• New Post Alerts By Email

  • Syndication

  • Tags

  • Archives

Live from Naples

I’m currently at the 14th International Dostoevsky Symposium in Naples, which started this morning. I missed the opening sessions so don’t have a great deal to report yet except to say that the surroundings in the Palazzo Du Mesnil are really rather sumptuous, and they provided us with a very fine lunch, for which I arrived just in time. Apparently the highlight of the morning was Robert Louis Jackson’s presentation, which returned to a much-discussed subject, but one which is very dear to my heart, the role of Holbein’s painting ‘Christ in the Tomb’ in The Idiot, so I’m slightly annoyed to have missed that.

In the afternoon Robert Belknap gave a really interesting talk on Crime and Punishment. It started out in a fairly mundane way discussing the different plots, Raskolnikov’s doubles, and the way that the different plots and characters comment on the main ones, and it took a while to get going, to the extent that at one point I wondered whether he would get round to saying anything different at all. Then in the last five minutes or so it really came to life when he started discussing Porfiry.

The most thought-provoking point for me was that the novel doesn’t provide us access to Porfiry’s mind – obviously, for most of the novel we’re with Raskolnikov, but there are significant passages where we have access to the thoughts of Svidrigailov, Razumihkin, and Dunia — in other words, the characters who function as the counterparts of Raskolnikov in the subplots that mirror the main one. Belknap suggested that this placed Porfiry in a unique position.

But the character he didn’t mention at all was Sonia, and we don’t see inside her mind either.  I’ve been quite surprised while I’ve been re-reading it recently quite how often we leave Raskolnikov and follow Razumikhin and Dunia in particular — much more than I remembered. But the closest we get to seeing her on her own is the end of part 3, chapter 4, when Svidrigailov follows her home, and that all comes from his point of view. For Belknap it was the fact that Porfiry is a detective that was of significance, but for me there is something very important in Dostoevsky’s work as a whole relating to which characters we are given inner access to, and which we see from the outside. In Crime and Punishment I don’t think it’s half as simple as a dichotomy of characters who reflect aspects of Raskolnikov’s thoughts and actions and those who don’t.

Previous Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *