Crime and Punishment Introduction
In A Nutshell
Fyodor Dostoevsky first published Crime and Punishment in 1866 in twelve monthly installments in a conservative journal, Russian Messenger (Russki Vestnik). The novel has always been popular, though reactions to it can fall just about anywhere along the spectrum of love and hate.
Crime and Punishment (like most Dostoevsky stories) is incredibly fluid and is open to a wide variety of interpretations by readers. As Simon Karlinksy suggests in his essay "Dostoevsky as Rorschach Test," how we interpret Crime and Punishment might be a reflection of our own psychology (source).
Dostoevsky was a brilliant fiction writer, a journalist, and a publisher. He also had a gambling problem, suffered from epilepsy, and had constant financial problems. Like the hero of our novel, he spent time in prison in Siberia. He wasn't imprisoned for murder, though, but for being a member of the Petrashevsky Circle (source).
Dostoevsky was under tremendous time and money pressure when he was writing Crime and Punishment. We know from his letters (excerpts from which are translated by George Gibian in the fabulous Norton Third Edition) that, in addition to having to produce the monthly Crime and Punishment Dostoevsky installment, he had to come up with another novel for another publisher.
He had borrowed money from a fellow named Stellovsky, in exchange for writing a novel. If he didn't give Stellovsky this other book by November 1, 1866, Stellovsky would own the rights to all of Dostoevsky's work for the next ten years! So Dostoevsky set out to do the impossible – write two novels at the same time, one in the morning, one at night. He was terribly depressed about it, but he did it. He handed Stellovsky The Gambler right on schedule, and Russian Messenger got what you see before you, except in Russian.
Why Should I Care?
Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment can either be really good or really bad for your social life. It's kind of a long book, and very addicting in a creepy "we know we shouldn't look, but can't help it" kind of way. So, we're here with a few tips to help you through the experience.
Do: Go to St. Petersburg and trace Raskolnikov's path.
Don't: Carry an axe while you're doing it.
Do: Check out My Own Worst Enemy and compare the differences.
Don't: Call up Christian Slater and tell him about it.
Do: Notice the involuntary shudder you produce in people when you tell them what you are reading.
Don't: Quote Raskolnikov when the cops stop by to ask why you've been deliberately creeping people out. Or maybe do quote Raskolnikov. We're confused. (Read the book to see why.)
Do: Get a translation in another language, and compare it to the English version.
Don't: Tell everybody this is how you spend your time.
Do: Be Raskolnikov for Halloween.
Don't: Be Raskolnikov for any other holidays.