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Crime and Punishment

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Crime and Punishment
See caption.
1956 Random House printing of Crime and Punishment, translated by Constance Garnett.
Author(s) Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Original title Преступление и наказание
Language Russian
Genre(s) suspense, literary novel
Publisher The Russian Messenger (series)
Publication date 1866
Media type Print ( Hardback & Paperback) & Audio book
ISBN 0-679-73450-3
OCLC Number 26399697
Dewey Decimal 891.73/3 20
LC Classification PG3326 .P7 1993

Crime and Punishment (Russian: Преступление и наказание Pryestupleniye i nakazaniye) is a novel by the Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky. This was first published in the Russian literary journal The Russian Messenger in twelve monthly installments during 1866. It was later published in a single volume. This is the second of Dostoevsky's full-length novels following his return from five years of exile in Siberia, where he was serving his sentence in Katorga camps, the Tsarist forced-labor system and predecessor to the Soviet Gulag. Crime and Punishment is the first great novel of his "mature period" of writing.

Crime and Punishment focuses on the mental anguish and moral dilemmas of Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, an impoverished ex-student in St. Petersburg who formulates and executes a plan to kill an unscrupulous pawnbroker for her money. Raskolnikov argues that with the pawnbroker's money he can perform good deeds to counterbalance the crime, while ridding the world of a worthless parasite. He also commits this murder to test his own hypothesis that some people are naturally capable of, and even have the right to, do such things. Several times throughout the novel, Raskolnikov justifies his actions by connecting himself mentally with Napoleon Bonaparte, believing that murder is permissible in pursuit of a higher purpose, only to find out he "... is not a Napoleon."


Dostoyevsky conceived the idea of Crime and Punishment in the summer of 1865, having gambled away much of his fortune, unable to pay his bills or afford proper meals. At the time the author owed large sums of money to creditors, and was trying to help the family of his brother Mikhail, who had died in early 1864. Projected under the title The Drunkards, it was to deal "with the present question of drunkness ... [in] all its ramifications, especially the picture of a family and the bringing up of children in these circumstance, etc., etc." Once Dostoevsky conceived Raskolnikov and his crime, now inspired by the case of Pierre François Lacenaire, this theme became ancillary, centering on the story of the Marmeladov family.

Dostoyevsky offered his story or novella (at the time Dostoyevsky was not thinking of a novel) to the publisher Mikhail Katkov, whose monthly journal, The Russian Messenger, was a prestigious publication of its kind, and the outlet for both Ivan Turgenev and Leo Tolstoy. However Dostoevsky, having carried on quite bruising polemics with Katkov in early 1860s, had never published anything in its pages. Nonetheless, forced by his situation, after all other appeals elsewhere failed, Dostoevsky turned as a last resort to Katkov, urging for an advance on a proposed contribution: In a letter to Katkov written in September 1865, Dostoevsky explained to him that the work was to be about a young man who yields to "certain strange, 'unfinished' ideas, yet floating in the air"; he had thus embarked on his plan to explore the moral and psychological dangers of the ideology of "radicalism". In letters written in November 1865 an important conceptual change occurred: the "story" has become a "novel", and from here on all references to Crime and Punishment are to a novel.

Dostoevsky had to race against time, in order to finish on time both The Gambler and Crime and Punishment. Anna Snitkina, a stenographer who would soon become his second wife, was a great help for Dostoevsky during this difficult task. The first part of Crime and Punishment appeared in the January 1866 issue of The Russian Messenger, and the last one was published in December 1866.

At the end of November much had been written and was ready; I burned it all; I can confess that now. I didn't like it myself. A new form, a new plan excited me, and I started all over again.
 — Dostoevsky's letter to his friend Alexander Wrangel in February 1886

In the complete edition of Dostoevsky's writings published in the Soviet Union, the editors reassembled and printed the notebooks that the writer kept while working on Crime and Punishment, in a sequence roughly corresponding to the various stages of composition. Because of these labors, there is now a fragmentary working draft of the story, or novella, as initially conceived, as well as two other versions of the text. These have been distinguished as the Wiesbaden edition, the Petersburg edition, and the final plan, involving the shift from a first-person narrator to the indigenous variety of third-person form invented by Dostoevsky. The Wiesbaden edition concentrates entirely on the moral/physic reactions of the narrator after the murder. It coincides roughly with the story that Dostoevsky described in his letter to Katkov, and written in a form of a diary or journal, corresponds to what eventually became part II.

I wrote [this chapter] with genuine inspiration, but perhaps it is no good; but for them the question is not its literary worth, they are worried about its morality. Here I was in the right—nothing was against morality, and even quite the contrary, but they saw otherwise and, what's more, saw traces of nihilism ... I took it back, and this revision of a large chapter cost me at least three new chapters of work, judging by the effort and the weariness; but I corrected it and gave it back.
 — Dostoevsky's letter to A.P. Milyukov

Why Dostoevsky abandoned his initial version remains a matter of speculation. According to Joseph Frank, "one possibility is that his protagonist began to develop beyond the boundaries in which he had first been conceived". The notebooks indicate that Dostoevsky was aware of the emergence of new aspects of Raskolnikov's character as the plot action proceeded, and he structured the novel in conformity with this "metamorphosis," Frank says. Dostoevsky thus decided to fuse the story with his previous idea for a novel called The Drunkards. The final version of Crime and Punishment came to birth only when, in November 1865, Dostoevsky decided to recast his novel in the third person. This shift was the culmination of a long struggle, present through all the early stages of composition. Once having decided, Dostoevsky began to rewrite from scratch, and was able to easily integrate sections of the early manuscript into the final text—Frank says that he did not, as he told Wrangel, burn everything he had written earlier.

The final draft went smoothly, except for a clash with the editors of The Russian Messenger, about which very little is known. Since the manuscript Dostoevsky turned in to Katkov was lost, it is unclear what the editors had objected to in the original. In 1889, the editors of the journal commented that "it was not easy for him [Dostoevsky] to give up his intentionally exaggerated idealization of Sonya as a woman who carried self-sacrifice to the point of sacrificing her body". It seems that Dostoevsky had initially given Sonya a much more affirmative role in the scene, in which she reads the Gospel story of the raising of Lazarus to Raskolnikov.


Raskolnikov, a mentally unstable former student, lives in a tiny, rented room in Saint Petersburg. He refuses all help, even from his friend Razumikhin, and devises a plan to murder and to rob an unpleasant elderly pawn-broker and money-lender, Alyona Ivanovna. His motivation comes from the overwhelming sense that he is predetermined to kill the old woman by some power outside of himself. While still considering the plan, Raskolnikov makes the acquaintance of Semyon Zakharovich Marmeladov, a drunkard who recently squandered his family's little wealth. He also receives a letter from his sister and mother, speaking of their coming visit to Saint Petersburg, and his sister's sudden marriage plans which they plan on discussing upon their arrival.

After much deliberation, Raskolnikov sneaks into Alyona Ivanovna's apartment where he murders her with an axe. He also kills her half-sister, Lizaveta, who happens to stumble upon the scene of the crime. Shaken by his actions, Raskolnikov manages to only steal a handful of items and a small purse, leaving much of the pawn-broker's wealth untouched. Raskolnikov then flees and manages to leave miraculously unseen and undetected.

After the bungled murder, Raskolnikov falls into a feverish state and begins to worry obsessively over the murder. He hides the stolen items and purse under a rock, and tries desperately to clean his clothing of any blood or evidence. He falls into a fever later that day, though not before calling briefly on his old friend Razumikhin. As the fever comes and goes in the following days, Raskolnikov behaves as though he wishes to betray himself. He shows strange reactions to whosoever mentions the murder of the pawn-broker, which is now known about and talked of in the city. In his delirium, Raskolnikov wanders Saint Petersburg, drawing more and more attention to himself and his relation to the crime. In one of walks through the city, he sees Marmeladov, who has been struck mortally by a carriage in the streets. Rushing to help him, Raskolnikov gives the remainder of his money to the man's family, which includes his teenage daughter, Sonya, who has been forced to become a prostitute to support her family.

In the meantime, Raskolnikov's mother, Pulcheria Alexandrovna, and his sister, Avdotya Romanovna (or Dounia) have arrived in the city. Avdotya had been working as a governess for the Svidrigailov family until this point, but was forced out of the position by the head of the family, Arkady Ivanovich Svidrigaïlov. Svidrigailov, a married man, was attracted to Avdotya's physical beauty and her stunning spiritual qualities, and offered her riches and elopement. Avdotya, having none of this, fled the family and lost her source of income, only to meet Pyotr Petrovich Luzhin, a man of modest income and rank. Luzhin proposes to marry Avdotya, thereby securing her and her mother's financial safety, provided she accept him quickly and without question. It is for these very reasons that the two of them come to Saint Petersburg, both to meet Luzhin there and to attain Raskolnikov's approval. Luzhin, however, calls on Raskolnikov while he is in a delirious state and presents himself as a foolish, self-righteous and presuming man. Raskolnikov dismisses him immediately as a potential husband for his sister, and realizes that she only accepted him to help her family.

As the novel progresses, Raskolnikov is introduced to the detective Porfiry, who begins to suspect him for the murder purely on psychological grounds. At the same time, a chaste relationship develops between Raskolnikov and Sonya. Sonya, though a prostitute, is full of Christian virtue and is only driven into the profession by her family's poverty. Meanwhile, Razumikhin and Raskolnikov manage to keep Avdotya from continuing her relationship with Luzhin, whose true character is exposed to be conniving and base. At this point, Svidrigailov appears on the scene, having come from the province to Petersburg, almost solely to seek out Avdotya. He reveals that his wife is dead, and that he is willing to pay Avdotya a vast sum of money in exchange for nothing. She, upon hearing the news, refuses flat out, suspecting him of treachery.

As Raskolnikov and Porfiry continue to meet, Raskolnikov's motives for the crime become exposed. Porfiry becomes increasingly certain of the man's guilt, but has no concrete evidence or witnesses with which to back up this suspicion. Furthermore, another man admits to committing the crime under questioning and arrest. However, Raskolnikov's nerves continue to wear thin, and he is constantly struggling with the idea of confessing, though he knows that he can never be truly convicted. He turns to Sonya for support and confesses his crime to her. By coincidence, Svidrigailov has taken up residence in a room next to Sonya's and overhears the entire confession. When the two men meet face to face, Svidrigailov acknowledges this fact, and suggests that he may use it against him, should he need to. Svidrigailov also speaks of his own past, in which he reveals that he has committed murder and most recently killed his wife.

Raskolnikov is at this point completely torn; he is urged by Sonya to confess, and Svidrigailov's testimony could potentially convict him. Meantime, Svidrigailov attempts to seduce and then rape Avdotya, who convinces him not to. He then spends a night in confusion and in the morning shoots himself. This same morning, Raskolnikov goes again to Sonya, who again urges him to confess and to clear his conscience. He makes his way to the police station, where he is met by the news of Svidrigailov's suicide. He hesitates a moment, thinking again that he might get away with a perfect crime, but is persuaded by Sonya to confess.

The epilogue tells of how Raskolnikov is sentenced to penal servitude in Siberia, where Sonya follows him. Avdotya and Razumikhin marry and are left in a happy position by the end of the novel. Raskolnikov, however, struggles in Siberia. It is only after some time in prison that his redemption and moral regeneration begin under Sonya's loving influence.


In Crime and Punishment Dostoevsky succeeds in fusing the personality of his main character, Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov (Russian: Родион Романович Раскольников), with his new anti-radical ideological themes. The main plot involves a murder as the result of "ideological intoxication," and depicts all the disastrous moral and psychical consequences that result from the murderer. Raskolnikov's psychology is placed at the centre, and carefully interwoven with the ideas behind his transgression; every other feature of the novel illuminates the agonizing dilemma in which Raskolnikov is caught. From another point of view, the novel's plot is another variation of a conventional nineteenth-century theme: an innocent young provincial comes to seek his fortune in the capital, where he succumbs to corruption, and loses all traces of his former freshness and purity. However, as Gary Rosenshield points out, "Raskolnikov succumbs not to the temptations of high society as Honouré de Balzac's Rastignac or Stendhal's Julien Sorel, but to those of rationalistic Petersburg".

Raskolnikov is the protagonist, and the action is focalized primarily from his perspective. Despite its name, the novel does not so much deal with the crime and its formal punishment, as with Raskolnikov's internal struggle (The book shows that his punishment results more from his conscience than from the law. He committed murder with the belief that he possessed enough intellectual and emotional fortitude to deal with the ramifications, [based on his paper/thesis, "On Crime", that he is a Napoleon], but his sense of guilt soon overwhelms him. It is only in the epilogue that he realizes his formal punishment, having decided to confess and end his alienation.

Sofia Semyonovna Marmeladova (Russian: Софья Семёновна Мармеладова), variously called Sonia (Sonya) and Sonechka, is the daughter of a drunk, Semyon Zakharovich Marmeladov, whom Raskolnikov meets in a tavern at the beginning of the novel, and who, Raskolnikov discerns, shares the same feelings of shame and alienation as he does. She becomes the first person to whom Raskolnikov confesses his crime, and she supports him even though she was friends with one of the victims (Lizaveta). For most of the novel, Sonya serves as the spiritual guide for Raskolnikov. After his confession she follows him to Siberia where she lives in the same town as the prison.

Other characters of the novel are:

  • Porfiry Petrovich (Порфирий Петрович) – The detective in charge of solving the murders of Lizaveta and Alyona Ivanovna, who, along with Sonya, guides Raskolnikov towards confession. Unlike Sonya, however, Porfiry does this through psychological games. Despite the lack of evidence, he becomes certain Raskolnikov is the murderer following several conversations with him, but gives him the chance to confess voluntarily. He attempts to confuse and to provoke the unstable Raskolnikov in an attempt to coerce him to confess.
  • Avdotya Romanovna Raskolnikova (Авдотья Романовна Раскольникова) – Raskolnikov's strong willed and self-sacrificial sister, called Dunya, Dounia or Dunechka for short. She initially plans to marry the wealthy, yet smug and self-possessed, Luzhin, to save the family from financial destitution. She has a habit of pacing across the room while thinking. She is followed to Saint Petersburg by the disturbed Svidrigailov, who seeks to win her back through blackmail. She rejects both men in favour of Raskolnikov's loyal friend, Razumikhin.
  • Arkady Ivanovich Svidrigaïlov (Аркадий Иванович Свидригайлов) – Sensual, depraved, and wealthy former employer and current pursuer of Dunya, Svidrigaïlov is suspected of multiple acts of murder, and overhears Raskolnikov's confessions to Sonya. With this knowledge he torments both Dunya and Raskolnikov but does not inform the police. When Dunya tells him she could never love him (after attempting to shoot him) he lets her go and commits suicide. Whereas Sonya represents the path to salvation, Svidrigaïlov represents the other path towards suicide. Despite his apparent malevolence, Svidrigaïlov is similar to Raskolnikov in regard to his random acts of charity. He fronts the money for the Marmeladov children to enter an orphanage (after both their parents die), gives Sonya five percent bank notes totalling three thousand rubles, and leaves the rest of his money to his juvenile fiancée.
  • Marfa Petrovna Svidrigailova (Марфа Петровна Свидригайлова) – Arkady Svidrigaïlov's deceased wife, whom he is suspected of having murdered, and who he claims has visited him as a ghost. Her bequest of 3,000 rubles to Dunya allows Dunya to reject Luzhin as a suitor.
  • Dmitri Prokofich Razumikhin (Дмитрий Прокофьич Разумихин) – Raskolnikov's loyal friend. In terms of Razumikhin's contribution to Dostoevsky's anti-radical thematics, he is intended to represent something of a reconciliation of the pervasive thematic conflict between faith and reason. The fact that his name means reason shows Dostoevsky's desire to employ this faculty as a foundational basis for his Christian faith in God.
  • Katerina Ivanovna Marmeladova (Катерина Ивановна Мармеладова) – Semyon Marmeladov's consumptive and ill-tempered second wife, stepmother to Sonya. She drives Sonya into prostitution in a fit of rage, but later regrets it, and beats her children mercilessly, but works ferociously to improve their standard of living. She is obsessed with demonstrating that slum life is far below her station. Following Marmeladov's death, she uses Raskolnikov's money to hold a funeral. She later succumbs to her illness. The character is partially based on Polina Suslova.
  • Semyon Zakharovich Marmeladov (Семён Захарович Мармеладов) – Hopeless drunk who indulges in his own suffering, and father of Sonya. Marmeladov could be seen as a Russian equivalent of the character of Micawber in Charles Dickens' novel, David Copperfield.
  • Pulkheria Alexandrovna Raskolnikova (Пульхерия Александровна Раскольникова) – Raskolnikov's relatively clueless, hopeful and loving mother. Following Raskolnikov's sentence, she falls ill (mentally and physically) and eventually dies. She hints in her dying stages that she is slightly more aware of her son's fate, which was hidden from her by Dunya and Razumikhin.
  • Pyotr Petrovich Luzhin (Пётр Петрович Лужин) – A well-off lawyer who is engaged to Raskolnikov's sister Dunya in the beginning of the novel. His motives for the marriage is rather despicable, as he states more or less that he chose her since she will be completely beholden to him financially.
  • Andrey Semyenovich Lebezyatnikov (Андрей Семёнович Лебезятников) – Luzhin's utopian socialist roommate who witnesses his attempt to frame Sonya and subsequently exposes him.
  • Alyona Ivanovna (Алёна Ивановна) – Suspicious old pawnbroker who hoards money and is merciless to her patrons. She is Raskolnikov's intended target.
  • Lizaveta Ivanovna (Лизавета Ивановна) – Alyona's handicapped and innocent sister. Raskolnikov murders her when she walks in immediately after Raskolnikov had killed Alyona. Lizaveta was a friend of Sonya's.
  • Zossimov (Зосимов) – A friend of Razumikhin and a doctor who cared for Raskolnikov.
  • Nastasya Petrovna (Настасья Петровна) – Raskolnikov's landlady's servant and a friend of Raskolnikov.
  • Nikodim Fomich (Никодим Фомич)– The amiable Chief of Police.
  • Ilya "Gunpowder" Petrovich (Илья Петрович) – A police official and Fomich's assistant.
  • Alexander Grigorievich Zamyotov (Александр Григорьевич Заметов) – Head clerk at the police station and friend to Razumikhin. Raskolnikov arouses Zamyotov's suspicions by explaining how he, Raskolnikov, would have committed various crimes, although Zamyotov later apologizes, believing, much to Raskolnikov's amusement, that it was all a farce to expose how ridiculous the suspicions were. This scene illustrates the argument of Raskolnikov's belief in his own superiority as Übermensch.
  • Nikolai Dementiev (Николай Дементьев) – A painter and sectarian who admits to the murder, since his sect holds it to be supremely virtuous to suffer for another person's crime.
  • Polina Mikhailovna Marmeladova (Полина Михайловна Мармеладова) – Ten-year-old adopted daughter of Semyon Zakharovich Marmeladov and younger stepsister to Sonya, sometimes known as Polechka.
Name Word Meaning (in Russian)
Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov raskol a schism, or split; "raskolnik" is "one who splits" or "dissenter"; the verb raskalyvat' means "to cleave", "to chop","to crack","to split" or "to break"
Pyotr Petrovich Luzhin luzha a puddle
Dmitri Prokofich Razumikhin razum reason, intelligence
Alexander Grigorievich Zamyotov zametit to notice, to realize
Andrey Semyenovich Lebezyatnikov lebezit to fawn on somebody, to cringe
Semyon Zakharovich Marmeladov marmelad marmalade/jam
Arkady Ivanovich Svidrigailov Svidrigailo a Lithuanian duke of the fifteenth century
Porfiry Petrovich Porphyry (perhaps) named after the Neoplatonic philosopher


Crime and Punishment has a distinct beginning, middle and end. The novel is divided into six parts, with an epilogue. The notion of "intrinsic duality" in Crime and Punishment has been commented upon, with the suggestion that there is a degree of symmetry to the book. Edward Wasiolek who has argued that Dostoevsky was a skilled craftsman, highly conscious of the formal pattern in his art, has likened the structure of Crime & Punishment to a "flattened X", saying:

Parts I-III [of Crime and Punishment] present the predominantly rational and proud Raskolnikov: Parts IV-VI, the emerging "irrational" and humble Raskolnikov. The first half of the novel shows the progressive death of the first ruling principle of his character; the last half, the progressive birth of the new ruling principle. The point of change comes in the very middle of the novel.

This compositional balance is achieved by means of the symmetrical distribution of certain key episodes throughout the novel's six parts. The recurrence of these episodes in the two halves of the novel, as David Bethea has argued, is organized according to a mirror-like principle, whereby the "left" half of the novel reflects the "right" half. For her part, Margaret Church discerns a contrapuntal structuring: parts I, III and V deal largely with the main hero's relationship to his family (mother, sister and mother surrogates), while parts II, IV and VI deal with his relationship to the authorities of the state "and to various father figures".

The seventh part of the novel, the Epilogue, has attracted much attention and controversy. Some of Dostoevsky's critics have criticized the novel's final pages as superfluous, anti-climactic, unworthy of the rest of the work, while others have rushed to the defense of the Epilogue, offering various ingenious schemes which conclusively prove its inevitability and necessity. Steven Cassedy argues that Crime and Punishment "is formally two distinct but closely related, things, namely a particular type of tragedy in the classical Greek mold and a Christian resurrection tale". Cassedy concludes that "the logical demands of the tragic model as such are satisfied without the Epilogue in Crime and Punishment ... At the same time, this tragedy contains a Christian component, and the logical demands of this element are met only by the resurrection promised in the Epilogue".

Crime and Punishment is written from a third-person omniscient perspective. It is focalized primarily from the point of view of Raskolnikov; however, it does at times switch to the perspective of Svidrigailov, Razumikhin, Peter Petrovich, or Dunya. This narrative technique, which fuses the narrator very closely with the consciousness and point of view of the central characters of the plot, was original for its period. Franks notes that his identification, through Dostoevsky's use of the time shifts of memory and his manipulation of temporal sequence, begins to approach the later experiments of Henry James, Joseph Conrad, Virginia Woolf, and James Joyce. A late nineteenth-century reader was, however, accustomed to more orderly and linear types of expository narration. This led to the persistence of the legend that Dostoevsky was an untidy and negligent craftsman, and to critical observations like the following by Melchior de Vogüé:

"A word ... one does not even notice, a small fact that takes up only a line, have their reverberations fifty pages later ... [so that] the continuity becomes unintelligible if one skips a couple of pages."

Dostoevsky uses different speech mannerisms and sentences of different length for different characters. Those who use artificial language—Luzhin, for example—are identified as unattractive people. Mrs. Marmeladov's disintegrating mind is reflected in her language, too. In the original Russian text, the names of the major characters have something of a double meaning, but in translation the subtlety of the language is sometimes lost. There is even a play with the Russian word for crime ("prestuplenie"), which is literally translated as a stepping across or a transgression. The physical image of crime as a crossing over a barrier or a boundary is lost in translation. So is the religious implication of transgression, which in English refers to a sin rather than a crime.


The Dreams

Raskolnikov's dreams always have a symbolic meaning, which suggests a psychological view. In the dream about the horse, the mare has to sacrifice itself for the men who are too much in a rush to wait. This could be symbolic of women sacrificing themselves for men, just like Raskolnikov's belief that Dunya is sacrificing herself for Rodya by marrying Luzhin. Some critics have suggested this dream is the fullest single expression of the whole novel, containing the nihilistic destruction of an innocent creature and Rodion's suppressed sympathy for it (although the young Rodion in the dream runs to the horse, he still murders the pawnbroker soon after waking). The dream is also mentioned when Raskolnikov talks to Marmeladov. He states that his daughter, Sonya, has to sell her body to earn a living for their family. The dream is also a blatant warning for the impending murder.

In the final pages, Raskolnikov, who at this point is in the prison infirmary, has a feverish dream about a plague of nihilism, that enters Russia and Europe from the east and which spreads senseless dissent (Raskolnikov's name alludes to "raskol", dissent) and fanatic dedication to "new ideas": it finally engulfs all of mankind. Though we don't learn anything about the content of these ideas they clearly disrupt society forever and are seen as exclusively critical assaults on ordinary thinking: it is clear that Dostoevsky was envisaging the new, politically and culturally nihilist ideas which were entering Russian literature and society in this watershed decade, and with which Dostoevsky would be in debate for the rest of his life (cp. Chernyshevsky's What Is to Be Done?, Dobrolyubov's abrasive journalism, Turgenev's Fathers and Sons and Dostoevsky's own The Possessed). Just like the novel demonstrates and argues Dostoevsky's conviction that "if God doesn't exist (or is not recognized) then anything is permissible" the dream sums up his fear that if men won't check their thinking against the realities of life and nature, and if they are unwilling to listen to reason or authority, then no ideas or cultural institutions will last and only brute barbarism can be the result. Janko Lavrin, who took part in the revolutions of the WWI era, knew Lenin and Trotsky and many others, and later would spend years writing and researching on Dostoevsky and other Russian classics, called this final dream "prophetic in its symbolism".

The Cross

Sonya gives Rodya a cross when he goes to turn himself in. He takes his pain upon him by carrying the cross through town, like Jesus; he falls to his knees in the town square on the way to his confession. Sonya carried the cross up until then, which indicates that, as literally mentioned in the book, she suffers for him, in a semi-Christ-like manner. Sonya and Lizaveta had exchanged crosses and become spiritual sisters, originally the cross was Lizaveta's — so Sonya carries Lizaveta's cross, the cross of Rodya's innocent victim, whom he didn't intend to kill.

Saint Petersburg

On an exceptionally hot evening early in July a young man came out of the garret in which he lodged in S. Place and walked slowly, as though in hesitation, towards K. bridge.
— Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment, I, I

The above opening sentence of the novel has a symbolic function: Russian critic Vadim K. Kozhinov argues that the reference to the "exceptionally hot evening" establishes not only the suffocating atmosphere of Saint Petersburg in midsummer but also "the infernal ambience of the crime itself". Dostoevsky was among the first to recognize the symbolic possibilities of city life and imagery drawn from the city. I. F. I. Evnin regards Crime and Punishment as the first great Russian novel "in which the climactic moments of the action are played out in dirty taverns, on the street, in the sordid black rooms of the poor".

Dostoevsky's Petersburg is the city of unrelieved poverty; "magnificence has no place in it, because magnificence is external, formal abstract, cold". Dostoevsky connects the city's problems to Raskolnikov's thoughts and subsequent actions. The crowded streets and squares, the shabby houses and taverns, the noise and stench, all are transformed by Dostoevsky into a rich store of metaphors for states of mind. Donald Fanger asserts that "the real city [...] rendered with a striking concreteness, is also a city of the mind in the way that its atmosphere answers Raskolnikov's spiritual condition and almost symbolizes it. It is crowded, stifling, and parched." The inner turmoil suffered by Raskolnikov can also be perceived as a Shakespearian pathetic fallacy. For example, the great storm in King Lear reflects the state of the King's mind, much like the chaos, disorder and noise of St. Petersburg reflects the state of Raskolnikov's mind.


Dostoevsky's letter to Katkov reveals his immediate inspiration, to which he remained faithful even after his original plan evolved into a much more ambitious creation: a desire to counteract what he regarded as nefarious consequences arising from the doctrines of Russian nihilism. In the novel, Dostoevsky pinpointed the dangers of both utilitarianism and rationalism, the main ideas of which inspired the radicals, continuing a fierce criticism he had already started with his Notes from Underground. A Slavophile religious believer, Dostoevsky utilized the characters, dialogue and narrative in Crime and Punishment to articulate an argument against westernizing ideas in general. He thus attacked a peculiar Russian blend of French utopian socialism and Benthamite utilitarianism, which had led to what revolutionaries, such as Nikolai Chernyshevsky, called " rational egoism".

The radicals refused, however, to recognize themselves in the novel's pages ( Dimitri Pisarev ridiculed the notion that Raskolnikov's ideas could be identified with those of the radicals of his time), since Dostoevsky portrayed nihilistic ideas to their most extreme consequences. The aim of these ideas was altruistic and humanitarian, but these aims were to be achieved by relying on reason and suppressing entirely the spontaneous outflow of Christian pity and compassion. Chernyshevsky's utilitarian ethic proposed that thought and will in man were subject to the laws of physical science. Dostoevsky believed that such ideas limited man to a product of physics, chemistry and biology, negating spontaneous emotional responses. In its latest variety of Bazarovism, Russian nihilism encouraged the creation of an élite of superior individuals to whom the hopes of the future were to be entrusted.

Raskolnikov exemplifies all the potentially disastrous hazards contained in such an ideal. Frank notes that "the moral-psychological traits of his character incorporate this antinomy between instinctive kindness, sympathy, and pity on the one hand and, on the other, a proud and idealistic egoism that has become perverted into a contemptuous disdain for the submissive herd". Raskolnikov's inner conflict in the opening section of the novel results in a utilitarian-altruistic justification for the proposed crime: why not kill a wretched and "useless" old moneylender to alleviate the human misery? Dostoevsky wants to show that this utilitarian type of reasoning and its conclusions had become widespread and commonplace; they were by no means the solitary invention of Raskolnikov's tormented and disordered mind. Such radical and utilitarian ideas act to reinforce the innate egoism of Raskolnikov's character, and to turn him into a hater rather than a lover of his fellow humans. He even becomes fascinated with the majestic image of a Napoleonic personality who, in the interests of a higher social good, believes that he possesses a moral right to kill. Indeed, his "Napoleon-like" plan drags him to a well-calculated murder, the ultimate conclusion of his self-deception with utilitarianism.

In his depiction of the Petersburg background, Dostoevsky accentuates the squalor and human wretchedness that pass before Raskolnikov's eyes. He also uses Raskolnikov's encounter with Marmeladov to present both the heartlessness of Raskolnikov's convictions and the alternative set of values to be set against them. Dostoevsky believes that the "freedom" propounded by the aforementioned ideas is a dreadful freedom "that is contained by no values, because it is before values". The product of this "freedom", Raskolnikov, is in perpetual revolt against society, himself, and God. He thinks that he is self-sufficient and self-contained, but at the end "his boundless self-confidence must disappear in the face of what is greater than himself, and his self-fabricated justification must humble itself before the higher justice of God". Dostoevsky calls for the regeneration and renewal of the "sick" Russian society through the re-discovering of their country, their religion, and their roots.


The first part of Crime and Punishment published in the January and February issues of The Russian Messenger met with public success. Although the remaining parts of the novel had still to be written, an anonymous reviewer wrote that "the novel promises to be one of the most important works of the author of The House of the Dead". In his memoirs, the conservative belletrist Nikolay Strakhov recalled that in Russia Crime and Punishment was the literary sensation of 1866.

The novel soon attracted the criticism of the liberal and radical critics. G.Z. Yeliseyev sprang to the defense of the Russian student corporations, and wondered, "Has there ever been a case of a student committing murder for the sake of robbery?" Pisarev, aware of the novel's artistic value attempted in 1867 another approach: he argued that Raskolnikov was a product of his environment, and explained that the main theme of the work was poverty and its results. He measured the novel's excellence by the accuracy and understanding with which Dostoevsky portrayed the contemporary social reality, and focused on what he regarded as inconsistencies in the novel's plot. Strakhov rejected Pisarev's contention that the theme of environmental determinism was essential to the novel, and pointed out that Dostoevsky's attitude towards his hero was sympathetic: "This is not mockery of the younger generation, neither a reproach nor an accusation—it is a lament over it."

English translations

  • Frederick Whishaw (1885)
  • Constance Garnett (1914)
  • David Magarshack (1951)
  • Princess Alexandra Kropotkin (1953)
  • Jessie Coulson (1953)
  • Sidney Monas (1968)
  • David McDuff (1991)
  • Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky (1992)
  • Julius Katzer
  • Michael Scammell

Film adaptations

There have been over 25 film adaptations of Crime and Punishment. They include:

  • Raskolnikow (aka Crime and Punishment) (1923, directed by Robert Wiene)
  • Crime and Punishment (1935, starring Peter Lorre, Edward Arnold and Marian Marsh)
  • Eigoban Tsumi to Batsu (1953, manga by Tezuka Osamu, under his interpretation)
  • Crime and Punishment (1970 film) ( Soviet film, 1970, starring Georgi Taratorkin, Tatyana Bedova, Vladimir Basov, Victoria Fyodorova) dir. Lev Kulidzhanov
  • Rikos ja Rangaistus (1983; Crime and Punishment), the first movie by the Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki, with Markku Toikka in the lead role. The story has been transplanted to modern-day Helsinki, Finland.
  • Crime and Punishment in Suburbia (2000, an adaptation set in modern America and "loosely based" on the novel)
  • Columbo (1971–78, and intermittently otherwise, starring the American actor Peter Falk) According to the creator of "Columbo", William Link, the American detective "Columbo", is based in part upon Porfiry Petrovich.
  • Crime and Punishment (2002 film), 2002, starring Crispin Glover and Vanessa Redgrave.
  • Crime and Punishment: A Falsified Romance (manga), 2007, by Naoyuki Ochiai, a retelling of the novel set in modern day Japan. The main character is a NEET, and the criminals he tracks are a gang of high school girls practicing enjo kōsai.
  • Paranoid Park, a film by Gus van Sant based on the novel of the same name. That author has said that the book is a kind of retelling of Crime and Punishment in a young adult fiction setting.
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