Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky / Folio Society Edition (Book Review / Essay)
Crime and Punishment is a novel I’m sure most have heard of, but perhaps significantly less people have read. I was one of those people until I decided I would take the plunge and see where it might take me, or rather what I might take from it. I thought I would either be disappointed and unable to get into it at all, or I might be exhilarated to find it at the very least readable, and at the very most, wholly satisfying. I’m glad to report that I found it to be the latter, although at times I might have pleaded for the author to have been more succinct, or for him to have driven the narrative to areas and characters that I found more exciting and intriguing, but on the whole I was never less than engrossed by the story.
A Word On This Folio Edition
I have the pleasure of owning a Folio Society edition of this novel, and can highly recommend this edition and indeed on that account, most editions released by www.foliosociety.com. If you’re looking for authoritative essays and introductions on classic books, and take pleasure in reading the very best quality books produced in the market, then I cannot praise them enough, and suggest you at least check them out - I own many of their books and love them all. In this edition, which comes in a slipcase (most Folio Society editions do), there are some lovely illustrations by Harry Brockway and by way of an introduction, an enlightening and thoughtful essay by Stephen Tumin. If you are fearful of spoilers you might want to stop reading my review/essay now until you have read the book.
(Above, Folio Society Illustration by Harry Brockway)
Rodion Romanych (Raskolnikov) is a poverty-stricken man who has a theory about extraordinary men being above the law, and his strained and complex relationship with money seems to bring out the worse of his personality. He becomes obsessed with an old lady pawnbroker, Alyona Ivanovna, who gives poor recompense in return for peoples’ goods, including his own, and thus seeing himself as above the law, he decides that he shall challenge his theory by ridding the world of her and share her wealth with the less fortunate. Though when a window of opportunity presents itself for him to actually commit the murder, it is poorly executed and ill thought out. He is caught by the pawnbroker’s sister, Lizaveta, and as a result has to kill her too, having then two murders on his conscience.
Short Essay on the Story
Following the murders we see Raskolnikov plagued by illness, which we assume has resulted from him being riddled with guilt, but nothing in this story is as simple as that. He has a complicated relationship with his friends and family, and has a way of alienating people, though his illness, mental and physical, does bring out a surprising amount of sympathy by those close to him, even though we secretly know that he perhaps doesn’t deserve it. It was at this point in the story that I questioned what it is about Raskolnikov that makes us root for him? What makes us want a criminal to go unpunished and undetected? I suppose the central narrative lends itself to a certain amount of bias as to which side we are on, but there is a very interesting moment when I realised I was rooting for the antagonist, who has been cleverly disguised as the protagonist, or is it that we the reader are seeing things through Raskolnikov’s eyes, and through the filter of a man being above the law? I think though instead of rooting for him, we are instead hoping that the people around him do not get disappointed when they realise who he really is and what he has done, for if he is revealed as the murderer, the people whose lives he has touched, would be devastated and their world turned upside down. Take for instance his doting mother and caring sister, and how they want him to get better, and how they threat for his wellbeing. So the truth is we are rooting for his deed to be hidden in order to protect those around him.
But this is a complicated narrative, and so not even that is clear-cut. We do care for Raskolnikov too, don’t we? How can we not? We have been in suspense through his crime, we have been tutored of his beliefs, and we have even witnessed his kindness, and tendered to and agreed with his ill thoughts about his sister’s fiancée, and of course the complicated yo-yoing relationship he has with his close friend Razumikhin. We have witnessed the manipulation from the police detective Porfiry Petrovich, and been angered by the way he tries to trap him. We have witnessed the kind yet foolish deed of a poor man like Raskolnikov giving a large sum of money away so that Katerina Ivanovna can give her late husband Marmeladov a lavish funeral, even though shortly after her children will want for food and eventually shelter. We have witnessed the inns and outs of Raskolnikov’s life, from the people he has alienated, to the people he has touched and helped, and so we are invested in him, aren’t we?
(Above, Folio Society Illustration by Harry Brockway)
But do we become invested before the story is over? Are we cheated out of a more intriguing and open-ended finale to the story – on account of the epilogue that seems to tie things up a little too neatly? Well, that depends on the reader no doubt, and there have been many stories I have read that have cheated in the opposite direction, by not summarising enough at the end, or to have not given enough character growth to satisfy the overall investment. I would say though that in my opinion the ending epilogue is strong. Raskolnikov is the type of character that needs to have evolved and to have found the capacity to love his fellow humans come the end, because after all his endless agonising and confusion over the murders he has committed and the coldness with which he has debated their moral implications, the reader is owed at the very least some comfort that the character which questioned their moral judgement over five-hundred plus pages, was in the end a character that was worth the effort. Failing to find such a resolution at the end, might just make a reader feel that the central character was a lost cause after all, and not worth their considerable time and emotional investment.
This wonderfully produced book, featuring some excellent illustrations by Harry Brockway is available exclusively from The Folio Society -