Well, I’m far beyond posting for every chapter now. I am exactly 62% through the book (the glory of having a Kindle is that I know this) and I am disheartened; there’s now so much I want to say that I’m not even sure where to begin. So before I get into my main topic, just a few updates on wrong assumptions.
1. I don’t think Raskolnikov’s mother is manipulative after all. I think that, if we can trust anyone, we can trust the omniscient narrator. These are the facts that Dostoyevsky wants to share with us about his plot. And omniscience says that Pulcheria “had only that morning thought rupture with Luzhin a terrible misfortune” before the family gives him the boot at dinner. So Pulcheria, I believe, really is just a hand-wringing babbler who wears her heart on her sleeve. She did, in fact want the marriage to Luzhin to happen.
2. The reoccurring theme of power vs powerlessness manifests itself with the discussion in Sonia’s room. Raskolnikov fluctuates wildly, first bowing to all the suffering of humanity/kissing Sonia’s feet and then scorning her immense sacrifices, which provide no real solution at all to her family’s problems. Sonia is still unable to alter her family’s destiny, and Raskolnikov rubs her helplessness in her face. Once again, it’s the pull of two Raskolnikovs–one that wants to give every last penny away as he starves (like Sonia) and one that is like his father that advises avoiding trying to help others because, well, what can he do? Indeed, what can Sonia do?
3. I was wrong in assuming the men in the bar just planted the thought of murdering with the excuse of justice in Raskolnikov’s brain. I had forgotten about one of the most important parts of Crime and Punishment: Raskolnikov’s article that was of such interest to Porfiry. Raskolnikov had the idea of justified killing far before it was suggested at that bar, so it really was as if circumstance was eerily setting up the murder of the pawnbroker and poor Lizaveta. Oh, I have so much to say about that article he wrote…oh well, another time.
And now for the topic at hand: Raskolnikov’s rather sinister but more suave twin, Svidrigailov.
The first time I read this book, I thought Svidrigailov was pure evil. I especially thought that after the rather dramatic scene with Dounia near the end. He was conniving, devious, a little rapey, terrifying…what isn’t pointing to evil? But every re-read, I have liked Svidrigailov more and more (and Luzhin less and less). Certainly I’d noticed that Svidrigailov had said he and Raskolnikov were alike before, but only this time do I realize how right he his.
The way Raskolnikov reacts to Svidrigailov when they first speak is quite like how others react to Raskolnikov (specifically, “He is a madman” and “‘You are certainly mad'”). Svidrigailov has the same awkward laughter, as if he has inside jokes with himself. He daydreams aloud without thinking, alarming those around him (think of Raskolnikov scaring off the friendly stranger after handing money to the young girl singing at the market). He’s significantly introspective and forces people into conversations that make them uncomfortable. He believes he sees ghosts, just as Raskolnikov sees things in delirium. He speaks of being ill, and he imagines that eternity might be one little corner filled with spiders (this tiny space to inhabit is a reoccurring theme in Raskolnikov’s thoughts, though the spiders seem to be lacking in his version, thankfully). Raskolnikov cries about the justice of Svidrigailov’s described eternity, but really only one manifestation of Raskolnikov is concerned with justice–the little boy that wants to kiss the dead horse and come to blows with its owner. The other manifestation of Raskolnikov believes Sonia’s stepsiblings will be left helpless and all her sacrifices will be for nothing, and he has no trouble confronting the injustice head on. This version of Raskolnikov, to me, sounds very much like the cynic who would picture a corner of eternity with spiders.
Svidrigailov “rarely lies,” and he’s so blunt I’m prepared to believe him. Think of the sentence “‘What do I mean? I really don’t know…’ Svidrigailov muttered ingenuously, as though he, too, were puzzled.” 1. It’s quite clear that he is honest, and perhaps too muddled in the brain to be otherwise, and 2. wow, how easily could that line be coming from Raskolnikov? But, while being honest, Svidrigailov avoids full disclosure. He must. So his speech is full of phrases that he knows bear a heavy significance to him and him only, and, understanding others cannot know what is in his mind, he playfully hints at a larger picture. An example of this is Svidrigailov’s abstractly described “journey” (proving, in my mind, he has planned to kill himself before even getting to St. Petersburg). Raskolnikov does this constantly as well–he loves to talk about the murder with people and chuckle and hint at things of great significance, but only for his own personal enjoyment–or masochism.
His own enjoyment or masochism. That’s the clincher. That’s why Svidrigailov and Raskolnikov are the most alike. And it’s why I think I like Svidrigailov no matter what a knave he is. They never bother to think about what others think of them. They simply do not care an iota. They’re so lost in their own psyche that other people only play a fringe role. Sure, Raskolnikov cares if the police know what he’s done–when they’re around, and only because it concerns his future. What he never thought of until recently in the book is what Razumihin will think when he finds out. And Razumihin has furiously defended Raskolnikov throughout the book, so it’s rather a surprise to think Raskolnikov never had a moment of “if only you knew!” Likewise, Svidrigailov says “I am certainly idle and depraved” and makes no apology for it or show any concern that Raskolnikov thinks it. In fact, he plainly says, “I am not particularly interested in anyone’s opinion” when Raskolnikov talks about how others view him, and from the bluntness of the entire conversation, it’s hard for me to think he isn’t telling the truth.
For someone trying prove he is Napoleon, Raskolnikov sure cares little about how others see him. He is possible the least self-conscious character I’ve read, at least as far as his awareness of how he comes off to others and his concern as such. It’s all about proving his thoughts internally harmonious–with proving himself to himself. He is the opposite of Luzhin, seeking affirmation and flattery everywhere he goes. So Svidrigailov is the opposite of Luzhin, too. It’s what I like about Raskolnikov and Svidrigailov–in that way, as well as others, they are very alike.