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  • What drives someone to kill in cold blood?

  • What goes through the murderer's mind?

  • And what kind of a society breeds such people?

  • Over 150 years ago

  • Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky took these questions up

  • in what would become one of the best-known works of Russian literature:

  • "Crime and Punishment."

  • First serialized in a literary magazine in 1866,

  • the novel tells the story of Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov,

  • a young law student in Saint Petersburg.

  • Raskolnikov lives in abject poverty,

  • and at the start of the story has run out of funds to continue his studies.

  • Letters from his rural home only add to his distress

  • when he realizes how much his mother and sister have sacrificed for his success.

  • Increasingly desperate

  • after selling the last of his valuables to an elderly pawnbroker,

  • he resolves on a plan to murder and rob her.

  • But the impact of carrying out this unthinkable act

  • proves to be more than he was prepared for.

  • Though the novel is sometimes cited as one of the first psychological thrillers,

  • its scope reaches far beyond Raskolnikov's inner turmoil.

  • From dank taverns to dilapidated apartments

  • and claustrophobic police stations,

  • the underbelly of 19th century Saint Petersburg is brought to life

  • by Dostoyevsky's searing prose.

  • We're introduced to characters such as Marmeladov,

  • a miserable former official who has drank his family into ruin,

  • and Svidrigailov, an unhinged and lecherous nobleman.

  • As Raskolnikov's own family arrives in town,

  • their moral innocence stands in stark contrast

  • to the depravity of those around them,

  • even as their fates grow increasingly intertwined.

  • This bleak portrait of Russian society

  • reflects the author's own complex life experiences and evolving ideas.

  • As a young writer who left behind a promising military career,

  • Fyodor had been attracted to ideas of socialism and reform,

  • and joined a circle of intellectuals to discuss radical texts

  • banned by the Imperial government.

  • Upon exposure,

  • members of this group, including Dostoyevsky, were arrested.

  • Many were sentenced to death,

  • only to be subjected to a mock execution and last-minute pardon from the Tsar.

  • Dostoyevsky spent the next four years in a Siberian labor camp

  • before being released in 1854.

  • The experience left him with a far more pessimistic view of social reform,

  • and his focus shifted toward spiritual concerns.

  • In the 1864 novella "Notes from Underground,"

  • he expounded on his belief that utopian Western philosophies

  • could never satisfy the contradictory yearnings of the human soul.

  • "Crime and Punishment" was conceived and completed the following year,

  • picking up on many of the same themes.

  • In many ways,

  • the novel follows a common narrative thread

  • where a promising youth is seduced and corrupted by the dangers of urban life.

  • But its social critique cuts far deeper.

  • Raskolnikov rationalizes that his own advancement

  • at the cost of the exploitative pawnbroker's death

  • would be a net benefit to society.

  • In doing so,

  • he echoes the doctrines of egoism and utilitarianism

  • embraced by many of Dostoyevsky's contemporary intellectuals.

  • And in believing that his intelligence allows him to transcend moral taboos,

  • Raskolnikov cuts himself off from his own humanity.

  • Yet although the book is deeply concerned with morality,

  • "Crime and Punishment" never comes across as merely moralizing,

  • with each character given their own distinctive and convincing voice.

  • One of the most remarkable things about "Crime and Punishment"

  • is its ability to thrill

  • despite the details of the central murder being revealed in the first act.

  • Raskolnikov's crime is clear.

  • But it's only through Dostoyevsky's gripping account

  • of the ensuing social and psychological turmoil

  • that we learn the true nature of his punishment

  • and the possibility of redemption.

What drives someone to kill in cold blood?

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Why should you read Crime and Punishment? -Alex Gendler

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    asd851112 posted on 2019/07/23
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