Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Crime and Punishment: Those Awful Russian Names

The first barrier to reading Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment is the names. There are way too many names, and the names have way too many syllables. You can't pronounce them; you can't remember them; and you forget which character is which. You just can't read Dostoevsky at the same pace you would read a novel written for English speakers because the Russians have different naming conventions.

Russian Naming Conventions

Russians traditionally use three names, as English-speakers do, but the middle name is a variation of the father's first name, called a patronymic. For instance, since Ivan is a common first name in Russia, two sisters in the novel have the patronymic of Ivanovna.

The middle name of all male characters ends in "ovitch" and of all female characters in "ovna." This ending simply means "son of" or "daughter of" the father. Thus Rodion's middle name is Romanovich, whereas his sister's middle name is Romanovna.

The main characters have two or three nicknames. Nicknames generally use the first syllable of the first name plus a common ending, the way we might say Robby for Robert or Debby for Deborah. For instance, the main character is named Rodion and his nicknames are Rodya or Rodka.

Organized Table of Names

The second barrier to enjoying Crime and Punishment is there are way too many characters. The reason is that Dostoevsky intertwined three separate but parallel stories, and each of them has its own set of significant characters. Most modern murder mysteries have a similar problem: the reader or viewer must keep multiple stories floating in their minds simultaneously.

I was frequently forced to consult a list of characters, but these lists did not have the benefit of organization. Characters were listed randomly, or perhaps in order of appearance, but the list offered no help in remembering who is who.

This list is grouped according to plot, as though each story were self-contained.

In addition to the murders, many other crimes, sins, vices, and other transgressions against the laws of humanity and Christianity are described and punished.

Raskolnikov's Circle

Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov
  • A former student who commits murder in order to test a theory and to validate his worth in his own mind. 
  • He is 23 years old.
  • He is generally known by his last name; Raskolnikov is one of the most famous names in literature. 
  • Raskolnikov comes from the Russian word raskol, which means schism. In Russian history, there was a sect that broke away from the Russian Orthodox Church called Raskolniki. So, Raskolnikov is a character who breaks away from traditional belief, to his own perdition.
  • He also has a split personality, vacillating between innate compassion and assumed superiority.
  • Both during the time of the novel, and in reports of his life beforehand, he spontaneously makes acts of compassion, but he quickly regrets and debases such feelings.
  • This character is one of the earliest depictions of the split personality, and is still considered an accurate representation of the type.
  • He is a deluded and self-destructive loser. His primary sin is lack of faith—faith in God, faith in himself, faith in the value of life.
  • His best quality is his unwillingness to allow his sister to sacrifice herself on his behalf; he is offended that she thinks he would want such a thing.
  • His crime is willful and egoistical murder, and his punishment is mental anguish and suffering that causes physical illness, and finally imprisonment.
Vladimir Koshevoy, actor in the role of Raskolnikov
All photos are Internet grabs.
Avdotya Romanovna Raskolnikov
  • Raskolnikov's sister is the center of a secondary plot. She is courted by three different men and has to choose between them. She is generally referred to as Dunya or Dunechka. 
  • She is about 22 years old.
  • She is strong, faithful, rational, and loyal. She represents virtue.
  • She's also a dish, and the men are panting for her.
  • Her personality is a positive, life-affirming version of Raskolnikov's.
  • Like her brother, she shows willingness to kill someone, but it's only in her own defense, and then her effort fails.
  • Her reward is that she grows as a self-respecting woman, and she gets to marry a good guy instead of a dominating boor.
  • In addition, she is given a chance at an equal-partnership marriage and a secure future.
Kate Ashfield playing Dunya

Pulcheria Alexandrovna Raskolnikov
  • Raskolnikov's mother is 43 years old.
  • She is a widow with a small pension.
  • Even though she never admits that her son is a murderer, she suffers the torments she deserves for bringing a murderer into the world.
  • Her sin is overweening pride bolstered by hysterical fantasy.
  • Her blind pride in her son may have been a factor in his hubris, or exaggerated self-esteem.
  • Her punishment is that by being so detached from reality, and completely victimized by emotion, she finally becomes ill and goes mad.
Geraldine James as Pulcheria

Dmitri Prokofych Razumikhin
  • A student who plays an important role in both the stories of both Raskolnikov and Dunya. He does his best to care for Raskolnikov when he has given up caring for himself, and ends up falling in love with Dunya. 
  • Razumikhin comes from razum, which means reason, mind, or intelligence. He is the foil for Raskolnikov, offering positive action instead of negative ideation.
  • His virtue is rewarded by winning the beautiful Dunya, and seeing a way to a self-supporting future. Their relationship shows that human love can grow even in the most adverse conditions, foreshadowing the eventual romance between Raskolnikov and Sonya.
  • Like Raskolnikov, Razumikhin is saved by love. Before he meets Dunya, he has a lot of energy and good will, but his efforts lack focus. After he falls in love, his way suddenly becomes clear.
Shaun Dingwall as Razumikhin

Minor Characters in Raskolnikov's Circle

Zossimov (Surname only)
  • A young doctor, and friend of  Razumikhin, who takes an interest in Raskolnikov's case.
  • He observes and comments on his condition, but does nothing to heal him.
  • He is about 27 years old.
  • His function is to interpret and vouch for Raskolnikov's bouts of delirium.
Nastasya Petrovna (no surname)
  • Nastasya is the servant of Raskolnikov's landlady.
  • Her nicknames are Nastenka or Nastasyushka.
  • She brings Raskolnikov tea and soup when he is ill.
  • She takes pity on him, even though she perceives him as the loser he is. 
  • She is about the same age as Dunya and Sonya, but she supports herself through hard work.
Praskovya Pavlovna (no surname)
  • Raskolnikov's landlady.
  • She is about 40 years old.
  • In the past, Raskolnikov was engaged to her sickly daughter, but this girl died.
  • She gets Raskolnikov to sign a promissory note for the amount he owes her and later brings his lack of payment to the police.
  • She is called Pashenka by Razumikhin, who immediately earns her trust.
Raskolnikov's Victims

Alyona Ivanovna (no surname)
  • An aging pawnbroker who is murdered by Raskolnikov early in the novel. 
  • Her sin is taking advantage of other people's misery in the form of usury.
  • Raskolnikov claims the world would be better off without her.
  • Her punishment is being murdered.
Dramatization of the murder
Lizaveta Ivanovna (no surname)
  • Alyona's sister lives a life of devotion to others.
  • She is about 35.
  • Raskolnikov is forced to kill her when she discovers her sister's murder.
  • She is described as a sort of "holy fool." 
Unidentified actress playing Lizaveta

The Police Investigators

If this were a modern television mystery, these would be the main characters, and we would see the murder and the two sub-plots from their point of view.

Porfiry Petrovich (no surname)
  • Porfiry is the local police inspector in charge of investigating the murders. 
  • He is about 35 years old.
  • He is a relative of Razumikhin, and like him has a positive and sympathetic personality.
  • Although he plays the part of a buffoon, he makes clever use of psychology to solve the murders.
  • He tries to steer Raskolnikov toward confessing and getting his life on track.
  • He is clever and conniving, but he speaks profound wisdom to Raskolnikov, giving him the direction he needs to gain redemption.
  • Porfiry was the prototype for a 1970s television detective named Columbo, played by Peter Falk. 
  • Because of his hyper-polite style, when I read Porfiry's speeches, I hear the voice of Chief Inspector Morse, in the British television mystery, Morse.
Unidentified actor playing Porfiry

Peter Falk as Detective Columbo.
Columbo's character was based on Porfiry.

Ilya Petrovich (no surname)
  • The police official who first gets involved with the murders. He is assistant to the chief of police, Fomich.
  • His middle name is the same as Porfiry's, but there is no indication that they are related. 
  • He is sometimes distinguished by the nickname "Gunpowder," because he is temperamental and easily offended.
  • He represents the dumb cop who jumps to conclusions based on old-fashioned methods.
  • He is the one who receives Raskolnikov's confession.
Alexander Grigorievich Zamyotov
  • Head clerk in the police station. 
  • He is almost always called Zamyotov.
  • He becomes friends with Razumikhin.
  • He suspects that Raskolnikov is the killer of Alyona and Lizaveta.
  • Before he confesses officially, Raskolnikov teases Zamyotov with a mock confession, thereby arousing his suspicions further.
Darren Tighe as Zamyotov
Nikodim Fomich (no surname)
  • The chief of police is amiable but detached.
Witnesses and Suspects

Nikolai Dementiev (no middle name)
  • A painter working in an empty apartment next to Alyona Ivanovna’s on the day of the murders. 
  • He is suspected of the murders and eventually makes a false confession.
  • He is sometimes known as Mikolka, Mikolai, or Nikolashka.
  • He is about 22.
  • Another painter working with him is called Dmitri, or Mitka.
Koch (No other names given)
  • Koch comes to the apartment of the pawnbroker, Alyona, just after Raskolnikov kills her and her sister. He rattles the door, but it is latched from inside.
  • Later he is accused of the murders, but he is soon released.
Pestryakov (No other names given)
  • A student who also comes to the pawnbroker's apartment and finds it latched.
  • He figures out that something must be wrong with the tenants, and goes for the caretaker.
  • He too is briefly suspected.
Dunya's Story

Pyotr Petrovich Luzhin
  • Luzhin is a wealthy lawyer who is engaged to Dunya in the beginning.
  • He is 45 years old.
  • He represents the self-satisfied bureaucrat.
  • Everyone in her circle considers him unacceptable because he is hoping her poverty will make her submissive. Raskolnikov forbids the marriage.
  • Luzhin is the type of person who might make a young student turn to nihilism: a fake, a miser, and a bully.
  • His sin is scheming: the desire to dominate and his willingness to use deception to get his way. His punishment is to be publicly exposed and humiliated.
  • His function is to provide an opportunity for self-understanding for Dunya, and to show that Raskolnikov is at least decent enough to be concerned for his sister's happiness and independence.
David Haig as Luzhin

Arkady Ivanovich Svidrigailov
  • Svidrigailov is a fairly well-off widower. He and his wife, Marfa Petrofina, formerly employed Dunya as a governess.
  • He is around 50, but looks younger.
  • At the time, Svidrigailov was common name for a shady dealer and schemer.
  • His sin is unbridled lust, an unrestrained obsession with sex, including adultery, child abuse, and trickery.
  • He is not a theoretician like Raskolnikov, but he is a nihilist in practical terms: he doesn't have any values or morals, and he is willing to use any trickery to get what he wants.
  • Like Raskolnikov, he has a split personality; he spontaneously reaches out to alleviate the suffering of children, and his final acts are to save Sonya from prostitution and to place the younger Marmeladov children in orphanages. Also like the murderer, the lecher is disturbed by nightmares.
  • Instead of driving him to commit murder, Svidrigailov's self-defeating self-indulgence inevitably drives him to bottomless boredom and lonely suicide.
Unidentified actor portraying Svidrigailov

Marfa Petrofina Svidrigailov
  • Wife of Svidrigailov; 5 years older than he.
  • She doesn't appear in the novel except in other people's stories, and as a ghost. Her character functions as a literary device to tie off the loose ends. 
  • She represents the landed, wealthy class. Her money is working in the background throughout the novel.
  • She maligns Dunya's character unfairly, but restores it later, and leaves her a bequest.
  • She sets up the engagement between Luzhin, a relative of hers, and Dunya.
  • Her sin is gluttony, and her sin is to die of over-indulgence.
Sonya's Story

 Sofya Semyonovna Marmeladov
  • A poor girl who is forced into prostitution to support her family. 
  • She is generally known as Sonya, a name derived from the Greek word for "wisdom."
  • She is about 18 year old, the youngest character.
  • She believes whole-heartedly in Christian values and God's mercy.
  • She is the center of a second subplot surrounding the deaths of her unfortunate parents. 
  • In the main plot, she falls in love with Raskolnikov and devotes herself to his spiritual redemption.
  • She symbolizes meekness and selfless devotion; "insatiable compassion." Her soul is pure even though her body is defiled.
  • Her reward is Raskolnikov's redemption and his ultimate devotion to her.
Lara Belmont as Sonya

Semyon Zakharovich Marmeladov
  • Sonya's father.
  • Marmeladov is an alcoholic with self-awareness. He knows he is ruining himself and his family, but he can't stop drinking.
  • His punishment is to be run over by a cart. It is unclear whether his fall in front of the horses was accidental or intentional.
  • He is a great storyteller. His function is to introduce Sonya's situation. He also introduces the tenets of Christianity that are illustrated by the novel.
Frank Middlemass as Marmeladov

Katerina Ivanovna Marmeladov
  • Generally known by both first and second names, Katerina Ivanovna is the wife of Marmeladov and step-mother of Sonya.
  • She is 30 years old.
  • She brought three younger children to the marriage: Polenka, Lyona, and Kolya.
  • She is consumptive and ill-tempered.
  • Katerina is the evil step-mother: Her sin is overweening pride; her crime is forcing her step-daughter to become a sex worker.
  • Her punishment is a spectacular descent into madness, concluding with her dramatic death.
Unknown actress portraying Katerina.
This image does not capture her hysteria.

Minor Characters in Sonya's Story

Andrei Semyonovitch Lebezyatnikov
  • Lebezyatnikov is a distant relative of Luzhin, Dunya's fiancé. He is temporarily sharing his apartment with Luzhin, his former guardian.
  • He lives in the same building as the Marmeladovs and is instrumental in getting Sonya kicked out when she becomes a whore.
  • Late in the novel, he observes Luzhin frame Sonya for theft. Lebezyatnikov comes to Sonya's defense, and exposes Luzhin's deception and hypocrisy.
  • He may not seem important but he reappears throughout the novel, always expounding on the "new ideas" that Dostoevsky is arguing against: nihilism, socialism, and denial of spiritual values.
Unknown actors playing Luzhin, who is counting his money,
and Lebezyatnikov, who is explaining that he saw
Luzhin plant the money on Sonya.

Amalia Ivanovna  Lippewechsel
  • Landlady to the Marmeladovs.
  • Bitter enemy of Katerina Ivanovna who thinks she is disrespectful.
  • She is German, and her role is basically comic relief.
  • Her eviction of the Marmeladovs is the catalyst for Katerina's final descent into madness.
The Beauty of It All

Admittedly, this is a big stack of characters, but is it really that many, compared to modern murder mysteries, for instance? Recently I've been watching a series set in Wyoming called Longmire. In addition to one or two murders in each episode, there is a sheriff's election to follow, a romance between the sheriff's daughter and one of the deputies, and one or two mysterious crimes floating around in the background; all these stories have a set of characters to recall. Midsomer Murders and Miss Marple, just to name two obvious examples, regularly expose the secrets of two or three families in the course of nabbing the actual murderers; this requires the viewer to track many characters at once.

The beauty of this approach is that the mind loves complexity, though it may rebel initially. Once you get this multifaceted story in your mind, it's like looking into a brilliant diamond; your mind experiences a jewel-like structure.

And here's something that surprised me: After I finally got a grip on the characters and their situations, the last half of the book actually was quick and easy. I just zipped right through it; suddenly I was finished, and hungering for more. So I went back and read the novel again. A great novel is like a great song or a great painting: you can enjoy it over and over.

For my explanation of why Crime and Punishment is worth your study, check out my other article on the novel: