Sir Francis Bacon

Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtle; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend.

--Of Studies--

Raskolnikov's Napoleon Complex

~ 800 words -- !Minor Spoilers!

New Interesting Words!

philander -v- to make love without serious intention, to carry on flirtations.

reticent - adj - disposed to be silent, reserved.

samovar - noun - A metal urn, used for heating tea in Russia.

10th post! Someone bake a cake!

This illustration, which I found on, is a rather artistic depiction of the crime in Crime and Punishment. For those of you who have not read the book (or have not read it in some time), Raskolnikov's first victim, that little old lady, was in fact brained by the blunt end of the handle, not the blade itself. So no, he is not holding the axe the wrong way in this illustration.

I wanted to take this opportunity to discuss some of the philosophical underpinnings of Crime and Punishment, while at the same time presenting some context to these ideas, as I'm sure was Dostoevski's intent when he wrote the novel.

Raskolnikov (our central character) is the quintessential melancholic. That is, melancholy as defined by humourism, an ancient mode of medicine that (on the grand scale of things) has only recently fallen into disrepute. Humourism divides a person's physical and mental health (concepts more closely correlated a hundred and fifty years ago) into four humours: blood, yellow bile, phlegm, and black bile. The theory is very old (think ancient Greece), but later evidence arose to support it. Apparently, if you let blood sit for a while, it separates itself into four distinct layers, which resemble the four humours. Each humour is associated with specific personality traits, and many diseases were at one point diagnosed and treated as imbalances in the humours. Hence, you get practices like bloodletting. I digress. A person with too much black bile, under humourism, is irritable, depressive, independent, and takes his philosophy personally. This describes Raskolnikov's personality quite thoroughly. He often has half-mad depressions which cause him to lay on his couch fretting. He is frequently rude to nearly every important character. His most ardent desire is just to be left alone.

And he takes philosophy very seriously. In order to really understand any book written in the 19th century, you have to know who the author was arguing against. While I'm not educated enough to know who specifically he was fighting (though I'm sure the translators of my edition are), I'm familiar with the concept he makes his case against. The name of the game is rationalism, and if you don't believe me, check some of the quotes I've posted on my "Interesting Quotations" page penned by our friend Fyodor.

The murder, as an act, is perfectly rational and completely justified by some of the larger principles that were (and still are) natural consequences of rationalism. Alyona Ivanovna, the unfortunate axe-ee, is an old crone, a moneylender and pawnbroker, who jealously hordes several thousand roubles (currency, ten roubles will by you a thrifty but serviceable wardrobe including boots, one hundred kopecks to the rouble). Raskolnikov is troubled by the human suffering that he encounters in his daily life. At one point he comes into thirty five roubles (an advance on his mother's pension) and twenty five of it goes to the widow of a man run over in the streets by a carriage.

So he asks himself this question. If several thousand roubles could do so much good in the world, why is it allowed to stagnate in some old crone's stash where it does no good to anyone? If these funds were distributed among the poor, and their lives improved, would that not be worth the life of some bitter old hag? Can we equate the life of a human being, even one so stale and abusive of the poor, with the well being of dozens of families?

Combine this with Raskolnikov's Napoleon complex and you have murder and robbery. Silly guy doesn't even rob her properly though, stealing only pawned trinkets that he subsequently hides under a rock.

Raskolnikov writes an article, before the book's timeline begins, theorizing that the world is divided into two groups of people. First, you have ordinary people, for whom crime can not be justified. Second, you have extraordinary people, for whom crime can be justified. If one of these extraordinary people, by the performance of a crime, can remove a barrier to the betterment of mankind, then he has the right to do so. That is, not a legal right, but the right to a clean conscience. If by killing ten people an extraordinary person could improve the lives of one hundred thousand, Raskolnikov believes this would be justified.

Raskolnikov views himself as one of these extraordinary people, commits murder for the benefit of mankind, and spends 5/6s of the book being punished (and punishing himself) for it. Dostoevski is illustrating that there are more considerations than simply the faculty of reason, and that there are forces internal to the human mind that can rip a person apart if offended.

I haven't quite finished the book, so you can expect one more post from me on the subject.

Image credit to ~PoohateQ of, who posted this rather dramatic scene. It is apparently an image from the movie "Crime and Punishment" by Peter Dumala.


  1. Cool post and good summary of the principle philosophical argument. I think F.D. was also arguing against the Nihilists. Makes me want to reread C and P. I like your summary of R. as a maniacal, egotistical person who wants to be left alone but also wants adulation from others, and he makes enormous sacrifices to help others. Like most of F.D.'s characters, he's a bundle of contradictions. Will you be moving on to the Brothers K. in the near future?

  2. I was considering it. I certainly wish to continue reading Dostoevski, and was considering Notes from the Underground. Tolstoy is another author I'm thinking about reading. Give it some time though, I have plenty to read at the moment. Every time I catch myself thinking about books I should read I scold myself for being unfaithful to the ones on my shelf.

  3. The "axe-ee" was actually Alonya Ivanovna (I won't pretend that I know how to spell that perfectly). Lizaveta was her sister - the second axe-ee.

  4. Merciful Heavens Above!

    I would like to take this time to apologize to all of my readers for this gross and inexcusable oversight on my part. The correction has been made to the above article.

    Thank you for that!