Tag Archives: Fyodor Dostoyevsky

And the gold for smartness goes to . . .

The Olympics are on.

I’m going to ignore all the political barbs, social commentary, and ugly sweaters. Instead, its time to focus on what I know: Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy.

Whoa.  It felt good to write that sentence.  Isn’t this WEM Degree making you feel smarter by the minute?


Posted by on February 7, 2014 in Anna Karenina, Crime and Punishment


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Reactions to Death

I knew something was up in Part VI, chapter 6.  I just knew it.

Svidrigaïlov is tying up loose ends.  He’s met with Raskolnikov, Dounia, Sonia, and his betrothed.  Now he’s in a hotel feeling feverish and having chills.  He is unable to eat.  He calls out for the ghost of his wife Marfa.  He sleeps and wakes, but isn’t sure what’s real and what’s a dream.  Bizarre nightmares trouble him.

Hmmmm…. seem familiar?

Think for a moment.  Does his behavior sound like anyone else’s that we know?

Could it be…. Raskolnikov?

Sure there are differences.  At the end of this chapter Svidrigaïlov shoots himself.  Did you see it coming?  I wrote in my book, “Is he planning to die?”  Raskolnikov doesn’t experience mental/physical illness until after he murders Alyona Ivanovna and Lizaveta.

In Dostoyevsky’s mind these “symptoms” are connected with murder/suicide:  fevers and chills, lack of appetite, ghosts, dreams.  We shouldn’t be surprised that these two characters share similar reactions to death.  Svidrigaïlov is Raskolnikov’s foil after all.

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Posted by on September 14, 2012 in Crime and Punishment


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My new farewell

Crime and Punishment
Part VI, chapter 2

Porfiry believes Raskolnikov is the murderer, and he tells him so.  But the investigator hasn’t come to arrest Rask.  He wants Rask to confess.  He’s sure that eventually Rask will confess.  It’s an intense chapter.  At the end Porfiry leaves with a request.

“If anything were to happen (though indeed I don’t believe in it and think you quite incapable of it), yet in case you were taken during these forty or fifty hours with the notion of putting an end to the business in some other way, in some fantastic fashion–laying hands on yourself–(it’s an absurd proposition, but you must forgive me for it), do leave a brief but precise note, only two lines, and mention the stone.  It will be more generous.  Come, till we meet!  Good thoughts and sound decisions to you!”

Oh, Porfiry, how I enjoy you.  So here’s my paraphrase… Rask, I don’t think you’re going to kill yourself, but if you do, please leave a note.  Just a sentence or two to explain where you put the stolen goods.

The best part of Porfiry’s closing is that last sentence:

Good thoughts and sound decisions to you!” 

I shared that line with my husband, and we decided that as our children enter their teenage years, this is what we’ll say to them as they head out with their friends.

“Good thoughts and sound decisions to you!”


Posted by on September 8, 2012 in Crime and Punishment


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There had to be a reason.

Rask has come back to tell Sonia who killed Lizaveta.  He said he would.

“I said as I went away that perhaps I was saying good-bye for ever, but that if I came to-day I would tell you who… who killed Lizaveta.”

Dostoyevsky likes suspense, so he doesn’t have Raskolnikov blurt it out.  He stretches the tension.

“Then how do you know about it?” she asked again, hardly audibly and again after a minute’s pause.
He turned to her and looked very intently at her.
“Guess,” he said, with the same distorted helpless smile.

Rask thought Porfiry was playing a game of cat and mouse with him earlier.  Here, he is the one toying with Sonia.

“You can’t guess, then?” he asked suddenly, feeling as though he were flinging himself down from a steeple.
“N-no…”whispered Sonia.
“Take a good look.”

Sonia learns the truth without Rask even saying it.

“Have you guessed?” he whispered at last.
“Good God!” broke in an awful wail from her bosom.”

Okay, so now Sonia knows.  Because Sonia is Sonia, she feels his suffering.  She grieves for Lizaveta, yes, but she grieves for Raskolnikov, feeling his pain and promising to follow him everywhere.

Now… Why?  Why did he do it?  There had to be a reason.

He says it was “to plunder“.

When Sonia guesses he was hungry and that he did it to help his mother he says, “I certainly did want to help my mother, but… that’s not the real thing either…

Rask says, “I wanted to become a Napoleon, that is why I killed her…”

Got it.  Wanted to be powerful leader.

Later in the chapter he says,

“So I resolved to gain possession of the old woman’s money and to use it for my first years without worrying my mother, to keep myself at the university and for a little while after leaving it–and to do this all on a broad thorough scale, so as to build up a completely new career and enter upon a new life of independence…”

So, is this the real reason.  He wanted financial independence so that he could finish his degree.

Maybe not, for Rask says, “There were quite, quite other causes for it!”

So what were the reasons?

“I sat in my room like a spider.” 

“And I know now, Sonia, that whoever is strong in mind and spirit will have power over them.  Anyone who is greatly daring is right in their eyes.”

“The fever had complete hold of him.”

“I divined then, Sonia,” he went on eagerly, “that power is only vouchsafed to the man who dares to stoop and pick it up.”

So he was a mentally/physically ill  predator who was seeking power.
That’s the reason he committed murder.

“I…I wanted to have the daring… and I killed her.  I only wanted to have the daring, Sonia!  That was the whole cause of it!”

He dared himself to kill?

I wanted to murder without casuistry, to murder for my own sake, for myself alone! 

He wanted to ignore morality, ethics, and religion and take another person’s life.

I wanted to find out then and quickly whether I was a louse like everybody else or a man.  Whether I can step over barriers or not, whether I dare stoop to pick up or not, whether I am a trembling creature or whether I have the right…”

The right?

This is where Sonia and I have very different reactions to Rask’s reason for murder.  She feels sorrow for and tenderness toward Rask.  Me?  I’m repulsed by and fearful of him.

What were your reactions to Raskolnikov’s reason for murder.


Posted by on September 5, 2012 in Crime and Punishment


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Quick Dostoyevsky Humor

Boy, wasn’t this such a humorous novel?   I found myself just doubling over belly laughing in bed every night, causing my husband to wonder what in the world was so funny.  Dostoyevsky was just a comedian at heart.
Not so much.


But, hey, I did find a few funny lines here and there.   Did you?   Let me share a few of my favorites.   It won’t be long.  They are very quick.
1.  Amalia Ivanovna mentions that “young ladies must not novels at night read.”   (Part IV, Chapter 5)   This isn’t exactly funny in itself, but it made me chuckle because that is when I do most of MY reading, because there isn’t much other time during my day.   Later in the paragraph, Katerina Ivanovna, referring back to this says that “novel-reading was simply rudeness.”   Susan Wise Bauer, what say you?

2.  I LOVED when Porfiry Petrovich is conversing with Raskolnikov trying to subtly get him to confess, and he mentions that if by chance anything were to happen, if he might take a notion to “put an end to the business” in some way (suicide), “do leave a brief but precise note, only two lines, and mention the stone.”   Then he coolly bid Rascal goodnight.   The nerve!  It cracked me up.

3.   Then there was Svidrigailov and Rascal in the bar with Katia, who drank off her glass of wine, “as women do, without putting it down, in twenty gulps…”   What?   I do like my occasional glass of red, and I don’t think I’ve ever downed one in twenty gulps without putting it down.  Was this a historical characteristic of women imbibing?   It made me chuckle.


OK, so looking back on my list of “smiley faces” in the margins, they really aren’t all that funny.   Why did I find them so funny in the first place?  Perhaps because they were surrounded with psychological disorders, downtrodden souls, vanity, brutality and death?   I must have been driven to find SOMETHING I could at least smile at.    Any other humorous moments you picked up?  I’d love a few more smiles to go along with this one.



Posted by on August 28, 2012 in Crime and Punishment


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Beautiful but Terrible Words

Crime and Punishment Part IV, chapter 4

Sonia has read the story of Lazarus to Raskolnikov.

“That is all about the raising of Lazarus,” she whispered severely and abruptly, and turning away she stood motionless, not daring to raise her eyes to him.  She still trembled feverishly.  The candle-end was flickering out in the battered candle-stick, dimly lighting up in the poverty-stricken room the murderer and the harlot who had so strangely been reading together the eternal book.

I think Dostoyevsky could give Flaubert a run for his money.

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Posted by on August 26, 2012 in Crime and Punishment


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The Crime

Crime and Punishment Part I chapter 7

There had to be a crime.  It’s in the title.  And if Dostoyevsky’s novel was a game of Clue we’d all be winners.  We know the who, the where, and the with what.

Raskolnikov at Alyona Ivanovna’s with the axe.

He’s been plotting it for a month.  He even took us along for a dry run.  We had a good eighty pages building up to the actual event.

Did any of the details surprise you?

I did not foresee Lizaveta’s murder, and I certainly did not expect the men in the hallway as Rask tried to escape.

Did you think that Rask was going to be caught?

Did you notice the author’s twisted sense of humor?  Looking for the pawn broker, Koch rattles the door and says, “What’s up?  Are they asleep, or murdered?”  Um… actually yes.  Yes, they’ve both been murdered and their murderer is on the other side of this door holding the newly washed murder weapon.

So now that we’ve read about the crime, it’s time to dive into the punishment.

or maybe there’s more crime to come.

“He longed to run away from the place as fast as possible.  And if at that moment he had been capable of seeing and reasoning more correctly, if he had been able to realise all the difficulties of his position, the hopelessness, the hideousness and the absurdity of it, if he could have understood how many obstacles and, perhaps, crimes he had still to overcome or to commit, to get out of that place and to make his way home, it is very possible that he would have flung up everything, and would have gone to give himself up, and not from fear, but from simple horror and loathing of what he had done.”


Posted by on August 11, 2012 in Crime and Punishment


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Dostoy? Dostoe?

The book: Crime and Punishment

The author: Fyodor Dostoyevsky
or is it Fyodor Dostoevsky

There seems to be a debate about how to translate the author’s name from Russian into English.

The recommended translation of the novel spells it Dostoevsky.
In The Well-Educated Mind, SWB uses the spelling Dostoyevsky.

Maybe we should learn to spell it in Russian.


Posted by on July 22, 2012 in Crime and Punishment