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[182b] Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoevsky

crimeMost readers, especially the first-timers, would probably disagree that Crime and Punishment is humorous. Given the seriousness of its subject matter, it is most obvious that the scenes surrounding death of Marmeladov and the memorial meal following his funeral are most comical, even farcical and scandalous.

” ‘It’s all this cuckoo-bird’s fault [Katerina Ivanovna calling the German landlady]. You know who I’m talking about—her, her!’ and Katerina Ivanovna nodded towards the landlady. ‘Look at her eyes popping out! She feels we’re talking about her, but she can’t catch anything, so she’s gawking at us. Pah, what an owl! Ha, ha, ha! . . . Hem, hem, hem! Have you noticed, she keeps wanting everyone to think she’s patronizing me and doing me a great honor by her presence! I asked her, as a decent woman, to invite the better sort of people—namely, my late husband’s acquaintances—and look who she’s brought! Clowns! Sluts! Look at the one with the pimply face: some sort of snot on two legs!’ ” [383]

Even the central story of Raskolnikov and his struggle with fate keeps verging on comedy. Lots of punchy humor, and physical comedy, even in dark moments, percolate this novel. like when Raskolnikov slips around in Alyona’s blood, or when Katerina pulls Marmeladov around by his hair while he screams that he loves it. These three elements work together to creep us out while hopefully keeping us from getting too depressed. Pulcheria and Dunya crowded the room of Raskolnikov, bickering over how it’s the best way for Raskolnikov to be delivered from his illness. Luzhin’s ulterior designs on Dunya and his hoax on Sonya. Dostoevsky almost portrays these people as if they some actors in some sort of show. Are these people real?

It is essential and typical of Dostoevsky to shift his omnipresent view of the siuation of a novel. His view is constantly shifting but without losing its scope on the main plot. He may drop into horror, like a death, as we have seen in Marmeladov and later his consumptive wife, or rise into laughter at any moment. Yet this ambiguity, which is not incidental to Dostoevsky’s vision, but only most obvious in the comical sense, does not make light of suffering. On the contrary, what authors have ever revealed it so nakedly. Maybe Toni Morrison does as I’m reading Beloved. And that precisely because Dostoevsky does not allow us our usual rational or sentimental evasions. Suffering is unmitigated and there is no answer to it in this novel.

Further Reading
[182a] Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoevsky

13 Responses

  1. I am reading this book vicariously through you…thanks!!! I love the humorous parts that you pointed out to us.

  2. It’s been a while since I read this, but I remember finding parts of it very funny. I have kind of a dark sense of humor, so I got it right away.

  3. I AM going to finally read C and P this year. I AM!

  4. I know this is a low-brow thought, very low-brow, but if publishers played up the more comic aspects of C&P, maybe put a funny picture on the cover, mentioned it as the inspiriation for a Woody Allen comedy, it might reach a new audience.

    It’s not about comedy, it’s true, but I was close to laughing out loud quite a few times, when I read it.

  5. Staci:
    Vicariously? That’s great to hear! My dissertation was partly based on this book! The biography of Dostoevsky also played a significant role in discerning his ideas raised in Notes From Underground.

  6. Teresa:
    Dostoevsky is known for his bleak humor in his long novels. You’ll find similar scenes sandwiched between the murder in The Brothers Karamazov as well.

  7. Lenore:
    I’m very happy to hear that you’ll tackle it this year. It’s not a difficult book, but it does take concentration.

  8. CB James:
    That’s not low brow, in fact, it sounds like a winning formula. When I was in college, to better understand various schools of thoughts in philosophy, I bought this comic intro book that ended up being great help in preparing for my exam! So you’ll never know… 🙂

  9. Crime is one of my favorite books ever. Have you tried reading his other books?
    The second favorite russian title would be Master and Margarita. Although, I do think, it looses a lot in translation.

  10. Jill:
    I have managed to re-read The Brothers Karamazov, of which the main storyline concerns a murder. The Idiot and The Gambler are in-depth portrayals of Russian characters.

    The Master and Margarita, which has been reviewed numerous times on this blog, is my all-time favorite novel.

  11. I don’t belive that Dostoevsky ment it to be a comic, thats your interpretation and its a anacronistic one.

  12. Well, there are three of us here who found parts of Crime and Punishment funny.

    “Some sort of snot on two legs.”

    How is that not funny? It’s not very nice, but it’s pretty funny.

  13. This is the best translation of the classic by Constance
    Garnett. The content and the gist of the story is still there but it is designed to be comfortably and easily read by the readers.
    This is such a wonderful review.

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