You have to admire Dostoevsky’s skill with characters. Reading Crime and Punishment, I found myself more interested in Raskolnikov’s friends and adversaries than in his senseless murder of an old pawnbroker and her sister. Their personalities dominate the story so strongly that at times you almost forget that a crime has been committed.
Raskolnikov, an impoverished student, swallows the notion that human beings are divided into two classes: the ordinary and the extraordinary. Placing himself in the latter category, he rationalizes his murder on the grounds that the pawnbroker’s money would be better spent on furthering his own education. Deeply moody and hostile even to his friends and family, he wanders the streets of Saint Petersburg or hides in his squalid apartment, alternately nursing his guilt and attempting to justify his crime.
Numerous characters drift in and out of his torment, most notably his loyal friend Razumikhin, police detective Porfiry Petrovich, the hapless young prostitute Sonya, and the degenerate idler Svidrigailov. The author develops each so fully as to make them worthy of their own, separate novels. Petrovich, with his endless, rambling monologs, is especially memorable. I couldn’t help comparing him to the Colombo character in the old TV series of that name.
In a city rife with crime, poverty and drunkenness, Raskolnikov has moments of integrity, donating his few rubles to a widow, and risking exposure of his guilt in order to protect his sister from Svidrigailov’s lechery. Ultimately, the power of love comes to his own rescue.
Crime and Punishment is an invaluable lesson in the craft of novel writing that I enthusiastically recommend to aspiring authors.