This classic novel first began its publication in Russia with twelve monthly instalments that started in 1866. It wasn’t until nearly two decades later that English readers (more details) first got their hands on the story. Widely regarded as one of the best examples of great Russian literature, Crime and Punishment continues to enthral modern readers and remains on many a reading list.
The story starts with the life of a young psychology student named Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov as he plans to commit the murder of a pawn broker that he considers to be nothing but a leech on society. Dostoevsky goes into detail about Raskolnikov’s thoughts as he continues to plan and eventually commit the murder. After the deed is done, the novel turns into a tale of caution as the mental state of the protagonist deteriorates rapidly for all his compatriots to see. While they don’t know what he’s done, they remain loyal to him and even attempt to get him back on his feet by constantly bringing him food and even new clothes.
Although he seems to have gotten away with the murder, and perhaps committing the perfect crime, a sharp detective by the name of Porfiry is introduced to Raskolnikov and immediately suspects him of committing the murder. Although he doesn’t ‘know’ about Raskolnikov’s guilt, Pofiry has read one of his published articles in a psychology journal that makes the argument that great men may commit murder in order to further their own goals in life. Pofiry takes this as evidence that Raskolnikov believes that he might just be one of those great men whose life is worth more than that of others, using psychological mind games to help trap Raskolnikov and eventually have him confess his guilt all on his own.
It could be argued though that this novel isn’t only the tale of someone who commits a heinous crime and their punishment, the novel ends with a short description of the protagonist’s eventual redemption while he’s in prison with the help of his love, Sonya. While we don’t get to find out exactly what happens on his eventual release from prison, it can’t be said that this crime novel leaves you feeling particularly sorry for its main character who continues to make a series of terrible decisions from the opening few chapters.
No great Russian novel exempts itself from being packed full of subplot and other characters who all add to the richness of the main story, and Crime and Punishment is replete with just such characters who serve not just to push the plot along, but also give you a small look into just what life was like for so many living in Saint Petersburg in the 19th century.