A mysterious crime is being plotted in a tiny garret above a dilapidated apartment building in St Petersburg in Russia. The plotter, Rodion Raskolinikov, is a poor student who has delusions of ridding the world of “worthless vermin” and counter balancing these crimes with good deeds. He commits a murder to test his own theories and prove that crime comes naturally to the human species.
Crime and Punishment is a path-breaking novel of ideas that changed the course of novel writing in the 20th century. The intense insights into the workings of the human mind had seldom been attempted by any writer anywhere in the world till then. The author, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, was the son of a hardworking but indigent doctor in Moscow. He was educated in boarding schools and later at a military academy from which he graduated as a military engineer. However, his heart was set on becoming a writer and he left the army to pursue a life devoted to writing. He was also deeply involved in the politics of the time and was sentenced to four years in a prison camp in Siberia for being part of an anarchist group.
In Siberia, he underwent an ideological change and reverted to traditional/conservative ideas. Crime and Punishment was published in serial form in a literary journal in 1866 after he returned from Siberia. His father's sudden and brutal killing by serfs on their own estate probably provided the trigger for the ideas expressed in the book. His father was an authoritarian despot, while his mother was a weak and fearful person and many of Dostoyevsky's novels contain images that portray these contradictions.
The book is divided into six parts and it is quite a formidable task reading through the entire novel. However, the sheer size, scope and scale of the book carries even the most timid reader along as it traces social realities, psychological aspects of crime and the effect of environment on the minds of vulnerable people. The book met with immense acclaim as it emerged in serial form and was soon compiled in book form. Several English translations followed, as well as those in other languages. More than 25 film adaptations, numerous references in books, television and contemporary writings have kept its appeal alive for generations of readers.
Its enduring fascination for modern day readers remains in its themes of alienation and loneliness, the idea of a Superman above the conventions and rules of society and its deep insights into the inner life of a young person on the brink of adulthood.