Is Raskolnikov Real? Point of View in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment

If literature offers models of the world, then the big problem it poses is that of ontology, the nature of reality. In Crime and Punishment, Dostoevsky takes us into the head of his hero, and we see the world mostly through his eyes. What we see is the utterly recognizable, tangible cityscape of St. Petersburg, Russia, captured at a precise moment in the year 1865, with its slums, bridges, canals, taverns, smells and crowded, filthy flats. Even the weather corresponds to meteorological records of the time. Nowhere before in Russian literature had a writer so tangibly conveyed the physical experience of urban poverty, hunger, prostitution, and drunkenness. Seduced by this immersion in a particular time and place, readers might not notice an odd, disquieting feature of the novel: the dubious material grounding of its protagonist. This reading tracks Raskolnikov’s path leading up to the act of murder, posing the question: how, given the mass of potential witnesses, does he get away with it? Who sees him, and how do we know? The more deeply we probe into this question, the stranger and more fantastical does he, and his world become.

Carol ApollonioCarol Apollonio is Professor of the Practice of Russian at Duke University and President of North American Dostoevsky Society. She is the author of Dostoevsky’s Secrets (2009) and some 50 articles on Russian classic literature and translation; editor of The New Russian Dostoevsky (2010, co-editor of Chekhov for the 21-st Century (with Angela Brintlinger, 2012) and Chekhov’s Letters (with Radislav Lapushin, forthcoming, 2018). She is also a translator from Japanese and Russian, most recently, of modern Russian-Dagestani writer Alisa Ganieva’s novels The Mountain and the Wall (2015) and Bride and Groom (2018). In the 1990s she worked as a conference interpreter for the U.S. Department of State in strategic nuclear arms negotiations and other talks.

Friday, November 2 at 4 pm | Schapiro 241

Sponsored by the Department of German and Russian, the Department of History, the Programs in Comparative Literature, and the Program in Justice and Law Studies.