The title of his famous book is Crime and Punishment does not suggest that this book is a novel, rather it sounds like a philosophical or social political book. So, at first it did not interest me as there are already so many books written about this topic. But as I read a review about this book it looked interesting and compelling to read it, although I expected philosophical discussions about this topic in the book. Indeed, there are some discussions like that, but it is written like ordinary discussions between students. It is not hard to digest.
So, after reading such an exciting book, I took a train from Moscow to St. Petersburg in winter to meet this great writer. We met at the apartment in the corner of 19 Grazhdanskaya Street where Raskolnikov used to stay. At first glance, Fyodor looked like a timid, pale, introverted writer, and he moved so clumsily and jerkily. But his sharp grey-blue eyes gave the impression of a strong character, looking at me intensely as if trying to look into my soul and judge me.
Actually, this man is known for his bravery and strong sense of justice, criticized corruption among officers and helped poor farmers. I would spare asking him though about a traumatic incident in his life, as many people might had asked about that already. Many people knew about what happened on December 22, 1849, as the young Fyodor was sent to Semyonov Square to meet his fate – to face the firing squad, as a punishment for his engagement with Petrashevsky Circle a literary group considered subversive by the Tsar and the Church. When the firing squad started pointing their rifles to this group, a messenger came into the square waving a white flag at the very last minute. He declared a pardon from the Tsar Nicholas I, in a “show of mercy.” But, this was not a show of mercy, but rather a staged way of terrorizing the group, a twisted form of psychological torture. He wrote about this experience in his novel The Idiot. In fact, his whole life story by itself can be written into a novel, a great novel it would be.
But this time I rather talk with him about the criminal in Crime and Punishment, so, wasting no time I started asking him:
“The protagonist, Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, a 23-year-old man, a former law student murdered an old woman for her money, by two blows of the blunt side of an axe. Listen: ‘He pulled the axe quite out, swung it with both arms, scarcely conscious of himself, and almost without effort, almost mechanically, brought the blunt side down on her head.’
“The old woman, Alyona Ivanovna, was a pawn broker, who sucked the blood of poor people such that she was described as ‘No more than the life of a louse, of a black-beetle, less in fact because the old woman is doing harm. She is wearing out the lives of others.’
“When Raskolnikov was a student he wrote an article titled ‘On Crime’, which in the words of his best friend Razumihin: ’There is a suggestion that there are certain persons who can … that is, not precisely are able to, but have a perfect right to commit breaches of morality and crimes, and that the law is not for them. A right to crime? But not because of the influence of environment?”
“In his article all men are divided into ‘ordinary’ and ‘extraordinary.’ Ordinary men have to live in submission, have no right to transgress the law, because, don’t you see, they are ordinary. But extraordinary men have a right to commit any crime and to transgress the law in any way, just because they are extraordinary. But, Raskolnikov did not contend that extraordinary people are always bound to commit breaches of morals, as you call it. In fact, he doubted whether such an argument could be published. He hinted that an ‘extraordinary’ man has the right … that is not an official right, but an inner right to decide in his own conscience to overstep … certain obstacles, and only in case it is essential for the practical fulfilment of his idea, sometimes, perhaps, of benefit to the whole of humanity.”
“Despite his perceptions about crime, Raskolnikov found himself racked with confusion, paranoia, and disgust for what he had done. He struggled with guilt and horror all the time and confronts the consequences of his deed. The psychological conflicts were written very well in the book, I think it is the most interesting part of the novel, as it is very intense, full of suspense, about the murderer’s struggle with his inner thoughts. You described how Raskolnikov struggled with the crime even from the first time he conceived the idea to murder the old woman.”
Fyodor, citing the first Chapter of Part 1:
“When he was in the street he cried out, ‘Oh, God, how loathsome it all is! and can I, can I possibly…. No, it’s nonsense, it’s rubbish!’ he added resolutely. ‘And how could such an atrocious thing come into my head? What filthy things my heart is capable of. Yes, filthy above all, disgusting, loathsome, loathsome! — and for a whole month I’ve been….’
“And the nightmare he had about him as a young boy witnessing the graphic killing of a little mare was horrific : ‘Take an axe to her! Finish her off fast,’ shouts a third... The nag stretches out her muzzle, heaves a deep sigh, and dies... ‘Papa! What did they...kill...the poor horse for!’ In his dream he sobs, but his breath fails, and the words burst like cries from his straining chest.”
“However, it did not stop him, a trivial conversation he had overheard from a student with an officer strengthen his intention to carry out murder. The student casually said: ‘Kill her and take her money, so that afterwards with its help you can devote yourself to the service of all mankind and the common cause’... ‘Of course, she doesn’t deserve to be alive. Besides, what value has the life of that sickly, stupid, ill-natured old woman in the balance of existence! No more than the life of a louse, of a black-beetle, less in fact because the old woman is doing harm.’
“Then you wrote how he planned to murder her, the way and the timing to murder the woman. How he prepared for a noose to hide the axe inside his coat so it could not be seen from outside, how he stole the axe, how he diverted the attention of the old woman for a time, to gain a moment to swing the axe, what was in his mind when he walked from his apartment to the woman’s home, climbing the stairs to the flat. He was out of breath and his face became pale. For one instant at the door the thought floated through his mind ‘Shall I go back?’ ‘Am I not evidently agitated? She is mistrustful…. Had I better wait a little longer … till my heart leaves off thumping?”
“But he did it. He dealt her another and another blow with the blunt side and on the same spot. The blood gushed as from an overturned glass, the body fell back. He stepped back, let it fall, and at once bent over her face; she was dead. Her eyes seemed to be starting out of their sockets, the brow and the whole face were drawn and contorted convulsively.”
“Then unexpectedly her half sister came home and saw the dead body.’ She was gazing in stupefaction at her murdered sister, white as a sheet and seeming not to have the strength to cry out.”
“He rushed at her with the axe; her mouth twitched piteously, as one sees babies’ mouths, when they begin to be frightened, stare intently at what frightens them and are on the point of screaming. And this hapless Lizaveta was so simple and had been so thoroughly crushed and scared that she did not even raise a hand to guard her face, though that was the most necessary and natural action at the moment, for the axe was raised over her face. She only put up her empty left hand, but not to her face, slowly holding it out before her as though motioning him away. The axe fell with the sharp edge just on the skull and split at one blow all the top of the head. She fell heavily at once. Raskolnikov completely lost his head, snatching up her bundle, dropped it again and ran into the entry.”
“It was very tragic Fyodor….. I think Raskolnikov punishment started when he had to murder the innocent Lizaveta for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. This thought appeared in his mind: ‘It’s strange though, why is it I scarcely ever think of her, as though I hadn’t killed her? Lizaveta! Poor gentle things, with gentle eyes…. Dear women! Why don’t they weep? Why don’t they moan? They give up everything … their eyes are soft and gentle….! Gentle!”
I saw Fyodor sharp grey-blue eyes softened, he was immobile, silent … his pale, thin, earthen-colored face covered in dark red spots. Then we said “Прощай” (good bye) warmly.
This is an imaginary interview in memory of Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Source: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky