskii’s sensitivity to matters of social and financial status is always acute and he does not find it necessary in all cases to spell out details of monetary worth to achieve definition. Often a brief reference, apparently just in passing, names a sum of cash or indicates a value which serves his purpose. For instance, a request by a character to borrow a small sum of cash with promises of repayment, a frequently recurring situation, can reveal a great deal. So do the references to prices of everyday items and personal reactions to these. In Crime and Punishment, for example, we learn much from Razumikhin’s precise detailing of the clothing purchases he has made for Raskolnikov. Every item here is clearly described and exactly priced. Dostoevskii is acutely aware of the value of such status symbols, especially vestimentary markers — matters of clothing, hairstyle and adornment that make statements about the wearer. Living in a cold climate, Russians have traditionally been aware of the status-value of outer garments: winter coats and fur hats are semiotic markets that make a major statement. Living up to the statement so often attributed to him — ‘we have all come from under Gogol’s Overcoat — Dostoevskii uses these garments purposefully to convey information. In A Raw Youth for example, it gives insight into the dynamic of Arkadii Dolgorukii’s upward social mobility when we read of his complaint that a new winter season is coming and his old coonskin coat is worth merely twenty-five roubles. Such references to values and prices are always totally authentic. Dostoevskii knows precisely the cost of a fur coat or the rent of an apartment. In fact, his knowledge of St. Petersburg real estate seems almost professional. In describing the apartment of General Ivolgin in The Idiot for example, he sees at a glance that it is beyond the reach of a civil servant on 2,000 roubles per annum, which in the subtext translates to immediate doubts regarding the integrity of the gentleman.”
Part Six, Chapter One