Finished reading Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky.
I can usually glean some sort of organized impression from each book I read, but my feelings about this one are hard to pin down. The relative dearth of narrative business in Crime and Punishment is eclipsed by its sheer emotional density - and my NPC brain isn’t quite equipped to unpack it all.
Luckily, an insightful introduction in this "Everyman's Library" edition of the novel gave me some historical and thematic context for Dostoevsky’s work, and what he aimed to tackle through it. Ultimately - it all seemed to boil down to one question: how rational is the universal human disposition?
Here, this rationality is tried through Raskolnikov, a college student who murders an old widow. The crime appears to stem from some inexplicable yet meticulously premeditated violent urge, wanting of its own justification. Raskolnikov’s resulting anguish is a testament that, in this vein, the crime doesn’t suggest full autonomy or awareness on his part. He even spends the remainder of the novel trying to sort-out the motives in his broken state of mind - from utilitarian designs for the “greater good”, to a dangerous confidence in one’s own ability to “step beyond” commonly-held morals and laws in order to realize some greater individual power.
The most striking aspect of Crime and Punishment, though, may be the unusually palpable atmosphere Dostoyevsky creates with his writing, even translated from the original Russian text. I found myself feeling as delirious as Raskolnikov for nights on end, following the madness of his inner monologues, and I was deeply unsettled taking-in the destitution plaguing 1860s St. Petersburg. Yet in spite of this exhausting effect, I was eager to dive back into the story every night.
Even Raskolnikov’s final conversion left me wavering, as his consistently fickle nature betrayed my willingness to accept even the firmly positive projections assured by the epilogue. In any case, I appreciate Dostoevsky’s sentiment that even the most tormented people facing the most oppressive straits can be renewed with a conviction that would’ve been alien to their former selves. And given the author's own past hardships and incarceration, I ultimately have faith in the credibility of Crime and Punishment’s “happy ending”.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit”, after all.