Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Read in 2014)
Published by marco on
Disclaimer: these are notes I took while reading this book. They include citations I found interesting or enlightening or particularly well-written. In some cases, I’ve pointed out which of these applies to which citation; in others, I have not. Any benefit you gain from reading these notes is purely incidental to the purpose they serve of reminding me what I once read. Please see Wikipedia for a summary if I’ve failed to provide one sufficient for your purposes. If my notes serve to trigger an interest in this book, then I’m happy for you.
Sonia is the daughter of Marmeladov, a drunkard and civil servant who can’t keep his job and turns a blind eye when his entire household is supported by his eldest daughter’s prostitution. He even manages to find a way to be at peace with taking money from her for his drink.
“Hurrah for Sonia! What a mine they’ve dug there! And they’re making the most of it! Ye, they are making the most of it! They’ve wept over it and grown used to it. Man grows used to everything, the scoundrel!”
Dostoyevsky’s descriptions of despair and suffering and entrapment-by-life are unparalleled. The situations he posits seem unreal though they were likely all too real for all too many. The past tense is inappropriate here, for even in the modern day, in the most modern of countries, the cruelty of Dostoyevsky’s reality is played out day after sorrowful, miserable day with no hope or end in sight, other than through the sweet, sweet release of death.
“It shall not be? But what are you going to do to prevent it? You’ll forbid it? And what right have you? What can you promise them on your side to give you such a right? Your whole life, your whole future, you will devote to them when you have finished your studies and obtained a post? Yes, we have heard all that before, and that’s all words, but now? And what are you doing now? You are living upon them. They borrow on their hundred roubles pension. They borrow from the Svidrigaïlovs. How are you going to save them from Svidrigaïlovs, from Afanasy Ivanovitch Vahrushin, oh, future millionaire Zeus who would arrange their lives for them? In another ten years? In another ten years, mother will be blind with knitting shawls, maybbe with weeping too. She will be worn to a shadow with fasting […]”
This next scene is noteworthy because of the depths of human depravity it shows, the utter disregard for another creature’s suffering. A similar scene with an old, old whale in Moby Dick would remind me of this one. Presumably, the scene is a metaphor for the way in which the less fortunate are misused and mistreated and depleted by those above them, even if only a very little bit above them. Even if they themselves aren’t all so fortunate, all the more reason to dump on those less capable of defending themselves, all the more reason to make others suffer as they themselves are made to suffer by those above them. Or maybe it’s a cautionary tale of dunkenness; hard to tell.
“Near the entrance of the tavern stood a cart, but a strange cart. It was one of those big carts usually drawn by heavy cart-horses and laden with casks or other heavy goods.
“But now, strange to say, in the shafts of such a cart he saw a thin little sorrel beast, on of those peasants’ nags which had often seen straining their utmost under a heavy load of wood or hay, especially when the wheels were stuck in the mud or in a rut. And the peasants would beat them so cruelly, sometimes even about the nose and eyes […] All of a sudden there was a great uproar of shouting, singing and the balalaika, and from the tavern a number of big and very drunken peasants came out, [¨…]
““Get in, get in!” shouted one of them, a young thick-necked peasant with a fleshy face red as a carrot. “I’ll take you all, get in!”
““Take us all with a beast like that!”
““Why, Mikolka, are you crazy to put a nag like that in such a cart?”
““And this mare is twenty if she is a day, mates!”
Get in. I’ll take you all,“ Mikolka shouted again, leaping first into the cart, seizing the reins and standing straight up in front. “The bay has bone with Marvey,” he shouted fom the car—”and this brute, mates is just breaking my heart. I feels as if I could kill her. She’s just eating her head off. Get in, I tell you! I’ll make her gallop! She’ll gallop!” and he picked up the whip, perparing himself with relish to flogthe little mare.
“They all clambered into Mikolk’s cart, laughing and making jokes. Six men got in and there was still room for more. They hauled in a fat, rosy-cheeked woman. […] Two young fellows in the cart were just getting whips ready to help Mikolka. with the cry of “now,” the mare tugged with all her might, but far from galloping, could scarcely move forward; she struggled with her legs, gasping and shinking from the blows of the three whips which were showered upon her like hail. […] Mikolka flew into a rage and furiously thrashed the mare, as though he supposed she really could gallop.”
When members of the crowd expressed dismay and offered condemnation, Mikolka responded,
“Don’t meddle! It’s my property, I’ll do what I choose. Get in, more of you! Get in, all of you! I will have her go at a gallop!
“All at once laughter broke into a roar and covered everything: the mare, roused by the shower of blows, began feebly kicking. Even the old man [who’d initially voiced concern] could not help smiling. To think of a wretched little beast like that trying to kick!
“Two lads in the crowd snatched up whips and ran to the mare to beat her about the ribs. […]
““Hit her in the face, in the eyes, in the eyes,” cried Mikolka.
“[…The mare] was almost at last gasp, but began kicking once more.
““I’ll teach you to kick,” Mikolka shouted ferociously. He threw down the whip, bent forward and picked up from the bottom of the cart a long, thick shaft, he took hold of one end with both hands and with an effort brandished it over the mare.
““He’ll crush her,” was shouted round him. “He’ll kill her!”
““It’s my property,” shouted Mikolka and brought the shaft down with a swinging blow. There was a sound of a heavy thud.
““Thrash her, thrash her! Why have you stopped?” shouted voices in the crowd.
“And Mikolka swung the shaft a second time and it fell a second time on the spine of the luckless mare. She sank back on her haunches, but lurched forward and tugged forward with all her force, tugged first on one side and then on the other, trying to move the cart. But the six whips were attacking her in all directions, and the shaft was raised again and fell up her a third time, then a fourth, with heavy measured blows. Mikolka was in a fury that he could not kill her at one blow.
““She’s a tough one,” was shouted in the crowd.
““Fetch an axe to her! Finish her off,” shouted a third.
““i’ll show you! Stand off,” Mikolka screamed frantically; he threw down the shaft, stooped down in the car and picked up an iron crowbar. “Look out,” he shouted, and with all his might he dealt a stunning blow at the poor mare. The blow fell; the mare staggered, sank back, tried to pull, but the bar fell again with a swinging blow on her back and shell on the ground like a log.
““Finish her off,” shouted Mikolka and he leapt beside himself, out of the cart. Several young men, also flushed with drink, seized anything they could come across—whips, sticks, poles, and ran to the dying mare. Mikolka stood on one side and began dealing random blows with the crowbar. The mare stretched out her head, drew a long breath and died.
At this point, it’s seeming more and more like Dostoyevsky is comparing the horse to serfs, which until very recently had been the property and chattel of the nobility. Still a sore topic, clearly.
This next quote interests me only in that it further cements the terrible reputation that the German language has among almost all writers of note.
“as soon as you came in, I saw how you could help me; to begin with, I am weak in spelling and secondly, I am sometimes utterly adrift in German, so that I make it up as I go along for the most part. The only comfort is, that it’s bound to be a change for the better. Though who can tell, maybe it’s sometimes for the worse. […]”
And this is a condemnation of “science” but likely insofar as it is manipulated by capitalism.
“science now tells us, love yourself before all men, for everything in the world rests on self-interest. You love yourself and manage your own affairs properly and your coat remains whole. Economic truth adds that the better private affairs are organised in society—the more whole coats, so to say—the firmer are its foundations and the better is the common welfare organised too. Therefore, in acquiring wealth solely and exclusively for myself, I am scquiring, so to speak, for all, and helping to bring to pass my neighbour’s getting a little more than a torn coat; and that not from private, personal liberality, but as a consequence of the gernal advance. The ida is simple, but unhappily it has been a long time reaching us, being hindered by idealism and sentimentality. And yet it would seem to want very little wit to perceive it…”
The false palliatives of religion are next on the chopping block, with its advice that is so at odds with the common logic of life, especially and exactly those lives that suffer the most, that have the least to thank a supposedly benevolent but also mysterious and uncaring God for.
“God is merciful; look to the Most High for succour,“ the priest began.
““Ach! He is merciful, but not to us.”
““That’s a sin, a sin, madam,” observed the priest, shaking his head.
““And isn’t that sin?” cried Katerina ivanovna, pointing to the dying man.
““Perhaps those who have involuntarily caused the accident will agree to compensate you, at least for the losse of his earnings.”
““You don’t understand!” cried Katerina Ivanovna angrily waving her hand. “And why should they compensate me? Why, he was drunk and threw himself under the horses! What earnings? He brought us in nothing but misery. He drink everything away, the drunkard! He robbed us to get drink, he wasted their lives and mine for drink! And thank God he’s dying! One less to keep!
““You must forgive in the hour of death, that’s a sin, madam, such feelings are a great sin.””
“here you have the end of the world, an anchorage, a quiet haven, the navel of the earth, the three fishes that are the foundation of the world, the essence of pancakes, of savoury fish-pies, of the evening samovar, of soft sighs and warm shawls, and hot stoves to sleep on—as snug as though you were dead, and yet you’re alive—the advantages of both at once!”
The theory of the sacrificing one for the benefit of the privileged, the “special”.
“I maintain that if the discoveries of Kepler and Newton could not have been made known except by sacrificing the lives of one, a dozen, a hundred, or more men, Newton would have had the right, would indeed have been duty bound… to eliminate the dozen or the hundred men for the sake of making his discoveries known to the whole of humanity. But it does not follow from that that Newton had a right to murder poeple right and left and to steal every day in the market. then, I remember, I maintain in my article that all… well, legislators and leaders of men, such as Lycurgus, Solon, Mahomet, Napoleon, and so on, were all without exception criminals, from the very fact that, making a new law, they transgressed the ancient one, handed down from their ancestors and held sacred by the people, and they ddi not stop short at bloodshed either, if that bloodshed—often of innocent persons fighting vravely in defence of ancient law—were of use to their cause. It’s remarkable, in fact, that the majority, indeed, of these benefactors and leaders of humanity were guilty of terrible carnage. In short, I maintain that all great men or even men a little out of the common, that is to say capable of giving some new word, must from their very nature be criminals—more or less, of course. Otherwise, it’s hard for them to get out of the common rut.”
“The first category, generally speaking, are men conservative in temperament and law-abiding; they live under control and love to be controlled. to my thinking it is their duty to be controlled, because that’s their vocation, and there is nothing humiliating in it for them. The second category all transgress the law; they are destoryers or disposed to destruction according to their capacities. The crimes of these men are of course relative and varied; for the most part they seek in very varied ways the destruction of the present for the sake of the better. But if such a one is forced for the sake of his idea to step over a corpse or wade through blood, he can, I maintain, find within himself, in his conscience, a sanction for wading through blood—that depends on the idea and its dimensions, not that.”
“The vast mass of mankind is mere material, and only exists in order by some great effort, by some mysterious process, by means of some crossing of races and stocks, to bring into the world at last perhaps one man out of a thousand with a spark of independence. One in aten thousand perhaps—I speak roughly, approximately—is born with some independence, and with still greater independence one in a hundred thousand. The man of genius is one of millions, and the great geniuses, the crown of humanity, appear on earth perhaps one in many thousand millions.”
“And you don’t suppose that I went into it headlong like a fool? I went into it like a wise man, and that ws just my destruction. And you mustn’t suppose that I didn’t know, for instance, that if I began to question myself whether I had the right to gain power—I certainly hadn’t the right—or that if I asked myself whether a human being is a louse it proved that it wasn’t so for me, though it might be for a man who would go straight to his goal without asking questions. … If I worried myself all those days, wondering whether Napoleon would have done it or not, I felt clearly of course that I wasn’t Napoleon. I had to endure all the agony of that battle of ideas, Sonia, and I longed to throw it off: I wanted to murder withou casuistry, to murder for my own sake, for myself alon!”
“Crime? What crime?” he cried in sudden fury. “That I killed a vile noxious insect, an old pawnbroker woman, of use to no one!… Killing her was atonement for forty sins. She was sucking the life out of poor peole. Was that crime? I am not hinking of it and I am no thinking of expiating it, and why are you all rubbing it in on all sides? ‘A crime! a crime!’”
“Ah, it’s not picturesque, not aesthetically attractive! I fail to understand why bombarding peole by regular siege is more honourable. The fear of appearances is the first symptom of impotence. I’ve never, never recognised this more clearly than now, and I am further than ever from seeing that what I did was a crime. I’ve never, never been stronger and more convinced than now.”
When I read books that I downloaded from Gutenberg Project, I like to be helpful and provide corrections where I can. They have a very friendly and responsive errata-submission system.
Title: Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky Translated by Constance Garnett March 28, 2006 [EBook #2554] File: pg2554.epub Page 94: And where did you go, my I ask? Change “my” to “may”; And where did you go, [may] I ask? Page 100-100: with a girl, probably her daughter wearing a hat, and carrying a parasol. Add a comma after “daughter”; probably her daughter, wearing a hat Page 174-175: Avdotya Romanovna was remarkably good looking Add a hyphen between “good” and “looking”; remarkably good-looking Page 218: would indeed have been duty bound Add a hyphen between “duty” and “bound”; have been duty-bound Page 251-252: our meeting was disregarded solely at my instance Replace “instance” with “insistence”; at my [insistence] Page 258-259: Then he says is he going to be married and has already fixed on the girl Switch “is” and “he”; Then he says he is going to be married Page 259-260: to borrow it from him and pay him six per cent Remove the space between “per” and “cent”; pay him six percent Page 311: That’s because you are of incapable of getting away from prejudices. Remove “of” before “incapable”; you are incapable of getting away Page 415-416: It would be interesting to know who stay here? “stay” should be in the past tense; to know who stay[ed] here?