What the Editors Are Reading

Dostoevsky’s great 1866 novel Crime and Punishment reads like a frenetic vision. A compulsive gambler and one-time political radical who was condemned to Siberia and forced labor, Dostoevsky created the novel’s Rodion Raskolnikov, a half-mad dreamer who expressed the radical, nihilistic ideas of the time. Drawing on his own struggles and experiences, Dostoevsky used Raskolnikov to explore existential and religious issues: man’s fate, human nature, sin, repentance, redemption, and the ultimate nature of reality. Like Raskolnikov, Dostoevsky wrestled with God and his own fractured personality.

Russia, as this crime novel’s eccentric, dogged detective Porfiry Petrovich notes, produces “fantastic people,” “holy fools,” religious mystics, nihilists, poets, martyrs, and depraved criminals. Dostoevsky’s Russia in its extremity encompasses the fullest range of human heights and depths, from perverse sinners who long for punishment and suffering, to extraordinary divided minds like Raskolnikov’s, for the word raskolnik means a religious schismatic, and raskol means a split or schism. Raskolnikov is a walking contradiction, a poverty-stricken ex-student who gives away the few rubles he possesses to those even more destitute; a man who commits murder yet risks his own life to rescue a child from a burning building.

The existential and religious concerns of Dostoevsky...

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