Book Review: Crime and Punishment
May 26, 2020
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky: Review by Meilee Anderson
It took a week to slog my way through the 500+ page literary classic. At the end I made what resembled a “bitter beer face” for a good 20 minutes trying to put my feelings about Crime and Punishment into words.
Crime and Punishment called to me as a good quarantine read. I felt like an intellectual picking up the hefty tome. Heralded as groundbreaking, written 150 years ago, but how does it hold up now?
Before the end of the first chapter I was fed-up with the main character Raskolnikov. His downward spiral didn’t illicit compassion in me. He ran out of tuition money and dropped out of school. With his funds so light does he double down and work his way out of poverty? Nope. In fact, despite his rent in arrears for months, he quits tutoring and wallows in unemployment. At risk for eviction he dodges his landlady. He also isolates himself from friends and isn’t honest with his family. He won’t ask anyone for help, doesn’t eat regularly due to insufficient funds and isn’t sleeping well.
Dostoevsky does a good job writing in such a way that the tribulations from living in abject poverty jump off the page. I get why Raskolnikov was in a bad place, his depression is clear. He’s in a dark place and gets an idea he’s going to do society a favor by murdering a “louse” of a greedy pawnbroker.
He wrestles with the idea to commit murder, justifies it, meditates on the act, and makes plans. Ultimately, he commits not only one murder but two! We then spend the next 200 some pages wrestling with his mood swings. He’s guilty, he’s not guilty, he’s guilty. I was over it. He’s broke but when his mother sends him money, he gives most of his funds away. The man can’t afford to be generous. He’s literally starving, about to be evicted and when he gets some money instead of getting caught up on rent and eating, he gives the bulk of the money away to strangers. And he robbed his victim, but instead of spending the goods he buries it.
I was frustrated with his character, all of the men in Crime and Punishment exasperated me but one. Razumikhin had redemptive qualities. Though he’s a little intense, over the top Razumikhin goes above and beyond the call of duty as Raskolnikov’s only friend.
The women in the book frustrated me too. We briefly meet the pawnbroker who also didn’t provoke sympathy. Though she wasn’t a character to draw you in, she didn’t deserve to her brutal killing, nor did her innocent sister who tragically happened on the scene at the wrong time.
We meet Raskolnikov’s mother, a widow living on a meager pension. She sent her son money every chance she got. ARG! Her son was capable of working; he chose not to! His mother was unaware he dropped out of college and unemployed by choice. If she had known would she still have helped him out? I think she would have. As I thought about the mother, I thought to myself, if this were real life after all it’s her money. What parent hasn’t scrimped and sacrificed to help out a child, (a man-child!) but who am I judge?
We meet Raskolnikov’s sister Dunya whom I liked. I wanted to get to know her better. She seemed to have a level head on her shoulders. She was a sensible woman with a plan for the future, a woman of action. Gainfully employed as a governess she helped support her mother and her brother. She was wrongfully accused of an affair and fired from her governess job. Her reputation was shredded yet she stayed calm and collected. She regains her reputation and becomes engaged to a man of means. She later realizes Mr. Dreamy wasn’t going to be a good match for her and calls off the engagement. Living in poverty it took guts to walk away from a wealthy man. Her, I liked. She ends up with Razumikhin. They made a good pair.
We meet Raskolnikov’s love interest Sofia who came from an impoverished family. As a teen she turned to prostitution and menial labor (maid, launderess) to support her mother and siblings…because her father was a raging alcoholic who couldn’t keep a job and drank the family’s money away! Sofia catches all kinds of shade from people for her role as a sex worker. Sofia doesn’t stand up for herself or curse her situation. She is the sole source of financial support for her father, mother, and siblings. She quietly endures the scorn and shame. Sofia fell in love with Raskolnikov. He wasn’t a catch by any stretch of the imagination but for some reason he captured her heart.
Imagine your bestie called you up and said her man was going to serve hard time for murder. You were going to move by yourself and live in a foreign place where you don’t know a single soul to wait YEARS for your man (you barely know) to serve his sentence? (Insert bitter beer face here) I was happy Sofia got a fresh start in Siberia but I wanted so much more for her. Sofia ends up walking away from prostitution and follows her love to Siberia where she continues her martyr role. She is looked upon as a saint in Siberia because of how she interacts with the locals. She never stops loving Raskolnikov.
Crime and Punishment touches on themes of family relationships, mental health issues, poverty, and suffering. Not light reading. I’m glad I read it. I won’t read it again, nor will I rush out and buy other books by Dostoevsky. I found myself thinking about the opportunities and rights women had 150 years ago and how important a safety net was. I am extremely thankful to raise my daughter in 2020 where in spite of the pandemic we find ourselves in, her future still looks bright. pandemic aside.
Buy Crime and Punishment Here.
Authors Bio Here.