Hard Going and Simply Rational continue their dialogue and discuss the book Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky.
Frost on cut wood
(Photo: Scott Murray)

SR: Do you have any regrets about books you’ve read?
HG: Indeed I do. I’ve recently read Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky and regrets, yes, I’ve been thinking: Why on earth didn’t I read this man’s work years ago? It’s so amazing!
SR: I read it many years ago. At the time I thought it was multi-layered: a study in psychology but also a sociological comment on the Russia of the late 19th century. What was the main character called? Rask …
HG: Raskolnikov.
SR: Oh, that’s right, he committed a brutal double murder. He was a really evil character. But what makes the novel so special for you?

Multi-layered novel with universal themes
HG: As you say, it’s multi-layered. It’s as if he holds up a mirror to human nature. He’s a specialist in dissecting and analysing the human heart. The setting may be Russian – Saint Petersburg in the 19th century – but the themes are universal. But what makes it special for me is that it is, at its heart, a Christian novel. It pares away all ancillary explanations and in the end it’s a story of sin, repentance and redemption, particularly with reference to the main character Raskolnikov.
Shadowland on bark
(Photo: Scott Murray)

Saturated with evil
SR: I can see where the ‘sin’ bit comes in. The novel is saturated with evil, it’s not just Raskolnikov, it’s almost all the characters. But I fail to see where the repentance comes. Raskolnikov isn’t even aware that he’s evil . His whole way of thinking is dominated by reason and a perverted idealism. He ends up in prison camp in Siberia and even then he doesn’t appear to repent.

Sonya – the pure believer
HG: There is certainly a change takes place in him in the end, although it’s not quite clear where it will lead. The reason I say that it’s a Christian novel at its heart is because of what happens with him and Sonya. She’s the eldest daughter of Marmeladovs, the consumptive mother Katerina and the drunkard husband Semyon Zakkarovich who spends all their money on drink. Katerina, with a young family to support, is in dire poverty. Sonya sells herself on the streets to save the family from starvation. Yet she remains a believer and remains pure. It is to her that Raskolnikov confesses the murders. Despite everything, and through everything she loves him.
SR: How can she love a person like him?

Underwater on Vatersay shore
(Photo: Scott Murray)

Unconditional love and resurrection
HG: A good question. But she shows that her love is unconditional. There is no reason in her love, or calculation. He is sentenced to 8 years hard labour in Siberia. She follows him. In the end it is her unconditional love for him that started the change in him from being sullen, numb and without hope to have something like hope. She manages to see him a year after he had been in prison, after they had both been ill: ‘They wanted to speak but could not. Tears stood in their eyes. They were both pale and thin, but in those pale, sick faces there already shone the dawn of a renewed future, of a complete resurrection into a new life. They were resurrected by love; the heart of each held infinite resources of life for the heart of the other.’
SR: Right enough, if I remember correctly, all the talk in the Epilogue, regarding them both, is religious.
Small fungi on bark
(Photo: Scott Murray)

How the novel ends
HG: Exactly. Sonya is a Christian, a true believer. She has her cross and she gave Raskolnikov a cross. She represents the love of the Cross which is unconditional love for all those who truly repent. Whether Raskolnikov will truly repent and be redeemed is left open. The novel ends with these words: ‘But here begins a new account, the account of a man’s gradual renewal, the account of his gradual regeneration, his gradual transition from one world to another, his acquaintance with a new, hitherto completely unknown reality. It might make the subject of another story – but our present story is ended.’
SR: In other words, what will ultimately happen to Raskolnikov is left open.
HG: But I think the ending says there is hope for him …
SR: Even with the heinous sins he has committed?
HG: Apparently so. That’s how the novel ends, with the Christian hope.