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by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The original, squashed down to read in about 35 minutes
Dostoevsky is repeatedly lauded as the writer with the greatest understanding of human psychology - perhaps borne from his upbringing as the son of an alcoholic military physician, and his four years in Siberia with hard labour for anti-state activity. The subtleties of Russian names don't really make much sense in English translation, which misses, too, the joke that Raskolnikov means something like 'Mr. Separate', Marmeladova is 'Mr. Sweetlady', and so on, marking this story out as a fantastical morality tale.
Abridged: GH, based on the translation by Constance Garnett
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 towards K - bridge. He was hopelessly in debt to his landlady, and successfully avoided meeting her on the staircase.
In fact, he had lately become so completely absorbed in himself, that he dreaded meeting anyone and he had given up attending to matters of practical importance. This evening, however, he became acutely aware of his fears.
"I want to attempt a thing like that and am frightened by trifles," he thought, with an odd smile. "It would be interesting to know what it is men are most afraid of. Taking a new step, uttering a new word? But I am talking too much. I've learned to chatter this last month, lying for days together in my den thinking of Jack the Giant-killer. Why am I going there? Am I capable?"
With a sinking heart and a nervous tremor, he went up to a huge house by the canal, a house let out in tiny tenements to working people of all kinds - tailors, locksmiths, cooks, Germans, girls picking up a living as best they could.
"If I am so scared now, what would it be if I were really going to do it?" he asked himself as he reached the fourth storey. There his progress was barred by some porters moving furniture. "That's a good thing anyway," he thought to himself, as he rang the bell of the old woman's flat. The bell gave a faint tinkle as though it were made of tin and not of copper.
He started, his nerves were terribly overstrained by now. The door was opened, the young man stepped into the dark entry, and the diminutive, withered old woman stood looking inquiringly at him.
"Raskolnikov, a student, I came here a month ago," the young man muttered with a half bow, remembering that he ought to be polite. "Here I am again."
The old woman paused: "Step in, my good sir."
The little room was brightly lit up by the setting sun. Everything was very clean; the floor and the furniture were brightly polished. "Lizaveta's work," thought the young man. There was not a speck of dust to be seen in the whole flat. "It's in the houses of spiteful old widows that one finds such cleanliness."
"I've brought something to pawn, how much will you give me for the watch, Alyona Ivanovna?"
"My good sir, it's scarcely worth anything. A rouble and a half, and interest in advance, if you like!"
"It is worth...!" cried the young man. "Oh, hand it over."
The old woman fumbled in her pocket for her keys, and disappeared into the other room, where the young man, could hear her unlocking a chest of drawers.
The old woman came back.
"Here, sir. Ten copecks the rouble a month in advance, and you owe me for last time, so I must give you a rouble and fifteen copecks for the watch. Here it is."
The young man took the money, but hesitated, as if there was still something he wanted to say or to do.
"I may be bringing you something else in a day or two, Alyona Ivanovna - a valuable thing - silver - a cigarette-box, as soon as I get it back from a friend ..." he broke off in confusion.
"Well, we will talk about it then, sir."
"Good-bye - are you always at home alone, your sister Lizaveta is not here with you?" He asked her as casually as possible as he went out into the passage.
"What business is she of yours, my good sir?"
"Oh, nothing particular. Good-day, Alyona Ivanovna."
Raskolnikov went out in complete confusion. When he was in the street he cried out, "Oh, God, how loathsome it all is! How could such an atrocious thing come into my head? Loathsome!"
At that instant two drunken men came out at a door. Raskolnikov at once went to the door end entered. Till that moment he had never been into a tavern, but now he felt tormented by a burning thirst. He sat down at a sticky little table in a dark and dirty corner; ordered some beer, and eagerly drank off the first glassful. At once he felt easier; and his thoughts became clear.
"All that's nonsense," he said hopefully, "there is nothing at all to worry about! How utterly petty it all is!"
There are chance meetings that interest us from before a word is spoken. Such was the impression made on Raskolnikov by the person sitting a little distance from him, who looked like a retired clerk. He was a man over fifty, bald and grizzled, his beardless face bloated from continual drinking. At last he looked straight at Raskolnikov, and said loudly:
"May I venture, honoured sir, to engage you in polite conversation? Marmeladov is my name."
"No, I am studying," answered the young man.
"A student then, or formerly a student," cried the clerk. He got up, staggered, took up his jug and glass, and sat down beside the young man. He was drunk, but spoke fluently and boldly.
"Honoured sir," he began almost with solemnity, "poverty is not a vice, and drunkenness is not a virtue, and that's true. Allow me to ask you a question: have you ever spent a night on a hay barge, on the Neva?"
He emptied his glass, and paused. Bits of hay were clinging to his clothes and sticking to his hair.
"Have you ever had to petition hopelessly for a loan? Do you know, sir, that I have a wife - Katerina Ivanovna? And do you know that I have sold my wife's very stockings for drink? We live in a cold room and she has begun coughing and spitting blood. We have three little children and she works from morning till night. Do you suppose I don't feel it? That's why I drink. I drink so that I may suffer twice as much!"
"Young man," he went on, "in your face I seem to read some trouble of mind. My daughter by my first wife has grown up. What she has had to put up with from her step-mother! Katerina Ivanovna is a grand and spirited lady, but it's no use going over that! Sonia has had no education, though I did try, so do you think she can make a living in a respectable way? I have seen Sonia, when the children are crying from hunger, put on her cape, and go out, and later, come back, and lay thirty roubles on the table. Do you understand, sir? Do you understand what it means when you have absolutely nowhere to turn?
The tavern, the degraded appearance of the man, and yet this sort-of love for his wife and children bewildered his listener.
"This morning I went to see Sonia, for a pick-me-up! He-he-he! This very quart was bought with her thirty copecks yes! And maybe she needs them, eh? For she's got to keep up her appearance. It costs money, petticoats, starched ones, shoes, too, real jaunty ones to show off her foot, that special smartness, you know? Do you understand? Are you sorry for me, sir, or not?"
"Let us go, sir," said Marmeladov all at once, addressing Raskolnikov- "come along with me. I'm going back to Katerina, time I did."
The home, when they reached it, was one poor room, a mere corridor, littered with rags and lighted by a half-candle.
"He's drunk it! he's drunk it all," Ivanovna screamed, "and his clothes are gone! And they are hungry, hungry!" - she pointed to the children. "Are you not ashamed?"- she pounced upon Raskolnikov - "Have you been drinking with him? You have! Go away!"
As he went out, Raskolnikov put his hand into his pocket, to snatch up the coppers he had received in exchange for his rouble in the tavern and to lay them unnoticed on the window.
Outside he sank into thought. "They have Sonia, digging for gold. Man grows used to everything, the scoundrel!"
He woke late next day after a broken sleep, bilious, irritable, ill-tempered, and looked with hatred at his tiny cupboard of a room with the old sofa which served Raskolnikov as a bed.
It was the landlady's maid, Nastasya, who finally roused him with tea.
"Praskovya Pavlovna means to complain to the police about you," she said.
"You don't pay her rent, she wants you gone."
"The devil, that's the last straw," he muttered.
"What are you doing now?"
"What sort of work?"
"I am thinking," he answered seriously after a pause.
"And have you made much money by your thinking?"
"Oh I know, I can give lessons, but what's the use of a few copecks?" he answered.
"You want to get a fortune all at once?"
"Yes, I want a fortune," he answered firmly.
"Ah, I forgot! A letter came for you when you were out."
It was from his mother. "My dear Rodya," she wrote, "it's two months since I last had a talk with you by letter ... You know how we all look to you ... your sister Dounia has at last escaped from service with the dreadful Svidrigailovs ... at least she managed to save the sixty roubles we sent to you ... soon she will be married, God be thanked, to a lawyer, to Pyotr Petrovitch Luzhin! ... the fifteen roubles I sent you I had borrowed from a merchant against my pension ... perhaps you and her new husband might become partners … true, he is older, and might seem rather self-possessed ... what grief it was to me when I heard that you had given up the university ... best of all, we shall soon come to visit you in Petersburg ... Rodya, you are everything to us ... Do say your prayers, and believe in the mercy of our Creator and Redeemer. Yours till death, Pulcheria Raskolnikov."
As he finished reading, Raskolnikov's face was wet with tears. He took up his hat and went out towards Vassilyevsky Prospect, muttering to himself. Many a passer-by took him to be drunk.
Dounia, he thought, will have to live with the man. She will have to 'keep up appearance,' too. Do you understand what that smartness means? Like Sonia, but viler, baser.
It was clear that he must do something, do it at once, and do it quickly.
"I know, to Vasilievsky Island, to my old university comrade Razumihin." he thought suddenly. "What for, though?"
But Razumihin looked almost as poor as himself. Yes, he did have some work, but three roubles for translating a ridiculous pamphlet, 'Is Woman a Human Being?', from German was not to Raskolnikov's taste.
He went into a miserable little tavern on his way home. He asked for tea, sat down and sank into deep thought. A strange idea was pecking at his brain like a chicken in the egg, and it very, very much absorbed him.
Almost beside him at the next table there was sitting a student and a young officer. All at once he heard the student mention the pawnbroker Alyona Ivanovna.
"She is as rich as a Jew. She can give you five thousand roubles at a time. Her sister Lizaveta is sweet-natured and not without admirers, but a mere slave. The old woman is stupid, senseless, worthless, spiteful, not simply useless but doing actual mischief. You understand?"
"Kill her, take her money and with the help of it devote oneself to the service of humanity and the good of all. For one life thousands would be saved from corruption and decay. She does not deserve to live."
Of course, it was all idle youthful talk. But why had he heard such ideas at the very moment his own brain was conceiving the very same?
Back in his flat, Raskolnikov got to work. He made a noose of cord and slung it underneath his arm, below his threadbare coat. He wrapped a piece of old iron in paper to look like something valuable. Downstairs, the caretaker's room was empty, he slipped in and borrowed an axe, which he slung beneath his arm.
At the old woman's flat, she held out her hand.
"But how pale you are, and your hands are trembling."
"You can't help getting pale if you've nothing to eat," he answered. "Here, a thing, a cigarette case, silver."
"But what has he tied it up like this for?" the old woman cried with vexation.
The old woman was as always bareheaded, and the axe blow fell on the very top of her skull. She cried out, but very faintly, and sank on the floor. The blood gushed as from an overturned glass. He stepped back, and bent over her face; she was dead.
He saw clearly that the skull was broken. He was about to feel it with his finger, but drew back his hand. He remembered to snatch the full purse from her neck.
Then, suddenly, he heard steps. In the middle of the room stood Lizaveta with a big bundle in her arms.
The second murder was quick, and a sort of blankness, even dreaminess, began to take possession of him. "Good God!" he muttered "I must fly, fly," and he rushed into the entry. But here a shock of terror awaited him such as he had never known before.
The outer door from the stairs was standing unfastened. No lock, no bolt, all the time, all that time!
He dashed to the door and fastened the latch.
"But no, the wrong thing again! I must get away."
He unfastened the latch, opened the door and began listening on the staircase.
Two voices were loudly and shrilly shouting, quarrelling and scolding. "What are they about? Coming here!"
He suddenly started, slipped quickly back into the flat and closed the door behind him. He crouched down, holding his breath.
The first visitor took hold of the bell, rang it loudly, and the began to speak.
"What's up? Are they asleep or murdered?" he bawled in a thick voice, "Hey, Alyona Ivanovna, old witch! Lizaveta Ivanovna, my beauty! open the door!"
"Stay!" cried the younger visitor suddenly. "Listen how the hook clanks? It must be locked from inside There is something wrong. Either they've both fainted or..."
"Let's go fetch the porter, let him wake them up."
Both were going down.
Raskolnikov stood keeping tight hold of the axe. He was in a sort of delirium. "Only make haste!" was the thought that flashed through his mind.
He waited, went out on tiptoe and ran down.
No one was on the stairs, nor in the gateway. Then - voices. He slipped through an open doorway into an empty flat, decorator's brushes and pots on the floor. The voices passed and he was quickly into the street.
Almost falling from fatigue, he went a long way round so as to get home from quite a different direction.
At his house, the caretaker was out, and he succeeded in putting the axe back as before. When he was in his room, he flung himself on the sofa just as he was - he did not sleep, but sank into blank forgetfulness.
He rushed to the window. There was light enough, and he began hurriedly looking himself all over; were there no traces?
Some thick drops of congealed blood were clinging to the frayed edge of his trousers. He picked up a big claspknife and cut off the frayed threads.
Suddenly he remembered the purse, and turned it inside-out on the table. There were trinkets as well as money. He had not reckoned on needing to hide things, and began stuffing everything into a hole where the wallpaper had come away. "My God!" he whispered in despair: "Is that the way to hide things?"
He sat down on the sofa in exhaustion and was at once shaken by an unbearable fit of shivering.
And for a long while, for some hours, he was haunted by the impulse to go off somewhere and fling it all away, out of sight and done with!
He was thoroughly brought round at last by a violent knocking at his door.
"Open, do, are you dead or alive!" shouted Nastasya."
He half rose, stooped forward and unlatched the door. The porter and Nastasya were standing there. The porter held out a grey paper sealed with bottle-wax.
"A summons from the office," he announced.
"The police office, of course."
"The police?... What for?..."
"How can I tell? You're sent for, so you go."
"He's ill!" observed Nastasya. "He's been in a fever since yesterday," she added, and followed the porter out, giggling.
The police office was easy, they asked for no more than he sign an IOU to the landlady.
As he left he thought; did they suspect him? What if they search? How could he have left all those things in the hole?
At home, he rushed to the corner, pulled the things out from under the paper and stuffed them into his pockets.
Back outside, the canal was too obvious, too many people about, and what if the things floated?
In the end he buried them under a big stone lying by a house wall. He scraped the earth about it with his foot. Nothing could be noticed.
An intense, almost unbearable joy overwhelmed him for an instant. "I have buried my tracks! And who, who can think of looking under that stone? It is all over! No clue!" And he laughed.
Raskolnikov walked straight to X - Bridge, and leaning both elbows on the rail, stared into the distance.
"A woman drowning! A woman drowning!" shouted dozens of voices; people ran up, and crowded about Raskolnikov, pressing up behind him.
"Very well then!" A decision seemed to be made for him. He moved from the bridge and began in the direction of the police office. His heart felt hollow. Absolute nothingness overwhelmed him.
He took the second turning to the left.
There, an elegant carriage stood in the middle of the road, the coachman holding the horses nearby. A mass of people had gathered round, the police standing in front.
Raskolnikov pushed his way in. On the ground a man who had been run over lay unconscious, covered with blood.
"I know him!" Raskolnikov shouted. "It's Marmeladov. He lives close by. Make haste for a doctor! I will pay!"
The police were glad enough to have found out who the man was, and happy to help the unconscious Marmeladov to his lodging.
The room became so full of people that you couldn't have dropped a pin. The policemen left, all except one, and Katerina Ivanovna flew into a fury.
"You might let him die in peace, at least, is it a spectacle for you to gape at? With cigarettes! (Cough, cough, cough!) You should respect the dead, at least!"
Katerina Ivanovna walked to the window: "Oh, cursed life!"
The doctor arrived and shook his head. A moment later the priest, a little, grey old man, appeared in the doorway bearing the sacrament.
At that moment, timidly and noiselessly a young girl made her way through the crowd, and strange indeed was her appearance in the midst of want, rags, death and despair. She, too, was in rags, but decked out in gutter finery, unmistakably betraying its shameful purpose. Sonia was a small thin girl of eighteen with fair hair, rather pretty, with wonderful blue eyes. She looked intently at the bed.
The priest began a few words of consolation to Katerina Ivanovna.
"God is merciful," he began.
"Ach! Not to us. This man wasted these children's lives and mine for drink! "
"That's a sin, a sin, madam," observed the priest, "You must forgive in the hour of death, madam."
"He's already dead," said Raskolnikov, strangely pleased to notice that he had been splattered with blood, and turned round to be met by a child's thin but pretty little face.
"My name is Polenka. Sister Sonia sent me," said the girl, smiling brightly. "I'll pray for you all the rest of my life."
Raskolnikov left his name and address and in five minutes he was standing again on the bridge.
The next day, his mother and sister arrived. They sat, not at all comfortably, in his flat, especially so as a rather frosty letter from Dounia's intended, Pyotr Petrovitch, had made it clear that he well knew about Raskolnikov's dissolute lifestyle.
As Raskolnikov told the story of yesterday's events, the door was softly opened, and a young girl walked into the room. It was Sofya Semyonovna Marmeladov, now modestly and poorly-dressed, very young, candid but somewhat frightened-looking.
"I. . . I. . . have come for one minute."
"Mother," he said, "this is Sonia, daughter of the unfortunate Mr. Marmeladov, of whom I was just telling you."
"My mother begs you to do us the honour to be in the church to-morrow for the service, and then to be present at the funeral lunch."
"You gave us everything yesterday," Sonia whispered. A silence followed. There was a light in Dounia's eyes, and even his mother Pulcheria Alexandrovna looked kindly at Sonia.
"Come, that's capital," he said to Sonia, going back and looking brightly at her. "God give peace to the dead, the living have still to live. That is right, isn't it?"
Sonia was extremely glad to escape, unconscious to the whole new world which was opening before her.
The next day Raskolnikov had another summons to the police office. The detective Porfiry, "Just wanted to establish a few facts," about a recent murder, "and make sure any pledged property got back to its rightful owner." But he seemed to know more.
"He knows," flashed through Raskolnikov's mind like lightning.
He left and hurried to the house on the canal bank where Sonia lived. It was an old green house of three storeys.
"I've come to you for the last time," Raskolnikov said, although this was the first time. "How thin you are! Well, I can understand, with your living like this."
Sonia smiled faintly.
"Katerina Ivanovna has consumption; she will soon die." Raskolnikov said.
"Oh, no, no, no!"
"But it will be better if she does die."
"No, not better! God will not let it be!"
"But, perhaps, there is no God," Raskolnikov answered with a sort of malignance.
Sonia's face suddenly changed; a tremor passed over it.
Five minutes passed. All at once he bent down and kissed her foot.
"What are you doing?" she muttered, turning pale.
"I bowed down to all the suffering of humanity," he said wildly and walked away to the window. "What does God do for you?"
There was a book lying on the chest of drawers. It was a New Testament, bound in leather, old and worn.
"Where did you get that?" he asked.
Everything about Sonia seemed to him stranger and more wonderful every moment.
"The story of Lazarus?" he asked suddenly. "Find it and read it to me. Were you friends with Lizaveta?"
"Yes. She was killed with an axe. We used to read together. She will see God."
Sonia opened the book and found the place. Her hands were shaking, her voice failed her.
"Now a certain man was sick named Lazarus of Bethany... Jesus said, I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in Me though he were dead, yet shall he live."
She closed the book and got up from her chair.
"Today, I have abandoned my family," he said, "and I have chosen you. And if I come tomorrow, I'll tell you who killed the old woman and her sister. Good-bye, don't shake hands. To-morrow!"
Sonia spent the whole night feverish and delirious. She jumped up from time to time, wept and wrung her hands, then sank again into feverish sleep.
As the day came and he made his way to Sonia's lodging, he felt a sudden impotence and fear. He stood still in hesitation at the door, asking himself the question: "Must he tell her who killed Lizaveta?" To cut short his suffering, he quickly opened the door and looked at Sonia from the doorway.
"You'd better say straight out what you want!" Sonia cried in distress. "You are leading up to something. Have you discovered who murdered Lizaveta?"
"You can't guess, then?" he asked suddenly.
"N-no." whispered Sonia.
"Take a good look."
"Good God!" broke in an awful wail from her bosom. "What have you done to yourself?" she said in despair, flinging herself on his neck.
"Sonia, I must speak, but I don't know how to begin."
"But perhaps it is just that?" he said, as though reaching a conclusion. "I wanted to become a Napoleon, that is why I killed her. Do you understand now?"
"N-no," Sonia whispered naïvely and timidly.
"It was like this: I asked myself, what if a great man, Napoleon for instance, had not had Toulon nor Egypt to begin his career with, but instead there had simply been some ridiculous old hag, a pawnbroker, who had to be murdered to get the money to begin his great work. Would he have done that? That is exactly how it was! Perhaps that's just how it was."
"You had better tell me straight out," she begged, timidly and scarcely audibly.
"You are right, Sonia. Of course that's nonsense! It is like this, all my family have put all their hopes on me, but I couldn't keep myself at the university. And even if I had stayed, what of it? In in ten years, with luck, I might have made some sort of teacher or clerk. So I resolved to get the old woman's money and use it to make something worthwhile of myself. Well, of course, I did wrong. But I've only killed a louse, Sonia, a useless, loathsome, harmful creature."
"A human being!"
"I am talking nonsense, Sonia," he added. "My head aches dreadfully. Closed up in that cramped room, lying alone for days. I had dreams, and I kept asking myself this, am I not at least a little less stupid than others? Shouldn't the man with some strength of spirit have some power over others? He who despises most things will be the lawgiver, and he who dares most of all will be most in the right! So it has always been. "
"Then an idea took shape in my mind - an idea which no one had ever thought of before me - no one! I saw clear as daylight how strange it is that not a single person in this mad world is ever brave enough to go straight for it all and send care flying to the devil! I, I wanted to be brave - and I killed her. That was the whole cause of it!"
"Oh hush, hush," cried Sonia. "You turned away from God and God has given you over to the devil!"
"Well, what am I to do now?" he asked.
"What are you to do?" she cried, jumping up, her eyes full of tears. "Stand up!" She seized him by the shoulders. "You are to go at once, this very minute, stand at the cross-roads, bow down, and kiss the earth which you have defiled. Then go and say to all men aloud, 'I am a murderer!' Then God will send you life again. Will you go?" she asked him, with eyes full of fire.
"You mean I must give myself up?" he asked gloomily.
"Suffer and atone by it, that's what you must do."
"Don't be a child, Sonia," he said softly. "What wrong have I done them? Why should I go to them? They destroy men by millions themselves and look on it as a virtue. I won't. Don't be a child, Sonia."
They sat side by side, both mournful and dejected. He looked at Sonia and felt a great love for him, and strange to say he felt it suddenly burdensome and painful to be so loved.
"Sonia," he said, "you'd better not come and see me when I am in prison."
Sonia did not answer, she was crying. Several minutes passed.
"Have you a cross on you?" she asked, as though suddenly thinking of it.
He did not at first understand the question.
"No, of course not. Here, take this one, of cypress wood. I have another, a copper one that belonged to Lizaveta. I will wear that now and give you this. Take it it's mine! It's mine, you know," she begged him. "We will go to suffer together, and together we will bear our cross!"
Siberia. On the banks of a broad solitary river stands a town; in the town there is a prison where the second-class convict Rodion Raskolnikov has been confined for nine months.
The criminal had not tried to justify himself, and he had made no use of what he had stolen. Witnesses told how he had once been generous and kindly. So, the sentence was more merciful than could have been expected - penal servitude in the second class for a term of eight years only.
At first he had been indifferent to Sonia's visits. But it was she who brought him news from outside, she who had brought him the news when his mother died. She who had waited while he was ill in the prison hospital.
Then, on one warm bright day, early in the morning, Raskolnikov sat outside gazing at the river, while his guard went to get some tools.
Suddenly he found Sonia beside him; she had come up noiselessly and sat down. How it happened he did not know, but all at once something seemed to seize him and fling him at her feet. They both wanted to speak, but could not; tears stood in their eyes. They were pale and thin; but those sick pale faces were bright with the dawn of a new future, of a full resurrection into a new life. They were renewed by love; the heart of each held infinite sources of life for the heart of the other.
They had another seven years to wait, but he had risen again and he knew it and felt it in all his being, while she - she only lived in his life. Life had stepped into the place of theory.
But that is the beginning of a new story.
● Copyright © 2014 Glyn Hughes.
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