Friday, February 18, 2011

Crime and Punishment - by Fyodor Dostoevsky

I have always found Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment a difficult book. (UK edition)  (Deutsch edition) But maybe after a couple of decades and two failed attempts, I need to give it another try.

Jan Kott, the author of “Shakespeare, our Contemporary,” wrote of how some of Shakespeare’s plays seem not to speak to us while others are so fresh they might come from stories in our newspapers.  In the 1950’s a play like Measure for Measure, with a politician willing to grant a pardon in exchange for sex, seemed like a fantasy.  We would hardly think that now.  And so a book I found so difficult, about a man who could justify a murder for money, seems more plausible in our age of casual brutality and the pursuit of riches at all costs.
‘"What do you want?" the old woman said severely, coming into the room and, as before, standing in front of him so as to look him straight in the face.

"I've brought something to pawn here," and he drew out of his pocket an old-fashioned flat silver watch, on the back of which was engraved a globe; the chain was of steel.

"But the time is up for your last pledge. The month was up the day before yesterday."

"I will bring you the interest for another month; wait a little."

"But that's for me to do as I please, my good sir, to wait or to sell your pledge at once."

"How much will you give me for the watch, Alyona Ivanovna?"

"You come with such trifles, my good sir, it's scarcely worth anything. I gave you two roubles last time for your ring and one could buy it quite new at a jeweler's for a rouble and a half."

"Give me four roubles for it, I shall redeem it, it was my father's. I shall be getting some money soon."

"A rouble and a half, and interest in advance, if you like!"

"A rouble and a half!" cried the young man.

"Please yourself"—and the old woman handed him back the watch.’
It may be time I gave this early detective story and early psychological thriller another chance.  We don’t all have the same taste in literature, but I respect a novel that so many would agree is one of the greatest ever written. 

This is the original Constance Garnett translation. 

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