Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time

By Joseph Frank; Mary Petrusewicz | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 33

From Novella to Novel

The main outlines of Dostoevsky's conception of Crime and Punishment were set early, but it was only as the work developed and expanded under his hands that it took on its multifaceted richness. In the splendid complete edition of Dostoevsky's writings published by the Academy of Sciences of the former Soviet Union, the editors have reassembled the disorderly confusion of the notebooks that Dostoevsky kept while working on Crime and Punishment and printed them in a sequence roughly corresponding to the various stages of composition. Dostoevsky, as we know, was in the habit of casually flipping open his notebooks and writing on the first blank space that presented itself to his pen, and since he also used the same pages to record all sorts of memorabilia, the extraction of this material was by no means a simple task. Thanks to these meritorious labors, however, we now possess a working draft of the story or novella as originally conceived, as well as two other versions of the text. These have been distinguished as the Wiesbaden version, the Petersburg version, and the final plan embodying the change from a first-person narrator to the indigenous variety of third-person form invented by Dostoevsky for his purposes.

The Wiesbaden version coincides roughly with the story that Dostoevsky described in his letter to Katkov, and a draft of six short chapters has been reconstructed from his notes. Written in the form of a diary or journal, the events it records correspond to what eventually became the conclusion of Part I and Chapters 1–6 of Part II in the definitive redaction. (The action of this part of the novel begins with Raskolnikov's return to his room after the murder, and it ends as he reads a newspaper account of the crime and encounters the police clerk Zametov.) What strikes one about the six Wiesbaden chapters is how much of the later text they already contain. Here are almost all of the secondary characters in their final form; details suggesting a bloody criminal deed are given and the terror of the narrator vividly conveyed; but it is not indisputable that the missing first chapter contained a depiction of the murder itself. It is possible that the story began after the crime, whose events would be gradually disclosed

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