Archive for May, 2012


Things Can Only Get Better From Here

May 23, 2012


Or so I imagine our friend, Fyodor shouting in the face of his unsuspecting reader.  After taking the reader away from the sad unicorn, Dostoevsky shines a little ray of hope into the story in Raskolnikov’s letter from his mother.  Or rather…Dostevsky SEEMINGLY shines a little ray of hope into the story.

In my reading of the letter it seemed like good news…all Sonia’s engaged, we’re out of penury, hope she’s not a bridezilla (but then you know Sonia!).  Ahh…a soupcon of relief!  But this New Yorker cartoon from two years ago (which I just read–don’t judge me!) should have primed me for disappointment.  I mean with a title like that…(like Crime and Punishment–not cheery concepts either one).

For in the next chapter Raskolnikov turns his unblinking eye of despair on the seemingly joyous news and quickly disabuses the reader of any hope for even the tiniest scrap of happiness in the next four hundred odd pages.  Raskolnikov’s skill as a sadness radar (and magnet?) is matched only by his adherence to the New Criticism (anachronism alert!)…for he close reads the hell out that missive and un-earths the grimy, forlorn subtext that, in fact, Sonia’s betrothed cares nothing for her and she has saddled herself (knowingly!) into an unloving marriage all for Roskolnikov.

So… cheery that.  Was I slow on the uptake…did you pick up the clues that this letter was, in fact, bad news?   Or did you have to wait for the next chapter (or this blog post?!–oops.  *Spoiler Alert*) to find out as well.

With all this cheeriness I suppose it’s easy to see why instead of reading on I’ve been watching reruns of The Vicar of Dibley (no unexpected subtext there–just pastoral hilarity!).

Well I’m excited to see how this book will get sadder…I’ll keep you posted!




The Unique Sadness of the Unicorn Man

May 8, 2012

That character that you (mis)translated as a unicorn, was in fact Marmeladov.  Don’t let his seemingly joyous sounding name fool you, for far from being a mythical, single-horned equine, he is instead, The Saddest Man In The World.

Your “unicorn” is an inveterate alcoholic, he’s drunk his family to penury–not once, but twice!  This has resulted in a daughter who has turned to prostitution and a wife whose love has evaporated.  Oh how I wish for a hovercraft sub-plot a la Back to the Future Part II (Or as I call it Just To The Future)!

I’ve spent some time pondering what role Marmeladov plays in the larger narrative and here’s what I’ve got as working hypotheses:

  • Perspective Fairy:  Marmeladov is there to show us (and Raskolnikov) that things could be worse.  Sure you didn’t get as much money for your pretty trinket at the pawn shop, but at least you aren’t forcing your loved ones to debase themselves for a kopek or two.
  • Humanity Mirror:  Marmeladov shows us that Raskolnikov is a good person…sure he’s thinking about murder via italicized adjectival nouns, but he’s not all bad.  He gives some of his much needed lucre to the Marmeladovs in their time of need.
  • Inveterate One-Upper:  We’ve all been there…you’re telling the story of your bad day and there’s that guy at the bar who, of course, has had it worse.  “Oh you had three meetings today, boo hoo.  I was  in meetings from 7AM til 8PM…and my daughter’s a prostitute because of me.”  “You‘ve got a busy weekend?!  I have to sit here all day and drink until my wife’s last ounce of love is completely gone…that’s what I’d call busy!”

…and I think he’s a symbol of purity and grace.

I hope your reading has more unicorns and hovercrafts…they sure do brighten up this book!



Translation? Uhh…Who Said Anything About Translation

May 2, 2012

Wait a second…we’re reading this book in translation. Ok, had I known that I have a feeling I would be quite a bit further along. I am two chapters in, but those two chapters were the end result of about 15 hours of reading. (It is ssslllooowww going with Dostoevsky in one hand and my Russian to English Dictionary in the other.)

I think my favorite part so far is when Raskolnikov meets a gregarious, enchanted unicorn bellied up to the bar in Chapter 2. (Did I mention, when I get tired of translating I just start making stuff up? That’ll be important to know.) All I can say is that I don’t know what that unicorn did, but he sure did seem to make his unicorn wife angry. I am guessing he stole her unicorn hovercraft.

In reality, I am reading the Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation. I mean really, Constance Gardner is so 1991. (This version published in 1992.) Sorry, to miss out the fun of reading the Gardner version. When you quote long passages in formal mid-century English, I will let you know what the jazzed-up 90s version is like. It’s kind of like you’re listening to Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable” and I am listening to Natalie Cole’s “Unforgettable.” The same story with a different flavor.

So, two chapters in: I am intrigued. Looking forward to reading Chapter 3.


P.S. I am the only one who wishes there were unicorns in this book? Well, unicorns and hovercrafts.