Crime and Punishment: Porfiry’s Ace in the Hole

First off, look at this.


If going on for eternity about Crime and Punishment is going to earn me magical gifts like this, I’m going back to posting per chapter.

I’m at the point in the book where Porfiry, the main detective in Crime and Punishment, has come to Raskolnikov’s room and flat out declares that Raskolnikov is the murderer. That he declares it as fact is important; he does not claim that he suspects it or that he is convinced of it. Porfiry’s own opinion does not matter, because it isn’t a suspicion. It’s simply the truth, to him. And, of course, he’s right. He gives Raskolnikov a few days to turn himself in to make it easier on himself because—and I think he’s being honest here–Porfiry claims to rather like Raskolnikov. He’s not in the least like Javert, the detective from Les Miserables, who believes so fully in good, evil, and clear-cut rules of justice that he cannot handle it when shades of gray are revealed. Porfiry knows that people are complicated. He knows Raskolnikov is more mentally unsetteled and broken than he is evil. And I think the detective feels sorry for him, in a detached sort of way. Nonetheless, the murderer must be convicted and serve his sentence.

Porfiry claims to have evidence but that he’d rather not be forced to use it. I can’t remember if this proof is revealed by the end. I’ll have to come back and adjust my thinking if this turns out to be wrong. But if I remember correctly, we never concretely learn what Porfiry’s ace in the hole is.

Of course, it could be a tactic. It would be more likely that Raskolnikov would confess and the case could be closed if he was pressured to do so by evidence, and whether or not the evidence existed would be ancillary if all Porfiry was aiming for was a conviction. But Porfiry, during this encounter, is quite blunt with Raskolnikov.  He admits to not knowing where Raskolnikov’s buried the stolen items, which I doubt he would do if he was bluffing. (That would likely be some of the best evidence of all, considering the stupid conversation with Zametov where Raskolnikov stated how he would hide the goods if he were the murderer.) And, after reading the chapter, I think I know what the evidence is. It’s confusing. But I can’t see any other way.

During this encounter, Porfiry drops several phrases that are exact references to past conversations Raskolnikov has had with other people. He talks about “taking his suffering”–an odd turn of phrase for someone who can see clearly that Raskolnikov is already suffering enough and who does not, I think, believe in the religious value of suffering for sins. Porfiry has echoed Sonia’s words exactly, and in the same context explains redemption through confession. It’s quite inconsistent with Porfiry’s character, and the exact turn of phrase repeated seems an unlikely coincidence. If there were better technology back in those days, I’d have said Sonia’s room was bugged. But since that’s impossible, that means Porfiry’s evidence is likely a witnesses to this conversation, of which there are two: Sonia, and the metaphorical-popcorn-eating eavesdropper next door, Svidrigailov. The next hint tells us which of the two is the source of the evidence.

Porfiry also quotes the exact advice Svidrigailov gives Raskolnikov about fresh air. It’s eerie, and that phrase never passed between Sonia and Raskolnikov. So Svidrigailov has to be the man–he must have talked to Porfiry already about the conversation, or he is otherwise the source of what Porfiry knows.

It’s so hard to see either of them talking to Porfiry. On Sonia’s end, what redemption can their be for Raskolnikov’s soul if he goes to his suffering unwillingly? And Raskolnikov himself seems convinced there’s no way Svidrigailov has talked, and it’s hard not to agree. One, it doesn’t seem to be in his character. Two, what has he to hold over Dounia’s head if he has already talked to the police on the matter?

Porfiry definitely has heard conversations that have passed between Raskolnikov, Svidrigailov, and Sonia. How he got wind of those conversations…it’s hard to tell. Perhaps he’s done some eavesdropping of his own.

More about Porfiry in another post. He’s a rare intellect and a very interesting character. Raskolnikov’s biggest mistake was ever getting on such a man’s radar, if we’re talking purely in terms of getting caught.

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